Russia, nearly twice the geographic size of the U.S., is the largest country in the world. With a population of nearly 143.5 million people. For centuries Russia has been a great political power, the source of abundant natural resources and has possessed a highly developed culture of literature and the performing arts. From 1922 to 1991, Russia and its surrounding states were merged into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Within the Soviet Union the state controlled all aspects of daily life — the economy, education, employment, health care, and housing. The individual had little freedom or decision-making ability. Dissent was not tolerated. All industry and agriculture was state owned and operated. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
Almost a dozen independent states were created following the collapse and break-up of the Soviet Union with Russia emerging as a free democracy with a free market economy. The transition from Communist rule to an open democracy has not been easy. Crime, unemployment and declining standard of living have caused severe hardship for many Russians. Ethnic tensions, suppressed during the Soviet era, are on the rise resulting in persecution of some groups.
Russia is comprised of more than 120 ethnic groups. Ethnic Russians account for 82% of the population.
Russian is a Slavic language that uses the Cyrillic script. Sometimes there can be confusion between our Latin alphabet and the Cyrillic as some letters look the same or similar (Latin “p” looks the same as a Cyrillic “r”). Although Russian grammar is very different from that of English, some English vocabulary may be recognizable because it is similar to Russian.
Religious expression was not officially tolerated during the Soviet era. The Russian Orthodox Church is the dominant religion and has regained strength since the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the Communist era, Christian Jews were often persecuted for their religious beliefs.
Arrival in U.S.
The U.S. has experienced significant Russian immigration during the 20th Century with each wave of immigrants being directly associated with political events in Russia. The most recent waves, during the 1970s and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have resulted in large numbers of Russian refugees arriving in Minnesota. The majority of Russian refugees coming to the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s were Jews escaping religious persecution. During the 1990s intolerance of Christian churches other than the Russian Orthodox Church has resulted in Russian Baptists, Pentecostals, and other religious minorities coming to the U.S. seeking religious freedom.
As many as 11,000 Russians live in Minnesota. Many Russian Jews live in large communities in St. Louis Park and downtown Minneapolis. Christian Russians (Pentecostals and Baptists) have settled in Minneapolis as well as suburban Hennepin County, including Plymouth, Hopkins, and Eden Prairie. Russian Jews and Christians, while sharing a common language, may not share a common cultural identity and tension between their respective groups can exist. In addition, not all Russian speakers are necessarily Russians. Russian speakers may be members of a non-Russian ethnic group from one of the fifteen different republics that made up the former Soviet Union (e.g. Ukrainians and Estonians).