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Cultural discourse: Can the Olympics dispel stereotypes about Russia?

February 19, 2014 — 

It’s tough when negative stereotypes and political discourse about your country and culture supersede all else  — especially when that culture is as rich as Russia’s. But Larysa Stepanova, who specializes in social linguistics and teaches the Russian and Ukrainian languages in German and Slavic studies, Faculty of Arts, is experiencing a moment of pride.

Stepanova, who was born in Poland and spent many years in Russia (half of her family is Russian) says that to be hosting the Olympic Games is extremely significant for all the Russians.

“The fact that so many people came, and that [the Games are] all about sport and sportsmanship. And to Russians, it’s so important to open their country to so many because Cold War stereotypes still linger.”

For her the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics have been a special opportunity for others to discover what she’s always known: Russia is a beautiful, big country with welcoming, warm people.

In fact, she says, Canada and Russia — and its peoples — share many traits.


Stephanova: “Like Canadians, the Russians are a welcoming, open people.”


“Like Canada, Russia is a big country. We are both Northern nations and we share many characteristics. Love of sports such as hockey, for example,” she laughs. “Like Canadians, the Russians are also a welcoming, open people.”

Stepanova’s hope is that the Games will continue to go smoothly, and that the international exposure will open people’s eyes to the country’s positive points. Many fellow Russians, she notes, have expressed their desire for people to understand that Russian people are not its politics.

“We are real people,” she says, “just like everyone.” She wants the world to see “how Russia is, how Russians are,  in real life.

“This time, these Games, are extremely important to all Russians. It’s been a great opportunity to show what the real people are like. Russians are having fun, feeling buoyant and happy.

“The Olympics are such a big event for any country and the point of any Olympics is to celebrate the athletes — their dedication to sport and their achievements. We pay tribute to their hard work and that’s what the Games are about. Sochi is no different.”

Stepanova herself has been “touched and pleased” to see her country so graciously welcoming athletes from all around the globe. “The respect for the athletes, the respectful welcome and sportsmanship — that’s what the Games are all about.”

She points to the crowd’s support and warm applause for the figure skaters as one example. But she was perhaps most moved by the gesture of the Canadian ski coach helping a Russian skier after he broke his ski.

“It was extremely touching,” she says. “That’s what makes the Games what they are.”



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