The national animal of Russia is the Russian Bear which is a derivation of the brown bears that are indigenous to the country as a whole. Over the years, the bear has come to symbolise the good and bad aspects of the Russian people and that comparison has been taken with a mixture of fondness and irritation by the country’s citizens throughout the years.
The bear’s symbolism
The Russian bear has come to symbolise many things that are believed to be inherited traits of the people that live here. Popular characteristics include laziness, aggression and an ability to hibernate for long periods.
While these aren’t particularly attractive aspects of anyone’s character, the bear also symbolises strength, endurance and resilience which are traits that Russian people are particularly proud of.
This rather odd juxtaposition has seen the Russian bear used as a positive symbol and a derogatory figurehead right through history and that mixed view continues to the present day.
Outside of Russia, the bear was representative of a threat and used by illustrators and cartoonists to emphasise the hostility of Russia towards other nations. This was a symbol that had its roots in the 18th century and it continued through the Soviet era.
In the 1980’s US President Ronald Reagan used the Russian bear in his famous ‘Bear in the Woods’ TV advertisement. The ad was shown during Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign and was meant to emphasise that he was aware of the Soviet threat while his opponent Walter Mondale chose to ignore it. Here’s a video of the long form of the advert, courtesy of youtube.
A positive image
Inside Russia however, the bear has been used as a positive symbol on many occasions and it is arguable whether this is done in a sense of pride or as an act of defiance against the negative symbolism as emphasised by Reagan’s campaign.
When the Olympics came to Moscow in 1980, the bear was used as the mascot in the form of ‘Misha’ a cuddly teddy bear that was ground breaking at the time due to its unprecedented commercial success. The bear is also the logo of the Russian rugby team.
Once again however, the bear’s image was at odds with how the rest of the world viewed Russia and this was a difficult games for the Olympic committee and one that saw the USA and several other countries carry out a boycott in the wake of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
The bear in nature
The Russian brown bear is found in huge numbers across Russia and thankfully it is on the WWF’s least concern list. There is some controlled hunting however but not enough to quell its impressive numbers.
Overall, there is concern with the Russian Bear as there is with most Russian animals when it comes to deforestation and loss of habitat and that could ultimately become a threat but for now, the animal thrives.
The Russian Bear has entered Russia’s national consciousness to such an extent, though, that it will always be a priority for the Government to protect Russia’s national animal. We hope they succeed.