The image of Russia in Usenet (Internet newsgroups)

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Dr Alina Naruszewicz-Duchlińska

Uniwersytet Warmińsko-Mazurski

Ul. K. Obitza 1, 10-725 Olsztyn


The image of Russia in Usenet (Internet newsgroups)
The subject of discussion is the way of perceiving Russia in Internet newsgroups, making up the so-called Usenet – i.e. a forum of public discussion in the form of hierarchically structured topical groups1. Due to quantitative limitations, the discussion necessarily has the character of a preliminary outline deserving further examination. Newsgroups started to operate in Poland in 1994. Initially, it was a form of communication used only in internal university networks; currently, there are a few hundred Polish speaking newsgroups. Their names consist of three elements: one of them designates the language, another one is an English abbreviations indicating the scope of the issues raised: sci – science soc – society, rec – recreation and sport, comp – computers, news – Usenet news, hum – humanistic issues, misc – miscellanea and the final element specifies the subject matter, e.g. pl.sci.filozofia, pl.soc.religia, pl.rec.muzyka, pl.comp.www, pl.hum.polszczyzna, pl.misc.budowanie.

One of the groups is devoted entirely to Russian issues –, but this subject is also present in other forums, most frequently in soc.culture.polish, pl.soc.polityka and pl.misc.militaria, while in others it emerges occasionally. Google, a browser archiving all posts from Usenet, returned on 29th December 2008 about 39,600 links to texts posted to Polish newsgroups containing the word Russia.

The most frequent assumptions in the above exemplification actually present Russia antinomically as:

- a strong country of great importance in the world:

The current 21st century will be the century of China and Russia. The rest will have to put their teeth on the shelf. (soc.culture.polish, 20th February 2004)

- collapsing world power, e.g.

No power lasts forever, and the vastness and population of a country are not enough to create it. Russia is not the USSR. With Russia, the situation can be the same as with every empire at the disintegration stage: Centuries go by and a great many may not want to believe that what has remained is only a form, while the content is gone. (pl.soc.polityka, 3rd October 2002)

- a neighbour whose opinion should not be ignored, e.g.

Not every neighbour is a friend [or the worst enemy in the first place], but one should live with them somehow, preferably rather well, even if they “do not quite strive” for our friendship :-) (soc.culture.polish, 22nd December, 2008)

- an oppressor of Poland and Poles, e.g.

I sometimes wonder whether anything really good came to us from Russia, and really, in my ignorance and helplessness, I cannot find anything. Maybe the others can help me: what civilization accomplishments reached us from our Eastern vs. Western neighbours. And what is the balance of harm done. (soc.culture.polish, 26th March 1998)

- a threat to the Polish national identity:

Can Russia conquer Poland? I do not mean wars with armies, but wars of mentalities. Wars of two types of mentality - European and Russian. What does the specificity of Poland consist of? The area of Russia is almost exclusively inhabited by people of the Russian mentality, and the old European Union - almost exclusively by people of the European mentality. In the area of Poland, these two types of mentality are mixed, like in a blender, and as for the time being, they “peacefully” co-exist. But - just like lemon juice and olive oil, mixed together by energetic shaking into the form of vinaigrette sauce, they will finally separate – a “peaceful” co-existence of two above mentioned mentalities is not possible in one country. (pl.soc.polityka, 20th March 2007)

- the state that itself suffered most in historical turbulence:

I believe that it is time to end, at least in our circle, this humiliation of Russians and everything what is Russian. Why nobody tells that the Nation that suffered most was not the former DDR, as they nowadays claim, pitying themselves, while Western Germany considers them to be martyrs. The poorest and the most suffering nation were Russians; all the dirty tricks were made on their account, and a normal nation, had “by the short and curlies” which had to, and still has to, cope with its poverty. (soc.culture.polish, 26th March 1998)

- a relic of the past:

It seems to me that Russia is over-self-conscious about itself!!!! …and it is the remnant of the foreign policy of USSR and such people as Mister NIET!!! This is a remnant of times when everything was perceived as an attack on the vital interests of the USSR, forgetting that sometimes various things happen and that bad faith is not necessarily behind it in the first place (pl.soc.polityka, 25th February, 2000)

- a potential aggressor, aware of its power:

For the time being, it seems that Russia is and will remain a nuclear power (although not on the level of a global superpower such as the USA), still holding thousands of warheads, capable of destroying each country and coalition. (pl.misc.militaria, 14th September 2006)

- a guarantor of safety:

X. If Russia falls into oblivion, we will not have to spend as much on the army,

Y. Huh? If “Russia falls into oblivion”, the mess there would be such that the defense budget will soar very rapidly. (pl.misc.militaria, 7th March 2005)

- an unforeseeable holder of energy resources on which the rest of Europe depends:

Russia is hard-headed and does not understand its interests or the interests of its neighbours. Russia believes only in one thing - physical strength, which is given to it by “expansion” and energy resources. (soc.culture.polish, 26th September 2007).

According to the research conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs, (Ćwiek-Karpowicz 2006), Russia has overtaken Germany as the country that, according to social feelings, is most threatening to Poland (particularly as regards the disturbance of energy safety). The respondents also believed that it was necessary to closely co-operate with Russia, and they viewed this country as an object of economic, political and military co-operation, after the USA, Great Britain and Germany. The above-mentioned analysis concerned a hypothetical contact at the level of community, while the perception from the perspective of a single entity is characteristic for the Internet, and “under certain circumstances also the process of stereotyping, i.e. qualifying each individual case to a stereotypical category, replacing a single image with a collective image, can prove changeable” (Pomorski 2003: 18).

Although “normal processing of information, normal intra-psychical stabilisation, normal co-existence in the society cannot go without stereotypes” (Quasthoff 1998: 12), the image of Russia that emerges from the comments of Internet users is far from the clichéd perception of this country as the greatest enemy of Poland, stubbornly waiting for any occasion for partition. As mentioned above, the content devoted to Russia in the Polish-speaking Usenet is relatively small and opinions are polarized. Internet users are persons open to the world, and stereotypes are inflexible structures, closed to new information, therefore they are used only by dogmatic individuals (Brzozowski 1991: 53). In newsgroups, the voices of hatred, as well as sophisticated praises, are isolated – the dominant attitude is the one depicted by the quotation below:

In the longer run, neither does Poland need an anti-Russian attitude, nor does Russia need an anti-Polish attitude. The attempts are pitiful, although quite frequent, when certain Polish politicians try to gain something on the rising tide of adding fuel to anti-Russian feelings; equally pitiful attempts are sometimes described by media reporting that also in Russia, Russians are threatened with a danger on the side of Poland and Poles. Of course, the attempts to re-arrange the Polish-Russian relationship do not mean an automatic oblivion of painful history, but maintaining proper proportions between former and present years... (pl.regionalne.krakow, 22nd January 2001).

This proves that after a period of historical turbulence, it can be hoped that complicated and completely mutual-distrusting relationships will be replaced with normal neighbourly relationships. Russia is not an object of an obsessive interest of Internet users, but one of the elements of the world in which they function – a global village where historical animosities sink into oblivion.


Brzozowski P., 1991, Problemy analizy prototypowości pojęć, „Etnolingwistyka” t. IV, Lublin, s. 51-63.

Ćwiek-Karpowicz J., 2006, Opinia publiczna o obawach i nadziejach wobec Rosji i Niemiec, (23.12.2008).

Quasthoff U.M., 1998, Etnocentryczne przetwarzanie informacji. Ambiwalencja funkcji stereotypów w komunikacji międzykulturowej. In: Język a kultura, vol. 12, Stereotyp jako przedmiot lingwistyki. Teoria, metodologia, analizy empiryczne, Wrocław, s. 11-30.

Pomorski A., 2003, Imperialna baba. Stereotyp narodowy a metaprojekt ideologiczny Rosji w perspektywie przemian świadomości polskiej pierwszej połowy lat dziewięćdziesiątych (na podstawie publicystyki „Tygodnika Powszechnego” 1989-1995), Warszawa.


Grupy dyskusyjne:





KEYWORDS: Russia, Poland, Internet, Usenet, communication, stereotype.


Przedmiotem rozważań jest sposób postrzegania Rosji w internetowych grupach dyskusyjnych (newsgroups), wchodzących w skład tzw. Usenetu, czyli forum dyskusji publicznych w postaci ułożonych w strukturę hierarchiczną grup tematycznych. Jedna z grup jest poświęcona w zupełności tematyce rosyjskiej –, ale jest ona obecna także w innych forach, najczęściej w soc.culture.polish, pl.soc.polityka i pl.misc.militaria, w pozostałych pojawia się epizodycznie. Obraz Rosji, jaki wyłania się z wypowiedzi internautów jest daleki od stereotypowego postrzegania tego kraju jako największego wroga Polski, opinie są spolaryzowane. Rosję postrzega się jako silne mocarstwo, ale i upadającego giganta, zarówno potencjalne zagrożenie, jak i wsparcie dla Polski, nieprzewidywalnego dysponenta środków energetycznych, ale i gwaranta światowej równowagi.

1 This paper originated as part of the post doctoral research project No. N104 225035, entitled Polish newsgroups – linguistic analysis and description of the genre, financed from the funds earmarked for research in 2008-2010.

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