Russia’s most essential and undervalued natural resource is the unconditional loyalty that Russians have towards each other. it is the kind of loyalty that is void of any calculation. The kind of loyalty that is warm and inclusive. when Russians include someone new into their circle then it is with an enthusiasm and open-heartedness that, even after my twenty years in Russia, never ceases to surprise me. There is a famous line in Exupery’s The Little Prince that says: “Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé”, or in English: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” In Europe, Exupery’s wisdom is a higher goal to strive for but in Russia this line is something that people live and practice every day.
When you are fortunate enough to become part of a Russian’s inner circle you will experience what it means to be “tamed” by a Russian friend. He or she will definitely become responsible for you and act accordingly. If you have a cold or the flu your Russian friend will offer ten times to buy your food and medicine, and rub a potato on your chest. Actually, you are lucky when there are just ten offers because your Russian friend may also just appear at your doorstep unannounced. You will be invited for all the family events of your Russian friend. Birthdays, New Year, Maslenitsa (Butter week – sort of a pancake carnival) and any other reason your Russian friend will find to throw a party. But also, at the sad events in life you will be there, when there is illness or death. This loyalty also means that you have a responsibility towards your Russian friend. Russian friendships are much more time-consuming than European ones. In the eyes of Europeans, Russians can sometimes be overbearing and if you haven’t paid attention to your Russian friend for a while you are bound to receive a phone call starting with the words: “Did I offend you in any way? Why don’t you call me?”
When I visited my best and oldest Russian friend, Zhenya, after I hadn’t seen him for a long time, the first thing he said to me was: “Rediska (radish – a tender way to call someone who behaved badly), where have you been?” But then without any rancour or resentment he embraced me and we talked in his kitchen about the ways of the world until the early hours of the morning, illustrating the other great Russian quality that goes hand-in- hand with loyalty, namely forgiveness. It was the last time we spoke. The next time I saw him was at his funeral.