The Bear — a significant factor of Russian culture - appears in many Russian literary works, folk tales, epics, proverbs and sayings, not infrequently acting as a protagonist. The Bear was the emblem of the XXII Olympic Games held in Moscow in 1980.
It is needless to say that in Europe, America, and probably all over the world the bear is strongly associated with Russia and the Russian statehood. Therefore the bear in Russia is more than just a bear. Initially the bear as the symbol of Russian state appeared in Europe as personification of slowness, laziness, barbarity and aggression, which evokes in Europeans the feeling of their own superiority to the non-civilized "neighbour" and also the feeling of fear and, consequently, the desire to chain it. Certainly, Russia repeatedly gave its neighbours some grounds for fear, however, if Russian bear did not exist, one should have made it up. The thing is that the bear is the image helping politicians of the West to convince the citizens of Russia’s aggression and thus expand the influence of NATO on the east. For more than 300 years already the bear has invariably been a character of political feuilletons and caricatures.
In Russian culture the bear traditionally appears as the image of a good-natured and a somewhat dumb animal, undoubtedly possessing certain charisma. In folklore the Bear is usually named affectionately and respectfully as a man: Mishka, Mihailo Potapych, Toptygin, etc. So it is evident that the Bear is more likely a kind neigbour, or a guard, never a tyrant. Emblems of Russian cities say about the same thing.
Bears as City Emblems
Among the land emblems of Russia before Peter the First, there were three emblems with the images of bears. Two emblem bears appeared during the rule of Ivan the Terrible and were present at the stamps of his reign - first of all the well-known Big State Stamp made at the late 1570th (not later than in August 1578), during the Livonian war. However, all the three emblems with bears took their final shape only in 1672, when they were enlisted in the Title Book among other land emblems.
Bears there are not simply represented in their natural state: every one of them has its special attributes, which make researchers look for suitable interpretations. It is interesting that all the three bears are interfaced to concrete territories of the north and northeast of Russia, and those that were once perceived as marginal and somewhat peripheral lands, such as Novgorod, Yaroslavl and even farther Perm.
The Novgorod bear had the state and political meaning of the guard, whereas Yaroslavl and Perm bears reflected essential cultural models. The first one stands for the single combat and the victory over the bear of the prince, also interpreted as the victory of Christianity over paganism, and the second one symbolizes Christianization in its religious and educational aspect. If the Yaroslavl emblem has an element of violence, the "quieter" Perm emblem conveys rather peaceful introduction into the new belief.
In XVIII-XIX centuries some more bears appeared in the Russian territorial and city heraldry. Partly they originated from Yaroslavl (the arms of Maloyaroslavets), and partly boasted more original appearance: a bear in its den in the emblem of Ust-Sysolsk, or a bear climbing a pine to get honey in the emblem of Sosnitsy – those depicted local natural peculiarities of the land.
The Russian bear was and remains a part of everyday life, and even gaining weight in recent years. It is sufficient to have a look at the titles of articles recently published in world press ('Russian bear comes back', 'Awakening of Russian bear', and ‘Russian bear plays muscles') to realize the meaning of this symbol in politics and culture. The bear became an emblem of the political movement 'Edinstvo' (Unity), and following that of the party 'Edinaya Rossia’ (United Russia). Now, when the President of Russia has the 'the bear’s surname’ the symbol has gained refreshed popularity.