An Ode to Bears

You like bears? Well, let us embrace our inner bears! As the saying goes, “Inside all of us is a wild thing.” I personally love bears, and they ought to be my second favorite animal (sorry, I am a loyal Leo at heart).

How often have you heard the story of bears wandering around Russia’s streets? Hah, probably more than a couple… always amused me. I mean, it’s no big secret that there ARE bears in Russia, and perhaps in the past centuries, one or two may have wandered into Russian villages and scared the innocent villagers. Well, how far back does this “Russian bear metaphor” date? It is said that a couple of 16th century Western travelers, began this popular myth in chronicles of their travels. The most famous is by Sigismund von Herberstein in his Description of Moscow and Muscovy. Anyhow, let’s just say that in today’s modern Russian bubble you don’t stumble upon bears often (that is, if you aren’t having yourself a promenade in the Kamchatka).

One of the most famous Russian bears that I can think of is Misha, Olympic Misha. Ever heard of this little buddy? Well, he was the mascot for the 1980’s summer Olympics held in Moscow.

Without knowing it, in this Olympiad, Misha fostered friendship. The Soviet Union welcomed thousands of foreigners in an opportunity to set aside prejudices and simply enjoy this event. I always thought it was a pity, really, that 65 nations boycotted this Olympiad, due to the host’s involvement in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the event was successful and many memories were left on the Soviet soil. One of the highlights was the closing ceremony… where Misha flew away into the sky… to a farewell song by Lev Leshchenko, “Good Bye Moscow”

Certainly, Misha isn’t the only bear in Russian culture. There are bears all over the place, appearing in folk tales, literary works, paintings…

Morning in a Pine Forest by Ivan Shishkin (1889)

It is also very widely known that in the eyes of the entire world, bears are a symbol of Russia… an exotic component of the mysterious land of the Rus. Many times in history the Russian Bear was used to depict Russia as being lazy, brutal, big, and clumsy. The Russian Bear would appear in cartoons, articles, political ads… and, let’s just say that… not always in a flattering context!

This is a Japanese humoristic world map, where Russia is illustrated as the big bear

Well, despite bears’ aggressive nature, Russians actually are quite good at taming them. It has been centuries since Russians incorporated bears into circuses, and all sorts of entertainment shows. I mean… you just wouldn’t believe half of the things those bears do. My mother likes to tell me about how this one time, when I probably should’ve remembered but didn’t (yeah, I have a pretty horrifying memory) she took me to a Circus on Ice where supposedly I saw bears dancing on ice skates. Ok mom… you think if I actually saw that… I wouldn’t remember it?! I think she’s hiding parts of the truth. I mean, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t forget ice skating bears. In any case, that’s not all they do. There are bears on bicycles, bears on motorcycles, bears playing hockey, amongst other performances. Quite a sight!

Today, the Kamchatka is home to the densest population of brown bears in the world. I wish I could live a bear’s life in the Kamchatka. Any place where there’s plenty of fresh water stuffed with salmon… is equivalent to bear heaven on earth.

To wrap up, I will leave you with some beautiful shots, made by brave men.

Can I hear a growl?


  1. Ahh! My cousins the bears! A great symbol – and more real, than what some countries insist on having. Scotland and Finland feature the lion as their symbol – bit silly as the nearest lion to both those cold countries wouldn’t be seen there, even on holiday in a fur coat. France has a rooster. More realistic. Wales a dragon. We are know Australia and South Africa. Argentina the puma and Uruguay ..a nice little bird I think…sorry lion! 65 countries boycotted…silly puppets. By the way, tag of DPChallenge gets one in the news possibly.

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