The Russian Bear and the Revolution: The Bear Metaphor for Russia in Political Caricatures of 1917–1918

A. de Lazari, O. V. Riabov, M. Zakowska

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Using an analysis of satirical journals published in Russia, Germany, Great Britain, and Poland in 1917–1918, this paper explores how caricaturists employed the metaphor of the bear to represent revolutionary events in Russia. The first part of the paper characterizes historical and intellectual contexts for the use of the image of the Russian bear in Western and Russian cultures. Then, the authors discuss how European caricaturists exploited this image to shape perceptions of the Russian revolution. The final part of the article focuses on employing the bear metaphor in Russian satirical journals. The authors point out that the use of the bear was a part of struggle for interpreting Russia’s revolutionary events, and this struggle was carried out in no small part in caricatures. It contributed to shaping representations of delegitimating power, domestic political struggle in Russia, substantiation of national character in the revolution, and its influence on Russia’s participation in the Great War and on the independence of Poland. The polysemy of the bear symbol provided the possibility to exploit it both for support of the revolution and its criticism. Representations of the revolution through the prism of the bear metaphor varied by political orientation of journals, the country represented, and political dynamics during the period under consideration. There was one commonality: this metaphor was used to symbolize Russianness in both positive and negative meanings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-345
JournalVestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo Universiteta, Iskusstvovedenie
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


Scopus subject areas

  • Music
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History
  • Conservation

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