The disturbing similarities between France and russia

Dedicated to yet another piece of news about French company deciding to increase its business presence in russia instead of leaving the “market”.

In general I enjoy learning a bit about various foreign languages but I never had a desire to learn French language and when asked why I always answered that I know russian language already. But with the time I saw many more common things between France and russia than their language policy. This year of 1939 (will it end already?) brought even more examples of russia behaving like France and the French Empire(s) of old. Which makes me wonder if it is a certain type of country and what makes it such.

To me it looks the root of all problems is that both countries grew too large in territory, incorporating different nations in the process and relying too much on the central power (come to think about it, Temporarily Occupied West Taiwan comes to mind as well). The only way they could keep it going was to create “single nation”, by means of the cultural or physical genocide if required, and stealing the history while at it.

Below I’ll try to group things that are similar in the both countries by category.


Both countries originated as the outskirts of some larger country that were overrun by the invaders. As the result they ended up as something semi-fictional: why do you think territory formerly known as Gallia (and proud of Galls) is called after some Bavarians (and IIRC it even had a war with them over the name, so one ended as France and another one as Franconia)? Similarly why a country in a place originally inhabited by Finno-Ugric people, where only the nobility was of Slavic origin (with their blood heavily diluted by Mongols) would boast their completely Slavic lineage (forgetting about all those Finno-Ugric, Turkic and Caucasian nations living on the majority of its territory)? And of course both countries claimed the title of the One True Heir of Roman Empire. Let’s skip most of the Medieval history, remarking only such details as St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the genocide of Novgorod Republic, and move to the more modern days. The French Revolution (the first and most famous one)—and the revolutionary terror of course—set the standard of how to do such things (which russia copied later). It’s worth noting that for the majority of XXth century France and russia remained friends: first the Entente, after WWII France willingly returned to the Soviet Union people who fled russia even before USSR was created (or it was russian territory at all), then (after France decided to leave NATO) Soviet-French friendship prospered (to the point possible by the foundational principles of Soviet Union), even now the French president tries hard to be russian advocate (the same can be said about Germany but despite some common things the countries were not similar throughout the majority of the history).

Country structure.

I notice that both countries occupy a large territory but despite that a significant part of the population lives in the metropolitan area of the capital: about one fifth for France, and one seventh for russia (for comparison, for Germany, Ukraine or Kazakhstan those numbers are below one tenth). Additionally the capitals in both countries are considered to be the only place to live (in case of russia their former capital is regarded in the same way too) and locals (whose ancestors probably lived far away from that capital) sneeze down at all those newcomers who don’t live in the capital and don’t speak the capital dialect either. Then there’s the whole question of the empire…

The main difference here is that russia was never good at maintaining overseas colonies (Fort Ross and Alaska were sold and the pirate nest of Septinsular Republic could not be hold) so it resorted to occupying and controlling neighbouring countries. For example, during Soviet times Mongolia was controlled by the Irkutsk division of The Party. Maybe that’s why they always wanted more oceanic ports.

France, on the other hand, had its colonies all around the world and keeps some of them under the name of overseas departments. For more exquisite things there’s Andorra. And of course there are “military advisors” in various African countries (former French colonies by coincidence). Now that France does not want or can’t maintain its presence, those are withdrawn and are usually replaced by the troops of the infamous russian military company (hopefully it’ll find its end at Bakhmut soon).

And finally, if you think that russia is the only country that tried to create puppet republics in Europe in order to annex them later you’d be wrong. When in 1945 several countries agreed to occupy parts of Germany in order to make it a decent civilised country, USSR almost immediately made its zone of responsibility into a socialistic puppet state that had been the best friends to its end and even after that (see Angela Merkel). France, meanwhile, tried to pull a similar trick with Saarland. They tried to convert Saar Protectorate into a puppet People’s Republic of Saarland but (since they could not falsify elections) the result was unfavourable for them and in 1957 Saarland joined Germany for good. Considering how Saarland plays about the same role as Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine it’s hard not to see parallels to russia’s actions in 2014 and 2018.

Language and cultural policies.

Here I’m not going to talk about the influence of the for-export version of the country culture (writers, composers, ballet and so on) on other nations but rather what they did inside their own territory.

I observe the same approach: cultural genocide and forcing the One True Language. russia did that to many of its colonised nations, see Ems decree as one of such example (I’ve been there recently BTW and spat and the bust of Alexander II installed in the local park). Nobody talks about France in this aspect but it did rather well to eliminate Occitan and Basque languages from its territory (and if you think what Basques have to do with it—learn about the history of Gascony fist). Similarly it forced French as the first language in the schools—unlike, say, British Empire where people could learn their native language first and English later. As the result many people from “former” French colonies speak perfect French while people from British Commonwealth have all kinds of accents and dialects.

Of course (in both countries) you have language chauvinism extended past beyond that when they refuse to learn and speak the language of any other country (one philologist who emigrated from USSR once said that the purpose of studying foreign languages there was mostly to incite hate to that language). And now both countries have laws for protecting their language purity against foreign influences too.

Another aspect of such language chauvinism is demanding to support their language on the state level (you might’ve heard about the situation in Canada where exists essentially a language police from a certain province that checks that all inscriptions in this predominantly English-speaking country have translations in French next to it in the same size; and of course even the most liberal russians demand the same from any country they take residence in).

And the last thing about the language is its writing complexity. By that I mean the fact that there’s not a very strong connection between the way the words are written and spoken (to the point where sometimes you need to know the context in order to pronounce the word properly). And reforms are often met with hard resistance (see France, 2016 or russia, 1918) probably because they cherish the elite status of the language and do not want to make it more available to the common folk. There are other languages with similar characteristics, but in case of English it was essentially arbitrarily picked from various dialects (of several languages) for printing convenience (i.e. it was not something forced by a government) and people curse William Caxton to this day; in case of Chinese it’s used to hide the fact that different parts of the country speak different languages so if they don’t write in the same way they would be completely disconnected (which goes against the imperial narrative of a single Han nation); in case of Japanese it’s mostly a consequence of adapting Chinese writing system for their language that is built on very different principles (it has a completely different grammar and mostly different lexis even if it has a good share of Chinese loanwords); and Hebrew as a Semitic language has little regard for vowels so they’re omitted where possible and usually indicated in full only in the texts for children and the religious texts. In either case it’s not done just to make scribes feel more important.

I could also mention how they all like to overlook the fact that a good deal of their famous people and inventions have a different origin (starting with that guy from freshly conquered Italian territory by the name of Napoleone Buonaparte or the famous russian explorer from Danemark Vitus Bering) but IMO that’s pretty normal when you’re building a unified empire based on a single culture forced onto everybody as the mean of unification. A certain country in the East comes to mind as well with its Uyghur re-education camps.

And when I talk about cultural genocide I mean not only forcing the master language and culture onto the colonised nations but also destroying (or at least hiding) the remnants of native civilisation so that the nations won’t get wrong ideas. In Soviet Union the representatives of state security always accompanied archaeological expeditions and denied publishing the findings if they were contradicting the state narratives (for example, the real age of Trypillia or Carpathian settlements as they undermined the narrative about russians being the oldest nation). Similarly I read a story over two decades ago that in French Indochina the explorers discovered an impressive city or temple complex (was it Angkor Wat?) that was kept in obscurity so it would not inspire any national liberation movements and it was effectively rediscovered in 1960s or so.


Here’s a quote from Mark Twain:

Yet even France rose at last — and would have retired to its warren again quite contented with a cuff and a bonbon if the foolish King had offered them, but it was not his style to do the needful thing at the needful time, so the chance went by. Then the nation cast its rabbit skin and put on its other national garment, the tiger skin; being closely pressed by Europe in arms, it went a step further and asserted its manhood, and was doubtless surprised to find how much it had of it. Napoleon, the great foreigner, brought the people’s soldiership up to the last summit of perfection; and when he got ready he dressed the nation in their rabbit skins again and put his foot on their necks, and they glorified him for it. Napoleon III accommodated them in the same way, to their vast satisfaction.

The same largely applies to russians as well: they never had real uprisings against the sovereign, only protests addressed to him (the only real uprisings were started by other nations, like Ukrainians or Bashkorts) but when they were allowed to display their repressed feelings we got East Prussia in 1945 or Yahidne, Mariupol’ or Izyum this year. And if you look at russians they’re meekly going to war if they can’t avoid it and their relatives blame Ukraine for their subsequent deaths (instead of the führer who sent them there to die).

And if you look at what historical figures russians worship and despise, they mostly worship tyrants who oppressed them and wasted them in countless wars and despise rulers who tried to have more peaceful and liberal politics (because it was usually a sign of them being weak). I don’t know much about the French but considering the Penguin Island novel I expect about the same. At least nowadays they have strikes to vent off their negative feelings…


As I mentioned in the beginning, I suspect there’s a reason why both countries have acted similarly throughout the ages. Maybe it was the absolute power of the monarch and the abundance of initial territories, maybe it was something else. For example, British Empire grew up a lot thanks to the private initiative (names like Cecil Rhodes or East India Company come to mind immediately); USA (with such “unincorporated territories” as Puerto Rico or American Samoa) seem to retain its satellites a lot thanks to the fact that it’s better to be part of USA and get involved in its economic processes—and for the rest there’s U.S. Navy (which reminds me a lot of Roman Empire). With russia it was the opposite—the conquered countries tried hard to get independent from it (all of the Baltic states immediately and Ukraine, even if it took it more years after 1991 to realize why). French colonies are known to have been treated some of the worst (not as bad as Belgian king’s and later simply Belgian Congo though)—Haiti is the poorest country of Americas and I urge you to compare how many of the world poorest countries are former French colonies.

So it is no wonder that the countries with similar mindset would keep doing business together as long as the public opinion permits. At least France seems to improve albeit slowly while I see only two realistic ways for russia—balkanisation or turning into another North Korea. In either case maybe the future historians will explain what was wrong with both countries and why they went different ways eventually.

Comments are closed.