Eastern Europe more soulful because of greater violence?
If I'm right in the idea being pursued here for awhile about the relationship between the level of violence and how petty vs. grand the culture is, we can make a prediction for cultures outside the original list that inspired the idea.
To re-cap, when the level of violence starts to steadily rise for awhile -- not just a blip -- people start to discount the future more and feel a greater need to band together or help each other out against whatever common menace threatens them. They could perceive this threat as another nation, as criminals, as witches, as the devil or other disembodied but influential spirits, etc. Feeling death near, they focus more on the big themes of human nature -- love, trust, betrayal, revenge, man's fallen state, sacred rituals, mortality, and so on -- rather than dither the hours away sniping at one another in trivial status-seeking turf wars, which would only pay off after a long career in social gamesmanship. They find less comfort in reason and enlightenment values, turning more to mystical and supernatural views.
This idea is based on the history of Western Europe and the U.S., which have seen falling homicide rates since roughly 1500 or 1600 (depending on the country), with several notable exceptions -- most of the 14th C., ca. 1580 to 1630, ca. 1780 to 1830, and the recent mid-to-late 20th C. crime wave. Aside from the culture made during the Trecento, the Elizabethan period, the Romantic era, and the wild ways of the 1960s through the '80s, much of Western culture appears to have moved away from The Big Questions and more toward, e.g., "the woman question."
On that basis, what if we found a group that was somewhat similar to Western Europeans but did not experience a secular decline in violence for the past 500 years? One that has a homicide rate not last seen in Western Europe since 1600 or 1700? We'd predict that the culture that this group makes would not have undergone such a strong process of trivialization of concerns or religious secularization. As discussed before about whether more violent societies make more desirable women, Eastern Europe has remained fairly dangerous by Western European standards up through today. It is not a matter of being Slavic, as the Western and Southern Slavic groups have low or moderate homicide rates, while the non-Slavic Baltic states are up there with Russia. And it is not a "legacy of Communism" thing for the same reason.
To compare Eastern European culture to Western, it's probably best to focus on Russia, as they were and are the most economically advanced region, the most politically powerful, etc., and thus the one that could best support a community of artists, intellectuals, and so on. The record of their high and folk culture is certainly richer than for other Eastern European areas. I won't go into too great detail, mainly because I'm not an expert, but also because the broad pattern looks pretty clear. Overall, it does seem that Russian culture has remained more like the culture of Western Europe during the Elizabethan or Romantic periods. Some examples:
- After the Romantic era ends, the rest of the 19th C. culture continues the religious secularization trend that began during the Age of Reason. I don't just mean the growing religious doubt or proto-Existentialism, but turning away from the entire religious way of seeing, thinking, and acting. If you wanted something on the timeless and universal themes of all human art and folklore, you likely had to have it imported from Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. During the even more atheistic 20th C. in Western Europe, Solzhenitsyn was just about the only major literary figure whose worldview held that man was inherently imperfect, his fallen nature led his reach to exceed his grasp, and that the present-day hell he finds himself in could only be left behind by leading a more religious life that would check our natural tendencies toward pride, vanity, and so on.
From the Russian lit course I took in college, I remember the affected nonsense word-game poetry, Zola-esque social realism, and the Modernist stream-of-consciousness odyssey throughout Petersburg. So it's not as though the two cultures were completely different. Still, it's hard not to conclude that Russian lit remained more spiritual and tragic as Western lit grew more materialist and trivial in its subject matter.
- Western Classical music more or less gave up trying during the early 20th C. and by 1952 had sunk to laughable performance art with John Cage's 4'33". Just about the only major composers keeping the spirit alive by then were Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev. Not to mention Russian ballet. The country may now be the only place where straight athletic men still find figure skating a noble pursuit.
- As Western visual art sank lower and lower into absurdity, major Russian artists seem to have followed them but always seeking to imbue their works with spirituality and wonder. You'd have to ask them why they say this, as most lay people might not notice on first viewing, but commentators on 20th C. art (as I recall them) tend to refer to Malevich's sparse and geometric paintings as mystical (which I don't recall hearing about Western Cubists), to Chagall's paintings as more poetic or soulful than that of other avant-garde artists during the 1910s and '20s, and to Kandinsky's work as more spiritual than that of other purely abstract painters. (He also wrote Concerning the Spiritual in Art.)
Again, it's not as though we have two entirely separate worlds here, but overall the pattern does look like Russian culture resembled Western culture more from the atypical 14th C., Elizabethan, and Romantic eras than the larger trend in the West toward secular material values and petty cynical one-upsmanship. This confirms a nice "out-of-sample prediction" of the original idea based on Western Europe. I've only focused on Russia because there is so much more material to draw on, and more easily, than for other Eastern European countries, but I'll bet the same rough story is unfolding in Ukraine or Lithuania as well.
On a final fun note, while looking through early 20th C. Russian paintings, I found a piece of evidence suggesting that the Russian babe phenomenon is not so recent. Here's a self-portrait of the 24 year-old painter Zinaida Serebryakova.