Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 5.2 (2004) 245-271
[Access article in PDF]
Russification and the Bureaucratic Mind in the Russian Empire's Northwestern Region in the 1860s
Voronezh State University
Universitetskaia pl., 1
That Russian imperial policy toward the western and eastern borderlands in the 19th century was not nationalistic in a coherent and deeply conceptualized way by now seems to be widely acknowledged among historians. Empire-building priorities, the obsolete estate (soslovie) categorization, and the multiethnic composition of the imperial elite usually stifled the modern discourse of European nationalism.1
This article focuses on a number of specific collisions between nationalistic attitudes and patterns of traditionalist imperial loyalty that stemmed from the inner logic of the tsarist bureaucracy's efforts to de-Polonize and Russify the highly contested Northwestern region (Lithuania and Belorussia/Belarus´).2 Given that the state administration became a leading Russifying force in the 1860s, especially after the Polish rebellion of 1863-64, the way in which its attitudes, mechanics, and even prejudices corrupted nascent Russification projects deserves scholarly attention.
It has become common in the historical literature to distinguish between administrative and cultural or linguistic Russification.3 Aleksei Miller has [End Page 245] proposed an even more nuanced approach: Russification should be examined not as the implementation of some preconceived concept or project, but rather as a complex interaction between the agents and objects of assimilationist policies that could significantly alter the self-identity of the Russifiers as well as their understanding of Russianness.4 This observation applies equally to the anti-Polish campaign after the January Uprising. The imperial government's conception of both Russianness and Polishness remained insufficiently defined. Ethnic Polonophobia, while traditional in Russia, was not a sufficient basis for formulating a consistent nationalist program.
Recent works have demonstrated that administrative practices in the borderlands influenced the relationship between the ethnic, confessional, social, regional, gender, age, and marital criteria in the imperial conception of the Poles. Even the fiercest pacifiers of the Polish rebellion of 1863-64, as well as the Russifiers in the Western region, wished to weaken the ethnic connotations of "the Pole." In the eyes of policymakers, the Pole—who was deemed hostile to the empire—appeared less as the representative of a unified national group than as an ideological subversive and religious "fanatic," a product of the social degeneration of the aristocracy, or even a victim of abnormally great female influence on politics.5 This "camouflaging of ethnicity" inevitably also influenced notions of Russianness as opposed to "Polonism."
Bureaucratic visions and ideas of Russification were likewise affected by the special representational tasks the government faced after the 1861 Peasant Emancipation. In the official rhetoric, the emancipation was not only a great tsarist gift to the peasantry but a great moment of encounter between the regime and a people awakening from its "epochal sleep."6 The government had to make a spectacular display of its contact with the liberated people, even if their everyday interaction was obstructed by language barriers or cultural misunderstanding, not to mention social conflicts.7 This image of awakening and encounter was all [End Page 246] the more persuasive in the case of the peasants of the Western borderlands, who were "discovered" after the January Uprising to have been lingering for centuries under the "Polish yoke." The symbolic demonstration and celebration of their loyalty, faithfulness, and religiosity (in contrast to the disloyal upper stratum of Polish descent and/or self-identity) was designed to reinforce the picture of the imperial regime's closeness to popular needs and aspirations.
In this light, the Russification campaign can be seen as a discursive link between "borderland policy" and various empirewide priorities of the Great Reform era (the agrarian question, educational reform, improvement of the Orthodox clergy's composition, etc.) or as a tool for engaging wider problems in a "regionalized" perspective and in symbolically concentrated form. Nevertheless, the bureaucrats' own nationalist consciousness was diluted, because bureaucratic...