restricted access The Empire and the Nation in the Imagination of Russian Nationalism
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The Empire and the Nation in the Imagination of Russian Nationalism ALEXEI MILLER Notes on the Margins of an Article by A.N. Pypin In 1885 the noted literary historian Aleksandr Pypin published an article in the European Herald (Vestnik Evropy), entitled “The Volga and Kiev.”1 He begins it by recounting a conversation he once had with Ivan Turgenev, known for his mastery of the literary treatment of nature. In the course of the conversation it becomes clear that Turgenev has never been on the Volga. For Pypin this serves as a starting point for his argument that “Russian literature has not explored the Volga,” that “the Volga is absent in Russian painting as well” (188–189). “If we are truly so committed to the challenge of samobytnost’, the originality of the Russian nation and state, so dedicated to cherish what is ours, the native as opposed to the foreign, etc., then one of our primary concerns should be to know the native, at least its basic, most characteristic elements. The Volga, undoubtedly, is one of these elements” (193). Pypin expresses similar reproaches and regrets concerning Kiev: “A historian, a publicist, an ethnographer, an artist must see Kiev, if they want to imagine vividly Russian nature and the Russian people , since here again (as on the Volga—A. M.) are to be found some of the best examples of Russian nature and one of the most interesting aspects of the Russian nation… Kiev is the only place where one feels the Russian City as it was ages ago” (199–200). To interpret these arguments correctly, we should pay attention to two other motifs present in the article. First, the Saratov-born Pypin is fully aware that “here, on the Volga, there is a mixture of ethnicity and blood” (196). He ridicules the attempts of some to “erase” all non-Russian nationalities : “That would be a task for a monomaniac, deserving of the wellknown character of Shchedrin’s who asked, ‘Why the river?’” (211). In this article, as in his numerous other works, he protests against the repression of the Ukrainian language, and supports the right of the Little Russians to be different from the Great Russians, “the way the northern Frenchmen, Germans, and Italians are to the present day different from their southern counterparts.” Second, having called the Volga and Kiev “characteristic native elements ” that Russian art had not explored, Pypin contrasts them to the Caucasus, Crimea, and the Baltic provinces, popular with authors and IMPERIAL RULE painters, but, in his opinion, lying outside the category of a “native element.” He writes sarcastically of Russian painters “who prefer to portray ‘the windmills of Estland’ or a heap of red-and-brown rocks labeled ‘Crimean studies ,’ or something equally amusing” (190). In other words, from his standpoint , not all the imperial territory can be qualified as “the native, the Russian,” although he does not question the unity of the empire. The ideological basis of Pypin’s text did not contain anything revolutionary or original; the article was fairly typical of the sentiments of educated Russian society. It is remarkable only for a full and systematic expression of a widespread point of view. We will return to it later in this article whose aim is to pinpoint the most general dimensions of the subject that has failed to receive due attention so far. The subject in question is the “mental maps” of Russian nationalism. ✣ It is regrettable that too many historians underrate the ideas and sentiments , the whole discourse that Pypin’s article illustrates so well. When Rogers Brubaker wrote “nowhere is theoretical primitivism in the study of nationalism more striking than in the literature (and quasi-literature) on this subject,” what he had in mind was Eastern Europe and political science .2 However, fresh perspectives on a range of problems dealing with Russian nationalism, and on the relationship between this nationalism and the empire that dominate today’s historiography, show convincingly that this criticism partly concerns historians as well. Examples from several of the most recent publications make this clear. David Rowley in his article, comes to the conclusion that there is no basis for discussing Russian nationalism “in [the] generally accepted meaning ” during the age of the Romanovs. The “generally accepted meaning,” for Rowley, is the definition of Ernest Gellner who stated that “nationalism is primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent… Nationalist sentiment is the feeling of anger aroused...