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Journal of World History 11.2 (2000) 387-389

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Book Review

Russia's Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700-1917

Russia's Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700-1917. Edited by DANIEL R. BROWER and EDWARD J. LAZZERINI. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997. Pp. xx + 339. $39.95 (cloth); $19.95 (paper).

Now that both the Romanovs and the Soviets have failed in their attempts to tie "forever" Russia's "oriental borderlands" to "Great Russia," the time is propitious to analyze the past three centuries of Russian approaches, perceptions, and policies towards its numerous inorodtsy (non-Christian subjects).

The policies of Tsarist Russia evolved from unsuccessful efforts at proselytizing to a tolerance of native traditions (religious ones included), but Russian suspicion of native institutions remained. The conquered peoples were initially treated as vassals, then as colonial subjects, and finally selectively as potential citizens, but the attainment of the last stage was much more accessible to Christians, such as Georgians or Armenians, than to Muslims, for example.

Administratively, St. Petersburg subjected Russia's Orient to a variety of forms of governance, ranging from protectorates (Khiva, Bukhara), administration by namestniks who exercised powers similar to British India's viceroys (Caucasus), governors-general with namestnik powers (Turkestan, Steppe Region), or else a standard administration headed by regular governors (as in Crimea). Whatever the approach, the tendency was toward curtailment, not toward increased recognition of local separateness.

The long history of Russian low esteem of "Asians," which developed after the collapse of the Mongol Horde, and the subsequent conquest of Kazan and of Western Siberia, combined with the suspicion toward all non-Orthodox inovertsy and especially non-Christian [End Page 387] inorodtsy, significantly affected Russian attitudes towards its eastern subjects.

This collection of articles by fourteen contributors, dedicated to the father of contemporary western vostokovedenie, Alexander Bennigsen, is a welcome addition to the study of the history of Russian encounters with its own Orient. Following Bennigsen's approach, the collection has avoided taking an exclusively Russo-centric line, and has made place for mutual perceptions between the conquerors and the conquered. The volume contains two parts: the first, entitled "Empire and Orient," can easily be divided into "Perceptions" and "Policies."

From the outset, Mikhail Khodarkovsky sets the framework for this collection by underlining the initial misunderstanding between Russia and its new Asian subjects: "What the local chiefs considered a peace treaty concluded with the newly arrived strangers, Moscow regarded as the chief's oath of allegiance. . . ." Time and again, from Siberia to the Kazakh steppes, the same age-old "misunderstanding," deliberately brought about by the conqueror and typical of all colonizations, took place, leading to Russian (and later Soviet) claims about the voluntary character of Russian annexations.

Dov Yaroshevski's contribution traces the development of the Russian notion of civil society and the perceived necessity to implant it in the Russian Orient. He stresses the use of the term grazhdanstvennost (state of civil society), which for some reason he translates as "citizenship" (grazhdanstvo), but defines correctly in the discussion that follows. Yaroshevski sees grazhdanstvennost as a "process of passage to citizenship," something that according to the Russian views he quotes, should transform a "natural man" (as Russia's eastern subjects were defined) into a "member of a civil society," and finally into a citizen.

In his piece devoted to the Caucasus, Austin Lee Jersild continues to discuss Russian views on transforming the "natural" savage (dikii) man into a citizen. Jersild stresses the importance attached by Russian observers to the establishment of civil rule (grazhdanskoe upravlenie). The Caucasian natives, however, are said to have been reluctant to assume citizen's obligations (especially the military service in the Russian army, a precondition for integration), while beginning to clamor for civil rights (grazhdanskie prava).

Daniel Brower discusses the Russian colonial policy of "respectful tolerance" of ethnically diverse inhabitants in Turkestan, especially under the rule of the outstanding governor-general Konstantin von Kaufman. The latter followed a policy of ignorirovanie (paying no attention, but not interfering) with the practice of Muslim traditions, while...