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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 6.3 (2005) 501-534

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War as Peace

The Trope of War in Russian Nationalist Discourse during the Polish Uprising of 1863

Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures
University of Michigan
3040 Modern Languages Building
812 East Washington
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1275 US

The fundamental social and political changes of Alexander II's reign gave a powerful stimulus to the development of Russian nationalist discourse. All at once, questions of nationhood came into sharp focus. The system of the Great Reforms appeared to hold out the promise of reconciliation between the regime and society. With the emancipation of the serfs and the creation of the zemstvos, both national cohesion and mass participation in political life became conceivable. The final subjugation of the Caucasus and the extension of Russia's borders into Central Asia reinforced the need to bolster the Russian people's position as the "reigning nationality," one destined to shape the character of the expanding empire. Finally, the rise of nationalism throughout Europe--in particular the unification of Italy and Germany--posed a major challenge to the traditional vision of a monarchic multi-ethnic empire based on loyalty to the ruling dynasty.1 In short, the central problems of Russian nationalism--the consolidation of the national community, relations between subjects and the state, the concept of national identity, and the principles of imperial allegiance--demanded urgent reconsideration.

In response to this challenge, the Russian cultural elite sought to foster a more vivid sense of national identity and to redefine the nation within its new political context. Although all forms of cultural production contributed to [End Page 501] this process, the best-articulated visions of the nation were put forward by right-wing writers. In the 19th century, these individuals were the main proponents of public nationalism, which differed profoundly from official patriotism.2 The views of the most prominent among them--M. N. Katkov, F. M. Dostoevskii, M. P. Pogodin, I. S. Aksakov, N. Ia. Danilevskii, K. P. Pobedonostsev, and K. N. Leont´ev--are well known. Unlike the radical intelligentsia, which on the whole was indifferent to the problem of the nation, they reconsidered the dynastic principles of national identity classically embodied during Nicholas I's reign in Uvarov's triad.3 Although these thinkers emerged from various philosophical, intellectual, and social backgrounds and hence "imagined" the nation in different ways, they all had to grapple with a common set of issues.

The first of these problems grew out of the realities of rapid modernization during the post-reform era. In the 1860s, right-wing intellectuals welcomed the reforms without which Russia risked sinking to the status of a second-rate power. At the same time, they took pains to prove that no reform could ever shake the steadfast nature of the Russian people. Nationalism always seeks to highlight a sense of national uniqueness, constancy, and continuity. In this period of fundamental change under the obvious influence of West European models, the feeling hypertrophied, confronting nationally minded intellectuals with the inevitable question: how could their vision of an unchanging people be reconciled with the need to redefine the nation? How could one rhetorically link the sense of national uniqueness with modernization?

The weakening of censorship and the broadening of the discursive space of nationalism caused another problem. In the 1860s, discussions of Russian national identity escaped the bounds of elite salons to spread through public meeting-halls and onto the pages of mass-circulation newspapers. Unofficial nationalism flourished in this climate of openness.4 The [End Page 502] expansion of the audience, however, assumed a democratization of nationalist rhetoric and a search for a new language capable of appealing to wider social strata. Where could the discourse strategies that would resolve these issues be found? In their unadulterated form, neither the refined philosophical lexicon of the 1840s nor the idiom of imperial patriotism--discredited in the eyes of the intelligentsia--could provide...


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