- Natsional′naia politika v imp eratorskoi Rossii: Tsivilizovannie okrainy, and: Natsional′naia politika v imperatorskoi Rossii: Pozdnie pervobytnie i predklassovie obshchestva severa evropeiskoi Rossii, Sibiri i Russkoi Ameriki
With the unleashing of ethnic conflicts in the CIS and Russian Federation, a large percentage of all Russian publications that address ethnic issues have been devoted exclusively to current events. In such a context, there has hardly been any place for works that explore the history of nationalities policy in imperial Russia. The two volumes under review, which represent collections of official documents regulating the life of non-Russian groups in imperial Russia, partially fill this void.
The idea for the project goes back to 1992, when the Tsentr po izucheniiu mezhnatsional'nykh otnoshenii (Center for Research on Interethnic Relations) of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology released a collection of documents entitled Nationalities Policies in Russia: From the Middle of the Seventeenth to the End of the Eighteenth Century.1 It was expected that succeeding volumes would cover later periods, but with the death of both editors and the compiler the project also died. Fortunately, the Center, and specifically Iu. I. Semenov, decided to continue this work, and it received the support of the Russian Humanities Foundation. As a result, we now have two volumes which bring together for the first time major official documents highlighting imperial policies in the western, southern, and eastern periphery areas. Many of these sources have not been reproduced since the 19th century, and currently they are not easily available to researchers.
According to Semenov, all non-Russian peoples of the empire could be divided into three groups: (1) peoples who belonged to "class/civilized society," and are represented by the western and southern periphery (Baltic groups, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Armenians, Georgians, Uzbeks, Finns, Poles, Tatars); (2) peoples who lived in the "preclass stage" such as Bashkirs, tribal peoples of Siberia and the Far East, Kalmyks, Kazakhs, Turkmens, and northern Caucasus peoples (in passing Semenov informs us that "by this time" they were already not [End Page 213] purely "primitive peoples" anymore); (3) peoples who occupied a transitional place between the two former categories (the Mordvinians, Mari, Komi, Chuvash, Udmurts; 1: 13). The format of both volumes directly reflects this structure. The first collection of documents covers the "civilized periphery," the second one deals with the "preclass" or "primordial" peoples. The third volume (in preparation) will cover the third category of "transitional" peoples. Documents related to the Jewish population, which, according to Semenov, did not fit any of these categories, are grouped into the first book.
About the goals of imperial nationalities policy Semenov writes that it was not concentrated on ethnic groups or nationalities. The empire, especially when dealing with the "civilized periphery," was more interested in establishing imperial rule over a specific area than in targeting individual ethnic groups. Since imperial activities in the non-Russian periphery carried an "administrative" and "regional" approach, it is hard to label them a "nationalities policy." Yet, as Semenov admits, for lack of any other appropriate term, we still have to use it (1: 68–69). Trying to give an example of how imperial nationalities policy worked in practice, Semenov uses the words of the senator E. I. Mechnikov, who participated in developing an imperial administrative system for the Caucasus peoples. On the one hand, the senator advocated Russification of the area. On the other, he strongly favored a gradual approach, and suggested avoiding any sharp changes in traditional systems in order to maintain political loyalty of the periphery. Moreover, Mechnikov recommended changing Russian laws in order to adjust them to local conditions (1: 69–70). Semenov stresses that the final goal of the empire was to absorb the periphery and make it part of an all-Russian "socio-historical whole." By 1900 the government essentially...