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Reviewed by:
  • Politika samoderzhaviia v Severo-Zapadnom krae v epo-khu Velikikh reform, and: Making Russians: Meaning and Practice of Russification in Lithuania and Belarus after 1863
  • Robert L. Przygrodzki
Anna A. Komzolova, Politika samoderzhaviia v Severo-Zapadnom krae v epo-khu Velikikh reform (The Policies of the Autocracy in the Northwest Region during the Great Reform Era). 383 pp. Moscow: Nauka, 2005. ISBN 5020102938.
Darius Staliūnas, Making Russians: Meaning and Practice of Russification in Lithuania and Belarus after 1863. 465 pp. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. ISBN-13 978-9042022676.

The study of tsarist Russia's nationalities and its peripheries has grown considerably in recent years. This interest has certainly been aided by the collapse of the Soviet empire, which gave new opportunities for scholars of the former East Bloc states and Soviet Socialist Republics to examine Russian imperialism with greater depth. Not surprisingly, our understanding of imperial (and Soviet) "nationalities policies" and the construction of national identities in this part of the world has gained more nuance. The old paradigm of a centralized Russificatory regime has become problematic, and the manner in which the subject peoples of the empire responded has also proven to be far more varied than previously supposed. Scholars of Russian imperialism and nationalism have had to grapple with the problems of defining Russification (even Russianness itself), bureaucratic infighting, and the multitude of policies that have been shoehorned under the rubric of "nationalities policies."1 [End Page 429]

The findings of many scholars of nationalities in the Russian Empire have shown the absence of a consistent, coherent "nationality policy" or system of Russification. Russian officials in St. Petersburg and in the provinces confronted many challenges in the late 19th century: social and economic transformation, the rise of nationalism among various peoples, and administration of a state with too few officials or rubles. The "situational approach" to nationalities policies described in Alexei Miller's scholarship offers promising methods of unpacking these issues. What studies of particular regions and time periods have demonstrated is that Russian officials operated on what might be termed an ad hoc basis. They placed their focus upon religion, education, or economic ways of life, applying some criteria in an attempt to control one group—but not others—and then changing these policies, which more often than not were made locally rather than in St. Petersburg. Thus there were a host of nationalities policies, many of which contradicted one another.2

The historiography of these issues in the empire's western provinces has produced a particularly notable body of work. This region posed numerous problems for officials that have encouraged scholarly inquiry. The regime's usual base of support, the nobility, was predominantly Polish in culture, and thus perceived as politically suspect. This Polish gentry also dominated the agrarian economy and the East Slavic peasantry, which itself may not have identified as "Russian" (or Ukrainian, Belarusian, etc., for that matter). Furthermore, these provinces made up part of the Jewish Pale of Settlement, adding another ethno-religious community that was little understood or liked by many in the government. During the second half of the 19th century, these territories also witnessed the 1863 uprising and its subsequent suppression. Russian officials found a region that was contested terrain in [End Page 430] which a Russian (state) victory was uncertain.3 Darius Staliūnas's and Anna Komzolova's monographs make valuable contributions to the historiography of one part of this western borderland: the territories contemporary Russian officials called the Northwest Region, which roughly comprises present-day Belarus and Lithuania.

The centrality of the so-called Polish Question is one theme that permeates both of these complementary projects. The Northwest Region was contested terrain because two sets of elites had radically different mental maps of this land. To Russian bureaucrats this was ethnically, religiously, and historically a part of Russia (Rus´), while Polish nobles viewed it as part of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Both created their own romanticized stereotypes of the region and its peoples, although neither lavished great attention on the mixture of Polish, Lithuanian, Belarusian, or Jewish peoples who actually lived there. In both studies, the continued Polish presence in the region and the...


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