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  • Tatars and Pyrenees

In the present issue of Kritika, we publish one of the last articles that Richard Stites completed before his final illness. It forms part of a broader project in which he treated the post-Napoleonic revolutionary movements in Russia, Greece, Italy, and Spain as part of a single pan-European movement. As he told us in an interview we published last year, his next topic was going to be the pan-European army, including the Spaniards of the Blue Division that fought with the Axis against the Soviet Union in World War II.1

Stites's article inspired us to reflect more broadly on the Spanish world's place in Russian history. The empires of Russia and Spain have traditionally looked similar to Northwest Europeans and North Americans. Their native landscapes seemed harsh and austere. Long periods of Muslim rule, it was alleged, left both countries backward, isolated, oppressive, warlike, and prone to religious fanaticism. They built empires by conquering vast, exotic lands with strange terrains and peoples over whom they supposedly ruled with terrible ferocity—Cossack hordes and Siberian prisons, the Inquisition and the "black legend" of Spain in the New World. The two nations' barbaric resilience ground up Napoleon; and their might, ambition, ideology, and racial miscegenation threatened civilization itself. They attracted romantics like John Reed, who chased the revolution from Mexico to Russia, but also the imperialists who dreamed up Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum im Osten. The consensus about their otherness was so broad that Talleyrand, Napoleon, de Maistre, and Mme de Staël were all credited with coining the phrase, "Scratch a Russian and find a Tatar," while "Africa starts at the Pyrenees" was attributed (falsely, it seems) to Alexandre Dumas père.

The Russians and Spaniards themselves thought about these connections. Karamzin likened the conquest of Siberia to that of Mexico and Peru,2 and Tolstoi wrote that the Russian peasants in 1812 fought like the gveril´iasy [End Page 1] of Spain.3 Fernando Sor, a Barcelona-born composer for the classical guitar, spent several years in Russia at the end of Alexander I's reign, and his Souvenir de Russie counts among his notable works. La Pasionaria fled to Moscow, and Trotskii to Mexico City. Krupskaia and Ilich are not only a pair of Russian revolutionaries but also a CNN reporter from Colombia and the Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal.4

One might expect there to be a rich scholarship on the linkages between these cultures—but one would be wrong, as we found out when we organized our 2009 workshop, "Models on the Margins: Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Spain," in St. Petersburg. Our goal was to explore how the three empires on Europe's periphery interacted with, and borrowed from, one another. We found that there is a vibrant community of historians studying Russia and the Ottomans, but on Russia and Spain or its American successor states before the 20th century—almost nada. The reason is that even though scholars in both fields seek out historical connections to "the West," their respective Wests rarely overlap: the Hispanicist's West is the maritime "Atlantic world," while that of the Russianist is northern and eastern Continental Europe.

Because Russianists and Hispanicists take little note of one another's work, we don't know much about how the two empires affected each other's history. On Russia's role in the independence of Latin America, for example, there seems to be only one book in English, published back in 1978.5 Richard Stites's article, originally presented at the "Models on the Margins" workshop, takes up a question that has remained unanswered, at least in English, since Isabel de Madariaga raised it in 1973: how the Riego uprising in Spain in 1820 influenced the Decembrists.6 The diplomatic ties between the empires throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, a recent study notes, remain "a rich and largely untapped source for the ambitious student of international relations"; the same author adds flatly that "Anglo-American historians, who often lead the field in Iberian studies"—and, one might add, in Russian studies as well—"have produced no contributions to the literature on Russo...


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