Demons

“Every extremely shameful, immeasurably humiliating, mean, and, above all, ridiculous position I have happened to get into in my life has always aroused in me, along with boundless wrath, an unbelievable pleasure.” – Nikolai Stavrogin, in Demons (692)

I gave precisely zero thought to the presidential election when creating the syllabus for my course on Imperial Russia this year. Instead, knowing that I would be teaching an overload in addition to a heavy administrative burden this fall, I kept my course structured mostly the same way. That placed my unit on “Modernity, Terrorism, and Revolution” not in a sunny, hopeful, pre-graduation April but in the darkening days of November. Students spend three of the four weeks of this unit doing one thing: reading Dostoevskii’s brilliant and frightening novel Demons. Continue reading

Posted in Teaching Russian History, Terrorism, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Russian/Soviet Perspectives on Islam Launches

A few years back, Vadim Staklo came to George Mason University from Yale University Press. At YUP, in addition to wide editorial direction of publications on Russian and Soviet history, Vadim had worked on the launch of the Stalin Digital Archive, digitizing the Stalin Collection at the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History. [If you don’t know the Stalin Digital Archive, check out this interview with Vadim.] Vadim came to George Mason in hopes of collaborating with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media on further projects aimed at digitizing and translating materials from the archives of the former Soviet Union, but now rather than expensive subscriptions that limit the availability of the digitized projects, he would seek outside funding to make documents available via open access to everyone.

I share below his announcement of the beta launch of the first project, a collection of transcribed and translated documents devoted to the history of Islam in Russia and the Soviet Union. In addition, I will join him on a roundtable at the upcoming conference of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, where we will talk more about the online archive. We are anxious for your feedback as we continue to develop the project. Without further ado, here’s Vadim.

*************

George Mason University is launching a major new international multidisciplinary scholarly program, the Russian/Soviet Perspectives on Islam Project (RPI). The project, with primary support from the Luce Foundation and the NEH, documents the encounter and evolving relationship between the Orthodox/secular state and the Islamic regions, groups, individuals, and ideologies on the territory of the former Soviet Union and neighboring countries. This set of unique materials illuminates the strategies implemented by the Soviet and Russian state to establish authority and legitimacy among predominantly Muslim populations in Central Asia, the Northern Caucasus and Siberia and to enhance Moscow’s influence internationally with nearby Muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey. The digital archive is designed to disseminate these documents to the widest possible scholarly community and general readership.

Please join us for the launch and presentation of the RPI
at the ASEEES Congress on Saturday, 19 November at 3:45 PM.

Continue reading

Posted in Archives, Digital Russian History, Islam and Russian/Soviet History | Leave a comment

Foreigners

E. P. Gau, Views of the halls of the Winter Palace. The Military Gallery of 1812, 1862.

E. P. Gau, Views of the halls of the Winter Palace. The Military Gallery of 1812, 1862.

I’m in St. Petersburg right now, enjoying my research leave and finding all sorts of lovely bits and pieces in the archives. I’ve been pleased to find some connections I hoped to find and frustrated by hints of larger stories I can’t follow. I’ve grinned, I’ve teared up, I’ve gasped out loud at a surprising turn a document took. (It’s possible I’m too emotionally engaged, but I don’t really think so.) I even have more of the dead cheese master’s story to tell, at least a bit.

That’s going to wait for a while, though, because yesterday I got a file that weirdly echoed the news of the day. On July 10, 1812, the St. Petersburg Civil Governor wrote to the Gatchina town authorities to pass on an order from on high: as part of a general survey of foreigners living in the Empire, the town administration was to send in a list of all foreigners currently living in the town. It came with a handy model form that gave all the information they wanted: name, what the foreigner was doing, whether they owned a home, when they had come to Russia, whether they had taken an oath of loyalty (that is, taken Russian subjecthood/citizenship), the name of someone with oversight over them, and then any plans they had to leave the country or even just move within Russia. The governor also confirmed that although the form only mentioned inostrantsy, male foreigners, they also wanted information about inostranki, female foreigners, as well: “although on the form there is nothing noted about women, but they too—that is widows with their children if there are any, and unmarried women too—should be included.” Continue reading

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The Merchants of Siberia — “A Rising Tide Raises All Ships” (even on Lake Yamysh)

I am among those who eagerly awaited the publication of Erika Monahan’s book, The Merchants of Siberia.  For a number of years I’ve been developing a study of what one might call (if one were inclined to use flamboyant catch phrases to draw popular attention to scholarly subjects) The Early Modern Silk Road.  This is essentially a study of Central Eurasia’s position at the heart of overland networks of exchange during a period when most have assumed that they had diminished to the point of insignificance, and few have thought to look and see if that assumption was correct.  The Merchants of Siberia advances a related argument and marshals a substantial amount of original evidence to support it.  Erika Monahan was kind enough to provide me with working drafts of select chapters as her project was coming to a close.  But it was only when I had the published book in my hand that I was able to appreciate the magnitude of her achievement. Continue reading

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Merchants of Siberia: Seen and Unseen

There’s a moment in The Merchants of Siberia that I suspect will call forth a sigh of weary recognition from nearly any historian—or perhaps only from any historian working on the early modern world, or perhaps even only from any historian working on early modern Russia. Erika describes a “scandal” at Lake Yamysh when a trade dispute turned into an occasion for slander, insult, and “mutinous shouts.” The situation was serious enough that “Moscow, predictably, ordered an investigation.” More than a hundred witnesses were questioned, and the result was a 144-page long report “that, unfortunately, contains no resolution” (198). I have so much sympathy, and remembered frustration, for that one word, “unfortunately.” Archival files so often seem to promise the key to an argument but then simply end before they get there. Or they turn out to be illuminating in some way, as in the case reported here, but still leave the reader frustrated for lack of a proper conclusion to their story.  Continue reading

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Merchants of Siberia – Response to Ryan Jones

Dry your tears, Ryan! Fur is important and absolutely belongs in any history we tell of Siberia. It’s just not the whole story. To me, this is epitomized visually in the 4-panel illustration of the Russian embassy to the Holy Roman Emperor in 1576. We all know the image: the Russian entourage with men bearing finely assembled forties of sables and other furs. It appears on the cover of one book, in texts, etc.

RHB1.Perkhavko_bk_coverIf you’ll make allowances for my admittedly myopic perspective, I’d say that to the extent that there are iconic images for early Russian history, this is among them. But, the whole image actually consists of 4 panels.

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

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The Merchants of Siberia — Siberia transit trade

Merchants of Siberia complicates and enlivens our evolving picture of commerce and trade in early modern Russia. Noting the links between Russia’s growing involvement with European trading partners and trading activities on Muscovy’s southern and eastern frontiers, Erika Monahan calls for a closer focus on the role of the Russian state and Eurasian merchants as facilitators of east-west and north-south trade. As part of this move, she emphasizes that, from the point of view of both merchants and agents of the Muscovite state, Siberia was far more than just a store of natural resources, highlighting in particular its place as “a node in important trans-Eurasian routes.” This is a productive avenue of exploration. Erika’s work examines western Siberia’s under-appreciated early modern connections with Central Asia. Muscovy was indeed connected to diverse states along its multiple frontiers. Reading about these interactions, but coming at these same issues from the point of view of a historian of the nineteenth century, made me wonder, what standard do we have for calling a particular trade vibrant and a particular route or set of routes important?

Importance seems to be a relative concept. Continental trade to and through Siberia was important – undoubtedly so, I would argue, to the communities that resided there. As for transit trade, it was surely important as well, but the difficulty – not to mention the sheer length – of the routes made long-distance transport daunting and time-consuming under the best circumstances, and of course expensive. The routes between Siberia and east and central Asia all came with a set of challenges and risks. Climatic conditions compelled trade in Siberia to follow a seasonal rhythm – making passage of goods impossible for months at a time. The fact that these trade routes nonetheless persisted seems to point to both the dearth of alternatives and the reality that there were parties who had a vested interest in these routes, whatever the economic calculations. Continue reading

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The Merchants of Siberia: A Blog Conversation

Merchants of Siberia editWelcome to our new blog conversation on Erika Monahan’s remarkable The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Eurasia (Cornell University Press, 2016).  Erika’s book is a comprehensive study of the structure and logistics of trade in Siberia, which is a ground-breaking accomplishment based on considerable archival research.   I expect that her analysis of Russia as an “activist commercial state” will become the standard framework for explaining the Russian economy in the future studies.  One of the features that is most exciting about the book is that Erika effectively moves between a local history of Siberia and a global view of the Eurasian economy, offering new ideas and interpretations for scholars of Russia and world history. Continue reading

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Interwar émigrés

Although my academic work gives no hint of this, I’ve always been oddly fascinated by the interwar period. I know exactly where the fascination came from: mystery novels. No, even more specifically, British mystery novels, where the specter of war is rarely foregrounded but often there, from poor (well, not poor) shell-shocked Lord Peter Wimsey to clever and displaced Hercule Poirot. I even love more recent mystery novels that take interwar Britain as their setting—an awfully popular setting, really, perhaps because everyone is trying to recapture the allure of Sayers and Christie.

Because I’m me, there is one extra thing I always notice in these novels—the random Russian émigrés who show up around the edges of the stories, making their lives in the wider European world. In Dorothy L. Sayers’ Have His Carcase the murder victim is a young Russian émigré working as a professional dancer at a resort hotel. In her Strong Poison Lord Peter visits the smoky rooms of hipster Bloomsbury, where Russians fry sausages and play atonal music.

Yesterday I got a book out from the library that made me think about those Russians wandering about interwar Europe. On the surface, there’s no reason for the book to lead me there—it’s a history of the colonization of Siberia, by V. I. Shunkov, from 1946. But the book had this stamp:

Bookstamp

It says Библиотека русских шофферов, or the library of Russian chauffeurs, and gives an address in Paris. Well, of course I had to find out a little bit more about that.  Continue reading

Posted in Soviet Era 1917-1991, Transnational History | 10 Comments

Ivanovo: Manumission

As I’ve spent time reading files and writing about Ivanovo, one of the things I’ve wondered about is how exactly the spate of manumissions that first created this odd part-serf/part-industrial society happened. Obviously it happened when a group of serfs gained their manumission, but that’s not actually a simple thing. Manumission was not in general an unknown part of serf life, and a number of accounts of Ivanovo note that the Ivanovo serf E. I. Grachev had received his freedom back in 1802. But that had been a single instance of manumission, and since then Ivanovo had been developing into a major textile center without additional cases over the next two decades. Then, suddenly, in the middle of the 1820s, something changed, as a dozen or so serfs gained their freedom over the course of just a couple of years. The short time period in which this number of serfs gained their freedom is still a clear sign of some specific event.

Part of the answer to this question almost certainly has to do with something that has nothing to do with Ivanovo itself: Sheremetev’s age. Born in 1803, and orphaned just a couple of years later, he only gained control of his estates from his guardians in the middle of the 1820s. Before then, he had just barely begun to think of manumitting serfs. In 1819, his former wetnurse, Anna Danilova, and her family, were granted freedom through Sheremetev’s personal desire. This was an isolated incident, though, and because at that point he was still a minor, Emperor Alexander himself had to approve the manumission. Continue reading

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Motivations

I have a memory from graduate school of driving up to Northwestern University to hear a talk by Sheila Fitzpatrick. This is a little bit odd because I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and therefore had ample opportunity to hear Sheila speak. I know I went with my friend and fellow graduate student Jenifer Stenfors, and I think it was the lure of a day, or at least an afternoon, away from school playing hooky, or so it felt, that was the real pull. I remember stopping in at the Bahai temple on the way, still the only time I’ve been in that space, and being struck by the contrast between its opulent exterior and the very ordinary chairs scattered about its interior. Even there, I’m not sure of why we stopped—had we planned it, or were we running ahead of time and decided to stop, on a whim? (And, in fact, I now realize, looking it up to give a link, that it is not on the way, but past Northwestern, and so we had to have made some decision about going there.)

At the talk Sheila said something—or at least, I remember her saying something—that has stuck with me ever since. This would have been sometime between 1995 and 1997, and so Stalin’s Peasants had recently come out and Sheila must have been working on Everyday Stalinism. My memory is that Sheila mentioned that she was thinking of writing a book that looked at the relationship between Stalin and Molotov—clearly an early version of the project that became On Stalin’s Team—and that one of the reasons the idea appealed to her was that as a social historian she was constantly seeing little bits of people’s lives, but only little bits, never a full story, never people you could really know. In contrast, focusing on just a couple of figures, and well documented figures, to boot, would let her get to know these people in a way that writing social history didn’t allow. Continue reading

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Ivanovo: Ivan Baburin, IV

Ivan Baburin’s intransigence completely puzzled the Ivanovo estate administration. In the archival files he comes off as completely unconcerned with the fact that he had just decided to stop paying rent, and was therefore maintaining a presence in Ivanovo totally illegally. In reports from the administration, Baburin seems to have believed—or at least claimed—that he was totally justified in his actions. He had faithfully paid rent while using the buildings. Now that they no longer existed, he felt no need to pay for them. He also told the estate administration multiple times that he was planning on going to St. Petersburg in person to talk to Sheremetev, implying that they could work something out man to man. Of course, he told the estate administration this in 1842, claiming that he would go as soon as he got back from the Makar’ev market… and then told them the same thing in 1844, when he had not gone. Clearly, he had no intention of doing anything other than staying in Ivanovo, not paying rent, and rebuilding.

In response, the administration sent reports. And occasionally petitions. And mostly didn’t know what to do about him. Continue reading

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Visualizing the 1897 Census in Pie Charts

A couple years ago one of my Soviet history students, Jessy Mwarage, said he wanted to do a bit of extra work at the opening of the semester, so I gave him some Russian census data from 1897 to play with. He turned the data into very elegant pie charts.  

I should add one caveat. I’m not absolutely positive about the quality of the data, but I think it’s reasonably good. Above all, it will give students a sense of the diversity of the population in the Russian Empire.

Russian Census Data, 1897

Total population:  125,640,021 people
Sex:  50.2 % female;  49.8 % male
Urban:   16,828,395 (13.4%);   Rural:  108,811,626 (86.6%)
Literacy:   29.3% of males;  13.1% of females were literate
 
Nationalities (as determined by language)

  • Russians:  56 million (44%)
  • Ukrainians:  22 million (17%)
  • Poles:  8 million (6%)
  • Belarusians (a.k.a. White Russians):  6 million (5%)
  • Jews (Yiddish speaking): 5 million (4%)
  • Kirghiz = 4million (3%)
  • Tatars = 3.7 million Tatars (3%)
  • Georgians, Germans, Latvians, Lithuanians, Moldovians: 1-2 million each (1.6%)
  •  
     

     
     
    Religions

    • Russian Orthodox:   69.34%
    • Muslims:   11.07%
    • Roman Catholics:   9.13%
    • Jews:   4.15%
    • Lutherans:   2.84%
    • Old Believers and others split from Russian Orthodox:   1.75%
    • Armenian Gregorians & Armenian Catholics:   0.97%
    • Buddhists, lamaists:   0.34%
    • Other Protestants:   0.15%

     

     
     

    Social Groups

    Peasants and Cossacks:                      99.8 million (79.4% of the total population)

    Towndwellers:                                     13.4 million (10.7%)

    Total lower classes:  113.2 million (90.1%)

    Merchants, honored citizens:             0.6 million (0.5%)

    Church estate:                                       0.6 million (0.5%)

    Nobility:                                                  1.85 million (1.5%)

    National minorities [inorodtsy] incl. Jews:      8.3 million (6.6%)

    Foreigners:                                            0.6 million (0.5%)

     

     

     

     
    Source of Income of Main Breadwinner

    Agriculture  (incl. livestock prod., fishing, forestry):  74.57%

    Manufacturing & crafts (esp. sewing, construction, metal, textiles, woodworking):  9.34%

    Servants and daily manual workers:   4.61%

    Commerce:   3.99%

    Transport and communications (nearly one half were horse and cart drivers)  1.55%

    Army and navy:   .99%

    Public administration (state & local authorities):   .75%

    Living on capital income:   .72%

    Religious institutions (including clerks & janitors):   .63%

    Medicine, education, science, literature, and legal practice:  .61%

    Mining:   .44%

    Others:    1.8%

     

     

     
     
    Largest Cities of the Russian Empire:

     

    Data from Wikipedia (English and Russian) and other sources.   Pie charts by Jessy Mwarage.

    Posted in Imperial Russia, Teaching Russian History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

    Russian Census of 1897 as teaching tool

    This week Pietro Shakarian posted an article on Russia Direct that addresses the issue of the ethnic composition of the Russian Empire in 1897 as it relates to current crises in Ukraine, Crimea, Nagorno-Karabakh and Trans-Caucasia. To my mind it is very informative and would be a good article for students to read if one also gave them good maps. (Shakarian is apparently a PhD student at Ohio State University.)

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    Shopping in Moscow, 1705

    The British expat community found living in Russia to be a great hardship, regularly complaining about the inhospitable weather and its remote location. Even worse, Russia was expensive, especially for prominent foreigners who expected access to some of the finer things. The British envoy to Russia at the beginning of the eighteenth century (Charles Whitworth ) was one of those men. Fortunately, we happen to have access to a couple of his shopping lists (for 1705 and 1706) that provide some insights into the sorts of luxuries a diplomat needed to maintain his position in society. These items were also treated a special project for his staff to acquire, suggesting they weren’t always available in the local markets.

    Charles Whitworth

    Charles Whitworth

    All the items below are on his list from July 1705. In Moscow, Whitworth instructed the British consul to purchase:

    6 hogshead of good claret (1 hogshead is about 300 liters)
    1 hogshead of good French white wine
    1 hogshead of Languedoc or any other good wine
    1 or 2 chests of Florence if they are to be procured
    1 barrel of English ale
    2 dozen drinking glasses
    10 dozen of lemons
    5 dozen China oranges
    A quantity of Dry Sweatmeats Continue reading

    Posted in Imperial Russia, Russia in World History, Transnational History | 1 Comment

    Ivanovo: Ivan Baburin, III

    The story I’ve set up so far has three elements: first, a huge fire that caused massive damage to the village, and perhaps particularly to the merchant entrepreneurs and their economic interests; second, a lingering issue over land tenure based in the terms of most of the local merchants’ manumission; and third, the specific ways one particular merchant, Ivan Baburin, interacted with his former owner and his former fellow serfs.

    At first, in the aftermath of the fire, Baburin tried to use the good relationship he had built with the larger village community to his advantage. In early 1840 (so, the year after the fire), he petitioned Sheremetev asking to have his rental agreement renegotiated. As he put it, ever since his manumission he had been faithfully paying 1,000 rubles each year for use of the factories he had built.  Now, though, after the fire, he was faced with a problem: he had to rebuild, and this was going to be extremely expensive. Given that he had even gone beyond the requirements of his manumission agreement, acting in the best interests of the local community by doing things like building a bridge for general use, he asked, could Sheremetev and the estate management see fit to reduce his yearly dues until he had rebuilt and was once again manufacturing at full capacity.

    Baburin hoped that the good relationship he had built with the local peasants would stand him in good stead, and lead them to recommend leniency. He was soon disappointed. The peasants of Ivanovo met at a skhod to discuss his case, but although they claimed to sympathize with Baburin, they argued that the fire hadn’t hurt his trade enough to warrant a reduction in his annual payments to the estate. As a result, they reported to the Sheremetev administration that Baburin ought to be held to the terms of his original agreement, and the administration agreed.

    If that had been where the matter ended, this wouldn’t be much of a story. But instead, a couple of things happened that make this case interesting: first, how Baburin reacted, and second, what the Sheremetev estate was then able to do in response. First, Baburin engaged in what was essentially an act of civil disobedience: he stopped paying his dues. And second, despite the vaunted power of Russia’s serf-owners over their own serfs, the Sheremetev estate found itself unable to do anything about it. Continue reading

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    Letters to Max

    Letters-to-Max

    This intriguing 2014 documentary takes place in an obscure part of the former Soviet Union called Abkhazia – a tiny sub-tropical mountainous region on the coast of the Black Sea (“Letters to Max,” https://vimeo.com/89560258). This country of 242,000 residents, most of them ethnic Abkhazians who practice Eastern Orthodoxy and who speak Russian, is ostensibly a part of the post-Soviet nation of Georgia. But like many former Soviet territories, simmering ethnic tensions exploded as the Soviet Union disintegrated, turning into a brutal civil war in 1992 and 1993. The Georgian forces were defeated, leading to the expulsion of ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia and a ceasefire in 1994 enforced by a combination of United Nations and Russian peacekeepers. Abkhazia’s independence, however, has only been recognized by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru. The forces of Abkhazia periodically clash with the Georgian army as the nation-in-formation, with Russia’s help and in opposition to the United States, seeks international recognition.

    abhazia map

    Abkhazia’s fate provides a window into two processes. The longer-term process is the formation of modern nation-states, which invariably involves competing forces who claim to represent the “real nation” and who seek backing for their claims. The second is the backdrop of the Soviet Union’s attempts to build national communities within the confines of its vast borders. It was a project that simultaneously promoted and suppressed a bewildering array of national identities and various levels of cultural and political autonomy for hundreds of ethnic groups. The tensions and conflicts created by Soviet policies were contained only by Soviet authoritarianism and by the communist party of the Soviet Union. When both the party and the Soviet Union collapsed, unresolved national tensions, exacerbated by various land grabs by newly independent and former Soviet national republics, produced a number of frozen conflicts along the Russian Federation’s borders – in Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, just to name a few.

    abkhazia_old_gagra_lrg

    The documentary tells the story of Abkhazia’s search for legitimacy through a diplomat named Maxim Gvinjia, whose mission since the Soviet Union’s collapse has been to establish Abkhazia’s place in the community of recognized nation-states. During the course of filming “Max” occupied various positions inside and outside Abkhazia’s Foreign Ministry, eventually becoming Foreign Minister in 2013 for a brief period. The filmmaker (“Eric”) uses the narrative device of the letter to tell his story, filming Max as he opens letters from “Eric” in Paris in which Eric asks Max a question regarding his job and life. The film consists of Max’s responses to those questions, set against the backdrop of Abkhazia and Max’s daily routines.

    Photo 2 Passport

    Max is an amiable and interesting narrator, with the detached and wry sense of humor of a person (and people) whose experiences defy clichéd conceptions of liberation, democracy, national sovereignty, and progress. The film opens with Max wondering about Eric’s question of where exactly he is. His philosophical answer touches on one of the central dilemmas of the modern nation-state, namely, that most people’s identities and sense of self do not match the ideas about identity projected by the state that purports to embody their “will.” Max points out that there are many recognized countries, such as Somalia, Afghanistan or Yemen, which make little sense as nation-states. The way various peoples within those states self-identify rarely match state conceptions and often are violently at odds with official political visions. Max claims that Abkhazia, in contrast, is unique in the relative perception by its citizens and state leaders of a united community of interests and identity.

    sukhum

    Abkhazia is a beautiful country, situated in a mountainous region that hugs the Black Sea Coast. The spectacular coastline views combine with a human-built world which, like much of the former Soviet Union, is in a state of exquisite decay and dilapidation – a place frozen in a Soviet past, similar to the frozen political conflicts that provide the political and social equivalent of a landscape. For Max, the state of decay is a starting point for his own discourse on nostalgia for the Soviet period, when the Abkhazian sea city of Sukhum (known in Soviet times by the Georgian Sukhumi) was a meeting point of cultures and peoples, and also a resort town for Soviet citizens. With its harbor, Sukhum in the Soviet era was far more open to the world and various peoples than other parts of the Soviet Union. That openness contrasts with the city’s current isolation in the post-Soviet world – yet another one of the many ironies highlighted by Max in his letters and discourses on camera.

    photo-6

    The director is careful to ask tough questions of Max, especially regarding the fate of Georgian refugees, who are unable to return to the Abkhazia that their families for centuries called home before the war of 1992-1993. Does creating a new Abkhazia mean erasing their memory? Is the coherence of Abkhazia as a nation-state, in which the identity of its citizens seems to match ideas about identity projected by the state, a result of ethnic cleansing? Max’s very surprisingly honest and apolitical answer — perhaps one reason for his being sacked as Abkhazia’s foreign minister — is both yes but also that the fate of Georgians is part of the tragedy and irreversible change in Abkhazia as a result of the Civil War. There can be no return to the Soviet period, though Max admits he would love to do so, when ethnic harmony was supposedly far more the norm than the exception. With regard to a question regarding whether Abkhazia has escaped from Georgia only to be eaten up by Russia and become a playground for Russian Oligarchs, Max is unequivocal. Russians, says Max, are the ones willing to buy Abkhazian products, spend tourist dollars in Abkhazia, and support Abkhazian independence. Given the limited range of options for Akbhazians, and the reality of Russia’s presence, Abkhazia has no choice but to align itself closely with Putin and the Russian Federation. The Mexicans say, “It’s the same hell only with a different devil.” For the Abkhazians, aligning with Russia is not quite the same hell, and perhaps preferable to Georgia, but few Abkhazians would mistake Russian leaders and oligarchs for saviors.

    Posted in Nationalism and National Identity, Nostalgia and Memory, Post-Soviet Russia, The Collapse of the Soviet Union | Leave a comment

    Ivanovo: Ivan Baburin, II

    In my first post about Ivan Baburin, I concentrated on the ways that he likely felt at odds with the estate administration or with Sheremetev—he was a prosperous man by nearly any measure, having purchased his freedom and entered the Moscow merchant society, apparently quickly moving into the first guild. His consistent success allowed him access to the status of honored citizen, as well. At the same time, however, he paid dearly to continue to manufacture in Ivanovo. And more troubling, he paid more dearly than his fellow former serfs by a considerable amount. Given his success, some extra payment might have seemed acceptable, but it’s hard to imagine that he did not feel some resentment at the degree to which he was burdened by payments to his former owner in comparison to others.

    The Church of Christ's Birth in Ivanovo; Ivan Baburin contributed to its construction. Source: Фотосайт Владимира Побединского.

    The Church of Christ’s Birth in Ivanovo; Ivan Baburin contributed to its construction. (I think.) Source: Фотосайт Владимира Побединского.

    There is, however, another way to view the story of Ivan Baburin’s experience after his manumission, one that focuses not on sources of resentment, but instead on a much more positive view of his relationships in Ivanovo. This vision of Baburin’s later role in the village focuses not on his relationship with Sheremetev and the administration, but on his relationship with the Ivanovo serfs, with his own workers, and with his fellow factory owners.

    When looked at from this point of view, Ivan Baburin seems to have been both well respected and well liked in Ivanovo after his manumission. Although his decision to join the Moscow merchant society as opposed to one of the more local merchant societies of Shuia or Vladimir might have marked him as someone with hopes of social advancement and therefore separation from his former society, in the middle of the 1830s he was instead described as a model factory owner in the village. Continue reading

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    Travel tales and unreliable informants

    While I was moving some stuff around my office, I rediscovered my copy of Kazan’s Mother of God icon.  I haven’t really thought about it since I wrote my first book, but I had recently come across some interesting pieces of misinformation about the icon that cropped up in eighteenth century sources.  Before I can relate the later stories, here’s a brief summary of what I know about the icon.

    Copy of Kazan's Mother of God Icon

    Copy of Kazan’s Mother of God Icon

    According to a manuscript version of the miracle tale from the beginning of the seventeenth century, during a fire in Kazan’ on June 23 June, 1579, the icon appeared in a vision of a young girl, instructing her to take shelter in Church of Nikolai Tulskii the Miracle-worker. The tale informs the reader that the appearance of the icon during the fire was a reward from God for the Orthodox faithful in Kazan’ for their ongoing battle against “non-believers” (inovernye).  Following the first appearance, the icon performed a number of miracles – about ten, the number varies slightly in different versions of the tale. Its miracle-working powers were sufficiently well known that a copy of the icon was carried into battle against the Poles in 1612, where it was recorded as having performed new miracles which, in turn, were recorded in the edifying tale, “About the Advance of the Kazan’ Icon of the Mother of God toward Moscow.” With a proven reputation, Kazan’s Mother of God icon acquired a national festival on July 8, 1633. Continue reading

    Posted in Imperial Russia, Medieval Russia, Nostalgia and Memory, Russian Orthodoxy | 2 Comments

    Ivanovo: The Case of Ivan Baburin, Part I

    The massive 1839 fire clearly caused upset among the local manufacturers of Ivanovo. They hoped to get greater recognition of their important role in the local economy, but found their proposals shut down by Sheremetev. Most seem to have accepted this, perhaps with some bad feeling, and rebuilt either locally or on purchased lands outside the village.

    One of the merchants, however, continued to fight.

    Ivan Aleksandrov Baburin was freed in late 1833 along with his wife, Anna Ivanova. This made him one of the last of the serfs freed during the initial burst of manumissions made by Sheremetev at the end of the 1820s and beginning of the 1830s. According to the notice sent from the St. Petersburg chancellery of the Sheremetev estates to the Ivanovo estate administration, Baburin was allowed to continue to live in Ivanovo for twenty years (counting from the beginning of 1834), and also agreed to pay “five hundred paper rubles for the lord’s income, and the same amount to the village to help the poor.”

    This was a fairly standard agreement for the time, but it was unusual in one important way: Baburin agreed to pay much more than others freed around the same time. An 1843 register of freed serfs with agreements to continue living in the village makes this absolutely clear. Twenty former serfs were listed (actually slightly more than twenty, as several pairs of brothers had been freed together and were still running their business as a partnership). One, Anton Nikolaev Shodchin, was paying 300 rubles to Sheremetev and 100 to the village. Another, Nikandr Ivanov Posnikov, was paying 150 rubles to Sheremetev and 50 to the village. One pair, Petr and Nikon Mefod’ev Garelin, were paying 25 rubles to Sheremetev and the same to the village. Everyone else on the list was paying either 50 or 60 rubles to the village. Continue reading

    Posted in Imperial Russia, Ivanovo | Leave a comment