Russian Citizenship–the view from Germany

Like Alison, I want to begin by thanking Josh and Eric for allowing me to participate in this conversation.  It was a pleasure to read this excellent book and, even more so, to have a chance to engage in this dialogue about it.

To begin, it was fascinating to see some of the issues I have worked on in German history through the very different perspective of Russian history.  For example, while autocratic leanings and restrictive citizenship laws have often operated in tandem in Germany, some of Russia’s most autocratic leaders were the most invested in the “attract and hold” policy, which brought foreigners to Russian soil.

I found one of the most interesting parts of the book to be the impact that the sheer size of Russian territory and its near continuous expansion had on its citizenship laws and policies.  The continued annexations that lasted well into the late 19th century made it attractive and, indeed, necessary for the Russian state to negotiate conditions of belonging for different newly acquired territories.  In one striking case, the 1858 Treaty of Aigun recognized the Russian state’s weak hold on its far Eastern expanses, recognizing that its residents remained Chinese citizens, even while residing on Russian territory.  While German historians can and have looked towards the annexations of small parcels of Danish territory in the 1860s and Alsace-Lorraine a few years later, the fact is that annexation was quantitatively and qualitatively different elsewhere on the European continent than it was in Russia.

From what I could tell, size seems to play less of a role in Soviet citizenship policies.  And I was curious whether this was indeed the case.  If so, why?  And if not, how did the territorial expanse of the USSR continue to play a role in determining citizenship policy after the Bolsheviks came to power?

One other intriguing aspect of this book was the degree to which citizenship, throughout the imperial period and, in a different sense, after the formation of the Soviet Union, was a differential category.  As Alison addressed, these separate deals and separate categories permeated citizenship law.  Physical location, religion and occupation all played a role in rendering a dizzying array of different citizenships.  Furthermore, in almost all cases, the responsibilities of citizenship were as, if not more, important than the rights accorded to citizens.  As Eric makes clear, there were very important reasons for longterm resident foreigners to remain non-citizens, even after the path to citizenship was eased in 1864.  Given that this was the case and that citizenship meant something so very different from what it meant even in the authoritarian Wilhelmine state, is this truly citizenship?  In what ways does calling this citizenship help illuminate what is going on in Russia, and–in reverse–how does this work help to illuminate the broader literature on citizenship?  Or is there a way to think of this tapestry of belonging in terms outside of the Western/European conception of citizenship?

As a German historian, some of my favorite parts of the book were to see the intersections between German and Russian law.  For instance, the resonance of  Germany’s Polish expulsions in the Russo-German relationship and in Russian citizenship practice was truly fascinating.  Furthermore, as I have written in the past about the  group of German workers who hoped to settle in Russia in 1920 to found a utopian socialist colony (it didn’t go well), it was great to see them have a cameo in this book.

Finally, I want to ask a couple more questions about the transition between the Imperial and Soviet periods.  Eric is largely convincing that that the 1920s turn towards autoarky represented a significant break from Russian practice rather than a return to the imperial period’s policies.  But why?  Is this a question of a decisive difference in Bolshevik ideology or a consequence of the greater technological efficiency of the Soviet state?  How much does this autoarchic turn relate to a broader interwar trend towards restrictive citizenship?  One wonders here if Soviet policy in the 1930s is in anyway comparable to the differently autarchic Nazi state or if the two situations are so different that there is nothing to be gained from such a comparison?

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One Response to Russian Citizenship–the view from Germany

  1. Eric Lohr says:

    Annemarie Sammartino points out that the German tradition is starkly different from the Russian in that it paired autocratic leanings with exclusionary and restrictive citizenship, while Russian autocrats became deeply invested in the “attract and hold” approach. Part of the reason is indeed the sheer size of the empire, which led rulers to make “separate deals” with newly annexed elites—different negotiated sets of privileges and obligations. Another part has to do with the much more developed set of German state functions as provider of welfare and services. Many accounts trace the relatively restrictive German citizenship policies back to the incentive to restrict access to both the indigent poor and to foreigners. The historical problem in Russia was always the opposite—trying to hold peasants from leaving the burdens of serfdom or seeking better conditions under other landlords, or trying to keep elites, soldiers, and servitors from leaving Russian service.

    Was the Russian case “truly citizenship” if obligations prevailed over rights? Perhaps the Russian case falls outside the Western European concept of citizenship? Sure—if one’s focus is on citizenship defined as equal rights and obligations under the law, then Russia is quite different from Europe. (Serfs in Prussia and Austria or slaves in British and French holdings abroad, or blacks in Mississippi in the early 20th century may beg to differ, but overall, Russia is on a far end of the scale for most of its history). If the book were first and foremost about rights and obligations, I would have used the term subjecthood to refer to the pre-1905 institution (though one could argue that in these terms, subjecthood is a better description of the Soviet 1930s individual than the 1907 Russian individual). But my book focuses not on rights and obligations, but rather the boundary between members and non-members. That boundary can be called the “subjecthood boundary”—and in earlier drafts, that’s what I did. In the end, I found that this created its own problems. Practically, it became awkward to have different terms for France, the United States, Britain, and Russia when discussing practically the same issue (membership in the state or not). More conceptually, it seemed to exaggerate the sense that Russian subjecthood stood separate and apart from other European citizenships. One of my points in the book is to stress the interactivity of Russian citizenship policies and practices with those in other countries to reveal interconnections and mutual influences. Using a single term seems a step in that direction. Anyway, if anyone would like to see a longer (and more carefully written) explanation of the reasons for using the term citizenship, take a look at pp. 3-5 in the introduction.

    Annemarie asks whether size continued to play a role in the Soviet era. It did, but what strikes me is the success of the Soviet regime in overcoming this. Although the early Soviet regime made a comprehensive effort to tolerate and even promote regional cultural differences, it made fateful decisions early on to create a unified citizenship and certainly did not provide starkly different rights and obligations to each republic. The Soviet annexations of 1939—which do not fall within the scope of the book—provide an even sharper contrast. Rather than negotiate with local elites or recognize their existing social structures, the Soviet annexation forces systematically destroyed the local Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian elites.

    I am pleased to see that Annemarie found the interactive aspect of German and Russian citizenship policymaking interesting. I found that citizenship is a great illustration of the benefits of employing the methodology of “entangled history,” something that we discussed extensively at a conference on empires a few years ago. You can see my more extended analysis of the entangled nature of Russian and German citizenship policies in the volume that resulted from that conference: “Germanskoe zaimstvovanie?”: Poddanstvo i politika v oblasti immigratsii i naturalizatsii v Rossiiskoi imperii kontsa XIX – nachala XX veka,” in Imperium inter pares: Rol’ transferov v istorii Rossiiskoi imperii (1700-1917), edited by Martin Aust, Ricarda Vilpius, Aleksei Miller (Мoscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2010), 330-353.

    Finally, Annemarie asks why the Bolsheviks broke so decisively with the imperial traditions of citizenship. It is a great question, and just as difficult to answer as the same question for other aspects of the Bolshevik regime. Ideology, circumstance, and international developments all were significant factors. Ideology was of course most powerful in the policies toward the lishentsy (people deprived of the rights of citizenship due to their class background and other factors and the subject of Golfo Alexopoulos’ first book). Ideology also was crucial to the ‘great denaturalization’ of 1.5 million émigrés (many seen as former tsarist elites and veterans of the white armies). But ideology would also have predicted an open invitation to workers of the world to come to the motherland of the communist revolution. But the police and security concerns trumped ideology in this case (along with the practical consideration of low need for labor in the early USSR). The international context was also important. The sharp restriction of international travel and naturalization laws was part of a global shift during and after World War I. The U.S. laws restricting immigration were particularly important in reducing the “pull” on immigrants from the Soviet Union and Europe, and certainly facilitated the Soviet clampdown on emigration. The “great denaturalization” itself would not have had such a lasting impact if host countries had allowed refugees and emigrants to naturalize in their new countries of residence. If the Russian pre-1914 policies went with the flow of the global intensification of international migration, the post-1917 polices also went with the flow of global trends.

    The Nazi comparison is potentially fascinating, and should be the topic of a future article. The denaturalization of Jews in Nazi Germany finds some points of comparison with the Soviet great denaturalization and lishentsy policies. However, the differences are of course numerous as well.

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