Colonialism in Russian empire: practices. Panel discussion

Liya Xie, Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg


Empire as power dynamics between the dominant and the subordinate: comparing Russian, British, and Napoleonic French empires


Empire, as a form of state, is a historical phenomenon that existed as early as ancient Rome and China. However, the term “empire” itself has been constantly evolving throughout the history, hence inevitably changing the boundaries of historical investigation on empires. In this paper, the essence of empire lies in the power dynamics between a dominant polity and subordinate polities that differ in ethnicity, culture or religion. Based on this relational definition, this project compares three 19th-century empires—the Russian Empire, the British Empire and the Napoleonic French Empire

through the lens of ideology, administration and education. In addition to these three 19th-century empires, the discussion also includes the 20th-century Soviet Union case to examine how well it tallies with the definition of an empire. This project addresses the importance of striking the “right” balance between centralization and decentralization efforts in administration and education policies for imperial rulers to sustain an empire.

The analysis of different configurations of imperial ideology, administration and education via a spectrum of power equilibrium demonstrates that both a plethora and deficiency of control would destabilize imperial power.


Key words: empire, nationalism, governance of diversity, comparative studies.



Aleksej Panchenko, Surgut State Pedagogical University 


The concepts «colony» and «colonization» in the academic and legislative discourses of the Russian empire


In the second lecture of  «The Course of Russian history» by V.O. Kljuchevsky wrote: «The Russian history is  the history of the country, which is colonized», which led to  A. Etkind’s   application of  the «internal colonisation» theory to the Russian history. However,  this  is the case  of modernisation of history as concepts of  «colonization» and «colony» (in the sense  used by V.O. Kljuchevsky)  varied in the academic and legislative discourses of the Russian empire in different epochs. The concepts «colonist» and «colony» first  appeared in Catherine II decrees in 1764 f. Legislation on colonists was placed in  the section «foreign settlements » in the index to «Full meeting of laws».  Foreigners, invited or arrived voluntarily to be employed in agriculture were called colonists and the lands allocated thereto were colonies. «Settlements of the Russian citizens», even on territory of Alaska, were not considered  colonies until 1865. In the dictionaries «colonies» were defined as settlement of foreign citizens on the territory of the Russian empire. But compilers of dictionaries were familiar with  another  meaning of these terms as there were articles  about «the colonial goods» – resources of the West India. During the subsequent period Russian America was the only colony recognised at the legislative level. At the same time members of the Siberian regionalism had put forward the statement about the colonial status of Siberia, which was categorically rejected by the authorities due to its  strong  separative nature. At the turn of  the XIX-XX centuries in the academic dictionaries the word combination «colonisation of Russia» (which was understood as exploration of the territory of  the empire by Russian people) and «colonization» (the establishemnt  of European settlements in overseas uncivilised  areas)emerged. Thus,  it is necessary to take account of  various semantic layers of these concepts in  different periods.


Key words: colonisation, the Russian empire, internal colonisation, resettlements.



Igor Vernyaev, Saint Petersburg State University


The integration of the legal space and preservation

of legal pluralism in the late Russian Empire


The paper analyzes the extent to which the legal space of the Russian Empire in the early twentieth century was integrated. The degree of representation of legal pluralism, that is, the preservation within the empire of separate legal statuses of individual regions, ethnic, ethno-social and ethno-confessional groups, is assessed. American historian B. Boeck called pre-modern Russia “empire of separate deals”. The complex nature of Russian expansion contributed to the formation of special rules, procedures, legal regimes, statuses for different territories and groups of the population. A lot of enclaves and legal spaces, which were separated by their status, were within the empire. From the middle of the XIX century Russian government pursued a more or less consistent policy on the dissolution of the “deals” discussed here, the dismantling of separate statuses and autonomous social and legal regimes within the empire. The paper substantiates the idea that the formation of a unified legal space of the Russian Empire was not completed until its disintegration. Explanations are offered why this happened. Moreover, attention is drawn to the fact that the government arbitrarily or unwittingly created new separate legal statuses, and that politics contradicted the general line on the integration of the legal space. The facts and causes of these contradictory tendencies are investigated.


Key words: Russian empire, legal pluralism, integration of legal space.



Elena Lopatina , Institute of Slavic Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow


Russification as an instrument of the policy of integration in the Russian Empire (the analysis based on the case of Privislinskij kraj)


The report is focused on the process of the Polish province integration within the Russian Empire at the time of Alexander III. The ideas of reforming  administrative systems in national regions had always been generated by imperial governors,  and the issue of imperial mechanisms and establishments is still topical. The integration of the Kingdom of Poland was necessary for the Russian administrators in order to secure western borders of the Empire. The mere logic of the empire meant its expansion and growth of  population, and  the Russian Empire was not an exclusion. The British Empire or the German Empire were also aspiring to control new territories. The better the integration, the more powerful the empire was, while the more diverse the legislation in different provinces of the empire, the weaker it was – that is what the history of the greatest empires shows. Still, the integration implies subordination to the central authorities. The nations under imperial control, in their turn, are supposed to abandon the administrative elements which contradict the imperial ones. The Poles in the Russian Empire had to abandon some administrative, legislative and military traditions. One of the most painful issues for them was the status of the Polish language in the Empire. The russification in education – a form of cultural assimilation process during which non-Russian communities, voluntarily or not, give up their culture and language in favor of the Russian one – worried Polish patriots. The complete unification of Polish lands was impossible and unnecessary for the Empire. However,  there was sometimes no consensus concerning  which aspects of life in national regions were to be taken under control of the Empire. 


Key words: russification, Alexander III, the Kingdom of Poland, administrative reforms.



Evgenij Luferchik, Minsk, Belarus 


«The advanced post of Russian statehood in the West»: the Polish question and the Belarusian-Lithuanian provinces in Russian Socio-Political Discourse (the second half of the 19th – the beginning of the 20th century) 


The report examines the perception of the Belarusian-Lithuanian provinces in the Russian socio-political discourse in the context of solving the Polish question. The Polish question was seen as a challenge threatening not only the territorial integrity, but also the  emerging nation being formed in the process of the modernization of the empire. The modern nation was not based on “imperial patriotism” (political loyalty of the social elite), but on ethnic features and “Russianness”.

The desire of the Poles to restore their statehood “from sea to sea” in the context of the construction of national myths was considered “a fantastic encroachment” on “primordially Russian lands” in the west of the Russian empire . The task was to ensure the organization and management of the western periphery, which would not tolerate a threat to the territorial integrity of the empire. The localization of the Polish question not only in the Kingdom of Poland, but also in the Northwest area predetermined the desire of the government of the empire and the local administration to “liberate” the Belarusian-Lithuanian provinces from the “artificially created prevalence of alien elements” and to establish “all-Russian principles” in the region.

Based on the analysis of a wide range of archival materials (primarily documents of official management), as well as articles from Russian socio-political journals, the report reconstructs the content of the Polish question in the Belarusian-Lithuanian provinces, the practices of its solution, as well as socio-political discussions concerning this issue. The author concludes that  there was interconnection and interinfluence between pluralistic socio-political discourse (through the periodical press) and state policy in solving the Polish question.


Key words: Belarusian-Lithuanian provinces, Northwest Area, Polish question, socio-political journals, discourse.



Vladislav Zakharov, School of Olympic reserve, Orenburg 


Penal servitude as means of colonization of Sakhalin


This article is devoted to colonization of Sakhalin by means of penal servitude. The reasons why penal servitude became the  means of settling  the island are examined by the author.The article analyzes the connection between  penal servitude and the growth of population of the island of Sakhalin. Changes in the social composition of the island in the second half of the 19th century as well as  causes  of abandoning the policy of such colonization are investigated.


Key words: Penal servitude, exile, colonization, island of Sakhalin.



Pavel Pimenov, Ural Federal University, Ekaterinburg


Frontier modernization of Russian America


In the XIX century the territory of Russian America was managed by a private Russian-American company established in 1799. Initially,  the company derived its profit from hunting  marine animals and fur-trading. Maritime animal hunting was traditional occupation of local tribes, that is why Russian colonists actively involved locals in beaver hunting. However, in 1820s because of the natural resources overuse the company's profits decreased. This had posed a challenge for the Russian colony as it had triggered the need to change  the economic system and establish new profitable enterprises. In this situation colonists could no longer  rely on traditional practices of locals as modernization was necessary. This research paper is based on the frontier theory elaborated by the American scholar Frederick Jackson Turner. The paper addresses the following questions: what kind of social changes accompanied  the process of modernization ? did modernization achieve its goal to improve  the financial situation of the company? The major purpose of the research is to identify specific features of Russian-American frontier modernization. The object - the modernization process in transoceanic colony of the Russian Empire in 1820s-1850s . The diminishing role of traditional fur business triggered changes in  the relationships between Russian colonists and locals. In particular, kayurs’ social group, which served as  company “slaves”, had disappeared . New  areas of activity (including coal extraction) had become profitable and improved the company financial situation. Frontier modernization was characterised by several specific features: militarization, special administration system, "vectorial diffusion".


Key words: colonization, colonialism, Russian empire, Alaska, Russian America, Russian-American company, modernization, frontier theory.



Julia Lysenko, Inna Anisimova, Altai State University, Barnaul 


Ethnical elites of the Central Asian outskirts of Russia in the context of social transformation at the beginning of the 20th century: the attempts of ethnopolitical mobilization of the peoples of the region


 The article examines the activity of ethnic elites of Steppe Region and Turkestan before and during Revolutions of 1917 aimed at ethnopolitical mobilization of native peoples in the region. Ethnic elites actively integrating into all-Russian liberal-democratic and Muslim movement initiated a number of projects with a view to the formation of nations in the region. Practical measures in this direction were connected with reforming  native languages, educational and publishing activities aimed at raising legal awareness and culture, reviving interest in the  national history.

However, ethnic elites of Central Asian outskirts of Russia, in their aspirations, did not take into account a number of important circumstances. In the context of its own “catch-up modernization”, Russia was unable to modernize Steppe Region and Turkestan and  to invest in their economy and social sphere. That is why modernization here boiled down to joining backward regions to transport and trade systems of more developed regions of the country. Furthermore, restrictive norms of Russian legislation were applied to the administration of Islamic regional institutions, Muslim peoples were deprived of their suffrage and army service. These factors demonstrate weak influence of  the processes of modernization on traditional society, incompleteness of industrialization in Central Asian region of Russia just before Revolutions of 1917 and, as a result, inadequate strengthening of social mobility of native peoples on the Central Asian outskirts. The traditional attitudes  were prevalent in political culture, whereas European/ Western values, such as the ideas of parliamentarism, democracy, freedom of speech,  appealed to a small number of  autochthons, who were more successfully integrated into the Russian political and legal space.

The low potential of external resources of ethnopolitical mobilization predetermined the specificity of the development of internal resources. Tenuous engagement of native ethnic groups in  the process of industrialization and social mobility meant  they remained semi-illiterate and were not much involved in in educational system. That excluded prospects of extensive propaganda of nationalism ideas. It should also be taken into account that the incompleteness of the formation of the national bourgeoisie and  intellectuals,  engineers of ethnic mobilization, also significantly reduced their own efforts to  achieve the desired aim.

Therefore, the analysis of potential of external and internal resources  for ethnopolitical mobilization pursued by ethnic elites of Central Asian region of Russia before and during Revolutions of 1917 allowed authors to conclude that during  this historical period the nationalism was not yet a formed ideology and  a regional internal issue.


Key words: Russia, revolution, modernization, Steppe region, Turkestan, ethnical elite, ethnicity, nationalism.



Roman Pochekaev, Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg


Ethnic and religious minorities in Bukhara during the period of Russian protectorate (1868-1917)


The paper  analyses accounts by Russian and Western travelers who visited the Emirate of Bukhara, while it was under the protectorate of the Russian Empire, about  national and religious minorities. The paper examines the evolution of their legal status before and after the establishing of the Russian protectorate,  their attitude toward authorities of the Emirate and the Empire, their  place in the social system of the state,  their occupations (their rights to have certain professions). The author clarifies  the reasons for interest in national and religious diasporas on the part of Russian and foreign contemporaries on the territory of the Emirate, their proposals for changes in policy towards them. The author concludes that that the protection of the Russian Empire over national and religious minorities (Shiite Persians, Hindus, Bukharan Jews, etc.) could be attributed not to the imperial administration open-mindedness, but by their intention to form groups of influence to oppose the powerful anti-Russian political and religious forces (such as conservative aristocracy and radical clergy) and, consequently, to counterbalance adherents and opponents of the vassalage of Bukhara towards Russia.


Key words: Russian Empire, Emirate of Bukhara, protectorate, national and religious minorities.



Svetlana Kovalskaya, L.N. Gumilyov,  Eurasian National University, Astana, Kazakhstan, Sergej Lubichankovskij,

Orenburg State Pedagogical University 


Imperial practices of the governing of the diversity in the Kazakh steppe: colonial approach or the policy of acculturation? 


The gradual advancement of the Russian Empire to the Kazakh steppe, knowledge of the region’s specificity and Kazakh political elite, necessitated the development of various management models ranging from the model of deconcentrated power to its  quite rigorous and unified form. For a long time the imperial power  had lacked adequate resources to control socio-political processes in the steppe, which was indicative of the absence of a uniform colonial policy throughout the imperial period.

If  acculturation is perceived as cultural interaction of Russians as a politically dominant ethnic group with ethnic minorities, then this model is not applicable to  the Kazakh steppe space. Kazakhs were the dominant ethnic group in the imperial period, but gradually became an ethnic minority  under the Soviet rule. Political dominance may be also questioned as throughout most of the imperial time, the Russian imperial policy was implemented by indirect control through steppe socio-political structures, leaving a significant scope for the Kazakh political elite to fulfill their political ambitions. The Russian officials held  the highest posts. However, even with the abolishment of khanate in 1822, the Kazakh elite that had the right to power retained the posts of senior sultans and sultans-rulers. 

The situation began to change only from mid- XIX century as the Russian government became aware of disobedient subjects in the elite opposing the imperial practices. By the charters of 1822 and 1824 the Russian administration opened  career paths to all who sought power under the empire. The main thing was not the social background, but loyalty to the empire. All the Kazakh elite could be conditionally classified into two groups. The first accepted legitimacy of the Russian throne, the second were chosen by the steppe electoral right and, often, their legitimacy was recognized by the Chinese side or the Central Asian khanates as a snub to Russia.


Key words: imperial practices, management system, political dominance, acculturation, Russia, Kazakh steppe.



Zaurbek Kozhev, Кabardino-Balkarian Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Nalchik


Kabardiаn-Russian relations in the late 18thI – early 19th centuries: models of incorporation into the imperial space


The history of the military-political presence of the Moscow kingdom, and later -  of the Russian Empire,  in the North Caucasus began  in the middle of the XVI century. However, systematic measures aimed at developing the region and its incorporation into the empire date to a later period. From the last third of the XVIII century after a series of successful Russian-Turkish wars, the policy of the Russian Empire in the Caucasus acquired the nature of expansion.

Due to a number of strategic reasons, primarily the central geographical location, the tasks of providing transport transit to Kartly-Kakhety, etc. Kabarda was  one of the first  to have experienced incorporation into the Russian Empire was. Being  a multi-ethnic, hierarchically organized state-political  entity with a complex system of ethnic-social status, Kabarda became one of the first objects of application of practices of general imperial design in the North Caucasus.

The government of the Russian Empire and the social elites of Kabarda hesitated in the process of choosing adaptation strategies for new political realities  between rigid power models and attempts to find acceptable forms of coexistence within the framework of a common imperial space.


Key words: Central Caucasus, Kabarda, Russian Empire, incorporation, ethnic-social status, hierarchy.



Ritsa Zelnitskaya (Shlarba), Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, Saint Petersburg


The change of Imperial policy in Abkhazia in the late 19th-early 20th centuries


Since the end of the XIX c.- the beginning of the XX centuries the imperial policy toward the Abkhazians has changed. One of the most important reasons was the non-participation of the Abkhazians in the first Russian Revolution (1905–1907). According to  the statistics of the trials  only five of the 46 convicted revolutionaries were natives of Abkhazia. In general,  Abkhazian peasants never opposed the imperial policy because , on the one hand,  they still remembered the 1866 and 1877 violent uprisings and their consequences,  and  on the other hand,  peasants did not understand the goals and objectives of the revolution, which were strange to them. Propaganda was intense in the coastal cities (Sukhum, Gudauta, Ochamchira) where the Abkhazians,  having been declared “guilty population” in 1878,   were not allowed  to settle. So , the peasantry who lived in the remote villages  did not understand the revolution, and many of them had not even heard about it. In 1906 the Council of the Viceroy in the Caucasus emphasized that the Abkhazian population was distinguished by loyalty to the government. With this understanding that Minister of interior P.A. Stolypin proposed to remove the guilt from the Abkhazians and in 27 April, 1907,  Emperor Nikolai II abolished the Royal command dated  by 31 May,  1880 (The Declaration of guilt). In 31 May,  1907 , generals Pavlov and Veidenbaum after a solemn service carried out  in Likhni village, read the announcement about the acquittal, according to  which  the Abkhazian honorably passed the test. The process of “civilizing”  the Abkhazians started after the “acquittal”, and one of its aspect was  translating liturgical books. In the process of implementing  educational programs new schools were opened in towns and villages. The participation of Abkhazian enlighteners in this process was a crucial factor o. In addition, in 1907 the scientific study of Abkhazian material culture in the Ethnographical department of the Emperor Alexander III Russian museum was started.


Key words: Abkhazia Imperial policy, the guilt, the peasantry.