Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros53/4• • • Comptes rendus • • •Russie ancienne et impérialeA. Miller, D. Svizhkov and I. Sch...

• • • Comptes rendus • • •
Russie ancienne et impériale

A. Miller, D. Svizhkov and I. Schierle, éds. , « Poniatija o Rossii »

Richard Wortman
Référence(s) :

A. Miller, D. Svizhkov and I. Schierle, éds. , « Poniatija o Rossii ». K istoričeskoi semantike imperskogo perioda [Histoire des concepts en Russie à l'époque impériale, étude sémantique]. Moscou : NLO (Studia europaea), 2012, vol. 1, 576 p., vol. 2, 492 p.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck, ed., Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe; historisches (...)
  • 2 N.E. Koposov, M.M. Krom, N.D. Potapova, Istoriia poniatii vchera i segodnia: Istoricheskie poniatii (...)

1This two-volume venture into the history of concepts (Begriffsgeschichte) in Russia, undertaken under the auspices of the German Historical Institute in Moscow and published by Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, is a welcome, if delayed, response to the immense project undertaken under the leadership of Reinhart Koselleck in Germany, which resulted in the monumental nine-volume lexicon, Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe and numerous other works questioning and perfecting its methodology.1 Those of us studying Russian intellectual and cultural history have long been aware of the need to understand the meanings and usages of key concepts that entered the discourse of Russian educated society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It has been clear that such words as law, regulation, service, society, public, intelligentsia, not to speak of political realities such as autocracy and empire, and philosophical concepts such as truth, freedom, individualism and individuality, often carried specific and changing meanings endemic to Russian political discourse. Poniatiia is not the first work on this subject: it was preceded by a small collection of articles published by the St. Petersburg European University on historical concepts and political ideas in Russia and a volume edited by Victor Zhivov that dealt with changes in the language of the elite in the wake of the Petrine Reform.2 But this is the first work to take on the entire imperial period and to cover such a broad range of subjects. It represents the beginning, the editors indicate, a first step towards systematic study of the history of concepts in Russia.

  • 3 Zhivov, 5-6.

2The volumes are the product of a conference funded by the German Historical Institute. The introduction by Alexei Miller, Ingrid Schierle, and Denis Sdvizhkov provides a concise history of the Begriffsgeschichte movement in Germany, as well as in England, and several other countries. The project follows the example of the German model, but lacks its resources and ongoing commitment. It also differs as a result of the different intellectual background of the contributors. As Victor Zhivov has commented in the introduction to his volume, the Begriffsgeschichte movement grew out of a native German philosophical preoccupation with history and historical concepts that Russians could learn from but not completely share.3 The contributors to this study pay homage to the philosophically inflected categories and terminology of Koselleck and his followers, but for the most part follow traditional methods of empirical study. However, the key difference, as the authors of the introduction acknowledge, is the distinctive character of the Russian experience—the practices of “transfer” and “translation” (perevod), borrowing European terms, transforming their meanings, and endeavoring to define a national identity by incorporating European concepts into their own discourses. The introduction suggests the possibilities of applying Koselleck’s fundamental categories to Russia, but also stipulates that Russia was a country at Europe’s periphery that had not experienced the transition to modernity that provided the focus for the evolution and spread of ideas of concern to German scholars:

The characteristic of a periphery is in general the erosion of boundaries, the more so in regard to Russia, where Europe, “its other,” prompts a critical view of the framework of key concepts and their place in social and cultural history. In the conceivable “revisionist” version, concepts do not “come to grips” with modernity, or in other words, are not attached to a lineal paradigm of modernization. They are not localized in the sphere of the “social” that arises New times, (or with new times) (sic). For the most part they are about the culture of European individuality (individual´nost´) as a whole, of its place in the world and in the meanings arising from this self-definition. The history of this culture is not exhausted by the Weberian model and is described not as substitution and conflict—its point of departure is the same as for Koselleck and Skinner—but rather a tense coexistence. (40)

3The editors and contributors take note of the “tense coexistence” between western concepts and Russian realities, and this tension provides a subtext running through several articles in this work. But they also take pains to disassociate themselves from the notion of a Russian “special path” (Sonderweg), in what seems an obligatory renunciation of a concept tabooed in current historical discourse even as the semantic practices and realities described in the volumes seem to prove the contrary. They emphatically state that Russia is part of Europe, as Catherine the Great had in Article Six of her Nakaz, and like her cite Peter’s example as proof—that for Peter, “transfer” suggested that “there was nothing principally untranslatable.” (40-41) Indeed, the project of applying Begriffsgeschichte to Russia itself paradoxically repeats many of the same dynamics described in the articles in the volume: the descriptions of the processes of reception and translation by the intellectuals writing in the past and the metamorphoses of concepts adapted to a different reality themselves ensure that the history of Russian concepts takes on distinctive features of the history of Russia in general.

4Most important, the history of Russian concepts must take into consideration the role of the state in shaping and imposing concepts. As the authors of the introduction indicate, boundaries remained blurred and in flux during the imperial period: boundaries between the purview of the tsar and institutions, between social groups, and boundaries between Russia proper and the continental Russian empire remained undefined. Definition issued from the will of the ruler, vested in decrees that imposed the monarchy’s own representational agendas by vesting them in the concepts and language of the Western enlightenment. Changes in usage and the understanding of words did not represent the relatively autonomous process of the evolution of German ideas of individuality, freedom, and society. It was not only Russia’s location on the rim of Europe, or even the existence of censorship that established difference, but the active role of the state in shaping the contours and force of intellectual discourse. While the monarchy figures in many of the contributions, especially in the first volume, its ongoing agency as a defining factor remains unnoted.

  • 4 Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 19 (...)

5Koselleck writes: “A word presents potentialities for meaning; a concept unites within itself a plenitude of meaning… A concept binds a variety of historical experience and a collection of theoretical and practical references into a relation that is as such only given and actually ascertainable through the concept.” Concepts, he continues, “have political and social capacities.”4 Concepts, I would add, are also charged with emotional force and in Russia often bear the charisma of power. The articles in Volume One make clear that it is the monarchy that ordains the adoption of terms current in the West and these terms carried the awe-inducing aura of vlast´. Peter the Great, in borrowing the attributes of European absolute monarchy, imposed European concepts, endowing them with charisma of both political and cultural supremacy. The introduction of laws expressed the sense of an omnipotent monarchy bringing into being a new reality by creating a sacral language, in which the terms of law, natural and positive, were charged with the otherworldly normative force of the westernizing state. In the nineteenth century, western ideologies, such as idealism, Utopian socialism, positivism, and Marxism, introduced concepts that charted the future, teleologies that imparted powers of predicting and thus determining the future. They expressed what Koselleck called “horizons of expectation,” a term recurring frequently in these volumes, the concepts deriving their force owing to their very distance from Russian realities.

6The volumes comprise twenty-five articles on a great variety of subjects, and the editors have wisely refrained from imposing a single methodology on the authors. The contributors engage in what is a labor-intensive endeavor: scouring a vast body of sources for what are quicksilver meanings and usages. They deal with this, for the most part successfully, by defining “semantic fields” of texts that invested words with resonant meanings during a defined period. The articles vary greatly in their approaches, focus, and significance, but scholars of the history of Russia will undoubtedly find something in them that addresses their own specialized interests. Due to limitations of space, I can provide only brief indications of the articles’ contents. I am not qualified to evaluate the authors’ fidelity to principles of Begriffsgeschichte, which are cited in the introductions to many of the contributions. I am concerned rather to suggest the new insights and materials that the history of Russian concepts may bring to the attention of the scholar.

7The editors organize the articles according to two polarities: society/civilization and empire/nation, (obshchestvo/tsivilizatsiia, imperiia/natsiia). (39). The first part of Volume One, “Legislation and Juridical Practice” deals with the adoption of the legal terminology and ideas of the West. Mikhail Kiselev’s “‘Pravda’ and ‘Zakon’ in the Second Half of the Seventeenth to the First Half of the Eighteenth Century: From the Monarch as Judge, to the Legislator-Monarch” shows how Peter, adopting Natural Law concepts, explicitly assumed the role of zakonodatel´, legislator, during the second decade of the eighteenth century, in what the author describes as “the struggle for zakonnost´,” and first introduced the Polonism, “pravo.” By the end of Peter’s reign, law, zakon, had become an attribute of the monarch, overshadowing his role of judge as the guarantor of justice, pravda, a change conveyed in the writings of the Archbishop, Feofan Prokopovich.

8Elena Marasinova broadens the focus to take into account changing usages and to measure their effect on practice. She questions the distinction made by Nicholas Korkunov and other nineteenth-century jurists between decree and law, and between executive and legal enactments, and argues that contemporaries in the eighteenth century understood the difference between temporary and permanent enactments, concluding that specific definitions, the monarch’s word established by decree and promulgation represented de facto requirements for a law. Projects submitted by highly placed officials evoked the image of “autocratic legislator,” a philosopher on the throne who promoted fundamental laws, which overshadowed the image of warrior king. Though Marasinova gives strong arguments for the development of concepts of legality in eighteenth-century legislation and thought, she concludes that these principles had little effect on governmental practice or the attitudes of the population. She concurs with Iurii Lotman’s (and Victor Zhivov’s) notion of an ongoing duality between the ideal and the real: that “the ideal image was not supposed to correspond with reality.” (91)

9The conflict between law and the monarch’s absolute prerogatives is clear in Sergei Polskoi’s examination of the overlapping and evolving concepts of “konstitutsiia” and “fundamental´nye zakony.” Montesquieu wrote that fundamental laws distinguished monarchy from despotism. Polskoi traces the use of the term in Russia by Ivan Boltin, Friedrich Strube de Piermont, and Mikhail Shcherbatov, who emphasized that the solution to widespread corruption in Russia was the virtuous monarch granting fundamental laws to the state. Commenting on Shcherbatov’s views, Polskoi makes the important point that “this constitutes the essential divergence with Western political thought, for which fundamental laws were the legacy of the past, and not the goal of future political development.” (139). Continuing in the same register, Dmitrii Badalian traces the concept of constitution from the first use of the term by Peter the Great in reference to the Polish Seim, to the “crowning of the edifice” in the 1860s, and the “legal order” formulated by Alexander Gradovskii in the 1870s and 1880s. Like Marasinova, Badalian reveals a process of transfer that creates a sharp divergence between concept and reality. In reference to the final stage, alluding to Koselleck, he remarks on “the detachment of abstract conceptions, the “horizon of expectations,” from the sphere of experience.” (174).

10The two concluding articles in the section are brief, sharply focused treatments of legal concepts. Galina Babkova argues forcefully that Catherine the Great, preparing her project for a criminal code, drew on Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England and did not merely reproduce the traditional categories of theft and murder of the Law Code of 1649. Rather Catherine established a general category of personal crimes that made litso, the person, the subject of law and legal relationships, regardless of status. In this way, Babkova demonstrates that although Catherine did not guarantee individual rights to civic freedom, her project did introduce the idea “of the separate person protected by the government as possessor of the law (pravoobladatel´) for all estates,” like western legislation “oriented toward the defense of the rights of the individual.” (196) Eric Lohr’s essay considering the relationship of citizenship to subjecthood (grazhdanstvo and poddanstvo) focuses primarily on the question of naturalization of foreigners, which became an issue during the period of the Great Reforms when the government sought to attract foreign technical experts and entrepreneurs to Russia in large numbers. Laws introduced a juridical defense of foreigners’ property and the right for them to acquire landed property, and ultimately to claim Russian subjecthood. Though few foreigners took advantage of these measures, the provisions created the basis for a single category of citizenship, and the rights accorded to naturalized citizens were greater than those enjoyed by Russian subjects. The concepts of both subjecthood and citizenship, Lohr concludes, existed in the last decades of tsarism, with citizenship being opposed to subjecthood as “a reference to an ideal model of different rights and obligations of individuals before the law, which was far from reality.”


11The three articles under the rubric, “Social Stratification,” show the government introducing new official categories in order to bring new social groups into being. Ingrid Schierle traces the use of words to create a third, middle order, in various governmental projects. Catherine the Great’s Nakaz devoted an entire chapter to srednii rod—the equivalent of the French État mitoyen and of the English, “middling sort of people,” evoking a broad “horizon of expectations.” The measure was in response to Montesquieu’s assertion that Russia was a country of only masters and slaves, and that “there is therefore no one left for a third estate which would comprise workers and merchants.” Catherine employed words to weld a unity out of groups in the population excluded from the hierarchical categories of the upper class—the nobility and the “lower type,” the “nizhnii rod.” In the nineteenth century, the term srednii rod was replaced by a “middle estate,” tret’e or srednee soslovie, which, Schierle notes, carried a sense of corporate unity, “which, even if it was not embodied, could be actualized and demanded.”

12Mikhail Velizhev’s important article explains how the minister of Education, Sergei Uvarov, defined the European word civilization as education, prosveshchenie or obrazovanie. Influenced by Francois Guizot’s contention that a third estate, “the source of useful knowledge,” did not exist and could not exist in Russia, Uvarov argued that due to the unique situation in Russia, the aristocracy, moved by the monarch, “rushed toward enlightenment as the single way to stand on the same level as Europe.” (276-77). It was this message, publicized in the ministry’s journal, Zhurnal Ministerstva Narodnogo Prosveshchenia that made enlightenment and education the virtual symbols of civilization for Russia, following the German concept of civilization as Kultur. This conception of civilization only changed on the eve of the Great Reforms, when writers began to look to economic and social progress as the basis of political change that would advance civilization in Russia.

13Olga Leont´eva’s article deals with the significant problem of the evolution of the terms of estate and class. She shows that there was little agreement until the close of the nineteenth century when the term klass, determined by livelihood, became general with the spread of Marxist influence. Klass identified Russia with Europe, anticipating that economic forces would generate progressive political change. Leont´eva’s study precedes and really introduces a set of articles on concepts of society and political identities under the heading, “Society and the Public Sphere,” which focuses on efforts to establish a social space apart from the state. Again the terminologies and concepts come from Europe, with the state elite as their initial agents; again we meet “horizons of expectation” as Russian intellectuals peer into the future. But the absence of a coherent methodology leads to a shifting focus and sometimes seemingly arbitrary selection of texts.

14The opening article, Boris Maslov’s “Birth and Death of Dobrodetel´ (Virtue) in Russia: Mechanisms of the Propagation of Concepts in the Discourse of Enlightenment,” does not specifically address the section’s nominal theme but rather provides a complex, linguistic and anthropological explanation of the use and meanings of the word Dobrodetel´ during the period 1750-1850. In his article “From Society to Intelligentsia: The History of Concepts as the History of Consciousness,” Denis Sdvizhkov contends that the concept “intelligentsia” was not endemic to Russia, but was “fully global, we will see that it rather formulates the role of modern knowledge in society, rather than serves as the self-definition of social groups.” (382-383) He traces the convoluted evolution of the conceptions of the intellectuals’ role, from agents of the state to spread education, to the opposition of the thinking person to society, exemplified in the romantic figure of the lishnii chelovek, the superfluous man. Later intellectuals began to represent the Hegelian Intelligenz, expressed in the writings of Alexander Herzen, which was localized in salon society, as the formation of public opinion moved from the salons to literature, which was to bear the spirit of the people, narodnost´, and create a national language. Sdvizhkov finds the first use of the word intelligentsia, in a diary of Vasilii Zhukovskii, and the concept, if not the word, in a passage of Belinskii, but he locates the actual source of the term in the Habsburg Empire. The article ends with the emergence of the word in the 1860s, but Sdvizhkov’s optic does not make clear that the distinctive concept of intelligentsiia in Russia—the groups leadership role and missionary zeal—had already arisen in texts of the 1840s and 1850s, such as those of Belinskii and Herzen.

15Olga Malinova’s discussion of the terms obshchestvo, publika, and obshchestvennost´ addresses the question of the formation of a public sphere in Russia in the late nineteenth century. Her careful statistical analysis shows that the term obshchestvo, designating a social elite and intellectual elite, remained dominant in the late nineteenth century, though broadened through the development of the press, which was accompanied by private discussions, salons, circles, and society as well as the exchange of unpublished manuscripts. Malinova shares Paul Miliukov’s regret about the absence of the human intercourse that could bind different groups together to create “a thick public sphere”—obshchestvennost´, a Russian public. She concludes that Russian society was engaged in a process of formation of a language to describe practices of public discourse that still remained vague, due to the specific limitations of the public sphere and society’s ambiguous attitude toward the normative influence of the West European experience. (462-63).

16The final articles in the section deal with the political category of “liberal,” a word designating a political position with defined doctrinal principles, which makes conceptual analysis less revealing. It is also difficult to determine which groups in Russia correspond to European liberals. Mikhail Kalashnikov traces the fluctuating prestige of the Russian word liberal, which, he observes, unlike the English word, did not carry a favorable normative sense. Kalashnikov finds that the term’s prestige rose and ebbed depending on the dominant ideology, rose when favored by Alexander I, ebbed when stigmatized by Nicholas I, rose in the era of reforms when supported by Boris Chicherin and others only to decline again in the conservative reaction after 1881. Kalashnikov cites many critics of liberalism, but though he describes a model of liberalism set forth by J. Leonhard, it is by no means clear which Russian figures would fit the definition.

17Indeed, the words liberal and conservative do not easily fit the Russian situation. A similar conceptual problem besets Liubov´ Bibikova’s article “The Political Police, Conservatives, and Socialists: the play of liberalizm in the Non-Public Political Space of the Russian Empire at the End of the Nineteenth and the Beginning of the Twentieth Centuries.” Bibikova discusses the views of detractors of liberals in the period before and during the Revolution of 1905—officials of the political police, right-wing thinkers, and socialists. Not surprisingly these texts engage in almost unrelieved derogation and obloquy directed at Russian liberals, indicating only their weakness and isolation on the Russian political scene. Alexander Polunov discusses Constantine Pobedonostsev’s use of the term freedom of conscience (svoboda sovesti) showing how he twisted its accepted meaning, couching it in official rhetoric in order to justify the persecution of Lutherans in Estland who wished to return to the faith after having been forcibly converted. The final articles in the volume make clear that in polemical discourse concepts served as open weapons of political struggle.


18The opening section of the second volume, Nation and Empire (Natsiia i Imperiia): The Organization of Space, deals with complex semantic problems of defining the relationship between the political structure of Russia, the state, and the Russian people, and of defining the boundaries in a continental empire between Russia proper, the metropole, and the territories of Russia’s empire. Rus´ referred to the earlier seventeenth-century territory, while Rossiia designated Great Russia or Greater Russia, ruled by a multi-national elite, united by service to the emperor and the European culture adopted by Peter the Great. The monarchy thus ruled two interrelated entities, the ethnic Russian people and the multinational state.

19With the spread of concepts of national sovereignty and national spirit in the early nineteenth century, educated Russians expressed themselves in varied terms for nation, narod, natsiia, narodnost´ natsional´nost´. Alexei Miller plunges boldly into this semantic thicket in his study of the meanings of the word natsiia in the imperial period. For the most part, natsiia connoted the political structure, narod the inhabitants, or one group of the inhabitants, of the empire, though some writers, e.g. Michael Speranskii and Vladimir Solov´ev, used the words interchangeably. In the early nineteenth century the word natsiia suggested a constitutional state, reflecting the views of Alexander I and later the Decembrists. During Nicholas I’s reign, Uvarov used the recently invented term narodnost´ to confound nationality with the tsarist state, so that the term natsiia fell out of usage, just as prosveshchenie and obrazovanie replaced civilisation as indicated in Velizhev’s article. After the Great Reforms, the meanings ascribed to the two words varied, depending on the ideological stance of the writers. Mikhail Katkov, who conceived Russia in the image of western nation states, identified the Russian natsiia with the Russian state and empire, and also with the Russian narod. Later in the century, natsiia became associated with nationalism, natsional´nost, in conservative, statist writings odious to liberal writers, while narod retained the connotation of the common people idealized by Slavophiles and Populists. Miller’s detailed history of concepts, tracing the tortuous search for a Russian national identity, reveals once more the stark dissonance between Western ideas and Russian conditions in Russian intellectuals’ quest for an ideological grounding for their political goals.

20The articles of Ricarda Vulpius and Walter Sperling deal with the association of empire with Russia’s civilizing mission. Vulpius traces the evolution of concepts of liudkost´ (sociability) and enlightenment (prosveshchenie) in the eighteenth century as signifiers of the civilizing mission of empire. Sociability and enlightenment indicated good, obedient, behavior and the values of citizenship that distinguished Russians from the barbarian peoples inhabiting the peripheries of the empire: Norbert Elias’s “civilizing process” thus undergirded the empire’s civilizing mission. Sperling focuses on the metaphor of “sleeping beauty” for the empire coined by the entrepreneur, Grigorii Brioni, trying to seek state aid for his project to build railroads to the Russian North. Brioni failed in his efforts, but Sperling uses the metaphor to disclose the mentality focused on western models, particularly Germany’s, that envisioned railroads as a way to unite the empire, which later informed Sergei Witte’s projects. In the concluding article of the section, Tatiana Khrapichenko deals with the rather quixotic efforts of liberal and socialist theorists to devise forms of federalism and regional autonomy for an empire not given to traditions of decentralization. She finds a complete incompatibility of meaning of these terms in their discourses, “a fragmentation of the political field.” (2:140) Liberals wrote about a decentralized form of the Russian state while the socialists sought a devolution of power to communal and local organizations, and there was little agreement on goals even within the two camps.

21The second section, “People and Race,” opens with articles by Vera Tolz and Karl Hall who engage a broader literature on race and the history of Russian anthropology. Tolz in particular addresses the ongoing controversy about whether Russian anthropologists or anthropological thinkers even adopted a concept of race (rasa). Both Tolz and Hall emphatically insist that they did, siding with Marina Mogilner and rejecting the views of Nathaniel Knight, Alexander Etkin, and others. They regard terms such as plemia, translated also as tribe, and poroda, breed, type, or species, as frequent substitutes but equivalents of race in their usage. Tolz categorically rejects the notion of a “special path” in the understanding of race and traces in detail the complex interplay of the terms used by Russian specialists such as Nicholas Kareev, Dmitrii Anuchin, Ivan Sikorskii and nationalist writers like Ivan Aksakov and Mikhail Menshikov. Hall’s investigation of “the elusive concept of race in the Russian empire” is not limited to “the purely political concept of race, but touches upon many cases in which race served in Russia for a quest for natural scientific approaches to the problem of human diversity.” (2:200) The article is a broad ranging review of European and Russian thinkers from the eighteenth to the twentieth century on this problem. Both essays give a good sense of the extent and complexity of the literature on the question, and the difficulties, reflected in this “elusive concept” of determining consistent views on race of writers in a state that claimed a superior ethnic core incorporating diverse national groups.

22The same theme runs through the last four articles in the volume, which deal with the nomenclature of nationalities, particularly those on the periphery of the empire, which were objects of absorption as subjects or citizens. Vladimir Bobrovnikov writes on projects to form a category of inorodtsy, a difficult-to-translate term invented to designate those people not assimilated or even considered assimilable into the empire as subjects or citizens. Legal terminology assigned nomadic peoples and Jews to the category. Drawing on John Slocum’s classic article on the inorodtsy, Bobrovnikov gives a lucid account of how the term was used in different parts of the empire and came to be replaced by the more nuanced, tuzemtsy, natives, as the boundaries advanced to the south and the East. By the last decades of the century, inorodets almost disappeared from official documents, though in general usage it became a term of disparagement for all non-Russian inhabitants of the empire. Bobrovnikov also argues that the local government administration of the inorodtsy and tuzemtsy was imposed by the military, and not observance of traditional practices as suggested by Slocum, and that it resembled French administrative institutions in Algeria. He concludes that inorodtsy was “the most important concept of the discourse of colonization developing on the eastern borderlands of tsarist and then Soviet Russia.” (2:290)

23The term inorodtsy was “the most important” because from its legal definition by Michael Speranskii in 1822, it expressed principles of inclusion and exclusion that characterized the imperial cultural and institutional policies for national groups on the empire’s borderlands. The principle of inclusion proved particularly difficult to apply to nationalities in the western parts of the empire that were resistant to its civilizational thrust—Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians. The final three articles examine the history of imperial nationality policy for these groups through the evolution of their ethnonyms in official and public discourse. Mikhail Dolbilov provides a perceptive overview of the usage of the word “poliak” for members of a group who claimed to represent the Polish nation. Dolbilov draws on documents from the Third Section archives to trace the evolution of the term in official usage from a designation of the Polish nobility as the Polish nation, to a means to deny Polish nationality by defining Poles as inhabitants of “primordial Russian lands” and representatives of a “Polish element” who could be converted to Russian Orthodoxy. These words justified the strenuous but futile efforts of Russian officials to make Poles part of a Russian nation. In general usage, poliak kept its disparaging overtones, but in the ethnographical and liberal discourse of the early twentieth century the Polish natsiia assumed the meaning of all groups in the population, in effect an incipient Polish national state.

24Semën Gol´din’s article on evrei is less of an inquiry into the evolution of a concept – inasmuch as the meaning of word seems to have remained rather clear and fixed—as a study of changing attitudes towards Jews. Jews were viewed as culturally alien, even after state policies sought to subject them to imperial secular enlightenment: they were the only group classified as inorodtsy in European Russia. Their rejection of Christianity threatened the religious basis of the empire, and their commercial interests provoked images of exploiters of the Russian people. Gol´din gives an informative overview of the discourses about Jews in the period of the Great Reforms, as Slavophile writers sought their conversion, portraying them as allies of Russia’s western enemies. In the period 1871-1917, when rising ethnocentrism both of the monarchy and Russian nationalists focused on the “Jew,” “the Semitic race” became a symbol of the other, the grasping trader, banker, and revolutionary.

25Anton Kotenko’s, Olga Martyniuk’s, and Alexei Miller’s concluding article traces the use of the word maloross from its inception in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century in terms of “internal” and “external” discourses: how it was used by members of the group defined by the term and those viewing it from outside. In the first half of the nineteenth century, and particularly during the preponderance of the official national doctrine, maloross exemplified romantic notions of lesser but more innocent brethren of the Great Russians, characterizations that were hardly congenial to the first generation of Ukrainian nationalists. The article focuses on the process of differentiation between ukrainets and maloross, which during most of the nineteenth century and even the beginning of twentieth many considered virtually interchangeable. Moderate Ukrainian writers continued to use maloross into the first years of the twentieth century. Radical Ukrainian nationalists tended to favor ukrainets, expressing their separate character and destiny, while many Great Russian nationalists regarded the term as a demand for a nation apart in treacherous alliance with Russia’s enemies, the Poles and Germans. It was only later in the twentieth century that ukrainets, became the accepted ethnonym for the inhabitants of the region.

26My too-brief summaries do not do justice to the detailed histories contained in these two volumes, which offer a multiplicity of insights into the changing mentalities both of official Russia and educated society. In 1851, Alexander Herzen wrote, “The terrible consequences of the human word in Russia lend it a peculiar force.” This statement can pertain not only to expressions of criticism and protest, but also to decrees issuing from the tsarist government and expositions of doctrines coming from the west. The pathos of words that could express Russia’s relationship to the West and bear upon Russia’s future resonates through these articles. In Russia, a “civilizing process” converged with an imperial “civilizing mission” and with myriad “horizons of expectations.” Whether a similar pattern obtained in other countries is a question that remains moot and that is beyond the parameters of these volumes.

Haut de page


1 Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck, ed., Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe; historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland (Stuttgart: E. Klett, 1972-1997), 9 vols.

2 N.E. Koposov, M.M. Krom, N.D. Potapova, Istoriia poniatii vchera i segodnia: Istoricheskie poniatiia i politicheskie idei v Rossii (SPb.: Izd. Evropeiskogo Universiteta v Sankt Peterburge Aleteiia, 2006); V.M. Zhivov, ed., Ocherki istoricheskoi semantiki russkogo iazyka rannego novogo vremeni (M.: Iazyki Slavianskikh kul´tur, 2009).

3 Zhivov, 5-6.

4 Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), 84.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Richard Wortman, « A. Miller, D. Svizhkov and I. Schierle, éds. , « Poniatija o Rossii » »Cahiers du monde russe [En ligne], 53/4 | 2012, mis en ligne le 02 décembre 2013, consulté le 07 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Le texte et les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés), sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search