Imagining Russian Regions
Subnational Identity and Civil Society in Nineteenth-Century Russia
In Imagining Russian Regions: Subnational Identity and Civil Society in Nineteenth-Century Russia (Brill, 2017), Susan Smith Peter discusses the origins of the creation of distinct provincial identities in European Russia and how this process was encouraged and even promoted by the autocracy as a way to gain information about the territories under its control, to better manage resources and collect taxes. The Tsarist administration under Nicholas I encouraged and even mandated the creation of statistical bureaus, provincial newspapers and agricultural societies, which were staffed not just by nobles, but by priests’ sons, merchants and in some cases even peasants as a way to get a more thorough understanding of the territories governed. This allowed people in the provinces to become acquainted with their own particularities, customs and history and to speak directly to the government. However, as Smith-Peter notes, these voices changed from merely providing information to demanding participation in government, which the autocracy rejected. This became increasingly isolating to the nobles in particular as they were cut out of decisions on emancipating serfs and the creation of local government. Smith-Peter argues that the autocracy’s fostering of civil society for economic reasons followed by its rejection of political participation by the civil society it had created caused a rift in Russian society that eventually culminated in the revolutions of 1917. An excellent read for any interested in the development of regional identity and politics in Russia or the USSR.
Samantha Lomb is an Assistant Professor at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. Her research focuses on daily life, local politics and political participation in the Stalinist 1930s. Her book, Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the Draft 1936 Constitution, is now available online. Her research can be viewed here.