Ab Imperio (2010), 3

Ab Imperio (2010), 3
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Neighbor: Social and Political Encounters in the Imperial Context

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Kazan', Russland 2010: Selbstverlag des Herausgebers
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Organization name
Ab Imperio. Studies of New Imperial History and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Space
Russian Federation
Postanschrift: P.O. Box 157, Kazan' 420015. Tel./Fax: 7-8432-644-018
Alexander Kaplunovski

Dear friends and colleagues,

"Ab Imperio" editors are pleased to announce the release of the third issue of the journal in 2010. "Ab Imperio" is a bilingual (English Russian) international scholarly journal dedicated to the study of empire and nationalism in the post Soviet space. The third issue of the journal is devoted to the exploration of "Neighbor: Social and Political Encounters in the Imperial Context". The language of each publication (Russian or English) is indicated by a letter in brackets.

Please find below the table of contents and visit the website for more information: www.abimperio.net

For submissions, subscription or other inquiries please contact the editors at: office@abimperio.net

Do Not Love Thy Neighbor: The Dynamics of Neighborhood, Friendship, and Enmity (R&E)

There is an understandable temptation to frame the thematic issue dedicated to the problem of neighbors in the imperial context by the famous Jan Gross’s Neighbors (Jan T. Gross. Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. Princeton, NJ, 2001), that is, to focus on the potentially menacing condition of living side by side with the Other in a heterogeneous imperial polity. We did not yield to this temptation while preparing this issue, precisely because our goal was to focus on the variety of relations of diversity and alterity and to eschew the readily available patterns of interpreting the Other as a friend or a foe. At some point in common history, the Other is just a neutral neighbor. The question of “when nationalism began to hate” (to quote the title of another study in Polish history - Brian Porter. When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland. Oxford, 2000) has a discouragingly simple answer: the moment it began to blindly love. Affection for members of one’s imagined community has the side effect of growing hatred of equally constructed homogeneous adversaries: “oppressors,” “exploiters,” “occupants,” all kinds of ideological and political opponents. At a certain historical junction, the only way to prove one’s belonging to “us” is through participation in the extermination of “them,” and the position of a neutral neighbor becomes structurally impossible.

Recently, some students of postcoloniality questioned the dichotomy between the colonizer and the colonized, thus complicating our understanding of historical empires. Historians are challenged to enrich and complicate their own understanding of group interactions in historical empires. It seems to us that one way to do so is to focus on the underreflected category of “neighbor” and its dynamic relationship with categories of “friend” or “enemy.” For instance, scholars have long wondered why contiguous land empires of the Old World appear at times less efficient in exterminating native populations than the settled colonies of European nations. According to Dominic Lieven, “white democratic nationalism in Europe’s colonies of settlement generally far outdid the aristocratic and bureaucratic empire in its devastation of indigenous peoples.” (Dominic Lieven. Empire. Russian Empire and Its Rivals From the 16th Century to the Present. London, 2003). Yet, these empires are no more “humane” in this respect than national communities, it is just that their entangled and multilayered principles of groupness complicate a coherent application of hatred: it is difficult to hate all the Tatars, or Muslims, or Old Believers, or Jews, because boundaries between these categories of population have blurred and even became transient. Representatives of some of them could be found among the imperial elite or in the state service, or would be perceived absolutely differently once they were beyond certain territorial locations (Old Believers – in the Caucasus, Jews – in Central Asia or Harbin). There is also no official imperial politics of unconditional “love” toward any social groups, and hence a lower degree of social animosity. Thus, arguably, in the imperial situation there is a much wider niche for the neutral category of neighbor.

We open the issue with a translation from the seminal study by Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (1991). The concept of the middle ground as elaborated by White in the book and further developed in a 2006 article, which we also publish in Russian translation, has tremendous explanatory potential but remains largely unknown to specialists in Russian imperial history. In part, this can be explained by the prejudices shared by some structuralist-minded historians (from the ranks of both Americanists and Russianists) that the concept of the middle ground can be applied only to explicitly frontier situations, in territories claimed by at least two empires, and, it can be added with only a little exaggeration, in the proximity of big lakes, preferably, the Great Lakes. (See a skeptical appraisal of the portability of White’s concept in Philip J. Deloria. What Is the Middle Ground, Anyway? // The William and Mary Quarterly. 2006. Vol. LXIII. No. 1. Pp. 15-23. Some specialists in Russian history uphold to even more radical views). White himself elegantly formulated his attitude to the problem of portability of his concept:

So, do I think that the middle ground as a process is replicable in other places and other times? Yes, I do. Is every instance where academics find this process at work the equivalent of the Upper Country? No, but sometimes other academics might think so. I was fairly specific about the elements that were necessary for the construction of such a space: a rough balance of power, mutual need or a desire for what the other possesses, and an inability by either side to commandeer enough force to compel the other to change. Force and violence are hardly foreign to the process of creating and maintaining a middle ground, but the critical element is mediation. (Richard White. Creative Misunderstandings and New Understandings // The William and Mary Quarterly. 2006. Vol. LXIII. No. 1. P. 9)

What makes the “middle ground” so interesting to historians of Russian Empire is not the spatial setting in the woods, in the frontier zone (reminiscent of Siberia or the Caucasus), but the cognitive processes at work here, determined by a specific power–knowledge constellation. In the imperial situation, when different branches of state authority possess a certain autonomy and hence no one can enjoy the monopoly on government backing, dealing with the Other often requires entering the middle ground. As White himself explained,

“I was trying to describe a process that arose from the ‘willingness of those who ... [sought] to justify their own actions in terms of what they perceived to be their partner’s cultural premises.’ These actors sought out cultural ‘congruences, either perceived or actual,’ that
‘often seemed—and, indeed, were—results of misunderstandings or accidents.’ Such interpretations could be ludicrous, but it did not matter. ‘Any congruence, no matter how tenuous, can be put to work and can take on a life of its own if it is accepted by both sides.’ The middle ground is thus a process of mutual and creative misunderstanding.” (He used quotations from: Richard White. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. Cambridge, 1991. Pp. 52-53)

Richard White provided a complex and workable model of the imperial neighborhood situation: for example, in Kazan, where, in the imperial heartland, Russians and Tatars were engaged in the intensive process of mutual and creative misunderstanding. (As demonstrated in his seminal study Robert Geraci, who did not use the model of the middle ground but described exactly this kind of intergroup dialogue: Robert Geraci. Window on the East: National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia. Ithaca and London, 2001). Russians and Tatars (Orthodox Christians and Muslims) were neither “friends” nor “foes”: imperial authorities would not even experiment with the “friendship of the peoples” ideology, while anxiously avoiding any possibility of Russo-Tatar confrontation. They were neighbors, and their everyday relationships on the intergroup and individual levels were based on the middle-ground process.

In the historical section of the journal, we publish three articles that explore the functioning of Orthodoxy on the margins of empire, where notions of neighborhood and otherness are supposedly evident and given. Perhaps, it is not a coincidence that these notions in our issue are illustrated with the help of the history of confession. As recent scholarship suggests, confession was one of the most important markers (but by no means the only marker) of belonging and exclusion. If we take seriously the notion that the Russian Empire was, as Robert Crews proposed, a confessional state (among other things - Robert Crews. For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia. Cambridge, MA, 2006; idem. Empire and the Confessional State: Islam and Religious Politics in Nineteenth-Century Russia // American Historical Review. 2003. Vol. 108. No. 1. Pp. 50-83), then surely its operation should become visible through the study of the “dominant” confession of the empire.

Liudmila Posokhova’s article deals with the phenomenon of the Orthodox colleges (pravoslavnye kollegiumy) of the eighteenth–early nineteenth centuries. Orthodox colleges were created in the towns of Chernigov, Kharkov, and Pereiaslav in Ukrainian lands in the first third of the eighteenth century, and in her meticulous study of attempts to reform their curriculum, the author shows how the initial model of the Catholic university was transformed with heavy borrowings from the repertoire of German Protestant universities. Thus, the official anti-Catholic and less pronounced anti-Protestant rhetoric notwithstanding, Russian Orthodox schooling developed in a dialogue with other Christian traditions (neither friends nor foes), or at least with their image created by Orthodox educators. In the dynamics of confessional “othering” that Posokhova illustrates, Protestant influences become less threatening due to the Protestants’ relations with Catholics, thus transferring the former from the realm of “enemies” into that of “neighbors.” It should be noted that this position of Protestantism continued to be present in the later history of Russian Orthodoxy, which was more willing to enter into dialogue with Lutherans (with whom the Orthodox, admittedly, shared more than just anti-Catholic sentiment but also specific interests and interpretations).

Anton Rybakov contributes an article on the history of the incorporation of the Georgian Church into the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church in the early nineteenth century. Rybakov’s study offers a fascinating example of multiple layers and factors in the interpretations of belonging: although the Georgian Orthodox Church shared communion with Russian Orthodoxy, the logic of imperial administrative universalism and a sense of Russia’s “advancement” in comparison to Georgia precluded its persistence as a separate Church. Still, we find the same situation of creative misunderstanding producing some new common (middle) ground: Russian imperial church officials misinterpreted the signs of poverty in Georgian churches, while Georgian hierarchs often erroneously assessed the rational of the St. Petersburg authorities. And as is characteristic of many “middle ground” situations, the consequences of imperial policies were often unintended, as was the case with the impact of the incorporation of the Georgian Church on the development of the Georgian national movement.

In his study of the famous missionary Innokentii Veniaminov, Ilya Vinkovetsky explores another aspect of Russian Orthodox Church activity: its problematic partnership with the Russian-American Company in Alaska, and its missionary activities among the indigenous population. Just as in the articles mentioned above, we cannot explicitly identify this historical case as an instance of the middle ground, but we clearly see the mechanisms of the middle-ground situation at work here: the mutual projections of the missionaries and the locals, and missionaries and the Company officers, or St. Petersburg authorities. Whenever the inequality of interacting parties does not reach the magnitude of direct domination, we have to discuss them as neighbors, if not partners.

In the other set of historical articles, Aleksandra Petuhova examines the transformation that had occurred in the course of the last decade of the Russian Empire, when the public image of the Finn as a neighbor was forced out by the image of the Finn as an enemy. She approaches the “Finnish question” as an influential and genuinely mass discourse of Russia at the turn of the twentieth century that made evident mechanisms of political, national, and social othering of the former neighbor. Incidentally, although the imperial center did not have complete control over Finland, the growing mutual alienation was a result of the demise of the elements of the middle ground that gave way to discourses of domination and national competition.

The article by Yukiko Hama reveals the dialectic quality of “neighbor” as a category, equally applicable in the context of conflict and cooperation. She tells the story of a founding father of Japanese Russian and Soviet Studies, Saburō Shimano, whose career covered periods of wars, confrontations, cooperation, and ally assistance between Japan and Russia in the twentieth century. His views presented a mixture of sympathy and animosity toward Russia. His ideology of pan-Asianism was developed under the influence of Russian Eurasianism and in opposition to it. In other words, his case illustrates a typical middle-ground cognitive process by a “neighbor:” rephrasing the elegant formulas of White in plain language, when one cannot ignore the existence of the Other or get rid of the Other, everything is left is to make sense of the Other’s existence in familiar categories.

Articles published in the “Sociology, Anthropology, and Political Science” section review the neighbor situation in several contexts. Philipp Casula analyzes the post–Cold War relationships between Russia and the United States (primarily during the 1990s). He shows the intrinsic connection of foreign politics with domestic problems, and how both countries coped with the problem of the disappearance of the ultimate Other as the constitutive external factor of national identity. Sophie Roche’s ethnographic study of post–Civil War Tajikistan discovers a distinctive friendship system as an important foundation of the social order, as an intermediary between traditional bonds of kinship with formal social institutions such as the state apparatus. In the multiethnic Tajik society, social practices of friendship help to integrate “neighbors” into citizens. Finally, Sami Zegnani and Alexandra Filhon have written an article about French suburbs that are perceived in contemporary France as “ethnic” and dangerous. They decipher the meaning and social functions of “ethnicity” in the language of those who ascribe it to their neighbors and those who appropriate this language to demarcate the boundaries of their own, almost always ethnically heterogeneous, group.

In “Newest Mythologies,” the essay by Sergei Sokolovsky explores the relationship between the concept of indigeneity as it is practiced in identity politics and the more respectable spheres of knowledge, such as biomedical sciences. Sokolovsky demonstrates the resemblance of the biology of invasive species and environmental thinking to the discourse of sociocultural nativism and xenophobia. With the help of environmental studies of Hawaii he shows that many premises of the biology of invasive species are based on flawed assumptions about indigeneity taken from cultural and social constructions. This article reminds us of yet another aspect of the neighbour condition: living side by side, it is both erroneous and self-destructive to claim a monopoly over any territory as “ancestral.” Very few plants or animal species can be recognized with some justification as indigenous to their habitat (on several islands), but never human collectives. Living next to each other, it is quite a challenge to remain a good neighbor; to this end, probably, one should not attempt to follow the commandment “to love thy neighbor” lest a symmetrical urge to hate emerges.

Table of contents


Richard White
The Middle Ground (R)

Richard White
Creative Misunderstandings and New Understandings (R)


Liudmila Posokhova
Orthodox Colleges in the Russian Empire in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century to the Early Nineteenth Century: Between Traditions and Innovation (R)

Anton Rybakov
In “the Realm of Caesar:” The Problem of Status and Structure of the Georgian Orthodox Church After the Revocation of Its Autocephaly (R)

Ilya Vinkovetsky
Building a Diocese Overseas: The Orthodox Church in Partnership with the Russian-American Company in Alaska (E)

Alexandra Petoukhova
“Tell Me Who Your Enemies Are...:” The “Anti-Finnish Discourse” in the Sphere of Sociopolitical Communication in the Russian Empire in the Late Nineteenth to Early Twentieth Centuries (R)

Yukiko Hama
Russia from a Pan-Asianist View: Saburō Shimano and His Activities (E)


Philipp Casula
“Primacy in Your Face”: Changing Discourses of National Identity and National Interest in the United States and Russia (E)

Sophie Roche
Friendship Relations in Tajikistan: An Ethnographic Account (E)

Sami Zegnani, Alexandra Filhon
Linguistic Practices of Ethnicity in a Workers Suburb in France (R)


Sergei Sokolovski
Indigeneity and Territorial Rights: Anthropological and Biogeographic Parallels (R)


Alexander Morrison
Svetlana Gorshenina & Sergei Abashin (Eds.), Le Turkestan Russe: Une colonie comme les autres? (Tashkent and Paris: IFEAC – “Editions Complexe,” 2009). 548 pp., maps, ills. (=Cahiers d’Asie Centrale; No. 17/18). ISBN: 978-2-8048-0174-8. (E)

Timothy A. Nunan
Rebecca Manley, To the Tashkent Station: Evacuation and Survival in the Soviet Union at War (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009). 282 pp. Index. ISBN: 978-0-8014-4739-6. (E)

Oxana Ermolaeva
Cathy A. Frierson and Semyon S. Vilensky, Children of the Gulag (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010). 450 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-0-300-12293-0. (R)

Serguey Erlich
Ludmilla A. Trigos, The Decembrist Myth in Russian Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). 239 pp. References, Index. ISBN: 978-0-230-61916-6. (R)

Leonid Rein
Barbara Epstein, The Minsk Ghetto, 1941–1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2008). 351 pp. Guide to Names, Index. ISBN: 978-0-520-24242-5. (R)

Gleb Albert
V. P. Sapon. Ternovyi venec svobody: Liberalizm v ideologii i revoliucionnoi praktike rossiiskikh levykh radikalov, 1917–1918 gg. Nizhnii Novgorod: izdatelstvo Nizhegorodskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta, 2008. 332 s. ISBN: 978-5-91326-050-5. (E)

Vitalii Ananiev
Harvey Goldblatt and Nancy Collman (Eds.), Rus’ Writ Large: Languages, Histories, Cultures: Essays Presented in Honor of Michael S. Flier on His Sixty-Fifth Birthday; George G. Grabowic (Ed.), Ukrainian Church History: In Tribute to Bohdan R. Bociurkiw (Cambridge, MA: Ukrainian Research Institute, 2009). 662 pp., ills. (=Harvard Ukrainian Studies; Vol. 28, No. 1-4, 2006). ISSN: 0363-5570. (R)

Daniel Rodrigues
Vytautas Petronis, Constructing Lithuania: Ethnic Mapping in Tsarist Russia, ca. 1800-1914 (Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2007). 309 pp. (=Stockholm Studies in History, 91; Södertörn Doctoral Dissertations, 21). ISBN: 9-7891-85445-79-0. (E)

Pavel Shcherbinin
Werner Benecke, Militär, Reform und Gesellschaft im Zarenreich: Die Wehrpflicht in Russland, 1874–1914 (Paderborn: Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 2006). 440 S. ISBN: 3-506-72980-2. (R)

Irena Vladimirsky
“Vvodia nravy i obychai Evropeiskie v Evropeiskom narode ”: K probleme adaptacii zapadnykh idei i praktik v Rossiiskoi imperii / Otv. sost. A. V. Doronin. Moskva: “ROSSPEN”, 2008. 255 s. ISBN: 978-5-8243-0996-6. (E)

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