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Words new to me: выкупные свидетельства

June 27, 2012

This phrase is a bit of mid-to-late nineteenth-century realia about the workings of emancipation.

Я записан в шестую часть родословной книги своей губернии; получил в наследство по разным прямым и боковым линиям около двух тысяч душ крестьян; учился когда-то и в России и за границей; служил неволею в военной службе; холост, корнет в отставке, имею преклонные лета, живу постоянно за границей и проедаю там мои выкупные свидетельства; очень люблю Россию, когда ее не вижу, и непомерно раздражаюсь против нее, когда живу в ней; а потому наезжаю в нее как можно реже, в экстренных случаях, подобных тому, от которого сегодня то лько освободился. (384 in Leskov’s “Смех и горе,” or “Laughter and Sorrow,” 1871)

When they were freed, certain slaves received land that had formerly belonged to their former owners, but it was not given to the peasants for free. The peasants had to pay the government for the land, over decades, with interest, at a price proportional to the amount of the obrok paid by the peasants when they were slaves. The government then compensated the ex-slaveholders by giving them these vykupnye svidetel’stva, which as I understand it were a sort of promissory note that could be gradually exchanged for interest-yielding bonds. In most places the price set for the land was high enough, relative to its agricultural productivity, that it was in the landowner’s interest to let the peasants have the land on these terms. There were some cases where the incentives were reversed, and apparently the landowners were not obliged to sell the land to the peasants right away, though they had to eventually. See this encyclopedia article on vykupnaia operatsiia from Brokgauz and Efron.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kolya permalink
    June 27, 2012 7:34 pm

    I enjoy your blog but don’t know why you equate serfdom with slavery (and serfs with slaves.) Both serfdom and slavery were evil institutions, but they were not the same. As bad as it was for the serfs, by and large serfs had more autonomy than slaves. Serfdom was terrible and unjust, but slavery was even worse. This is not “merely a matter of semantics.”

  2. July 6, 2012 12:43 am

    Thanks for reading and for the comment, Kolya! I’ve tried to address what you say in a new post. There are, as you say, good reasons not to equate serfdom and slavery, but I try to argue that there are also good reasons not to make them seem more different than they were.

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