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Insularity, immigrants, and “separate deals”

July 9, 2013

[Eric Lohr’s] first book [on World War I] dealt with a particularly striking moment in Russian history, when the state and the engaged Russian public launched a furious campaign against alien subjects within the empire. They deported, denounced, expropriated, harassed, and otherwise persecuted a wide variety of merchants, businessmen, and farmers throughout the country in a very short period of time.

The obvious question was: how did it come to be the case that so many foreigners occupied important economic positions in a land infamous for its purported insularity and xenophobia?

The answer: persistent shortages of labor and capital led the Russian Empire to try to attract immigrants while making it hard to emigrate. That’s according to Joshua Sanborn in his introduction to the latest Russian History Blog conversation, about Lohr’s second book, Russian Citizenship: From Empire to Soviet Union (Harvard UP, 2012). The complete picture is more complicated, which I’m sure will seem even more true after Golfo Alexopoulos, Andrey Shlaykhter, and Annemarie Sammartino weigh in with their reactions.

Alison Smith already has a post up, reflecting on Lohr’s idea that the Russian Empire cut “separate deals” with various ethnic groups instead of having a universal policy on citizenship and migration. This reminds Smith of separate deals cut with different sosloviia that she knows from her own research (a soslovie was a kind of hereditary class or “estate,” in the sense of “Third Estate,” but there must not be a perfect equivalent if an expert like Smith leaves the word untranslated):

[…] something I’ve noticed is the way that during that era, conflict between imperial Ministries could often highlight trouble spots within imperial society. In my research, this most often shows up in the Ministry of Internal Affairs wanting to keep soslovie identities in part out of a desire to control the population, and the Ministry of Finance interested in relaxing those identities in pursuit of economic growth. Something similar seems to be going on in Lohr’s story, as different Ministries or Departments show up to argue for or against strengthening or weakening state policies. Even if the arguments seem resolved in one particular direction, the persistence of such arguments always suggests to me that autocratic Russia was far less monolithic in its attitudes than we often think.

There’s more on the era of Great Reforms, when the “separate deals” were increasingly challenged by a “broader sense of citizenship.” Read the whole thing, including the parts that will come out in the next few days!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2013 8:26 am

    a soslovie was a kind of hereditary class or “estate,” in the sense of “Third Estate,” but there must not be a perfect equivalent if an expert like Smith leaves the word untranslated

    I don’t think the problem is with equivalency but rather that “estate” is multivalent in English and this particular sense is so antiquated, and the sense ‘landed property’ so familiar and ready to spring to mind with regard to tsarist Russia, that it’s clearer to use the Russian term, especially in a discussion among people who can be expected to be familiar with it.

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