Identity in The Russian Empire. Transformation and perception

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The Europeanization of the Russian Empire meant the end of a period of self-isolation of the country (the Muscovy period), and a start of a period of entering into an intensive contact and equal relationship with neighboring foreign powers. Moreover, this was also a process which heavily influenced and contributed to the formation of the Russian identity of 18-19 centuries when the Russian Empire started to be depicted as a pure European state whose nobility and elite got reconstructed under a sense of European model of development (changes in fashion, appearance, architecture, education, culture as well as economy and warfare) and became compatible and identified with European civilization, its principles and ideology.

Submitted: June 21, 2016

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Submitted: June 21, 2016

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Tokay Ahmadov

Bachleor degree in Public Affairs, ADA University,

2016,

Ahmadov, T. (2016). Identity in The Russian Empire.Transformation and perception. Retrieved from booksie.com

 

Europeanization of the Russian identity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

17-18 centuries went down in history as the centuries of the Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution what in turn led to the beginning of modernization in Europe and other continents later. Although it took more than one century to fully achieve modernization in Europe and beyond, many drastic processes of renewal and transition of the traditional society into a modern type appeared already in the 18th century. However, while West European countries till the end of the 17th and the beginning of 18th century became leading countries in the world with fast developing capitalistic affairs, the Russian Empire still had the feudal system of corvee with poor development of manufacturing system and commodity production (Owen, 1995, p. 8). Nevertheless, it is important to note that the 18th century played a special role in the development of the Russian Empire for which it was necessary to start the modernization process (also known as Europeanization) by introducing changes in all spheres of the empire’s life as in the economy, politics, social relations, social thought and culture what in turn heavily influenced and contributed to the formation of the Russian imperial image and identity (especially the royal one).

It is necessary to note that while Peter I (1682-1725) was the first who tried to modernize the Empire, basing on the European model, the second such an attempt was made by Catherine II (1762-1796). The substantial transformation of the Russian Empire in the 18th century that resulted from the reigns of these two rulers turned the country into a powerful European and world empire. That is, the central and local authorities became strong, industrial and agricultural production got increased, domestic and foreign trade became successfully developed, and the strong regular army and navy were created what in turn quickened the process of the conquest of border regions (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016). Nevertheless, while Peter I, a pragmatic tsar influenced by the Scientific Revolution, modernizing the Russian Empire and preferring practical works made the empire become compatible with Europe in appearance, Catherine the Great having the features of the Enlightenment school of thought contributed to the philosophical and ideological transformation of the Russian Empire and its becoming ideologically compatible with Europe (class 10/slides; Langstrom, 2003, p. 38).  

Regarding the Peter’s reign and its significant role in the Europeanization of the Russian Empire the crucial aspect to mention here is The Grand Embassy by the means of which Peter I toured to Western Europe what in turn led Peter I to import the European model of development to the backward Russian Empire. Moreover, pretending to be an officer, he was interested in technology rather than in philosophy and social thought of Europeans (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016). Getting back to Russia Peter I tried to push the empire into the modern era, and by reforming the church (it became Peter’s subordinate), education (in military success and westernization purposes), economy (stimulated industry and commerce) and warfare he transformed the entire domestic structure of the Russian Empire (Trueman, 2015). It is also important to note that Peter I aspiring to make the Russian Empire become compatible with developed for that time Europe started to reform fashion trends (they became more French and English), culture (women started to participate in entertainments; change in appearance/clothes/hairdressing) as well as architecture and appearance of cities (became more of Italian design) (Fordham University, 1998). This all was aimed at establishing a powerful European personality who ruled the great Russian Empire which would certainly take an important position in European politics and would be identified with the European civilization (Burbank, Von & Remnev, 2008, p. 36). Achieving the aimed goal of Europeanization of the Russian Empire, Peter I and the impacts of his reign became central to empire’s intellectual life and culture by what contributed to the formation of the Russian identity (Riasanovsky, 2005, p. 74-75).

Active foreign policy and relationship of the Russian Empire with Europe became intensified and ever closer under the reign of Catherine the Great (Riasanovsky, 2005, p. 89). The German fashion, military science, German and Dutch technology, the British economic ideas, and French philosophy pervaded the Russian empire in the late 18th century. Moreover, due to the second phase of the westernization of the Russian Empire by Catherine II, the significant and final break with Muscovite past (14-18 c. – period of self-isolation) took place (p. 88). That is, medieval and feudal Russia finally moved to the Age of Reason (the Enlightenment), and Catherine II, being influenced by this school of thought, brought Western ideas and contributed to the absorption of Western culture by the Russian Empire (p. 89). Although it might be an exaggeration of the fact, however her attachment to French philosophy and Europe is clearly seen in the letter of a French philosopher Diderot, who admired Catherine II describing her as an enlightened monarch with enlightened mood and rule (class 10/slide 8). Furthermore, her depiction of the Russian Empire in the law code as a pure European state also says that the westernization under the Catherine’s reign played a crucial role in identifying the self-mage of the Russian royalty and its identity with the European civilization.

However, till the late 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries the country’s economy and social structure did not adopt European model of developing an industry and its labor force relationship and lagged behind in socio-economic development. The reason was that Peter I and Catherine II led the transformation of the country basing on feudal foundations (serfdom). Despite the attachment of Catherine II to Europe and its philosophy and her self-image as a European Impress, she did not welcome the French revolution and saw it as a threat to her absolute power (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016). Nevertheless, after the victory over Napoleon, some Russian progressive-minded noble officers who had been in Western Europe became influenced by European ideology of serfdom abuses and created a special society to make a revolution. Many scholars believe that this is the Russian generals who saw the high level of living standards of the European public, and the rights which it enjoyed in compare to the Russian public at that time, and this is definitely they who brought the reformative movement as “Decembrist revolution” into the Imperial Russian society (class 10/slide 11). However, the revolution failed, and most of its members were imprisoned. Nonetheless, as the revolutionary moods were rising in Europe, and the Europeanization with its industrial modernization was approaching the oppressing regime of the Imperial Russia, which got in a need to fulfill new industrial towns, Alexander II signed a manifesto on the abolition of serfdom (1861) which is assumed to be mainly by the reason of fulfilling vacant industrial fields of the Imperial Russian economy with the cheap country people’s labor. Thus, the European ideology of realism and liberation of peasants pervaded the Russian nobles and elite (Riasanovsky, 2005, p. 168).

The Europeanization of the Russian Empire meant the end of a period of self-isolation of the country (the Muscovy period), and a start of a period of entering into an intensive contact and equal relationship with neighboring foreign powers. Moreover, this was also a process which heavily influenced and contributed to the formation of the Russian identity of 18-19 centuries when the Russian Empire started to be depicted as a pure European state whose nobility and elite got reconstructed under a sense of European model of development (changes in fashion, appearance, architecture, education, culture as well as economy and warfare) and became compatible and identified with European civilization, its principles and ideology (Dubina, 2008, p. 4).

  Bibliography

Langstrom, T. (2003). Transformation in Russia and International Law. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers. Available at: https://books.google.az/books?id=_Y1ITouKQooC&printsec=frontcover&hl=ru#v=onepage&q&f=false

Owen, T. C. (1995). Russian Corporate Capitalism from Peter the Great to Perestroika. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://0-www.ebrary.com.library.ada.edu.az

Peter I. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/biography/Peter-the-Great;

Catherine II. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/biography/Catherine-II

Trueman, C. N. (2015). "Peter The Great – Domestic Reforms". historylearningsite.co.uk. The History Learning Site. Available at: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/peter-the-great/peter-the-great-domestic-reforms/

Fordham University, 1998. Modern History Sourcebook: Peter the Great and the Rise of Russia, 1682-1725. Available at: http://legacy.fordham.edu/Halsall/mod/petergreat.asp

Burbank, J., Von, H. M., & Remnev, A. (Eds.). (2008). Russian Empire: Space, People, Power, 1700-1930. Bloomington, IN, USA: Indiana University Press. Retrieved from http://0-www.ebrary.com.library.ada.edu.az

Riasanovsky, N. V. (2005). Russian Identities: A Historical Survey. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://0-www.ebrary.com.library.ada.edu.az

Dubina, V. S. (2008). The ‘Distinction’: Russian Nobility and Russian Elites in the European Context (the 18th - 19th Century). Social Evolution & History. Retrieved from: http://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/the-distinction-russian-nobility-and-russian-elites-in-the-european-context-the-18th-19th-century

 


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