Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Continued discussion of Danilevsky's Russia and Europe

Two blog posts ago I began discussing Danilevsky's influential Slavophile book, Russian and Europe. I have recently gotten some time to continue to read it, and whereas in my previous post I focused on what Danilevsky said to differentiate Russia's actions from those of contemporary European powers, I wanted now to remark on some of the more interesting and surprising opinions that the author had about the Russia and its relationship to its empire.

Danilevsky's civilizational model of world history is constructed in such a way as to justify the entire territorial integrity of the Russian Empire as the homeland of the Slavs. According to Danilevsky, unlike the other two great land empires, Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Turkey, the Russian Empire was not formed out of conquest [zavoevanie] of lands belonging to foreign nationalities: "not one of Russia's possessions may be considered to have been won through conquest, in the bad, anti-nationalist sense of the word so detested by humanity [ni odno iz vladenii Rossii nel'zia nazyvat' zavoevaniem - v durnom, antinatsional'nom i potomu nenavistnom dlia chelovechestva smysle]." Regarding Congress Poland, which at the point of Danilevsky's writing had attempted two uprisings against Russian rule (in 1830-1831 and in 1863-1865), the author believes that Russia is protecting this country's Slavic identity in the face of encroachments by Germanic powers (Prussia and Austria-Hungary). Danilevsky claims that between 1815 and 1830 the Poles enjoyed semi-autonomous status and "constitutional forms of government." This time was "one of the happiest in Polish history", only to be spoiled by the 1830 uprising fomented by the Polish intelligentsia and apparently completely unrepresentative of the wishes of the Polish population.

The author admits that Russia's territorial acquisition of the Caucasus had met with rather mixed resistance. Russia's intervention in the region was a response to the pleas for help from the "trans-Caucasian Christian regions" [zakavkazskie khristianskie oblasti] (i.e., the Georgians and Armenians, though Danilevsky does not name these peoples by name). The author admits that the conquest was significantly less popular with the "Caucasian mountain peoples [kavkazskie gortsy]", who are, of course, Muslims. I was interested to learn that Danilevsky names Russia's conflicts in the Caucasus against these Muslim nationalities as an ongoing point of negative publicity in Europe.

I was most surprised to read that Danilevsky thinks that Russia's historic acquisition of Siberia cannot be considered to be a subjugation, since no peoples worthy of civilizational status have ever occupied that space. This land can either be considered to be vacant [pustoporozhnii] or "inhabited by wild tribes with no history" [zaselennykh dikimi neistoricheskimi plemenami]. Obviously, Danilevsky does not have a very high opinion of the aboriginal and Turkic peoples that have historically occupied the non-European part of Russia. Yet it is interesting that later in the same paragraph the author accuses Spain of having forcefully dominated and destroyed "entire civilizations" in the Americas. There is no academic way, even by nineteenth-century standards, of justifying a pronouncement that while Mesoamerica, for example, contained civilizations which should not have been disturbed, Siberia did not and thus was open to Russian colonization. (The author asserts that this ongoing colonization of the Russian east is a project advanced by many Russians of their own free will and without assistance from the government, a statement that is dubious and perhaps hard to justify. It is interesting that another Slavophile writer, Sergei Aksakov, wrote a family-saga novel about one such group of Russians who chose to resettle east of the Volga).

All of Danilevsky's cherry-picked examples serve only to put into question the enterprise of state and empire building by European powers but to justify Russia's historical expansion.