Imperial Russia

A Tsar Reborn

There were two monumental anniversaries this week in Russia: Mikhail Gorbachev’s 80th birthday and 150th anniversary the abolition of serfdom by Tsar “Liberator” Alexander II. 

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The Zero Sum Game

I often tell my students that Russian politics is a zero sum game.  You’re either in or you’re out.  One’s political patronage begins and ends

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Imperial Reflections

“Are you ever going to put up another post?” Jim asks.  I’ve repeatedly asked myself that very question over the last two months.  Is SRB

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A Prayer for the Presidents

Contrary to what most people think, I see few signs of the neo-Sovietization of Russia. What I have observed, however, is a return to Russian traditionalism, even a kind of re-embrace of Tsarist symbolism. I’ve noticed this in several areas of Russian daily life: Christmas cards with the recently canonized last Romanov family, icons of the last Tsar sold in kiosks, large portraits of Petr Stolypin and Sergei Witte at the entrance of the International University, and book after book reevaluating the late Tsarist period, newly published volumes of Stolypin’s collected works, and the memoirs of not only Witte, but the diaries and biographies of princes and princesses in bookstores.

Let us also not forget the growing assertiveness of the Orthodox Church in cultural and political life, or the fact that Dmitri Medvedev’s inauguration looked like a Tsarist coronation more than anything. They might as well had placed the Russian Constitution on his head rather than having him swear to it. To me, “Sovereign democracy” is more reminiscent of Nicholas I’s “Official Nationality” with its cornerstones Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality. Indeed, even the portraits of Putin and Medvedev hanging on chinovniki’s walls are more Tsarist in origin. As is the “cult of personality” Putin recently denied he had. This is not to say that Russia hasn’t changed. It’s only to suggest that it takes from its Tsarist as much as its Soviet pasts as it negotiates the present contours of its national character.

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“We Await You, Merry Gnome!”

Russian chinovniki are known for a lot of things–graft, ineptitude, oblomovism, and when necessary, zealous obsequiousness. Sometimes, the latter leads the chinovnik to take preemptive action in hopes to satisfy the leader even if the latter is not looking to be satisfied. Take for example, the recent hilarious incident in Omsk where a preemptive measure to make President Medvedev “comfortable” led to the removal of a poster reading “We Await You, Merry Gnome.”

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Constitutional Monarchy

Here’s a surprise. The Russian Duma overwhelmingly approved Putin as Prime Minister. Okay, it’s not that surprising. The Communists did hold to their word to

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Soviet Agitation Trials

Robert Amsterdam’s blog has a translation of a fascinating Kommersant Vlast’ article (the Russian version is here along with some great photos.) on one of

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