The Challenge of Space and the Technologies of Management of Ethno-Confessional Diversity in the Russian Empire

In: Russian History
Boris Mironov St.-Petersburg State University,

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Territorial expansion led to the fact that Russia gradually developed into a multiethnic empire in which the titular nation was the minority. Long-term preservation of the unity of the multiethnic and multiconfessional Russian empire is explained by the relatively flexible ethno-confessional policy of imperial ethno-paternalism, which respected the status quo of an attached territory and the population living upon it; cooperated extensively with local elites; demonstrated religious and ethnic tolerance; instituted some advantages in the legal position of non-Russians compared with Russians; and offered indigenous peoples of annexed territories the right to be civilian actors equally with Russians. The principles of ethno-paternalism, which at first glance are not compatible with autocracy and serfdom, were in fact the reality and were dictated by a twofold need: the small proportion of those of strictly Russian ethnicity in the imperial population as whole and in some particular areas, and the lack of administrative and financial resources and the underdeveloped information and transportation infrastructures necessary for the rapid and thorough assimilation of the non-Orthodox borderlands. These principles represented a kind of “technology” of management of the ethno-confessional diversity in the empire, enabling the realization of both the “assembling” of imperial space, and the gradual, relatively flexible and non-linear integration and modernization of traditional society and “national borderlands” into the modern polity. When and where these imperial technologies were not applied with sufficient consistency, ethno-confessional conflict arose, as did issues with the loyalty of local ethnic communities and their leaders in relation to the imperial center, and problems with regard to general regional stability and security.

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