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Byzantium in the Time of Troubles

The Continuation of the Chronicle of John Skylitzes (1057-1079)


Eric McGeer and John Nesbitt

The years before and after the battle of Mantzikert (1071) mark a turning point in the history of the Byzantine Empire. The invasions of the Seljuk Turks in the east and the encroachment of the Normans from the west altered the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean and forced the Byzantines to confront new threats to their survival. These threats came at a time when internal rivalries made an effective military response all but impossible and led to a significant transformation of the Byzantine polity under the Komnenoi.
The Continuation of the Chronicle of John Skylitzes, now translated for the first time, provides a contemporary view of these troubled times. An extension of the principal source for the middle Byzantine period, and a subtle reworking of the History of Michael Attaleiates, the Continuation offers a high court official’s narrative of the events and personages that shaped the course of Byzantine history on the eve of the Crusades.

Tonio Weicker

It is well known that labor migrants from different countries all over the Eurasian Union are the backbone of crucial economy sectors in the Russian Federation as, inter alia, construction, agriculture or trade. This article deals with another less mentioned but similarly significant labor market, which substantially changed its assemblage during the last couple of years, namely commercial urban transport services. In the last two decades, the marshrutka sector underwent major reforms and formalization processes that, on the one hand, brought operators back into the tax net and ensured a certain extension of control to the local transportation departments but, on the other hand, worsened the labor conditions of the transportation workers. Drawing from the empirical evidence of my fieldwork in southern Russia, I describe currently problematized mobility assemblages and embed the actor’s articulations in broader conflicts within the marshrutka business and transportation regulation policy. I further analyze how labor migrants have been forced to accept unfavorable working conditions in the enterprises as a direct result of politically triggered reforms in the marshrutka business. The paper provides insights into the social arena of the marshrutka, which serves as a societal encounter of urban conflicts and transformation mirroring (un-)intended effects of the local transportation reformation attempts.

Cara Kerven

In Turkmenistan, Islamic charitable alms (sadaka) are a central part of daily life in the desert villages surrounding Gökdepe town, about five hours drive from the capital, Aşgabat. Adults give sadaka for reasons of religious merit, in order to pay respects to deceased family members and prior to major life-cycle events such as weddings. This article links Turkmen sadaka to other life-cycle ceremonies noted in the surrounding Central Asian countries. Life-cycle ceremonies have been theorised in two broadly different ways, as either concerned with prestige and status or as ethical projects. I bring these two approaches into conversation through the notion of social reproduction. Using long-term ethnographic research, I argue that Turkmen sadaka reveals how the economics of daily life and social reproduction are directly dependent on divine gifts. It is an ethical project for those participating that, at the same time, has recognised social consequences in terms of status and prestige.

Giulia Cabras

In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (People’s Republic of China), history is taught according to Chinese nationalistic guidelines and the history of ethnic groups is built around their relationships with the Han majority. In this context of historical hegemony, the paper examines a series of books for Uyghur children on famous historical characters in order to understand how young generations’ ethnic consciousness can be shaped. The analysis identifies some trends of the Uyghur ethnic discourse transmitted to children (connections with the history of Central Asia and the Middle East, the focus on elements of identification such as Islam and muqams), as well as the presence of a Chinese paradigm that supports progress, secular education, and the standardization of folklore. Furthermore, the article aims to identify how much leeway is given to the development of a counter-discourse, particularly in the transmission of historical and cultural heritage to the younger generations.

Sebastian Gehrig, James Mark, Paul Betts, Kim Christiaens and Idesbald Goddeeris

Anti-apartheid advocacy allowed Eastern Bloc countries to reframe their ideological language of solidarity towards African countries into a legalist rhetoric during the 1960s and 70s. Support for international anti-racial discrimination law and self-determination from colonial rule reinforced their ties to Africa after the disenchantment of the Hungarian Uprising. Rights activism against apartheid showcased the socialist Bloc’s active contribution to the international rise of human rights language and international law during the Cold War. By the mid-1970s, however, international rights engagement became problematic for most Eastern European states, and dissidents at home eventually appropriated the term apartheid based on decades of state-mandated international rights activism to criticise socialism.

The Failure of the Socialist Declaration of Human Rights

Ideology, Legitimacy, and Elite Defection at the End of State Socialism

Ned Richardson-Little

In the mid-1980s, the Eastern Bloc faced increased pressure on the issue of human rights from western governments, ngos, and indigenous dissident. Although the Socialist Bloc had claimed to represent the ideals of human rights throughout the Cold War, by 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev called on the leaders of the Eastern Bloc to work together on a coordinated response to this threat and in response East Germany proposed the creation of an international declaration based on the principles of socialist—rather than bourgeois—human rights. Within a few years, however, the project collapsed in ignominious failure as it provided a vehicle for reformers to challenge the status quo in the name of human rights by demanding greater democratization. Although the project was originally devised to refute the human rights claims of the West, it instead acted to spur on the intellectual collapse of the Eastern Bloc’s ideological unity at its time of greatest crisis.

Erika Szívós

Since its publication, Pieter M. Judson’s history of the Habsburg Empire: A New History has sparked discussion and debate as a result of its novel reframing of the relationship between nationalism and empire in the Central European polity. Judson offers a new narrative of a vibrant and adaptive state that had the ability to balance empire and nationality, and thus was not doomed to fail, as has been one of the well-worn interpretations of the empire. The contributors to this debate come to the book from different regional and academic standpoints, and take on a number of key issues raised by the book: the role of nationality in the empire; the nature of Habsburg imperial rule within the broader context of European empire building; the relationship of Hungary within the larger empire; and the position of the Habsburg Empire within European history as a whole. Together, these perspectives shed light on core issues raised by the book as well as offer reflections on the future of Habsburg studies.

Ned Richardson-Little, Hella Dietz and James Mark

In recent years, the study of human rights history has expanded beyond Western-centered narratives, though the role of Eastern European state socialism and socialists in the evolution of human rights concepts and politics has not received sufficient attention. This introductory essay synthesizes recent research of the role of Eastern Bloc socialist states in shaping the emergence of the post-war human rights system and the implications of this new research for the history of the Cold War, dissent as well as the collapse of state socialism in 1989/91. Ultimately, state socialist actors were not merely human rights antagonists, but contributed to shaping the international arena and human rights politics, motivated both strategically as well as ideologically. And the Eastern Bloc was not merely a region that passively absorbed the idea of human rights from the West, but a site where human rights ideas where articulated, internationalized and also contested.

Marco Antonio Guzman

This historical and comparative analysis shows that neoliberal economic policy creating a domestic private sector triggered a series of events that culminated with the dissolution of post-communist Czechoslovakia in 1992. Placing primary emphasis on neoliberal economic reform, this research departs from existing accounts of the breakup positing ideological differences between Czech and Slovak elites or preexisting regional economic structures as the primary factors behind the dissolution. As neoliberal policies took place through the entire federation, an unexpected boom in tourism in Prague fostered the creation of a service sector catering to visitors, lowering the capital’s unemployment rate. Outside of Prague, neoliberal policy failed to alleviate the economic crisis. As federal economic policies failed to resolve mounting economic problems in Slovakia, particularly unemployment, the perception that federal policies did not fit regional needs gained salience. By 1992, whereas parties calling for the perpetuation of the federation lost popular support, separatist political parties gained the majority of seats in both regional parliaments, leading to the dissolution of the federation.

Todor Hristov

Social rights are essentially rights to the betterment of life. And because of this, they lack any internal principle of limitation. Socialist governments recognized social rights as the core of human rights and therefore as legal rights, the implementation of which was a matter of obligation rather than policy. However, since the governments commanded limited resources, they had to limit the implementation of social rights. The article describes the ad hoc limitations on the implementation of social rights, developed by the Bulgarian Communist Party, which brought forth their transformation into instruments of government, and their appropriation by different forms of counter-conduct.

Michal Kopeček

Much has been written about human rights language as a keystone of democratic dissent in Eastern Europe as well as about its damaging impact on the communist dictatorships—the so called “Helsinki effect.” This article analyzes the less familiar criticism of the core of the socialist theory of human rights and discusses whether this criticism proved to be particularly damaging for the socialist regimes’ legitimacy, self-esteem, and international standing, leading to their defensive stance in this sphere. Simultaneously, it will question, to some extent, the prevailing and rather one-sided “liberal” reading of dissident human rights theory itself. With this aim in mind, the article begins with the specific “developmental” socialist conception of human rights elaborated in the 1950s and the 1960s by prominent legal scholars and philosophers such as I. Szabó and I. Kovács, and outlines how this theory served as a tool of self-confident state socialist human rights politics in the first decades of the Cold War. Second, it will follow the diverging paths of this socialist human rights theory during the period of consolidation and the authoritarian turn in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Third, the article turns to some of the 1970s–80s dissident criticism of human rights abuses in communist countries. It will focus not on the best-known cases, which serve to emphasize encroachments upon civil and political rights and freedoms, but rather on critical approaches (like those of J. Tesař, J. Šabata, O. Solt, M. Duray, or the Solidarity’s Charter of Workers Rights) directed at the heart of the socialist theory of human rights, that is the abuses and unfulfilled promises in the area of social, economic, and—prominently in the Hungarian case—cultural rights.

Universal Rights or Everyday Necessities?

Translating Human Rights between Local Workers and Transnational Activism in late 1970s Poland

Anna Delius

Polish opposition against the state-socialist government emerged out of the political engagement of predominantly left-leaning intellectuals with repressed workers in the 1970s. In their writings, these intellectuals addressed not only workers in the country, but also Western European left-wing intellectuals and politicians. Based on an analysis of relevant samizdat publications, this article shows how Polish intellectuals modified their rhetorical strategies depending on their audience. It thus challenges the monothematic focus on an internationally salient human rights language as the main tool for political empowerment during the 1970s. Whereas the universalizing human rights discourse presented repression and the lack of democratic labor structures negatively, the inner Polish debate between intellectuals and workers initially framed these issues as basic necessities deduced from tangible problems. It was only after two years of organizational work that the Warsaw-based Workers’ Defense Committee, in their “Charter of Workers’ Rights” (1979), depicted repression as a violation of human and labor rights. The rhetoric changed so drastically because the Charter addressed not only workers, but also different target groups on an international and national level. Even so, a singularizing narrative of repression made more sense in the context of Polish labor protests than the adoption of a universalizing human rights language.

Sharon Werning Rivera and David W. Rivera

Will Vladimir Putin’s penchant for staffing the state with siloviki undermine the prospects for democratization after he leaves office? The answer to this question hinges on whether Russian military and security officers currently possess a less liberal worldview than do civilian elites, yet little to no research has examined this question in close to a decade. In an effort to fill this gap in existing knowledge, this article investigates the orientations of influential Russians toward several core components of liberal democracy on the basis of a survey conducted in 2016. We find that attitudinal differences between siloviki and civilians persist into this decade. As was the case in both the 1990s and 2000s, elites with professional backgrounds in the force structures were less supportive of political pluralism and individual rights than were those with purely civilian resumés. In addition, active-duty officers were even less liberal than either their retired former colleagues or lifelong civilians. Finally, unlike the situation that apparently prevailed at the very end of Putin’s second presidential term, conventional military officers now espouse nearly identical levels of support for political pluralism as do officers entrusted with internal security.

Nikolay Petrov and Michael Rochlitz

Control over the security services is a key ingredient of political survival in authoritarian regimes. This is particularly true during periods of leadership succession and high political uncertainty. In this paper, we compare the strategy used by Vladimir Putin towards the siloviki – the Russian security services – with that employed by Xi Jinping towards the Chinese security services. We find that in both countries, the security services have been significantly strengthened in recent years, while at the same time extensive anti-corruption campaigns have been used to eliminate key officials within the security structures. We argue that both developments can be seen as elements of a strategy to increase control over the public, while eliminating potential competition from regime insiders, in view of a deteriorating economic situation, and the constitutional (or quasi-constitutional) term limits faced by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in 2024 and 2022, respectively.

Andrei Yakovlev and Anton Aisin

Although many scholars have analyzed the role played by the siloviki in Russian politics, they usually focus on the presence of siloviki in the federal elite or the pressure they exerted on business. In this article, we use new data on the appointments of regional governors and the heads of regional departments of the Federal Security Service (ufsb), as well as data on regional economic growth from 2005 to 2017, to examine how decisions by the Kremlin with respect to the appointment of key regional siloviki have affected economic development in Russian regions. We find that regions where the governor-siloviki relationship has been stable over time also display higher rates of growth. We then investigate whether regional fsb heads are specifically appointed to start investigations on regional governors, but do not find a statistically significant relationship. Finally, we show how a number of newly appointed political heavyweights among Russia’s governor corps have been given their “own” silovik to support them in their region.

Stephen G F Hall

This paper argues that between 2012 and 2019, the Kremlin recalibrated preventive counter-revolutionary practices due to fears that an event like the Arab Spring or Euromaidan could occur in Moscow or that the 2011–2012 winter of discontent could return. While the Kremlin returned to practices of the preventive counter-revolution used after 2004, the tactics increased creating a “politics of fear.” The preventive counter-revolution post-2012 implemented new tactics, incorporating an external element of countering the involvement of Western states in destabilizing authoritarian regimes, specifically in the post-Soviet space, thereby attempting to weaken Western states. The tactics of the preventive counter-revolution after 2012 have the potential to coup-proof the Kremlin and serve as a model for other authoritarian regimes to devise methods to counter Western states and democratization, thereby allowing the Kremlin to become a model and black knight for other authoritarian regimes.

Evgeny Gontmakher

Despite near 30 years of post-Soviet reforms, Russia has not developed an effective system of mandatory social insurance. This has many negative, social, economic and political consequences. The main ones are low coverage of social risks and mass paternalism. An ordinary employee does not feel involved in the formation of his own well-being, especially in the field of pensions and medical care, and can’t independently dispose of those mandatory contributions that the employer makes in his favor. Therefore, in Russia there has long been a need, not just for cosmetic amendments, but for a radical reform of the mandatory insurance system. Its main element should be the involvement of the employee in the management of funds collected in special insurance institutes. It is proposed to move from a unified rate of deductions to personalized contributions, the amount of which depends on the family status of the employee, his or her health, and other personal characteristics. The organizational form of the updated system of mandatory social insurance can be a United Social Insurance Fund (instead of the current three funds), managed on an equal basis by representatives of employees, employers and the state.

Michael Rochlitz

After a period of relative political liberalization under president Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s security services have again started to play a central role in Russian politics with Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012. In this issue of Russian Politics, we analyze three different aspects of this return of the siloviki: the way they think and see the world, how the relationship between governors and siloviki affects economic development at the regional level, and how the strengthening of the siloviki since 2012 compares to the strengthening of the Chinese internal security services, which took place during the same time. We identify a new assertiveness of Russia’s siloviki, as well as a centralization of power around Vladimir Putin through the dismissal of other influential heavyweights within Russia’s security services, and speculate what this might mean for Russia’s short- to mid-term future.

Alison Hilton


The strong national voice at Abramtsevo, based on a sense of harmony among native landscapes, religious and folk life, and estate culture was intrinsic to Slavic revival movements of the late nineteenth century. The estate and its surroundings were settings for Russian-themed paintings and inspired artists to seek and express a Russian “spirit of nature.” The search for a national landscape was connected with literary and intellectual culture fostered at Abramtsevo and neighboring estates, and with the presence of religious centers in the area. Local topography and collaboration among the Abramtsevo artists in the 1880s led to new ideas about a national landscape as artists ranged further afield in the next decade. Landscapes of mood and decorative works based on natural forms shifted the role of landscape from concrete subject to a source for formal experimentation.

All the Folk Art News Fit to Print

Russian Needlework Publications of the Late Imperial Period

K. Andrea Rusnock


Neo-nationalism was concerned with a new aesthetic, not just in the fine arts but also in the crafts, particularly needlework. One way that this aesthetic was disseminated for needle art was through publications—magazines, pattern books, how-to-manuals, guides for schools, and the like. Publications on needlework were produced throughout the nineteenth century, and their output increased toward the end of the 1800s, with many portraying peasant imagery and patterns associated with this new style of Neo-nationalism. This article explores how needlework publications propagated Neo-nationalist art to a broad audience and the key role they played in shaping the cultural milieu of the Russian late Imperial period.

Artists at Play

Natalia Erenburg, Iakov Tugendkhold, and the Exhibition of Russian Folk Art at the “Salon d’Automne” of 1913

Anna Winestein


The exhibition of Russian folk art at the Paris “Salon d’Automne” of 1913 has been generally overlooked in scholarship on folk art, overshadowed by the “All-Russian Kustar Exhibitions” and the Moscow avant-garde gallery shows of the same year. This article examines the contributions of its curator, Natalia Erenburg, and the project’s instigator, Iakov Tugendkhold, who wrote the catalogue essay and headed the committee—both of whom were artists who became critics, historians, and collectors. The article elucidates the show’s rationale and selection of exhibits, the critical response to it and its legacy. It also discusses the artistic circles of Russian Paris in which the project originated, particularly the Académie russe. Finally, it examines the project in the context of earlier efforts to present Russian folk art in Paris, and shows how it—and Russian folk art as a source and object of collecting and display—brought together artists, collectors, and scholars from the ranks of the Mir iskusstva [World of Art] group, as well as the younger avant-gardists, and allowed them to engage Parisian and European audiences with their own ideas and artworks.

Olga Khoroshilova


This article focuses on the revival and development of a “national style” in Russian civilian and military dress from the 1880s to the period of World War I. The Slavophile movement [slavianophilstvo] and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 played a large part in the Russian style revival during the reign of Tsar Alexander III. The idea of a national style was a source of inspiration for the Tsar when he ordered the introduction of new army outfits based on peasant dress. This policy also served to represent the Tsar visually as a skazochnyi silach-bogatyr [mighty fairytale bogatyr]—symbol of a new and powerful Russia. This article analyzes ways in which Russian civilian dress changed under the influence of the Russian-style military outfits of Alexander III’s army. It then examines the impact of the later “Neo-Russian” style on costume from nineteenth-century Russian operas, to the All-Russian Art and Industry exhibitions of the 1880s, to the boutiques for national dress which opened in Russia during this period. The second part of the article focuses on the later evolution of the national style in civilian dress during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. It analyzes examples of early designs for reformed military outfits that were based on Russian folklore traditions. Although these were not actually manufactured, they were much discussed, and influenced the growth of public interest in Russian costume of the seventeenth century. Finally, this article argues that a new wave of popularity of a style in dress that was inspired by Russian folklore was connected with the beginning of World War I.

Eleonora Paston


This article examines questions related to dilettantism, typically defined in negative terms as engagement in an activity without proper professional training. However, this concept can also prompt a positive association, connoting freedom from inertia, ossified techniques, and professional stereotypes and clichés. The present article contends that dilettantism is especially necessary in transitional periods of art history. At such moments, innovations may arise more readily in intimate and amateur circles, rather than in professional contexts. Such a circle developed in the 1870s-90s among the community of artists who gathered around the prominent industrialist and philanthropist Savva Mamontov, a man of diverse talents, who astutely intuited new trends in art. This group of artists came to be known as the Abramtsevo artistic circle, after the name of Mamontov’s country estate located just outside of Moscow, where the vast majority of their artistic activities took place.

In Abramtsevo’s informal, creative atmosphere ideas for new aesthetic projects spontaneously materialized across a range of different artistic spheres—theater, architecture, decorative, and applied arts—in which members of the circle were essentially amateurs. But it is precisely in these areas that the artists would make their most significant contributions. Thus, the first seeds of a novel understanding of theatrical production as a single immersive entity were initially sown on the amateur stage of the Abramtsevo estate and subsequently fully blossomed in Mamontov’s Private Opera (1885-91; 1896-99), which played a foundational role in the development of Russian musical theater. The Church of the Spas nerukotvornyi [Savior Not Made by Human Hands], built by members of the Abramtsevo circle (1881-82), became the first exemplar of the Neo-Russian style in the history of Russian architecture, an important constituent of stil modern or Russian Art Nouveau. The activities of the kustar workshops in Abramtsevo—the carpentry workshop (1885) and the Abramtsevo ceramic studio (1890)—made a significant contribution to the development of the applied arts and industrial design in Russia, leading to their “rebirth” on a national level.

“Dreaming of Russia”

National-Romantic Features in Art Nouveau

Olga Davydova


The National-Romantic trend in Russian Art Nouveau is characterized by a lyrical approach to the past, including imagery from folklore. This tendency is also identifiable within the global development of Art Nouveau, each country expressing its national identity in highly characteristic forms in design and architecture. Art Nouveau coincided with the zenith of Symbolism and, therefore, transmitted both its universal ideas and the unique creative psychology of the individual artist, who often based personal quest upon local traditions and innate cultural memory. This article analyzes the poetics of this style in Russia. The lyrical and mythological approach towards artistic images, influencing design, form, and meaning, is studied through an examination of the works of artists close to the Abramtsevo circle and the innovative experiments of the World of Art group (1898-1904).

Darya Manucharova


This article examines the activity of the Abramtsevo circle, mainly in the spheres of theater and church architecture. The partnership of two close friends, Savva Mamontov and Vasilii Polenov, generated most of the circle’s ideas and shaped its grand plans. The article analyzes the group’s cultural and educational projects, revealing the different ways in which the educational ideas of the Abramtsevo community influenced the realization of Polenov’s concepts and plans, which in turn were implemented in the artist’s social and theatrical life during the 1910s and 1920s.

English Influences, Russian Experiments

Exploring the Neo-Russian Style in Russian Children’s Books

Ekaterina Vyazova


This article analyzes the Neo-Russian style in children’s book illustrations in Russia and compares it to analogous artistic developments in England, revealing a similar evolutionary path to that of other national variants of Art Nouveau. The initial aesthetic impulse for this evolution came from the promotion of crafts and medieval handicrafts by “enlightened amateurs.” The history of children’s books, with its patently playful nature, aestheticization of primitives, and free play with quotations from the history of art, is an important episode in the history of Russian and English Art Nouveau. Starting with a consideration of the new attitude towards the “theme of childhood” as such, and a new focus on the child’s perception of the world, this article reveals why the children’s book, long treated as a marginal genre, became a fertile and universal field for artistic experimentation at the turn of the twentieth century. It then focuses on Elena Polenova’s concept of children’s book illustrations, which reflected both her enthusiasm for the British Arts and Crafts movement, and, in particular, the work of Walter Crane, and her profound knowledge of Russian crafts and folklore. The last part of the article deals with the artistic experiments of Ivan Bilibin and the similarities of his book designs to those of Walter Crane.

Fragile Treasures and Their “Russianness”

The Abramtsevo Ceramic Workshop

Josephine Karg


This article examines the role of the revival of majolica in the search for a national art. It argues that the reinvention of majolica and the reform of the kustar art industry were intimately linked with the rise of ethnographic research and the revitalization of vernacular culture. The Abramtsevo circle became a nucleus for both. The endeavor to revive national heritage and to encourage the handicraft industry was spearheaded by private patronage, which had largely originated from the new urban elite in Moscow. The works made in the ceramics workshop in Abramtsevo were a significant manifestation of the Neo-Russian style and emblematized the typical “Russian” handicraft objects. This article posits that the revival of majolica pursued two main goals: the manufacture of high-quality products to stimulate the art market and the creation of national “Russian” art through the use of vernacular forms. The invention of a national style was publicized at international exhibitions and through reproduction in art magazines. The painter Mikhail Vrubel, who worked in the Abramtsevo ceramics workshop from 1890 until around 1900, became a key figure in the revival of majolica.

Invisible Women

Re-examining the Arts and Crafts of Maria V. Iakunchikova at the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900

Louise Hardiman


Maria Vasilievna Iakunchikova designed three works of applied art and craft in a Neo-Russian style for the Russian section of the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900—a wooden dresser, a toy village in carved wood, and a large embroidered panel. Yet, so far as the official record is concerned, Iakunchikova’s participation in the exhibition is occluded. Her name does not appear in the catalogue, for it was the producers, rather than the designers, who were credited for her works. Indeed, her presence might have been entirely unknown, were it not for several reports of the Russian display in the periodical press by her friend Netta Peacock, a British writer living in Paris. The invisibility of the designer in this instance was not a matter of gender, but it had consequences for women artists. In general, women were marginalized in the mainstream of the nineteenth-century Russian art world—whether at the Academy of Arts or in prominent groups such as the Peredvizhniki—and, as a result, enjoyed fewer opportunities at the Exposition. But the Neo-national movement, linked closely with the revival of applied art and the promotion of kustar industries, was one in which women’s art had space to flourish. And, in the so-called village russe at the Exposition, which featured a display of kustar art, by far the larger contribution was made by women, both as promoters and as artists. In this article, I examine Iakunchikova’s contribution to the Exposition within a broader context of female artistic activity, and the significance of the Russian kustar pavilion for a gendered history of nineteenth-century art.

Opposing Official Nationality

The Protest Operas of Savva Mamontov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

John Nelson


It was political turmoil in Russia that brought Savva Mamontov and his Abramtsevo circle together with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The composer questioned whether the “Official Nationality” decree of Tsar Nicholas I, with its emphasis on autocracy, Orthodoxy, and nationality—which together asserted despotic rule—truly represented the values of a changing Russian society. In addition, his operas found little favor within the Imperial theater directorate. This changed, however, when the Imperial theater monopoly was abolished, allowing private theaters to operate freely. Mamontov opened his Private Opera in 1885 at Abramtsevo and in 1895 in Moscow. His aim was to demonstrate that a private opera house could compete with the Imperial theaters, in addition to giving Moscow the opportunity to see Russian-themed operas. It was Mamontov’s new approach to stage direction, including the incorporation of fine artists in the creative process, that attracted the composer.

Harassment by the Tsar, the bureaucracy of the Imperial theaters, and the western-orientated repertoire committee, had all alienated the composer. Mamontov’s dedication to filling a gap in the Russian music world, as well as his challenge to the Imperial theaters, caught Rimsky-Korsakov’s attention. Through their collaboration they questioned the bureaucracy and publicly registered their protest against Nicholas II. Together, they challenged the foundations of the “Official Nationality” doctrine propounded by the tsars since the rule of Nicholas I, which in a changing Russian society had acquired a new meaning.

The Poetics and Aesthetics of Otherness

Orientalism and Identity at Abramtsevo

Maria Taroutina


Although traditionally associated with the ascendance of National Romanticism, Slavic folklore, and the Neo-Russian style in painting, architecture, and the decorative arts, the Abramtsevo artistic circle was also privy to the inception and production of a number of manifestly Orientalist works, such as Vasilii Polenov’s Christ and the Adulteress (1888), Mikhail Vrubel’s ceramic sculptures of The Assyrian, The Egyptian Girl, The Pharaoh, and The Libyan Lion (1890s), and the costumes and set designs for the theatrical productions Judith (1878, 1898), Joseph (1880, 1881, 1887, 1889), The Black Turban (1884, 1887, 1889), King Saul (1890), and To the Caucasus (1891). In addition, a series of hybrid works that fused elements of the exotic with national thematic and stylistic content, such as Viktor Vasnetsov’s Underwater Kingdom (1884) and Mikhail Vrubel’s Princess Volkhova (1898), were likewise produced under the auspices of Savva Mamontov and the Abramtsevo community, thus blurring the boundaries between native and foreign, local and global, self and other, and Slavophilia and Orientalia. The present article posits that an understanding of the romanticized, Neo-Russian artistic and theatrical productions, and the nationalist polemics of the Abramtsevo artistic circle is necessarily incomplete without a detailed examination of the various Orientalist crosscurrents which informed and structured many of the group’s artworks throughout the 1880s and 1890s—a narrative that has been largely left out of scholarly accounts of the movement.

Nathanaëlle Tressol


This article focuses on the French reception of Russian Arts and Crafts in the early 1900s. As a consequence, firstly, of the Russian display at the 1900 “Exposition Universelle,” and, secondly, of the increasing number of Russian exhibitions and other cultural events in Paris, French art periodicals and sections on art in the mainstream press contained many reports about the movement. Several writers expressed their opinion about Russian modern Arts and Crafts and participated in their promotion in France. The main purpose of the article is to shed light on those French critics who were responsible for this process of mediation and the way in which their discourses adopted a comprehensive approach to Russian Arts and Crafts experiments. It examines which artists and which exhibitions were particularly welcomed in around 1906; special attention is paid to Abramtsevo and Talashkino, and, therefore, to Maria Tenisheva.

Regulating Russian Arts and Crafts

The “Second All-Russian Kustar Exhibition” of 1913

Ludmila Piters-Hofmann


On March 10, 1913, the “Second All-Russian Kustar Exhibition” opened in St. Petersburg under the patronage of the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna. The largest display of folk art and kustar goods in Imperial Russia, it was a huge success with the public and significantly shaped the layman’s view of Russian folk art. Although this exhibition has garnered considerable attention within the scholarly discourse, it has mainly been discussed from the critics’ point of view. This article provides complementary insights by reconstructing the organizational efforts that contributed to the public success of the exhibition and by analyzing the reaction of the organizing committee to criticism in the contemporary press.

Viktor Vasnetsov


At the memorial service held for Savva Mamontov after his death in 1918, Viktor Vasnetsov delivered his reminiscences by way of a eulogy. He describes his relationship with the impresario, some key moments in the history of the Abramtsevo circle and his own artistic life. In so doing, Vasnetsov conveys the deep affection held by artists in the circle for Mamontov, and hints at some of the reasons why his role was so critical and influential in coaxing the group towards their many artistic successes.

Russia in Rome

Kokoshniki in the Collection of George Wurts and Henrietta Tower

Lucia Tonini


The presence of thirty-three Russian head-dresses, as well as other historical objects, in the collection of the American diplomat, George Wurts, and his wife, Henrietta Tower, is an uncommon example of collecting Russian folk objects abroad, and testifies to a universality of taste in international collecting during the late nineteenth century. The head-dress collection is part of a larger collection of around 4,000 pieces dating from antiquity to the early twentieth century, which was assembled at the Palazzo Antici Mattei and the Villa Sciarra in Rome between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Wurts and Tower had a particular interest in arts and crafts, which was enabled by Wurts’s career as a diplomat and secretary at the American mission in St. Petersburg for a period of ten years (1882-93).

This article describes the key characteristics of the Wurts-Tower collection of folk objects, the circumstances of its formation, and its relation to the tendencies of taste during that time. It also testifies to the transformation of the kokoshnik in the eyes of collectors and viewers from a popular costume to a fashion accessory that was linked to a past world.

Inge Wierda


This article examines the historical and spiritual significance of Radonezh soil and its impact on the artistic practice of the Abramtsevo circle. Through a close reading of three paintings—Viktor Vasnetsov’s Saint Sergius of Radonezh (1881) and Alenushka (1881), and Elena Polenova’s Pokrov Mother of God (1883)—it analyzes how the Abramtsevo artists negotiated Saint Sergius’s legacy alongside their own experiences of the sacred sites in this area and especially the Pokrovskii churches. These artworks demonstrate how, in line with the prevalent nineteenth-century Slavophile interests, Radonezh soil provided a fertile ground for articulating a distinct Russian Orthodox identity in the visual arts of the 1880s and continues to inspire artists to this day.

“A Special Place”

On the Significance of Abramtsevo

Elena Voronina

“The Spirit of Old Aksakov … Added to the Charm”

Early Extracts from “The Chronicle of the Abramtsevo Estate”

Savva Mamontov and Selected and introduced by Elena Mokhova


This text is an extract from the “Chronicle of the Abramtsevo Estate,” a collective diary that details the daily functioning of the estate, as well as the special events, projects, and artistic activities that were held there by Savva Mamontov and his associates from 1870 until 1893. It thus provides a unique glimpse into both the personal and professional lives of one of Russia’s most important and influential artistic colonies.

Stacking National Identity

The Lucrative Legacy of the Matreshka

Helena Goscilo


The matreshka designed by Sergei Maliutin and turned by Vasilii Zvezdochkin has fulfilled a precisely defined function from its inception in the late 1890s until today. Conceived as a material embodiment of national identity amid Abramtsevo’s revival of endemic Russian traditions, the stacking doll symbolized robust national fecundity. Produced and sold in the workshop Detskoe vospitanie [Children’s Upbringing] established by the Mamontov family, it promoted Russianness in a range of stacked dolls garbed in the ethnic dress of the country’s various regions. During the Soviet era the matreshka became standardized and promoted as the quintessential emblem of a vital Russia, above all to foreigners.

The demise of the Soviet Union witnessed the spectacular rise of the author’s matreshka, one indelibly stamped with the creative imagination of its individual creator under new economic and cultural conditions. Political figures, American sports heroes, British rock groups, TV characters, and Hollywood stars all appeared as increasingly decorative stacked dolls. In short, the fate and the appearance of the matreshka accurately reflect Russia’s ideological biases and shifts. If early twentieth-century exploration of diverse national images yielded to a monochromatic defensiveness materialized as the unyielding, stoic child-bearer of Cold War Sovietism, then the post-Soviet matreshka conveys the chameleon-like, cosmetic veneers adopted and discarded by the consumerist society of the 1990s and subsequent decades. My article analyzes the vagaries of the matreshka’s legacy under Soviet and post-Soviet rule, during which the stacked doll has never lost its status as a unique symbol of national identity, though the terms of that symbolism have evolved.

Vasilii Polenov’s Architectural Projects

Between the Neo-Russian Style and National Romanticism

Elena Kashtanova


Vasilii Polenov can be described as one of the most “architectural” Russian artists of the late nineteenth century. In his sketches and paintings of the Gospel cycle, his historical works, theatrical scenery, and landscape paintings, the artist could not imagine realizing the main themes of his work without reference to architecture. Polenov’s architectural work can be divided into three types: church projects—such as those at Abramtsevo, the school at the Kologriv monastery in Kostroma province, and the Church of the Holy Trinity in Bekhovo in Tula province; manor architecture in the style of Scandinavian Art Nouveau at the estate he founded on the banks of the Oka River near Tula; and his only urban project—the House of Theatrical Education in Moscow. Polenov pursued the Neo-Russian style with particular alacrity in the sphere of church architecture, which is the focus of this essay, for it was here that the artist offered his own original interpretation of the national theme.

Karina Pronitcheva


The article is dedicated to objects in precious metal made after Viktor Vasnetsov’s designs at the turn of the twentieth century. It discusses several creations known to be by Vasnetsov, and others which are likely to be attributable to him. The collaboration between Vasnetsov and Russian silversmiths such as Postnikov, Ovchinnikov, and Fabergé is analyzed on the basis of letters preserved in the collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery and the Viktor Vasnetsov Museum in Moscow, and newspaper reports of the period. The following artworks are discussed in detail, with special attention paid to the history of their creation: two presentational dishes of 1896, one for the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas II and one for the “All-Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition” of Nizhnii Novgorod, the khorugv (religious banner) for the coffin of Emperor Alexander III, the presentational dish of 1902 for French President Emile Loubet, the bronze and enamel iconostasis for the Cathedral of St. George in the town of Gus-Khrustalnyi, and the so-called “Ivan Kalita” bowl.

Viktor Vasnetsov’s New Icons

From Abramtsevo to the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900

Wendy Salmond


This essay examines Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov’s search for a new kind of prayer icon in the closing decades of the nineteenth century: a hybrid of icon and painting that would reconcile Russia’s historic contradictions and launch a renaissance of national culture and faith. Beginning with his icons for the Spas nerukotvornyi [Savior Not Made by Human Hands] Church at Abramtsevo in 1880-81, for two decades Vasnetsov was hailed as an innovator, the four icons he sent to the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900 marking the culmination of his vision. After 1900, his religious painting polarized elite Russian society and was bitterly attacked in advanced art circles. Yet Vasnetsov’s new icons were increasingly linked with popular culture and the many copies made of them in the late Imperial period suggest that his hybrid image spoke to a generation seeking a resolution to the dilemma of how modern Orthodox worshippers should pray.

Thomas F. Remington

The transition in Russia to a partially market-driven economy has failed to produce sustained and broad-based economic growth. The gains of economic growth are concentrated at the top of the income distribution, leaving a sizable part of the population trapped in conditions of low incomes. While abject poverty has largely been eliminated, around 40% of the population struggle to purchase more than basic consumer necessities. Spending on food occupies nearly half of household budgets for the lowest income decile. State social spending, which constitutes an increasing share of total income, is relatively non-progressive. Most is not means-based, but preserves the categorical benefits structure of the Soviet era. A combination of the bureaucratic-authoritarian institutional framework for decision-making and the strongly rent-based relationship between economic and political elites, severely limits policy options.

Linda J. Cook, Jørn Holm-Hansen, Markku Kivinen and Stein Kuhnle

This Special Issue is devoted to Russia’s welfare state during the years of economic stagnation that began in 2013. Twelve experts assess social conditions and reforms in poverty, labor market, pension, housing and education policies. They show that social mobility has stagnated in conditions of deep inequality and just-above-poverty incomes for many. Innovative labor market and anti-poverty policies are hampered by low productivity and wages, both features of an oligarchic economic model that blocks competition and development. Welfare commitments heavily burden the state budget, producing reforms that transfer costs to users. The authors find that popular protests have forced government to partially mitigate these reforms. Putin’s government appears trapped between oligarchic economic interests and popular expectations for welfare. The final article compares China’s comparatively successful welfare trajectories with those of Russia, and proposes an agenda for further research.

Esuna Dugarova

Social protection is an important strategy to protect people from livelihood risks, develop human capital and promote economic growth. Decent work is a core element of social protection and a critical condition for eradicating poverty. Despite high labor force participation and low unemployment, Russia’s labor market shows several negative trends, including working poverty and growing informality. Both are exacerbated by gender disparities and unfavorable demographic shifts. Over the past decade the Russian government has implemented active labor market interventions, and enhanced targeted social protection aimed at promoting employment and reducing poverty. Based on the analysis of key data and programs, the article finds that the country achieved stability in the labor market, but at the cost of deteriorating living standards caused by low levels of productivity and wages.

Elena Maltseva

The article discusses the changes to the Russian pension system since 2013, focusing specifically on the most recent policy moves. It argues that, despite the apparent instability of the Russian pension system caused by numerous policy shifts that have occurred since 2015, one element has remained constant: since the early 1990s the transformation of the Russian pension system has been driven primarily by neoliberal economic advisers to the Russian government. Passage of the long-delayed decision to raise the retirement age, which provoked large-scale protests, can be understood in light of the current geopolitical and economic risks that complicate the future of Russian economy.

Markus Kainu, Markku Kivinen, Stein Kuhnle and Chunling Li

Systematic theoretical work on Russian and Chinese social policy seems to be lacking. While previous research establishes how democratic systems produce welfare, it is unclear what kind of welfare such transitional systems provide. Our analysis adheres to structuration based theoretical explanations, taking into account both agency and structure as factors needed to explain these regimes’ welfare policy. Hybrid regimes are eager to adopt global liberally oriented welfare policies, which tend to ignore popular demands. Western analysis of Russian and Chinese social policy emphasizes the dualistic influence of liberal versus statist social policy. This dualistic conceptualization fails to take into account the contradictions between ideological frames and hybrid regimes’ vulnerability to popular pressures. Widespread corruption undermines formal procedures and underlies growth of informal practices. Both Russia and China have considerable welfare achievements and vast problems. In conditions of economic growth, both have experienced huge increases in inequality and individualization of risk.

Daria Prisiazhniuk and Jørn Holm-Hansen

Welfare reforms in contemporary Russia are based on partial redistribution of responsibilities and resources from the state to other actors, including private business and civil society. Reforms in old age pensions, housing and utilities, primary and secondary education have affected wide social groups and have triggered public debates and protests, reflected in the mass media. This article analyses how these reforms are portrayed in three Russian media outlets representing different political positions—Rossiiskaia gazeta (official government media outlet), Novaia gazeta (independent media outlet belonging to the liberal opposition), and Zavtra (patriotic media outlet belonging to the nationalist opposition). The two independent papers have divergent critical perspectives on reforms. These three Federation-wide newspapers represent the range of political positions that are articulated publicly on non-securitized issues in contemporary Russia.

Jørn Holm-Hansen, Mikkel Berg-Nordlie, Aadne Aasland and Linda Cook

Meeting popular expectations for social welfare delivery is one of the pillars upon which the current Russian regime bases its legitimacy. At the same time, the authorities try to transfer responsibility and costs to citizens and transfer service delivery to commercial actors. This article addresses the relationship between welfare reform and political stability in Russia. The discussion is based upon case studies of three large-scale reforms of pension, education and housing policies in 2014–2019. The reforms are analyzed in the light of mechanisms often referred to as “neo-liberal”: public budgets are relieved by making citizens pay more out of their own pockets, and tasks that used to be public are transferred to non-state actors or people’s self-organizing. The article identifies how the population reacts to the introduction of such mechanisms. It discusses the extent to which core reform mechanisms are challenged and original reforms modified in response to resistance.

Elena Borisovna Smilianskaia

Looking at eighteenth-century relations between Russia and the West through the prism of diplomatic culture and rituals, this article concentrates on a “happy period” in Anglo-Russian contacts in 1768–1772, when Sir Charles Cathcart was dispatched to St. Petersburg to negotiate a treaty between the British and Russian Empires. The article argues that close relations between Great Britain and Russia at that time influenced ceremonial practices, individual contacts, and the transfer of the British culture to the Russian court. Study of the Cathcart’s archive points to the peculiar character of his mission – to the leading role that he, as British ambassador, played among diplomats in Russia; to the role of his wife, who became the first ambassadrice officially presented to Catherine ii; to their residence, which they transformed into an exemplar of “British taste” in St. Petersburg. The Cathcart case study opens up new perspectives on the diplomats in the Age of the Enlightenment.

Alexander Kamenskii

Catherine ii’s foreign policy has been traditionally considered very successful. She won three wars and incorporated large territories into the Russian Empire making her country one of Europe’s great powers. But arguments for this kind of evaluation miss Catherine’s own perspective. The article argues that the empress failed to reach any of the initial goals she had put forward. Her foreign policy lacked a considered long-term strategy and from the very start was characterized by a series of mistakes. Catherine did turn Russia into a great power but with quite a different reputation from what she initially had planned.

Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter

Despite the impressive scholarship devoted to the peacemaking that followed the defeat of Napoleon, significant aspects of European politics remain understudied. These include the intellectual apparatus articulated in diplomatic communications and the relationship of diplomacy to national or local political cultures. This article focuses on Russian diplomacy, itself a relatively understudied topic, by exploring the ideas and concepts that defined Alexander i’s foreign policy and the Russian understanding of European order. The article addresses these matters by focusing on Russia’s proposal for a treaty of guarantee which was presented to the allies at the 1818 Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle.

Vitalii Gennad’evich Ananiev and Mikhail Dmitrievich Bukharin

The article examines the history of the May 1927 elections of full members of the Academy of Sciences of the ussr. At the center of attention are issues such as the procedure of the electoral campaign and the criteria that ought to have guided the Academy of Sciences in electing new members – particularly the attitude of academicians to “improper borrowing of materials” (plagiarism) in candidates’ works. The article introduces several dozen documents – private letters, meeting protocols, reports and the like – illustrating the complex system of personal relationships within the Academy, the sharp disagreements of its members over crucial matters of scholarly ethics, and the archaic nature of the Academy’s organizational structure. These documents enable the authors to suggest that, in the 1927 elections of full members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, all participants ignored fundamental principles of scholarly ethics. The last elections to occur before the scandalous “Academy affair” showed that the Academy of Sciences badly needed organizational reforms: the cumbersome nature of the structure and the ease with which electoral manipulations occurred were too obvious to be ignored. Yet the reforms which followed the 1927 elections led to establishment of total state control over the Academy.

Anna Ananieva

From September 1781 to November 1782 Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, in the company of his wife, Grand Duchess Mariia Feodorovna, visited the major royal courts of Europe under the pseudonym “Comte & Comtesse du Nord.” By emphasizing the ceremonial meanings of high-status incognito tour, this article addresses the seemingly paradoxical relationship between the private status public visibility of the traveling Russian court analyzes the narratives about it in the European press in other documentary accounts related to the tour.

Claus Scharf

Not only in Soviet patriotic historiography the conduct of war and the foreign policy of Alexander i were regarded as heroic only from the battle of Borodino onward. The earlier years of the Napoleonic Era and the retreat of Russian armies during the summer of 1812 appeared in a negative light. Revisionist research in Russia and abroad offers another interpretation. When the French army in 1807 after some victorious battles reached the Russian border Alexander maintained a much better bargaining position in talks with Napoleon than disappointed critics among the Russian elite recognized. The emperor of the French was not prepared to continue the war on Russian soil and did not make territorial demands on Russia. Napoleon wanted not only an armistice and peace, but also an alliance with Russia against Britain. Thus Alexander, using the power of the weak opponent, succeeded in winning time. Russia was able not only to maintain her strategic goals against the Ottoman Empire in the Rumanian principalities and in the Black Sea, but also to defend the political existence of Prussia as a possible Russian ally in a future coalition with Austria against Napoleon, which meant a sacrifice of Polish interests by Russia.

Andrei Borisovich Nikolaev

This article analyzes the formula of authority that constituted the basis for the Provisional Government. The author labels this formula the Third of March system. The Third of March system began to dissolve during the political crisis of the “April days”, when the Provisional Government decided to jettison the formulation of its authority that had been so convenient to the Chairman of the State Duma, Mikhail Vladimirovich Rodzianko. The government had contemplated vesting sovereign authority in the Temporary Committee of the State Duma, thereby resurrecting the legislative function of the bicameral Russian parliament, and making the legislature responsible to the executive. The Third of March system finally disintegrated on 6 October 1917, when the Provisional Government dispersed the State Duma and recognized that the authority of members of the State Council had lost its force. The demolition of the Third of March political system led to the liquidation of the Provisional Government’s authority.

Mikhail Pavlovich Miliutin and Aleksandra Iur’evna Veselova

The article examines the political views of Andrei Timofeevich Bolotov, as expressed in his memoirs and handwritten collections of news from 1792–1793, which described the events of the French Revolution, as well as in other writings and translations made in the 1760s–1790s. Bolotov’s sources of information (foreign press, François Pictet, Christian Friedrich Schwan and Christoph Girtanner), his range of communication, and the nature of his writings suggest that his political outlook was not determined solely by the class perspective of a provincial landowner. His political views, formed under the influence of the Catherine ii’s coup of 1762, which he called the Russia’s “Glorious Revolution,” combined ideas underpinning Catherine’s absolutism with notions of natural law and drawn from European intellectuals.

Dellas Oliver Herbel


Throughout their history in America, Orthodox Christians have promoted their religious freedom primarily through legal changes (e.g., executive orders, court decisions, or legislation). More recently, some Orthodox Christian leaders have begun to respond to the issue of religious freedom by engaging in American political discourse as established by larger conservative religious groups. Orthodox Christians now find themselves utilizing both approaches, exhibiting an Americanization of their faith by accepting the behavior patterns of native-born Americans as valid and authentic. This article explores the three distinct shifts that occurred in this process: self preservation to self-promotion, self-promotion to promoting the religious freedoms of Orthodox overseas, and the adoption of the religious rhetoric and tactics of some American religious conservatives.

Boris N. Mironov

In Russia of 1917, two-thirds of the male and female peasants age 10 and older had not had systematic schooling and were illiterate; the rest were able to read and do basic arithmetic. Only 0.1% of peasants studied in secondary or higher educational institutions. As a result, 99.9% of all peasants had a particular mode of thinking - concrete, situational, and directly related to sensations and actions. Mastery of the world in practical terms, through the window of the senses, left a deep imprint on the nature and content of peasants’ knowledge, on how they conceptualized the social and physical world, and on how they behaved.

Contact, Conflict, and Crisis in Eastern Christianity

Selected Papers from the Sixth Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of Eastern Christian History and Culture

J. Eugene Clay


In this issue of Canadian-American Slavic Studies, eight authors explore Eastern Christian communities from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Originating as papers presented at the sixth biennial conference of the Association for the Study of Eastern Christian History and Culture ( at Rhodes College in 2015, these articles have been carefully selected for their original contributions and revised for publication. From disputes over monastic landholding in the sixteenth century to the vicious persecutions of the Soviet period, Eastern Christians have responded creatively to historical crises, even as they have faced both internal and external conflicts. These thought-provoking essays provide significant analyses of these responses and offer penetrating insights into Eastern Christianity.

Charles J. Halperin

On the basis of 734 dated colophons in sixteenth-century Russian manuscript books, Sergei Usachev examines where the books were written, who copied them, and who ordered them. He concludes that the books were produced in all regions of Russia and that members of all social classes ordered them and copied them, although in different proportions: the former had a higher social profile than the latter. His publication of the full texts of the colophons makes it possible for historians to explore additional themes of sixteenth-century Russian social and cultural history.

Christopher D.L. Johnson


Between the years 1948 and 1963, British spiritual seeker Gerald Palmer, who edited the English Philokalia, carried on a written correspondence with the Russian hieromonk and Athonite elder Fr. Nikon Strandtman. Through a regular exchange of letters, these men were able to build a bridge between their disparate worlds and establish a close lifelong relationship. Their letters functioned devotionally to extended the practices of pilgrimage and spiritual direction and supplement their face-to-face encounters with virtual interactions, which allowed Palmer to maintain a continuous link to the place of Athos and the person of Fr. Nikon.

Amy A. Slagle


This article explores how American Orthodox Christians today use and interpret icons in the course of their everyday devotional lives. Drawing upon ethnographic data collected through participant observation and interviews with parishioners of an Orthodox Church in Mississippi in 2015, I highlight the ways that diverse and multiple media within a wider American context of “buffet-style” spiritual appropriation affect informant considerations of and interactions with icons. Fundamental to this article is the tension between informants’ experiences with icons as the conveyance of divine “presence” and the concerns they express over the extent to which American commodification and mass-media cultures threaten the status and sacrality of images in Orthodox devotional practice.

Robert Romanchuk

This survey of intellectual endeavor in medieval Slavia orthodoxa proposes a different way to think through the problem of the “intellectual silence of Old Rus′,” first set forth by Georges Florovsky and explored by George Fedotov, Francis Thomson, Simon Franklin, and now Donald Ostrowski. It examines the resources and opportunities for secondary schooling and their apparent outcomes in Kyivan Rus′ from the eleventh through the thirteenth century, among South Slavs on Mount Athos in the later fourteenth century, and at the Kirillo-Belozerskii (Kirillov) Monastery in northern Russia in the later fifteenth century. It concludes that intellectual endeavor is not necessarily bound to an international language of scholarship (e.g., Greek), one the one hand, or to a particular religious mentalité (e.g., that of the Western Church), on the other. Rather, it is cultivated by “schematizing” (educational) institutions oriented upon academic (heuristic) interpretive strategies and—most importantly—supported by textbooks and teachers.

David Prestel

This essay addresses the long-standing and much-discussed question of the intellectual silence of Rus’ culture, which was first formally posed by Georges Florovsky in a 1962 forum published in the Slavic Review. Initially viewing the issue within the context of Donald Ostrowski ‘s recent book, Europe, Byzantium, and the “Intellectual Silence” of Rus’ Culture (2018), the study contends that in contrast to the practice of theology in Byzantium and the West, Rus’ theology, as Gerhard Podskalsky maintained, is not expressed through traditional theological disciplines but assumes a decidedly pragmatic function that is best served by narration, exhortation, and admonition. The analysis leads to the conclusion that questions concerning the absence of intellectual developments of the medieval West are not helpful in the study of Rus’ culture, as they can obstruct a more productive approach that focuses on Rus’ narrative sources. A brief example illustrating the direction such an approach might take is provided.

Carol Dockham


In the early Soviet period, the long Christian tradition of praying for secular and ecclesiastical rulers played an important role in Orthodox debates over legitimate authority, especially after the death of Patriarch Tikhon (Bellavin, 1865–1925) in March 1925. When Metropolitan Sergii (Stragorodskii, 1867–1944), the acting leader of the patriarchal church, ordered the liturgical commemoration of the atheistic Soviet government as the secular authority and himself as the ecclesiastical authority in October 1927, he immediately provoked strong resistance from a group of hierarchs, clergy and laypersons in Leningrad. Because this opposition was expressed publicly at worship services, the Bolsheviks considered it a form of anti-Soviet agitation. For Orthodox believers, however, commemoration represented an ecclesiastical rather than a secular question. Sergii himself resisted Soviet pressure to stop commemorating his own superior, the imprisoned Metropolitan Petr (Polianskii, 1862–1937). Despite the bitter divisions among the followers of Patriarch Tikhon in the decade that followed his death, both Sergii and his opponents both prayed for Petr – a fragile thread that united the church’s contending factions.

Donald Ostrowski

This article is a response to four responses to my book Europe, Byzantium, and the “Intellectual Silence” of Rus’. That book in turn responded to the question posed by Francis Thompson, “Where was the Russian Peter Abelard?” It began with two premises − that theology was “the crown jewel of disciplined thought” in both the Eastern and Western Churches during the medieval period and that medieval Christian theology represented an amalgamation of prior Christian thought with Neoplatonism. The literature of early Rus’ was little more than what would have been contained in a large Byzantine monastic library, because those in charge of educating the newly baptized pagan Rus’ on the basic principles of Christianity felt compelled to provide them only necessary information to save their souls. But why did the package not include the seven liberal arts (including dialectic), which were the basis of the Western Church curriculum?

Neighbors Are Not Always Friendly

Conflicts between Muscovite Monasteries and Their Neighbors during the Reign of Ivan IV

Charles J. Halperin


On the basis of a data base of 137 instances of conflict between Muscovite monasteries and their neighbors during the reign of Ivan IV (1533–1584), this article concludes that such conflicts occurred during the entire course of Ivan IV’s reign, that they occurred with members of all Muscovite social classes, including other monks, and that they occurred in many regions of Muscovy. These data do not permit concluding whether all monasteries engaged in disputes with their neighbors in all years in all districts of Muscovy. Although monasteries tended to settle disputes peacefully, they did not always act properly, even in relations with other monasteries. Monasteries were not immune to the violence endemic to such disputes, many of which involved litigation, although they may have been slightly more peaceful in their relations with other monasteries than with lay landowners and landholders and the residents of their estates.

Barbara Skinner


A little known issue in the history of the conversion of Belarusian Uniates to Orthodoxy, formally completed in 1839, was the conflict between Russian Orthodox bishops who preferred to conduct missions among the Uniate population in Belarus to win personal conversions, incrementally, and the Uniate hierarchy who preferred the vossoedinenie, or general “reunification” en masse of the Uniate parishes. In the end, the Uniate strategy won the support of imperial officials and of Tsar Nicholas I himself, while the Orthodox eparchial representatives were compelled to cease their efforts in order not to impede the greater goal of general vossoedinenie. This issue sheds light on Orthodox priorities and imperial Russian prerogatives for the religious status of the lands of “western Russia,” and it also reveals the strength of the Orthodox and Uniate episcopal personalities involved.

Pilgrims and Profits

The Russian Company of Steam Navigation and Trade, 1856–1914

Lucien Frary


The Russian Company of Steam Navigation and Trade (Русское общество пароходства и торговли, or ROPiT) during the second half of the nineteenth century was more closely connected with national politics than any other merchant marine in the world. Politically, ROPiT enabled the Russian state to penetrate the tangled web of rivalry and prejudice that epitomized this era of European imperialism. Commercially, ROPiT improved the empire’s international trade and communications, while providing a foundation for the training of sailors. ROPiT also performed crucial postal services and yielded a useful fleet of transport vessels for public and private use. Based on company records and passengers’ reports, this paper focuses on the functioning of ROPiT as an aspect of the upsurge of pilgrimages to the sacred places of the Orthodox East during the late imperial period. It argues that ROPiT helped assert Russian influence and generate a sense of community within the Orthodox realm, from the Neva to the Nile.

Heather Bailey


In the mid-nineteenth century it was typical for French Roman Catholic publicists to allege that the tsar was the supreme head or “pope” of the Russian Church and that consequently, the Russian Church was completely enslaved to the state. While this idea was largely created by Catholic publicists, some Russian Orthodox individuals contributed intentionally or unintentionally to exaggerated notions of the Russian emperor’s spiritual authority, demonstrating that the Orthodox publicists who wanted to defend Russian interests did not always agree about what those interests really were or about how best to defend them. Following Italy’s national unification (1859–1860), French public figures used these narratives about the Russian tsar-pope to promote specific policies towards Rome and the papacy. For French Roman Catholic publicists, the tsar-pope myth proved that it was vital to preserve unity between the French Church and Rome and to defend the papacy’s temporal power as a guarantor of the Roman Catholic Church’s independence.

Sergey A. Ivanov

The critique of Francis Thomson constitutes only part of Ostrowski’s book. The other part, completely unrelated to the first one, is dedicated to a comparison of the intellectual development of the two halves of the Christian world in the Middle Ages. Ostrowski’s assertion that the Byzantines did not include logic in their school curriculum is untrue. What seems to him to be the main difference between East and West does not take root until the end of the 12th century. The West was drifting away from the common patterns of ancient Mediterranean civilization. The East largely remained the same. The Byzantines did not feel any special inclination toward the practical application of theoretical ideas. The people of Old Rus’, on the contrary, were quick at learning and innovating. Respect for tradition inevitably played a smaller role in a nascent culture than in a culture that had been born old.

Kati Parppei

The invasion of Napoleon’s troops all the way to Moscow in 1812 has been seen as a turning point that accelerated the development of nationalistic thinking in Russia, already burgeoning at the turn of the century. Depictions of the invasion, produced from 1812–1814 indicate that perceptions of the collective past were in a state of both fermentation and formation, together with questions of Russia’s geopolitical position. The authors were leaning simultaneously on the eighteenth-century image of enlightened, imperial and European Russia, and the medieval ideas of religion as the dividing line between “us” and “them.”

Alexandra Vukovich

The central question in the comparative history Rus has been its differential development vis-à-vis its western neighbours and the meaning and reasons for this difference. The recent publication by Donald Ostrowski, Europe, Byzantium, and the “Intellectual Silence” of Rus’ Culture, is a further contribution to this debate that revisits the reasons for a differential development between Rus and medieval Europe, focussing on the intellectual contributions of the Eastern Christian Church and Latin Church to their respective spheres of influence. Ostrowski’s book, along with other analogous studies, produces a regime of knowledge that shapes information about the intellectual history of Rus as diametrically opposed to that of medieval Europe. A postcolonial critique of the treatment of information about the emergence of Rus questions some of the ideas (or yardsticks) (re)produced here and suggests new critical ways to approach the study of early Rus.

Making Ethnicity in Southern Bessarabia

Tracing the Histories of an Ambiguous Concept in a Contested Land


Simon Schlegel

In Making Ethnicity, Simon Schlegel offers a history of ethnicity and its political uses in southern Bessarabia, a region that has long been at the crossroads of powerful forces: in the 19th century between the Russian and Ottoman Empires, since World War I between the Soviet Union and Romania, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union between Russia and the European Union’s respective zones of influence.
Drawing on biographical interviews and archival documents, Schlegel argues that ethnic categories gained relevance in the 19th century, as state bureaucrats took over local administration from the church. After mutating into a dangerous instrument of social engineering in the mid-20th century, ethnicity today remains a potent force for securing votes and allocating resources.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Policy and EU Sanctions against Russia

Europeanization, Politicization and Small Country Diplomacy

Jean Crombois

The adoption of the EU sanctions on Russia provides a good case study to assess Bulgarian foreign policy under the conditions imposed by EU membership. This paper emphasizes the limits of both the foreign policy and Europeanization approaches when looking at national foreign policy and EU membership. It underlines the need to develop alternative approaches. These alternative approaches relate, in the first area, to the use of the concept of politicization of EU foreign policy; and in the second, to the conduct of a small country’s foreign policy within the EU framework. Although each of these approaches taken separately accounts poorly for the understanding of how EU membership affects the conduct of national foreign policy, each of them offers potentially interesting insights, without however being entirely conclusive.

Contextualization of the Local

A Predisposition of Former Yugoslav States to Liberal Peace

Nemanja Džuverović

The critical literature on peacebuilding has mainly addressed the local and its agency in the post-conflict phase while the nexus between context occurring prior to the implementation of the liberal peace agenda and subsequent hybridization of the local and the international has largely been overlooked. Accordingly, this text discusses the idea that success of any peacebuilding project is also dependent on political, economic or social circumstances present in a country or region before international intervention. Hence, the article analyses the context in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (sfry) before the conflicts in the 1990s as a decisive factor to understanding successful implementation of the liberal peace in the region.

Cultural Capital in Times of Crisis

The Fragmentation of Sarajevo’s Post-War Cultural Elite

Jasmina Gavrankapetanović-Redžić

The crisis of state cultural institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina that started in 2010 peaked with the closure of the National Museum in 2012. The crisis exposed the fragmentation that was taking place within Sarajevo’s cultural elite and the increasing gap between the former state cultural institutions and the civil sector. This paper examines the entanglement between the memory of the siege of Sarajevo and the fractioning within Sarajevo’s cultural elite through Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital and social distinctions, using the examples of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Sarajevo Film Festival.

Occupying the Land, Grabbing the Body

The Female Body as a Disposable Place of Colonialization in Post-Ottoman Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nena Močnik

This article traces trajectories of colonized bodies and (female) sexualities through the geopolitical and historical continuity in the territories of what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. Starting with the historiographic overview of women under Ottoman rule, the author addresses the “patriarchal bargain,” that is, women’s (in)voluntary choice to accommodate the frame of patriarchal norms and restrictions. The second section moves to the period of the Bosnian war in the 1990s and turns to the study of female bodies subjected to “double colonialism.” If women had been previously codified, categorized, and disciplined through the patriarchal system, during the war, the author claims, the military, political, and cultural occupation of their “land” doubles the “colonialization.” In the third part of this study, the author observes how the history of (semi)colonial practices in Bosnia-Herzegovina is reflected in present cultural patterns and physical manifestations through women’s bodies as the phenomenon that some authors with (justified) hesitation call “neo-ottomanism.”

Serhy Yekelchyk

The author proposes a new perspective on the political mobilization of ethnic Russians in the Crimea as reactive settler nationalism. After the Russian imperial conquest of the peninsula and the gradual displacement of the Crimean Tatars, the 1917 Revolution galvanized the Tatar national movement, which entered into an alliance with the Ukrainian one. A similar situation developed in the late 1980s, when the peninsula’s Russian ethnic majority found itself threatened by the loss of status and land in what could become a Tatar autonomy within Ukraine. Based on the implicit approval of Stalin’s genocidal deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944, the political mobilization of ethnic Russians in the 1990s made the Crimea an easy target for Russian annexation, which, however, took place twenty years later because of Russia’s internal reasons and the Euromaidan Revolution being perceived as a threat to the Putin regime.

Orysia Kulick

The choices made by oligarchs and citizens in Dnipropetrovsk during and after the Euromaidan rebellion of 2013–14 were not just event-driven manifestations in response to domestic and internal pressures. They were responses shaped by historically-composed social structures and interrelationships forged over decades within the region, across southeastern Ukraine, and in relation to competing centers of power—in Kyiv, Moscow, Washington, Brussels and beyond. This paper argues that Dnipropetrovsk—and its leaders—played a crucial intermediary role in not only deescalating tensions in southeastern Ukraine more broadly, but also by buttressing the Ukrainian state in a time of existential crisis. In this analysis, oligarchic self-interest is taken as a given and one factor among many, including the signaling of interventionist intent from an external patron and also deeper, regionally specific, economic and structural forces. This piece brings into the analysis a historian’s understanding of contingency, arguing that analyses of developments in southeastern Ukraine (in the past and present) should strive to better situate regional actors not only in space but also time, so as to better understand the complex set of forces and heterogenous social temporalities shaping their choices.

Christopher J. Ward

Volodymyr Kravchenko

Why was Kharkiv assigned the role of an alternative political capital of Ukraine during the Euromaidan revolution of 2014? Why did this plan fail? In this article the author tries to answer these questions by exploring Kharkiv’s role and place in the regional context of ongoing Ukrainian nation-state building in the historical perspective, focusing on the period after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Issues of regional geopolitics on the Ukrainian-Russian border as well as the changing symbolic landscape of the city are explored. The proactive role of the central authorities as well as specific local traditions and identity played their roles in keeping Kharkiv on the sidelines of the “hybrid war” that engulfed the Donbas. The modernization matrix that promoted Kharkiv’s growth from a provincial town into a regional leader prevailed over the rhetoric of Russian nationalism employed by Putin’s regime during the annexation of the Crimea. At the same time, social apathy and national ambivalence, so typical of a borderland zone, also prevented the local population from falling into political extremes. Kharkiv’s cultural space continues to be a battlefield of competing discourses, each of which has been projected into the past and the future.

Travis Gray Ph.D.

The first Red Army soldiers who liberated Smolensk in September, 1943 entered a broken world. The ruined city stood empty and the countryside resembled a vast wasteland. Amidst the destruction, Party officials began picking up the pieces and rebuilding Soviet power in the region. The main concern of this study is to understand how this process unfolded by examining reports of local war crime and treason investigations carried out by the Extraordinary State Commission of Smolensk Oblast (Chrezvychainaia gosudarstvennaia komissiia, ChGK). These yet untapped archival materials show that while Soviet investigative and punitive practices affirmed the state’s renewed political authority in Smolensk, their efforts were often constrained by the regime’s postwar reconstruction goals.