How Russia ‘Colonized Itself’

Internal Colonization in Classical Russian Historiography

In: International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity
Alexander Etkind
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In the late imperial period, Russian historiography was dominated by the self-colonization school. Russian historians wrote detailed accounts of Russia’s takeover of the Crimea, Finland, Ukraine, Poland, and other lands, but they did not describe these areas as Russian colonies. Instead, mainstream Russian historians argued that ‘Russia colonized itself’. The discourse of self-colonization was a specific, though longterm and surprisingly robust, moment in Russian historiography. Appropriating the western idea of colonization, Russian historiography transformed this idea in quite a radical way. First, in Russia, the process of colonization was construed as self-reflexive and internal, rather than as object-directed and external. Second, in Russia, we find an uncritical approval of the processes of colonization, which is different from the British and French historiographical traditions and from the postcolonial approach to colonization. However, some Russian historians held a critical stance toward the peculiar character of the Russian Empire.

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