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11. Zalumma Agra, the “Star of the East” (fl. 1860s)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

CHARLES KING

Zalumma Agra was the victim of circumstance, but she was also the beneficiary of incredible good fortune. From her native Circassia, in the beech- and oak-covered hills northeast of the Black Sea, she ended up a slave in the Ottoman Empire. Formerly a subject of the Russian tsar, she came to live in the harem of a senior Ottoman official as part servant, part concubine. She might have been acquired in the thriving open-air market in the center of Constantinople, which had been closed only a short time when Mark Twain visited in 1867. Girls like Zalumma could be had for the equivalent of twenty or thirty dollars, he said, and the still-brisk trade in people, even if conducted in private, was pursued with a shameless savvy that only Americans could beat. “Best brands Circassians, crop of 1850, £200; 1852, £250; 1854, £300” was Twain’s fantasy of an American version of the “white slave” trade around the Black Sea. “Best brands Georgian, none in market; second quality, 1851, £180.”1

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7. Catherine the Great (1729–1796)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

HILDE HOOGENBOOM

As Empress Catherine the Great forged her own Russian identity, so did Russia. During Catherine’s reign from 1762 to 1796, Russia discovered itself not only as European, but as a multinational and multiconfessional empire, and as Russian. A German, Catherine, with her legendary practicality, Russified herself, and at the same time promoted herself as a European ruler and Russia as a European nation. Yet she also inherited a vast Eurasian empire that doubled its population under her rule; until 1991, Russians and Russian Orthodox believers would make up less than fifty percent of its inhabitants. By the end of the eighteenth century, these tensions between Russia as a nation and as a diverse empire would come under pressure from new nationalist ideals.

After she arrived in Russia on February 9, 1744, at age fourteen from a small German state, Princess Sophie Auguste Frederike von Anhalt-Zerbst converted from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy on June 28, became Grand Duchess Ekaterina Alekseevna, and began to learn Russian; over a year later, on August 21, 1745, she married the heir to the throne. She was crowned Empress Catherine II on September 22, 1762, after she took power in a coup d’état on June 28 against her husband, Peter III (b. 1728, r. 1761–62)—the nephew of Empress Elizabeth I (b. 1709, r. 1741–61)—who was murdered. Peter III was half German, the son of Elizabeth’s sister Anna and Charles Frederick, the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, and showed his devotion to King Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia (b. 1712, r. 1740–86) during his short rule when he ended the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) with Prussia by returning land Russia had won. He then changed the color of the uniforms of the elite Russian guard units from their traditional green to Prussian blue. During her coup, Catherine used Peter’s Prussophilia against him and wore a green guard’s uniform to show her Russian colors. After the coup, her equestrian portrait as Russian ruler in the uniform of the Semenovskii Regiment by the Danish court painter Vigilius Eriksen (1722–83) made this point as well. Catherine had many copies made of this portrait, as well as of her coronation portrait by Eriksen, which were sent to the courts of Prussia, England, and Denmark. In the 1760s, he also made a portrait of Catherine dressed in national costume—with a kokoshnik, a traditional Russian headdress, as a matushka, or little mother—of which copies were made. Thus Catherine used different portraits of herself as a military leader, as empress, and as mother to her people, to represent herself variously as a Russian sovereign nationally and internationally.

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6. Mikhail Lomonosov (1711–1765)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

MICHAEL D. GORDIN

As the old saying goes, comparisons are odious. To make sense of Mikhail Vasil'evich Lomonosov, historians have frequently resorted to comparisons more or less apt (usually less). Almost all of the comparisons emphasize his ventures in natural philosophy—the set of doctrines and practices concerning the study of nature that would, in the nineteenth century, acquire the moniker “science.” Russian historians tended to see him as akin to Antoine Lavoisier (1743–94), the French chemist and member of the Parisian Académie des Sciences credited with the discovery of oxygen and the law of the conservation of matter: matter is neither created nor destroyed, but only changes form. This comparison bolsters (by suggestion) a claim for Lomonosov’s priority for the conservation law, and also emphasizes the Russian’s position as a member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences—and hence his analogous location in a complicated absolutist patronage network. Western historians have likened Lomonosov to Benjamin Franklin (1706–90), emphasizing both men’s research on electricity, folksy self-presentations, and positions as outsiders on the European stage of Enlightenment natural philosophy.1

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14. Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809–1852)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

EDYTA BOJANOWSKA

On the face of it, the biography of Nikolai Gogol seems an Imperial Russian success story: a model of metropolitan openness to peripheral diversity. A twenty-year-old Ukrainian youth of humble means moves to St. Petersburg and launches his career as a writer in Russian, soon to earn recognition as a founding father of Russian prose and as the author of a beloved national icon: the image of Russia as a rushing carriage, about to overtake all nations. The Ukrainian subject matter of Gogol’s first volumes of stories—Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka (1831–32) and Mirgorod (1835)—in no way diminishes the warm welcome with which the Russian audience greets the new talent from Ukraine. Gogol soon befriends key figures in the cultural life of the capital, among them the Russian poets Zhukovskii and Pushkin, who encourage and support his work. Sumptuous grants from the empress and the tsar follow. The period’s most important arbiter of literary value, Vissarion Belinskii, lavishes accolades on the young Ukrainian, pronouncing him the head of the new nationally conscious realist movement in Russian literature. Gogol moves to Russian themes, and after his masterful comedy The Government Inspector (1836), he writes what will become a foundational text in the history of the Russian novel, Dead Souls (1842). Gogol’s ascendancy in Russian culture would seem to offer proof of the powerful appeal that the imperial, metropolitan culture held to provincials and of this culture’s receptivity to an art of non-Russian ethnic provenance.

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25. Lazar' Moiseevich Kaganovich (1893–1991)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

HIROAKI KUROMIYA

Lazar' Moiseevich Kaganovich lived for nearly a century: he was born in 1893 in the village of Kabany, near Chornobyl' (or Chernobyl' in Russian), Ukraine, and died a loyal Stalinist in Moscow in July 1991, six months before the Soviet Union collapsed. Perhaps he was fortunate not to witness the demise of the country to which he had devoted his entire adult life. He loyally and unswervingly served the country’s dictator Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) as one of his most trusted associates. Like the man he served, Kaganovich was both extraordinarily energetic and capable, and extremely brutal and ruthless. Unlike Stalin, however, Kaganovich was not capable of independent thinking. If Stalin was a statesman, then Kaganovich was his trusted “vassal.” Even though after Stalin’s death in 1953, Kaganovich was politically discredited by his own erstwhile protégé, Nikita Khrushchev, he remained until the very end of his life a stubborn defender of Stalin. Kaganovich’s devotion to Stalin and the state he had created was such that he was called by another loyal Stalinist Viacheslav Molotov (1890–1986) a “200-percent Stalinist.”1 Of Stalin’s inner circle, he was the last to die. His remarkable life was part of the remarkable history of the Soviet Union, the first socialist state in the world.

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