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12. Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

THEODORE R. WEEKS

For the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century (to 1914), the single most problematic nationality—aside, possibly, from the Jews—were the Poles. The life of Adam Mickiewicz, the Polish national poet, reflects the complicated relations between these two closely related Slavic nations, Poles and Russians. The Poles were unique among European non-Russians in that they possessed a well-developed high culture (unlike, for instance, peasant peoples like Ukrainians or Latvians), a noble landowning class, and an accurate historical memory of past greatness. Both the life and the works of Adam Mickiewicz demonstrate the uncomfortable and problematic position of Poles under tsarist rule.

It is a rare Pole who does not know the first lines of Pan Tadeusz, Mickiewicz’s most famous work: “Lithuania! My homeland! You are like health—Your worth is only truly appreciated by he who has lost you.” Lithuania? For the Polish national poet? Mickiewicz’s famous lines made perfect sense to Poles of the nineteenth century who saw “Litwa” (“Lithuania”) not as a national-linguistic marker but as a region of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Of this state—the second-largest in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—Nobel Prize–winning Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz remarked that although the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth has long since disappeared from maps, for centuries it existed like other more familiar multiethnic units such as Savoy, Transylvania, or Languedoc.

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18. Petr Badmaev (1851–1920)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

DAVID MCDONALD

As much as any other figure of his time, Petr Aleksandrovich Badmaev embodied the conflicting notes of ambition, ambivalence, optimism, and suspicion that marked Russia’s career as an imperial power in East Asia during the last decades of Romanov rule. Historians know him best as the author of an elaborate 1893 memorandum advocating Russia’s historic mission to extend the “white tsar’s” sway over eastern China and Tibet. Contemporary observers and posterity alike also regarded him as a symbol of the autocracy’s decadence or disarray during its final years under Nicholas II, one of those shadowy figures like his sometime associate Rasputin who played an unsavory role “behind the scenes of tsarism.”1 While these perspectives certainly offer useful approaches to understanding Badmaev as a “personality of empire,” they also downplay or submerge two other salient facts—his visible exoticness as a Buriat who made his livelihood in the imperial metropolis, and the degree to which his improbable career, and historical notoriety, themselves resulted from the same forces that propelled Russia into East Asia during the years after 1855.

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29. Olzhas Suleimenov (1936–)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

MARLÈNE LARUELLE

Olzhas Suleimenov has been a key representative of Kazakh culture since the 1960s. A Russian language writer and poet impassioned by history, he expressed during Soviet times a Kazakh national feeling within the framework then set by “peoples’ friendship,” which implied the superiority of the Russian “big brother.” Since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, his adopted aim has been to rehabilitate the Turkic cultures of the steppes by proving their ancient status and their major role in world history. His life, but his thought even more so, on the history and identity of the Eurasian steppes, reflect the multiple intersections of faiths, geographies, and ways of life that have characterized Russia and its empire for several centuries.

Suleimenov’s commitment in literature is revealing of the inspiration that has followed him throughout his life: to give meaning to humanity in its totality. A geologist by training, in April 1961, Suleimenov proposed to the editor in chief of Kazakhstanskaia pravda a poem written for the glory of Yuri Gagarin, who had only just undertaken the first inhabited space flight in the history of humanity. The poem enjoyed such success that it rapidly propelled Suleimenov to the status of representative of Kazakh literature. He was employed by Kazakhstanskaia pravda the following year, and was sent to the famous Moscow Institute for Literature, where he associated with the great Soviet writers of the time, such as Mikhail Sholokhov, Vsevolod Ivanov, Ilia Ehrenburg, and Yevgeny Evtushenko. The atmosphere of the shestidesiatniki, the 1960s liberals who, in the wake of de-Stalinization, challenged the Soviet ideological stranglehold on arts and letters, had a decisive influence on his intellectual and political development. He then accumulated prestigious prizes and honors, including the Komsomol Prize for Kazakhstan, State Prize of the Kazakh Soviet Republic, and National Poet of Kazakhstan.

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2. Simeon Bekbulatovich (?–1616)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

DONALD OSTROWSKI

We can date the beginning of the Russian Empire to 1552 when the tsardom of Muscovy conquered the Tatar khanate of Kazan'. That initial conquest of a non- Russian area was followed four years later by the conquest of the khanate of Astrakhan'; by expansion westward into present-day Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during the Livonian War (1558–83); and then by Muscovite expansion across Siberia, which resulted in a Russian expedition standing on the shore of the Pacific Ocean at the Sea of Okhotsk in 1639.

The Tatar princes who came over to the service of the Muscovite ruler were an essential part of the rise of the Muscovite principality to empire. The military role of Tatars as commanders of regiments in the Muscovite army had a long tradition. According to the Muscovite chronicles and military registers, in the fifteenth century a number of them, such as Tsarevich Kasim in 1450 and 1467, Tsarevich Mehmed Emin in 1487 and 1496, and Tsarevich Saltagan (Saltygan) in 1499, commanded regiments against the Tatars of Kazan'. Others, such as Tsarevich Danyar in 1473 and Tsarevich Saltagan (Saltygan) in 1491, commanded regiments against the Great Orda. In yet other cases, Tsarevich Yakup commanded a regiment against Dmitrii Shemiaka in Kokshenga in 1452, and Tsarevich Danyar commanded a regiment against Novgorod in 1471 and 1478.1 In the sixteenth century, Tsarevich Kudai Kul converted to Christianity as Peter Ibramovich in 1505, married the sister of Grand Prince Vasilii III, and was appointed commander to the main regiment of the Muscovite army in 1506. For the next seventeen years, Vasilii III and Tsarevich Peter were inseparable, except when Peter commanded the defense of Moscow against the Crimean Tatar attack of 1521 (Vasilii fled the city for safety). Their close relationship led the historian A. A. Zimin to suggest that Vasilii planned to name Peter as his successor.

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24. Aleksandr Germano (1893–1955)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

BRIGID O’KEEFFE

“Am I a Gypsy or not a Gypsy?” Posed by Aleksandr Viacheslavovich Germano, the Soviet Union’s most celebrated Gypsy (Romani) writer, the question is both surprising and puzzling—at least when taken at face value.1 Yet the question remains: Who was Germano? A Gypsy? A Russian? Why did his nationality matter?

Three years before his death in 1955, Germano composed an autobiography and completed a short questionnaire in fulfillment of his duties as a member of the Union of Soviet Writers. He obligingly answered questions about his nationality, social origins, literary work, language proficiencies, party status, and Red Army service. Germano had performed this same routine many times before. As required of him by the Soviet state throughout his adult lifetime, he dutifully composed both long and short versions of his life story for bureaucratic consumption. As his writing career developed, Germano scrupulously updated his vita and tailored his autobiography to reflect the concerns of his bureaucratic inquirers as well as the ideological exigencies of changing times. In 1952, however, he made one significant edit to his autobiography. His status as the Soviet Union’s leading Gypsy writer notwithstanding, Germano disavowed his Gypsy nationality and instead declared himself a Russian.2

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