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«October 2019»

Fellow Seminar

15 November 2018

Dr. Oleksandr Polianichev will present his research proposal on the topic: "Engaging with the Empire: Colonial Uncertainties and the Imperial Rule in the North-West Caucasus, 1792-1870s" on 15 November 2018 (Thursday) at 16:30h.


In a narrow sense, my postdoctoral project investigates an unexplored chapter in the history of the Zaporozhian Host, the oldest and most famous Cossack community in the lands of the Russian Empire, abolished in 1775 by order of Catherine II. In the late 19th century, Ukrainian national activists came to see the Host as a precedent of the Ukrainian statehood, and its abolition by the authorities-as an imperial subjugation of Ukraine. After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, the newly emerged Ukrainian polity invoked the idea of the Zaporozhian Host as its predecessor and hailed the Zaporozhian Cossacks as the fighters for Ukraine's independence, perished in the struggle with the imperial oppressor. Indeed, the Zaporozhian Cossacks vanished from the territory of Ukraine in the last quarter of the 18th century. However, what is left out in this traditional narrative is the fact that they re-emerged elsewhere-only to play a major part in one of the most successful colonial projects of the Russian Empire.

My project follows the further fates of tens of thousands of the former Zaporozhian Cossacks, who, treated by the authorities with suspicion "at home," were used as valuable military colonists in the North Caucasus. This territory became an arena of entangled cross-cultural encounters in a settler colonial setting. Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking Cossack colonists, indigenous Adyghe people, career Russian militaries, and hundreds of thousands of peasants from central provinces found themselves in a set of new and unusual situations, meeting each other face-to-face for the first time. As a result, their sense of belonging and their relationship to the empire were constantly re-negotiated, while the roles of "dominant" and "subordinate," "colonials" and "colonized," "Russians" and "non-Russians" repeatedly turned upside down.

Focusing on the Ukrainian-speaking Cossacks, I will show how the Russian Empire's subaltern became agents of imperial rule by asserting and shaping the Russian dominion in the North Caucasus. I aim to explore how the Cossacks made use of imperialism and their colonial presence as well as what hierarchies of loyalties and identifications they produced through their interactions with the empire, the indigenous tribes, and other settlers.

As the colonization of the North Caucasus was a product of deliberate and orchestrated efforts of the imperial authorities, the project takes a nuanced approach to studying the empire's colonial project. Bringing settlers to the region, the regime sought to make the territory Russian. However, tsarist officials and military administrators repeatedly faced a problem as to which group to consider the conduit of Russification that would exercise "civilizing" influence over the "savage" Caucasus. I intend to show that ideas and experiences about the nature of Russianness, shaped in the colonial Caucasus context, had a profound effect on both the metropole and periphery, most notably-Ukraine. Among other things, the project traces the roots of the Russian Empire's assimilationist policy toward Ukraine back to the tensions that occurred during the colonization of the Caucasus. Occasional grievances of Ukrainian-speaking Cossacks were interpreted by the bureaucracy as an evidence of their propensity for disloyalty. This led to the persecution of Ukrainian language in Ukraine and, consequently, to the emergence of the Ukrainian national movement, which was increasingly dissatisfied with the empire.

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