Princes Cherkasskii or Circassian Murzas: The Kabardians in the Russian boyar elite, 1560-1700, by Paul Bushkovitch

Cahiers du Monde russe, 45/1-2, Janvier-juin 2004, p. 9-30.

The non-Russian peoples of Russia usually appear in the works of historians beginning with the time of Peter the Great. There are a few exceptions to this rule, primarily as the result of the studies of Andreas Kappeler, who called to the attention of Russian historians to the various peoples of the Volga region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet even Kappeler, like most historians of nationality issues in later eras, wrote within the framework of what might be called center-periphery relations. Historians normally look at the history of a given people in its native environment, its ethnography and economy, and then study the policy of the Russian central government towards people more or less on the periphery of the empire. This is also the main perspective of studies of nationality in the imperial and Soviet eras. The history of Russian imperial expansion to the west and south, important in itself, naturally keeps the focus on the periphery.

The center-periphery perspective omits an important dimension of “nationality relations” in the Russian state, the role of the non-Russians in the Russian elite. Their role is essentially a non-subject in the literature for the whole period of Russian and Soviet history. For the pre-revolutionary era Andreas Kappeler devoted a few pages in his survey of Russian nationalities and policies, but the only work to address the issue remains that of D. C. B. Lieven on the Council of State at the beginning of the twentieth century. Lieven noted that some 20 % of the Russian empire’s elite were non-Russians, and that by a yardstick (as he points out) that minimizes the numbers by a very narrow definition of non-Russian. Anecdotally historians know about the large numbers of Germans -- most of them from the Baltic provinces -- in the government of the nineteenth century, the Benckendorffs, Lievens, Nesselrodes, Kankrins. David Saunders reminded us of the Ukrainians, Kochubei, Bezborodko, Paskevich, and Miloradovich. There are others : the Finland-Swedish nobility and the absolutely crucial and rarely mentioned Poles.

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