Monday, August 17, 2015


The following is an exchange between myself and the famous British scholar of Russian history and culture, Lesley Chamberlain dealing with Graf Uvarov, Slavophilism and the nature of 19th century Russian nationalism and its aftermath in the 20th century. Please do reader peruse and enjoy.
"Dear Mr Coutinho,
Thank you for your letter. I realise I'm talking to someone extremely well informed on these matters. On your first point I'd just say that Uvarov who as you rightly say belonged to the German-Germanophile class ruling Russia at the time, nevertheless 'invented' the idea of Official Nationality to steer grassroots national feeling (being encouraged by European movements of the kind) in a direction useful to the tsarist state, ie without the component of liberty. I was always interested in Uvarov because he was nevertheless a Russian, and when he could have stayed abroad as a foreign diplomat and Count Razumovsky's nephew, nevertheless chose a career at home, where, to compensate he wrote in French, 'corresponded' with Goethe, at lease from his point of view, and effectively led a foreigner's life in Russia, just as the higher apparatchiks would do in Soviet times (although rather more in consumerist terms than intellectual - Uvarov was at least an intellectual). Your second and third points I take absolutely. There only wasn't space to venture down these byways. Roman Jakobson, an aesthetic Bolshevik of the late Silver Age, was a Eurasian and close friend of Prince Trubetskoy who was one of the founders of the movement in Prague. Like you I hope - or hoped - that my article would provoke interest, especially in Uvarov, whose biography I have written but not yet published. Alas the only US publisher I contacted feared no one had heard of him in America, to which I replied, justly, I think, that with their non-interest now it was quite sure no one would. Well, that's the life of a writer for you!"
All best wishes,
Lesley Chamberlain
8 August A. D. 2015
"My dear Mrs. Chamberlain,
I wanted to write to offer my congratulations on your splendid piece in the TLS back in May dealing with the subject of ‘Eurasianism’ and Russia, past and present. It is a truly interesting and informative essay and hopefully will inspire further discussion on this very important topic. With that being said, I did have three caveats to offer up: i) in your discussion of Graf Uvarov and ‘Narodnost’, you seem to ignore the variables which set apart the regime policy of early to mid-19th century Tsarism from both contemporary nationalist movements in Europe and Russian ‘nationalism’ in both the Soviet and post-Soviet period. Specifically, the fact that due to its relative backwardness and to its multi-national composition, the Russian Empire to an extra-ordinary degree, had an extremely cosmopolitan and indeed one may say ‘European’ ruling elite. AKA the Empire was being run overtly, by people who were neither Russian nor Pravoslovie. Such as Benckendorf, Kankrin, Nesselrode, Kleinmickel, Dubelt, Kaufman, Meyendorf, et cetera. Not surprisingly, not only the emerging Slavophil movement (Samarin’s ‘Letters from Riga’ being a prime example), but even people who were not of Slavophilic inclination, such as Alexander Herzen, characterized the Tsarist Russia as having a ‘Germanised Government’. Under the circumstances, an overt policy of ‘Russian nationalism’, even of the conservative kind was almost impossible and consequently, it was not until very late in the Tsarist period do we see evidence of the very same. In that respect, Russia under say Alexander I & Nicholas I were far different from say Russian society under Stalin or the Russian Federation under Putin; ii) in your discussion of the emergence of Eurasianism as an ideology, you seem to ignore the fact that Silver Age Russia (roughly from 1890’s to 1916), was culturally speaking, full of ‘Eurasian’ imagery and motifs: from Stravinsky’s ‘Sacre du Printemps’, to Blok’s poetry and Roerich’s designs. Given this background the ‘Eurasian turn’, is not that surprising, is it? iii) What ties if any existed between the Eurasianist movement in Russia emigration and the almost exactly contemporaneous movement (also originating in Prague in the early 1920’s) of Smenovekhovtsy? Was there any? On the surface at any rate, there should have been some, no?"
Charles Coutinho


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