Джейн Бёрбэнк на "Границах истории"
19 марта всемирно известный историк, профессор Нью-Йоркского университета Джейн Бёрбэнк выступила с докладом на регулярном научном семинаре "Границы истории". Доклад был посвящен концепции "евразийского суверенитета" на примере истории Казани.
On March 19, 2018, in frames of the seminar “Boundaries of History” Jane Burbank, Professor in the Department of History of the New York University presented a talk based on her recent paper "Eurasian Sovereignty: the Case of Kazan", published in the Journal “Problems of Post-Communism”.
Professor Burbank started her speech by discussing the provocative term “Eurasian Sovereignty” brought to the article title. She pointed out that though both these words and their combination were controversially represented in the nowadays political discourse in Russia, it was possible to apply this term analytically as well. The word “Eurasian” was used as a shorthand reference to the societies that had been strongly affected by the Altaic, Turkic and Mongol political culture and a part of the author’s argument was that such past experience had created shared expectations about sovereignty up to date. Moreover, by looking at the near collapse situations of the 20th century – particularly in 1917 and 1991, author traced reemergence of this sovereignty regime as people had been falling back on their shared expectations about political and social organization. By using both short and long term perspective Professor Burbank tried to define basic characteristics of this kind of sovereignty regime and its deep framework. She claimed that the Russian state and Kazan as a unit within it had survived through times of crises because both activists and ordinary people had shared ideas about sovereignty.
The author stated main elements describing proposed sovereignty regime as follows: superior power of the ruler, contingently representative advisors, the recognition of difference, the normality of subordinated units within the polity, parceling the authority to intermediaries who managed subunits, flexible politics of contract and alliance and ongoing flexible lawmaking. Such regime implied frequent renegotiation of authority rather than stability of institution which kept political class engaged in the reproduction of the state and the sovereignty regime, she said. From the author’s point of view we shouldn’t speak about universal practices of sovereignty, but instead always examine the concept in the particular location. The city of Kazan case was taken for the purpose of the given research as it had a long and various experiences of the imperial rule even before becoming a part of the Russian Empire. The volatility of power helped Professor Burbank to identify supposedly persistent elements of the particular governmental regime. Significant diversity of the population also was mentioned.
Longue durée perspective included brief insight into the history of the Kazan and surrounding territories. Starting from the Bulgar rule, Professor Burbank stressed that several aspects of the area’s deep past had contributed to the formation of a Eurasian sovereignty regime. The city took shape at a time and in a place where borders almost did not exist or were flexible and where control over trade routes and city centers was more important. As the boundaries were not fixed, sustaining command required political skills directed at outsiders of the polity and contractual relations were crucial. Contractual relations to both insiders and outsiders through personal alliances enabled the polity to absorb newcomers, redraw boundaries and redivide the spoils. The elites were engaged in changing rules but at the same time they were vulnerable to displeasure of the ruler.
Then, the region had come under the Mongol rule and later became a separate Khanate. Always remaining as a node of political and economic power during centuries of competitions over the Volga watershed, the region had to be managed after conquers. Successful command in that multiethnic and diverse region meant tolerance for difference. Mongol experience of Islam as a state religion with simultaneous practice of confessional tolerance provided important experience for their successors. When the Muscovites gained control over the Kazan the Russian Tsar replaced Khan and military commanders of different ethnic origins were delegated considerable powers. However, state religion of Muscovites was Christianity, not Islam. Kazan’s kremlin was consecrated as Christian space. Churchmen were aggressive constructors of fortified monasteries that extended Moscow’s control outward in the area. The Tatars of the city, considered infidels by the church, were pushed out of the center into a special Tatar quarter. The representation of Russia’s Christian conquest played out spectacularly back in Moscow in the famous St. Basil’s cathedral.
The conquest of Kazan occurred shortly before the so-called Time of Troubles, 1584–1613. Interestingly, new Russian subjects in Kazan did not try to get away and reconstruct an independent Khanate, but rather took part in the inner struggles. Why did people in the Kazan region act for, not against, the authority of their recent conquerors? To explain this Professor Burbank offered dismissing the simplicity of “nation against empire” narrative. She implied that clear chain of command to local authorities had been in the interest in essential for order for the locals and their wellbeing. Within a few decades after 1552 Russian rule of Kazan had turned into a fact of life, and something worth defending.
After the Romanov dynasty had been established the position of Kazan changed as well. As the Russian Empire stretched out over Siberia Kazan became less of a border region. Romanovs also attracted multiple groups into imperial management. They ruled through law by providing the judicial institutions that could protect their subjects from the intermediaries. This law was flexible and was adjusted to various conditions. Politics of alliances shifted from the open fields of military competition into the capitals of Romanov power – to the Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. Concerning the religion, though Romanovs inherited an official faith and imperial ideology from their predecessors and Orthodox hierarchs routinely pushed for a politics of conversion, the state could back off from extreme measures when these proved inconvenient. Moreover, the other part of Russian confessional strategy was control over the clergy of all faiths, which in case of Islam resulted in opening the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly to train Islamic clerics under imperial oversight.
By moving to the transitional periods when the foundations of the polity were shaken Professor Burbank switched from the longue durée perspective. The logics of empire versus nation states and empire’s decolonization can’t explain why both times multiple actors put the state back together again and retained it imperial differentiated and complex configuration. As it was mentioned before, Jane Burbank’s argument was that Russia had survived as a polity and Kazan as a unit within it had survived through times of crises because both activists and ordinary people had shared assumptions about the state and sovereignty. The other argument here was that the state was sustained by change and the politics of reconfiguration and redefinition. It happened because both leaders and their political and economic intermediaries were accustomed to pragmatic and ongoing reinvention of the state rules.
In case of 1917 and its aftermaths the later configuration of the Soviet Union as a “federation” of Soviet Socialist Republics, rather than as a unitary national state might be seen as twentieth-century variants of Eurasian imperial management. That time rules could be rewritten with the cachet of science and socialism. Another aspect was that another Russian Eurasian principle was replayed: all resources such as land, labor, people, and knowledge belonged to the “new emperor” and could be manipulated. Moreover, new elites as usual included people from the diverse ethnic groups. One major obstacle to the Bolshevik party’s hold on the state after the October coup was the Constituent Assembly. Its delegates declared as one of foundational statements that the new polity was going to be “the Russian Democratic Federal Republic, peoples and regions united in unbreakable union, sovereign within limits established by the federal constitution.” Thus both projects and people intending to reconstruct Russia declared federalism as the basis of the new Russian state in January 1918. The similarities of the federalisms declared by the Bolsheviks and the Constituent Assembly in 1918 were striking.
Then Professor Burbank made insight into the regional activities of that time showing how federalism projects emerged, transformed and worked in the Tatar Lands. She admitted that the breakup of the Tatar–Bashkir Republic had replayed the subdividing of the Kazan Khanate after Moscow’s conquest. This case shows how a politics of ethnic difference can have both centrifugal and centralizing effects, author said. Local leaders got their own political entities, but as the Bolsheviks in Moscow consolidated, they were able to set their own terms for federation. With the defeat of the White armies, local leaders lost their capacity to change sides or threaten to do so. Professor Burbank concluded that in given case it was possible to see fundamental elements of the Eurasian Sovereignty regime. Most effective were those actors who had contacts to the center, the Bolshevik government made choices in favor of ethnic or national groups in order to subdivide territorial units. But what was more important, even after 1917 transitions had never been stabilized as both borders and rules had been changing during the Soviet period. Impermanence was something that sustained the state.
Moving to the 1991, Professor Burbank stated that Gorbachev had dramatically expanded the policy of rewriting the rules by inviting people to reconstruct the Soviet Union. The actual “transition” to independence relied on practices and concepts of sovereignty developed in the context of Soviet federalism, but it also referred to the older principles such as temporality of newly established laws such as “Temporary Fundamental Law of the Lithuanian Republic.” What was even more interesting, autonomous republics of the Russian union republic (RSFSR) were announced to be the legal equivalents of the fifteen union republics of the USSR as well. А second kind of federal reconstruction was ongoing inside the Russian Federation, as the various regions and their leaders claimed back powers from the weakened center.
Activists in Tatarstan began to agitate for the rights of a union rather than an autonomous republic within the USSR. In Jane Burbank’s opinion the goal of becoming a union republic recalled the struggles after 1917 when the Tatar republic had been demoted to an “autonomous” unit within the Russian Republic. The Russian constitution was not ratified in Tatarstan. Further renegotiation resulted in 1994 agreement which had been a high point for Tatarstan’s federal relations as it could experience control over cultural, economic, and administrative policies, and could sign agreements with other regions of the Russian Federation and even with foreign powers. Local elites could profit from the expanded control over the region but they also had to hold the state together. That reminded Professor Burbank the Time of Troubles when the link to the center had been essential for the empowerment and enrichment of the local elites. The next president of the Russian Federation was intent on swallowing sovereignty back up. Once again, this process took a juridical form, through a series of legal protests and attacks on Tatarstan’s constitution from central authorities. In 2002, the State Council of the Russian Federation adopted the law under which Tatarstan’s population became “citizens of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Tatarstan.” By 2005, 99 of the Republic’s laws were changed to bring them into line with Russia’s legislation.
Professor Burbank concluded her speech by pointing out that reconfiguration of sovereignty in Russia in 1990-ies bared a striking resemblance to transformations of Soviet sovereignty after 1917. The process of redefining sovereignty revealed fundamental elements of Russian government practice expressed in the actions of leaders and would-be leaders when the levers of power seemed to be available. Essential elements of this imperial political culture were a major leader, a differentiated but composite polity, governance through intermediaries and impermanent allocation of power. Political imagination and international contestation continued to disrupt or vice versa enhance even the most effectively negotiated sovereignty. The process of ongoing adjustment kept the political class engaged and polity alive.
A very fruitful discussion followed the author’s talk. First questions related the limits of legal experimentation and the fates of the local activists and intellectuals, particularly of Afanasy Shchapov whose federalization project was shut down by the government. Answering the question of whether he was producing his project in the discourse field of the Eurasian Sovereignty or rather opposed it by borrowing from other traditions such as one of the United States Professor Burbank said that she would rather hesitate to make a concrete answer as she couldn’t know for sure what he had been really thinking about. Another person discussed was Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev whose project of exporting the Revolution by means of the modern political Islam also failed. In this case Professor Burbank admitted that his vision of the possibility to speak to the outside Muslim population had not been a problem for central authorities, but the location of the decision-making process not in the center had been the one. Similar problem emerged with the 1990-ies claims of the Tatarstan to have separate relations with foreign countries.
Another question concerned a long standing debate in social sciences between institutionalists and those who emphasize the role of culture. Professor Burbank pointed out that her argument did not intend to contribute in this discussion. In her opinion was that fundamentally there was no fixed institutional structure, but instead constant practices of remaking of what might be called institutions. The way of thinking and the way of being of those who acted resulted in the institutions sometimes far away from the vocabulary of imperial period, but fundamentally resembling it in terms of practices. In Professor Burbank’s opinion it was better to drop that notion of firmly established institutions. However, at the same time she stressed that the way of thinking of those who had taken part in the constant redefinition of the sovereignty was highly formalistic in the sense that everybody had been looking for the rules. Author thought this to be an anti-insitutionalist argument.
Symbolic of the Eurasian Sovereignty regime and its importance alongside with practices was also discussed. Professor Burbank said that 16th century had witnessed a shift in rituals in Muscovy which had proved to be major for the symbolism of Russia in the future. However, further steps should be made in sorting out elements of representational art of the earlier periods of the Russian history. The author also stressed that symbolism of everyday authority also offers worthy opportunities for studying stamps, seals, titles and representation of power in everyday life.
Then, the shift from the ideological constructions and imperial ideas to the practices of imperial situation and the importance of communication language were discussed. The case of possibly differently understood concept of nobility was offered as an example of misunderstanding. Professor Burbank said that she saw the political mechanism of the Russian Empire to be extremely good at borrowing practices from so-called “outside”. At least from the 18th century and up to the Second World War Western Europe was the hegemonic economic, cultural and political power, and Professor Burbank saw this period as one when Russian leaders had aggressively taken best technologies and practices from it. The concept of nobility was one of these effectively working borrowings which author saw to be fluidly transformable. Even when the language of communication sounded the same it had been mobilized in different ways.
Finally, the last question concerned state consciousness living in the people of the polity and the reproduction and continuity of the imperial language. Professor Burbank said that the language of imperial power had been mutually constructed over a long period of time. Elites were able to propagate a particular language of power which then lived and was mobilized from time to time. Author also mentioned that 19th century intellectuals had not understood that ordinary people already had a language of the state. By stating this Professor finished the seminar once again emphasizing that long interaction of state projects and popular being in the Russian polity.
Report: Alexander Turbin