Academic journal article East European Quarterly

"For the Sake of Slavdom": St. Petersburg Slavic Benevolent Society-A Collective Portrait of 1913

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

"For the Sake of Slavdom": St. Petersburg Slavic Benevolent Society-A Collective Portrait of 1913

Article excerpt

St. Petersburg was built by Peter the Great to replace Moscow as the capital of Russia, (1) and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, it stood, both politically and culturally, in opposition to what its rulers, administrators, and Westernized intelligentsia considered the 'old capital,' the stronghold of the Muscovite party and spirit. (2) It is thus possible to see the "Great Debate" between the Westemizers and the Slavopiffles between 1838 and 1848 as the first in a series of intellectual exchanges between the two cities. (3) In case of Slavic benevolent committees (later societies) it was Moscow that took the lead in 1857 when Mikhail Petrovich Pogodin (1800-1875), a historian of Russia, and one of the earliest and leading Pan-Slavs, founded the first committee. (4) This committee operated for twenty years (1858-1878) and was absolutely dominant during this period, for St. Petersburg followed suit only in 1868, and for the first ten years it was a branch of the Moscow committee. (5) After the closure of the Moscow Slavic Benevolent Committee in 1878, following its president, Ivan S. Aksakov's strident support for Russia's further involvement in the Balkans, and virulent opposition to the 'debacle' that Imperial Russia suffered at the Congress of Berlin (1878) when it was forced to give up the gains achieved by the Treaty of San Stefano (1877) (6,) St. Petersburg was left to guide the Pan-Slav feeling and movement in the country. Though there were two other committees, in Kiev and Odessa, and a sort of a committee at Warsaw, they could not rival either the Moscow or the St. Petersburg committees. Thus Moscow's preponderance (1858-1878) was followed by that of St. Petersburg (1878-1917).

There were important differences in the structure, approach to Slavdom, and in their relations with the Imperial government between the two committees. The Moscow Committee was not either an official or a semi-official organ of the government, and its often critical and always independent views produced quite a few crises in its relationship with both the autocracy and its administrative officials. It was dominated from the beginning by a combination of two social forces: the Moscow merchants, particularly from the Old Believer background, and the Moscow nobles who, so to speak, progressed from the Slavophile to the Pan-Slavs views. Alfred J. Rieber put it best thus when explaining the Moscow merchants:

   The social origins and ethical beliefs of the Moscow entrepreneurial
   group can be summarized with almost mathematical precision: Peasants
   of the Old Belief plus S lavophil merchants added to Pan-Slavic
   nobles equaled Great Russian nationalist entrepreneurs. Behind this
   schema, of course, lay a complex historical process. One wing of the
   Moscow entrepreneurial group was composed of former peasants who,
   with the exception of the Mamontovs, also adhered to the Old Belief:
   Kokorev, the Morozovs, the Khludovs, the Soldatenkov. The other wing
   was made up of declasse nobles like Chizhov, Del'vig, Aksakov,
   Babst, and the Shipovs. In the center stood representatives of old
   merchant families who were partially Eumpeanizod, including the
   Tret'iakovs, Krestovnikovs, Chetverikovs, and Liamin. (7)

The way that the old Moscow nobles merged with the Old Believer merchants in the Pan-Slav movement followed its own logic:

   The larger national goals of the Russian people could be achieved
   only through the development of the country's economic resources.
   For Chizhov, the Shipovs, Del'vig, and Ivan Aksakov direct exposure
   to the Slavic liberation movement, rather than Old Russian culture,
   provided both t he impetus and the justification for their
   entrepreneurial activities. Above all, it inspired them to seek
   practical ways for Russia to escape the political and economic
   domination imposed by the Germans and the Austrians on the Western
   and Southern Slavs and to rescue their enslaved brethren in the
   Balkans from the Turkish yoke. … 
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