Wednesday, January 9, 2019

‘Oprichnina’ – ‘Zemshchina’ Conflict has Re-Emerged in Moscow, Eidman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 9 -- The conflict in Russia five centuries ago between those loyal to the tsar and prepared to attack his enemies – the oprichnina -- and those who wanted their control of land to be respected – the zemshchina -- has re-emerged in Moscow between the siloviki around Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs around Dmitry Medvedev, Igor Eidman says. 

            Russian historians have traced this conflict from the times of Ivan the Terrible up through Paul I, but Eidman, a Russian sociologist and regular Deutsche Welle commentator, argues that it continues to this day, yet another example of often obscure continuities in Russian political life (

            According to the commentator, “Russia’s ruling elite has finally divided into the oprichnina and zemshchina,” with the former organized around Putin and consisting of his personal representatives and the latter around Medvedev and including senior officials and Yeltsin oligarchs.

            In the former camp are people like Sechin, Patrushev, Shoygu, Bortnikov, Chemezov, Demin, Miller and Bastrykin; and in the latter, those like Vekselberg, Chubais, Yevtushenkov, Dvorkovich, Shuvalov, Khristenko, Usmanov, and Mikhelson, Eidman suggests.

            The oprichniki periodically raid and undermine the zemskiye. Among their recent victims have been such zemskiye boyars as Belykh, Ulyukayev, the Magomedov brotehrs, Gayzer and the like, given that “the majority of the oligarchs are zemskiye. The oprichniki can do so because they enjoy Putin’s protection. 

            “The strengthening of the oprichnina,” Eidman says, “is reflected as well in Russia’s foreign policy course. They with Putin at the head are the main expansionist force and have supported Putin in his aggression against Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and the Donbass, the intervention in Syria and the hybrid war against the West.”

            “Recently, in order to strengthen their power and secure its succession,” he continues, “the oprichnina has tried to make itself popular.  The most characteristic example of this is the series based on Slepakov’s “House Arrest,” a series that presents the oprichniki as positive figures rather than the negative ones they were in Sorokin’s “The Day of the Oprichnik.” 

            All this matters, Eidman says, because “in the future a clash between the oprichnina and zemshchina is practically inevitable and the sympathy of the population most likely will be on the side of the first,” something that will make the victory of the oprichniki more likely and long-lasting. 

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