Sunday, November 5, 2023

Tsarist and Soviet Exile Systems Made Siberia into ‘the Anti-Russia,’ Chernyshov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 2 – Most histories of Siberia suggest it is radically different from the rest of Russia because its people never experienced serfdom there, but Sergey Chernyshov argues that it was the exile system first under the tsars and then the Soviets that made it first into “the anti-Russia” and then a model for Muscovite colonialism elsewhere.

            By sending exiles into Siberia, the historian says, first the tsarist regime and then the Soviet one “confirmed that Siberia is not Russia” and that “everything beyond the Urals was a different country,” one shown on maps as part of Russia but not viewed as such by the center (

            But this practice had even more far-reaching consequences, the specialist on Russian administrative practices says. Over time, “the Soviet government step by step made dozens or even hundreds of territories throughout the country into colonies;” and what was once the case only in Siberian regions became possible “almost everywhere.”

            “Today, Chernyshov says, “in the eyes of the latest generation of metropolitan intellectuals, the border of Russia’s colonial possessions begins just beyond the Moscow ring road,” the result of the exile system used first in Siberia but then extended almost everywhere over time.

             Fifty years ago,” he continues, Hannah Arendt talked about ‘the boomerang effect’ I which an imperial government sooner or later inevitably transfers the management practices developed in the colonies to the metropolis itself.” And thus, “by maintaining the exile system, the Russian and then the Soviet state laid a time bomb” under the cultural code of the country.

            “By expanding the internal ‘anti-Russia’ by defining more and more new categories of ‘exiles’ and more and more new territories as places of exile, the central government has again and again been compressing ‘the real Russia.” And this mine will “probably go off when there are no more people who can be sent somewhere else.”

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