Eric Johnson

University of Washington, History Department

Claiming the Pamiatnik: Transforming a National Monument into a Symbol of Local Identity in 1830’s Kazan

In recent decades, the historiography of Imperial Russia has engaged with the question of whether, and to what extent, a viable “civil society,” or civic sphere, distinct both from government and private life, had developed in Russia prior to the Revolution. This exploration bears on critical questions of Russian history, among them whether late-Imperial Russian society had the capacity for a successful transition to a constitutional and democratic form of government if different circumstances had prevailed. However the scope of this investigation has been somewhat circumscribed. Historians have generally looked to the post-Great Reform period—-in many cases to the last two decades of Tsarist rule—-to find the traces of civil society. Furthermore, such research has tended to focus largely, although not exclusively, on the “two capitals” of St. Petersburg and Moscow.
One potentially overlooked place to seek the roots of civil society is in the emergence of local civic identity in the provinces in the years before the Great Reforms. A suggestive glimpse into the development of local identity in the early 19th century comes from the story of the Kazan Pamiatnik. The Pamiatnik was originally created as a symbol of national pride. Approved by Alexander I in 1817, soon after Russia’s great triumph over Napoleon, it was built to memorialize Ivan IV’s conquest of the Khanate of Kazan in 1552. Although the project was initiated by an abbot from Kazan, the Tsar himself subjected its architectural plans to careful oversight and revision, and raised the necessary funds from his treasury, family, court and cabinet. And, true to its purpose, the monument was hailed by visitors to Kazan throughout the 19th century as a moving tribute to Russian glory and martial sacrifice.
During the 1830s, however, it figured in very different, local, narrative. For in 1830 it was discovered that the recently-completed monument was already in an advanced state of deterioration due to the annual Volga floods. And in sharp contrast to the original construction effort, reconstruction was undertaken as a local project by leading citizens of Kazan. Prominent city merchants raised money from local notables, directed efforts to stabilize and patch the structure, and designed a new façade which substantially altered the building’s appearance. When the work was completed, the City Corporation took over financial responsibility for ongoing maintenance of the Pamiatnik.
In the 1820s-30s Kazan was one of the first provincial cities in Russia to boast a fledgling press. Significantly, local writers almost immediately asserted a historic significance for the efforts to restore and maintain the Pamiatnik. In the early 1830s the local newspaper Zavolzhskii Muravei published an extensive series on the history of Kazan, and two installments were devoted to the construction and renovation of the Kazan Pamiatnik—-an account that was then extracted and published in book form.
My history of the Pamiatnik is drawn from local publications (Zavolzhskii Muravei, Kazanskii Vestnik and Kazanskaia Gubernskaia Vedmosti), published official correspondence and legal codes, travel guides and monastery publications. What this story suggests is that between 1817 and 1834, significant shifts had occurred in Kazan society. A complex of local intellectual, journalistic, commercial, administrative and ecclesiastical figures had emerged, with a shared commitment to Kazan and its local institutions. Furthermore, they saw Kazan as a historic entity, and they were committed both to helping to create that history, and to documenting it for contemporary and future readers. While much research remains to be done, this episode suggests that some of the seeds of civil society might be found in early 19th century provincial Russia, and the development of local identities, institutions and histories.

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