Specialists on Russia tend to paint Tsarist empire-building in a relatively positive light. Violence, discrimination, abuse, exploitation — all of these themes appear in the story, but in the typical treatment, the Russians come off as far less racist and exclusivist than their fellow European colonisers, in particular the British. In this richly researched and persuasive article, A. Morrison argues that we should revisit this distinction. As he points out, Tsarist rule in Central Asia in the late nineteenth century shared many of the administrative practices and socio-cultural presumptions of British power in India. Russians looked on Central Asians with a comparable kind of racial prejudice and cultural-religious contempt. They lived apart from the “natives” (tuzemtsy) in “Russian towns” reminiscent of the cantonments of India. Most tellingly, both Tsarist and British colonisers shared the same tendency to downplay the racism inherent in their policies and instead trumpet their own country as the most tolerant, progressive, and charitable. All of this leads Morrison to conclude that while Russian power in Turkestan had its “distinctive twists,” the nature of that power was “colonial, in the commonly-understood sense of the term” (704).

Willard Sunderland, University of Cincinnati, OH
CER: II-3.4.C-279