Peter the Great Peter the Great in Russian Culture Russia Russian Enlightenment The Image of Peter the Great

The Image of Peter the Great in Russian Culture

by Gordon M. Hahn

In researching a new book on the Russian dilemma of having historically as its ‘significant Other’ the very West that also has been Russia’s main national security threat, I re-read Russian-American historian Nicholas V. Riasanovsky’s classic study The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought.[1] Published on the eve of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika era which eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet communist regime and, ultimately, the state itself, it was prescient in a distended sense, as it analyzed Russia’s great 18th century reformer on the precipice of the rise to power of a Soviet great reformer. Riasanovsky’s study analyzed Peter the Great’s image in Russian historiography and thought from Peter’s death to 1985 and ended noting that “at the age of about fifty the dominant Soviet Petrine image is clearly second in duration only to the Petrine image of the (18th century) Russian Enlightenment. What will the next Russian image of Peter the Great be like?”[2] This paper seeks to answer this question.

This paper provides an overview of the trends unearthed by Riasanovsky regarding Peter the Great’s image up to the perestroika period. It then focuses on its successor images in the late Soviet, perestroika culture as well as in both the Yeltsin-era and Putin-era post-Soviet periods. Finally, it examines the images of the main antipodes to Peter during his era, the Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa and Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich. Peter the Great’s ‘revolutionary’ and Westernizing role predominated his epoch and is no less a dissident one in relation to the pre-Petrine regime. Moreover, Peter’s image, its various interpretations and normative valences predominate the discursive and semiotic space regarding his epoch and its consequences for Russian history, culture, and contemporary politics. In comparison to Peter, tsarevich Alexei is relatively absent from Russia’s cultural discourse.[3] Therefore, the discussion of the sedimentation of dissident symbols relevant to the formation of Russian political and strategic culture below includes the discursive, semiotic images of both Peter and Alexei. However, Alexei’s presence in the historical literature, cultural discourse, and semiotic landscape is scarce.

However, for many Russians, both among Peter’s contemporaries and successors, the first emperor was no less, even more a dissident than tsarevich Alexei. This creates even more disbalance in the antipode between dissident (opposition) and regime (state) leader representation. Therefore, I supplement Alexei with the Cossack leader Mazepa (who like Alexei colluded with Westerners against Peter) in order to bolster the dissident half of the antipodal equation. Thus, this section on the symbols that represent the sedimentation of attitudes in Russian culture will focus on the semiotics of Peter, Alexei, and Mazepa.

The Petrine Legacy

By the end of Peter’s reign and throughout the 18th century, Russia was deep into the ‘displacement’ process (the re-orientation of Russian self-identity in persistent reference to another cultural identity – European) that came with the dislocation of its self-identity. Peter’s reign constituted a large-scale, if not fundamental dislocation of Russian self-identity through the displacement of previous Russian tradition by Western values and practices. This dislocation of Russian identity far outstripped all previous intakes of Western influence taken together. The dislocation carried with it internal contradictions which created cognitive dissonance, ambivalence and ambiguity in Russians’ attitude towards the West. The sun of enlightened reason, Peter had insisted, rose in the west, not in the east. Hence forward, Russia’s self-identity and discourse were defined, measured, and referenced only in terms of the West. Yet this very same West, Russia had perceived for more than century seen as harboring its most dangerous and forbidding enemies. Thus, with the spread of enlightenment and reason, Russian schizophrenia towards the West would only intensify. Some naturally began to question in the most robust form the advisability of borrowing in such large-scale fashion from your foreign foes.

Domestically, the ‘dislocation’ created by Peter’s reforms and the Russian Enlightenment century embedded the Russian security value’s dilemma into Russian history and culture. For ever more Russian leaders, elites and society would reference the West when engaged in discourse on Russia’s proper self-identity and destiny. They would repeatedly be torn between the need to modernize using its ‘constituent Other’s technological and therefore cultural know-how, while simultaneously seeking to prevent Westernization from too thoroughly transforming Russian society, culture, politics and economics. In short, borrowing from the West to fend off security threats from abroad and most notably from Western powers and coalitions risked inviting internal security risks arising from Westernizing cultural change in society. The political culture and discourse began to be nearly monopolized by aspirational or antagonistic reference to the West. Some Russians from Peter the Great forward would favor Westernization of some kind or power alliances with one or another Western faction. Others would wholly antagonistic to Westernization, the West, its enlightened monarchies, then democracies and differed either over with whom Russia should ally in Europe whether it should do so at all. This division in the menu of policy choices would forever shape the structure of political action in Russia.

In foreign affairs, Peter the Great’s foreign policy overturned an old European order in which Russia was an object – the target of Vatican, Polish and other Europeans’ designs. Post-Petrine Russia was now a subject – a player and a major one – in European geopolitics beginning a repeating cycle of alliance followed by alienation in Western-Russian relations per Tsymburskii. In addition, we find an approximation of Tsymburskii’s Move B in Europe’s galvanization against Russia’s strengthening position and Sweden’s recruitment of Mazepa, around the time of the Battle at Poltava and Peter’s conclusion of a dynastic alliance with the Prussians of Mecklenburg.

Under Peter, Russia’s relations with the West were already becoming an entangled web of contradictions and ambiguity. Peter’s travels West inspire his reforms but also his war against European power Sweden. For the first and perhaps only time in Russian history we meet the curious contradiction in which Russia simultaneously is both Westernizing and at war with a Western power. Ironically, just as Peter was waging war against Sweden on behalf and to some extent on behalf of other Western powers, he was adopting Sweden’s organization system of kollegii for administration in the Russian state in addition to other Western institutions such as such as the burgmisterskie palaty. Peter’s war with Protestant Sweden also contradicted his accommodation with Protestants at home, where his ‘right hand’ in religious affairs is Protestant-influenced Feofan Prokpovich and where the Holy Synod approves the right of Orthodox Christians to marry Protestants (and Catholics). At the same time anti-Catholicism is growing, Peter is allied with, and doing the bidding of Catholic Poland in warring against Sweden.

The Petrine Image

The Petrine image’s importance lies in Peter’s ambiguous legacy of partially modernizing Russia along European lines but doing so by using rather than dismantling tsarist autocracy and in its worst, most coercive variation along the lines of Ivan the Terrible. This ambiguous legacy yielded an ambivalent attitude towards Peter in Russian political and strategic culture. Autocrats and their ideologues during Russia’s 18th century Russian Enlightenment and to some extent in the 19th century defended their fellow Romanov’s brutal authoritarian means for the sake of the end of establishing Russia as an enlightened European monarchy and European geopolitical player. Westernizing dissidents, such as Aleksandr Radishchev, rejected Peter’s means as an example of worst kind of coercive autocratic power, but also criticized Peter for not going further in his reforms by establishing a constitutional monarchy or even republic. The great Russian poet and writer Aleksandr Pushkin created a ‘dualist’ image of Peter in a way similar to the Russian Enlightenment image, but his was decidedly, if cryptically more negative rather than positive. However, anti-Western Slavophiles and later Russian nationalists offered a negative image of little uncertainty as to the debilitating effects on Russian culture and society wrought by Peter’s ‘inorganic’ and divisive reforms; ones, moreover, implemented with cruelty, coercion, and no accounting for their alien nature relative previous Russian tradition. The short answer to Riasanovsky’s question is that all of these images coexist and compete in Russia’s national identity discourse and culture today.

Peter’s Image in Russia’s Imperial and Soviet Pre-Perestroika Cultural-Identity Discourse: Enlightened Autocrat, Cruel Enlightener, and Colluding Westernizer

The spectrum of views of Peter the Great’s image in Russia’s cultural and identity discourse can be decided with sufficient neatness into three perspectives: (1) autocratic acolytes, (2) ambivalent, even plurivalent balancers or ‘multivariates’, and (3) antagonistic critics. The autocratic acolytes supported a positive hagiography of Peter the Absolutist Autocrat, whose work strengthened Russia’s autocracy, state, military power and diplomatic influence. These are the only legitimate ends for the autocratic acolytes. For them, Westernization is means that have been valued only to the extent they served the aforementioned achievements. Acolytes have consisted almost entirely of Russian autocrats themselves, their propagandists and ideologists. The ambivalent ‘multivariates’ or ‘ambivalants’ tend to support both the image of Peter the Autocrat as well as the image of Peter the Westernizer or aspects of these two images. Critical antagonists rejected most elements of both these images. For them, Peter the Westernizer is often regarded as nearly Peter the Colluder with enemy Western powers. The acolytes, ambivalent, and antagonists were divided to different degrees among the three basic tendencies noted in Riasanovsky’s groundbreaking study The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, cited extensively herein, that emerged after the end of the pro-Petrine Enlightenment era image after the 1825 Decembrist revolt: the largely acolyte, pro-Petrine ‘Enlightenment’ official view; the mixed Westernizer assessment; and the largely antagonistic nationalist, traditionalist Slavophilism, later supplemented by the socialist class-based critique. Both Westernizers and official ideology (Official Nationality, as Riasanovsky refers to it) praised Peter more than condemned him, in contrast to the Slavophiles and other traditionalists. However, Westernizing intellectuals and activists emphasized Peter’s role as enlightener, while officialdom and its allied thinkers stressed Peter’s building of Russian autocratic and state power at home and abroad.[4] The Westernizers supported Peter’s Westernizing transformation inside Russia and for the most part took pride in his foreign policy success, but they decried the brutal methods of the enlightened autocrat then as well as those of his successors. They sought more Westernization: the end of serfdom, a constititional monarchy if not outright republican government, and freedom of speech and association.

The Old Believers’ vision of Peter as Antichrist overthrowing the Russian religious, cultural and social tradition had a near monopoly on the critique of Peter throughout the period of the Russian Enlightenment lasting through most of the reign of Alexander I (1801-1825). But they and their views were repressed and driven underground, so they had little to no impact on Russia’s discourse on Peter’s legacy and its implication for Russia’s past and future until the 19th century when repression was eased. The lack of an autonomous civil society under the autocracy strengthened by Peter left the discursive space entirely to officialdom and thus the acolytes of absolutism and autocracy: Peter’s autocratic successors and ideologist-acolytes of absolutism and Russia’s first emperor they sponsored. The ambivalent Westernizer view and the attacks from the Slavophile and others on the Right and later from the Left and Soviet power would come later.  Except for the brief reign of Paul I (1796-1801), “the triumphant image of a crowned reformer bringing light into the Russian darkness” gained strength, stature, and scope and predominated Russian discourse throughout the century from Peter the Great to Alexander I as the Enlightenment spread across the empire.[5]

To be sure, a few acolytes of Peter the Great could occasionally be found among opposition elements.[6] This was especially true of Leftists, who, unlike ‘other Westernizers’, regretted the knout less as an engine of historical materialism. It is important to note and for Westerners to understand that the less fruitful, radical ideas that would come to shape Russia’s sad fate in the 20th century were not indigenous ideas resulting from the backwardness of Russian culture but were imported into Russia. By the mid-19th century the autocratic state, though it still retained its admiration for Peter and maintained the Peter cult, found both the cult’s relevance and usefulness for political legitimation to be less robust. Now, the very Westernizaton and rationalism which Peter imported to Russia was allowing a pluralism and positivism that began to chip away at the view of Peter as a God-like Westernizer and benevolent traditional Russian autocrat. At least two new approaches to Peter’s legacy emerged beside the state-sponsored Enlightenment era hagiography: (1) an ambivalent critique from Westernizing critics of serfdom, autocracy, and/or Peter’s autocratic methods of modernization and serfdom and (2) a very antagonistic attack led by neo-traditionalist and pro-autocracy Slavophiles and ‘Westernizing’ radicals, including the socialist and anarchist Left.

The ‘Ambivalants’

A large partion of articulations towards the Petrine legacy over the centuries has been ambivalent. Ambivalence was expressed in ambiguous treatments of Peter and his reforms or evolving positions influenced by the course of contemporary events at home and/or abroad. For most Westernizers, Peter’s reforms were a step in the right direction but insufficient in both achievements and initial goals and far too coercive in their implementation. Although Westernizers tended to accept and even take some pride in Peter’s establishment of Russia as a European power, they did not relish in this beyond its potential for deepening ties with Europe, which they expected would push Russia further in the Western direction. Three early Russian Romantic age, Westernizer views of the Petrine legacy – those of the philosopher Alexander Radishchev, Russia’s greatest poet and perhaps greatest writer Alexander Pushkin, and Pushkin’s friend, the historical philosopher Pytor Chaadaev – gave birth to the ambivalent Westernizer critique of Peter.

The great Russian enlightenment philosopher and first modern dissident, Westernizer, the oft-called ‘father of the Russian intelligentsia,’ Alexander Radishchev (1749-1802), issued the first openly published criticisms of Peter the Great. Radishchev, an uncompromising republican opponent of absolutism, inherited aristocracy, and serfdom, called for Russia’s rapid adoption of Western-style republican government and civil rights such as freedom of speech and association.[7] Radishchev’s models for Russia’s political transformation were England and the United States. Like most Westernizers, Radishchev acknowledged Peter’s greatness in implementing major reforms, but Peter’s maintenance, even strengthening of absolutism prompted him to reject Peter’s failure to push further and dismantle autocracy. In Radishchev’s groundbreaking critique of serfdom and other Russian maladies, Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, for which he was exiled by Catherine the Great, Radishchev fully approved of Peter’s weakening of the inherited nobility and imposing meritocratic pathways to the nobility. He noted that Peter’s Table of Ranks “opened the way for everyone to obtain a noble title, and, so to speak, trampled the old nobility into the mud” and recommends that the old genealogical tables be sold as wrapping paper.[8] In his poem “The Eighteenth Century,” Radishchev described the reigns of the two great Westernizing reformers of the century, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, as periods when “ice fields of fallacy, many thousands of years old, melted” and associated them with the reformist early years in the reign of Alexander I.[9] However, while in exile he wrote an essay, Letter to a Friend Living in Tobolsk, in which he said Peter would be more praiseworthy if he had moved to protect individual liberty.[10]

More critical views began to emerge as Russia became more pluralistic and positivistic in the early 19th century, especially under the liberalizing tsar Alexander I. Quite logically, the critiques included three perspectives: (1) anti-Westernism; (2) anti-autocratic, pro-democratic Westernism; and (3) anti-instrumentalism or opposition to Peter’s means to his Westernizing, modernizing ends. This pluralism of opinion, however, gave rise not just to dissident thought but dissident behavior from below. These new Westernized oppositionists were not the superfluous men of Pushkin’s frightened clerk Yevgenii in The Bronze Horseman (see below) but men of action, revolutionaries, who emerged from the educated aristocracy and officer corps after the Patriotic War against Napoleon. The so-called ‘Decembrists’ radical activism was reflected in their creation of conspiratorial organizations dedicated to the revolutionary overthrow of tsarist autocracy by way of a military coup.[11] As discussed in the next chapter, the Decembrists included a wide range of aristocrat officer dissidents, who had been influenced psychologically by their battle experience in the war against Napoleon and politically by their acquaintance with Europe and Paris that attended the war experience.

The Decembrist movement was deeply divided on Peter’s legacy, and the range of opinions covered that of all of Russian society’s non-Slavophile, enlightened opinion.[12] Some, particulary those, who supported the most rapid transition to Western-style democracy, were highly critical along the lines of Westernizers like Radishchev, condemning him as a foe of liberty and a cruel despot, whose reforms were at best of little to no benefit for the overwhelming majority of Russians—the peasantry. Some critics adopted the Slavophile line, castigating his mechanical ‘aping’ of Western practices and lifestyle. Others were more effusive in their praise, seeing Peter as having set the stage for further democratic transformations.[13] When Decembrist Nikolai Turgenev turned to codemnation of Peter from his early praise, another Decembrist, Nikolai Bestuzhev retorted: “I am out of my mind in love with that tyrant.”[14] The movement included two historians who knew of what they wrote about Peter and his reforms: Alexander Kornilovich (1800-1834) and Nicholas Bestuzhev (1791-1855). Kornilovich depicted Peter as a tireless worker devoted to his people in the traditional official view. However, he also produced a study of Tsarevich Alexei “to refute slander” that was refused publication and has since disappeared. Bestuzhev, who eventually became the Russian navy’s official historiographer, praised Peter and his reforms but acknowledged many of the shortcomings of his regin: the impossible tax burden that drove peasants to the Don and far north, the price paid in human lives to build Peter’s ‘Venice of the north’ and his navy in Voronezh.[15]

Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) was the first of Russia’s three great literary prophets to seek to unravel the Petrine legacy, the other two – Fyodor Dostoevskii and Lev Tolstoy – coming half a century later and being far less prolific on the subject.[16] The great poet with African heritage was also a superb historian, praised for his History of the Pugachev Rebellion. Indeed, no less than the Emperor Nikolai I and the great Russian philosopher Semyon Frank regarded him as Russia’s “wisest mind” and “one of the most powerful, penetrating and original minds,” respectively.[17] According to Frank, Pushkin “assisted the development of the Russian historical consciousness more than anyone else.”[18]

Although his attitude towards Peter was, in Frank’s words, “the clearest expression” of Pushkin’s “undoubted Westernism (zapadnichestvo),” the poet/historian was not a Westernizing purist.[19] As Dostoevsky and Frank noted, Pushkin was a universalist, neither a narrow-minded nationalist Slavophile in love for Russia and hatred for Peter and the West, nor an indiscriminate Westernizing supporter of the entire Petrine legacy ashamed of everything Russian. He valued and was steeped in Western, particularly French and English, culture and both pre-Petrine and post-Petrine Russian culture. While he treasured Russian literature, including its rich fund of folk and fairy tales, his delivered a “deadly” blow to the Slavophiles’ rejection of Peter’s borrowing from Europe, reminding them that the Orthodox religion they held up as the foundation stone of Russian civilization had also been borrowed. If Peter the Great had to be rejected, so too must Vladimir the Great.[20] Thus, similar to his development of a deeper, subtler, and ultimately more revealing interpretation of Russia’s interactive development with Europe than either Westernizers or Slavophiles (see below) had to offer, so too did Pushkin develop a deeper, multifaceted vision of the complex ambiguity and moral contradictions of Peter’s work and legacy. Pushkin’s complex vision of Peter and his greatest material creation, St. Petersburg, resound down to us today in a myriad of interpretations, re-interpretations and new attempts to answer the questions he posed. Pushkin’s view of Peter in its most mature phase of development comes closer to Chaadaev in its historiosophical approach but nearer to Karamzin in its historico-political conservatism.

In December 1825, Russia’s first modern revolutionaries armed and marched into Senate Square, the home of The Bronze Horeseman monument to Peter. Pushkin was a close associate of the Decembrists but was rejected for membership because he associated with too many people not of like mind with their conspiratorial organization.[21] At the same time, he possibly had been in cahoots with another Decembrist sympathizer, Pyotr Chaadaev, to assassinate Tsar Alexander I.[22] Pushkin’s openness and own duality are keys to Pushkin’s deeper understanding of Peter and his legacy, and in the Russian historical memory Pushkin became even more closely associated with these Western-influenced revolutionaries. Volkov argues that Pushkin’s poem, The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale, interpreted by many at the time and later as a requiem for the movement’s hanged and exiled members, “further opened” the Decembrists’ “first crack in the façade of Petersburg’s neoclassical Empire.”[23]

One of Nicholas I’s early acts after quelling the revolt and consolidating his power was to call Pushkin to Petersburg for a private audience. Pushkin’s political libertinism, openness, sudden lack of revolutionary zeal was revealed. Perhaps mesmerized by the young emperor’s charisma, he ran from the imperial study after the audience with tears in his eyes, declaring: “How I would like to hate him! But what can I do? For what can I hate him?” The imprisoned and awaiting trial Decembrists, among others, surely had answers to that question, but Pushkin apparently did not. Nicholas, who declared after the audience that Pushkin was “the wisest person in Russia,” had asked the poet if he had been in St. Petersburg on the day of the uprising would he have taken part, to which Pushkin answered affirmatively.[24] The poet’s honesty was apparently appreciated by Nikolai, but the emperor also must have been taken Pushkin’s response into advisement. Pushkin should and would likely have suspected so, and this would have been reason for him to watch both his spoken and written words, especially if he hoped to get them by the censors.

In the last years of his short life, Pushkin was fully absorbed by Peter, composing four works focused or touching on the theme: “Stansy” or “Stanzas” (1826), a long narrative poem “Poltava” (1828), a short poem “The Feast of Peter the First” (1835), and his 1834 masterpiece narrative poem The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale. Moreover, the poet was beginning work on a major history of Peter the Great’s reign; a study so important to him that despite having tired of, even come to hate St. Petersburg, he canceled plans to leave it and his civil service position because Nicholas I warned he would terminate Pushkin’s access to the archives needed to write his history of Peter and his reforms.[25] This was not Pushkin’s first effort at historiography. His History of the Pugachev Rebellion is still an intriguing and important take on the subject.

There was considerable nuance, ambivalence and duality in Pushkin’s concept of Peter. Pushkin regarded Peter as a personality larger than life and a monumental, if flawed and despotic leader. But Russia’s greatest poet was able to hold in his head and heart simultaneously a disdain for Peter’s despotic leadership and respect for his political intentions and some of his most outstanding personal characteristics, such as his large capacity for work and his ability to take criticism, admit his mistakes and forgive enemies who crossed him. In his poem “Stansy,” he penned the “most celebrated description of all of the emperor” as an “academician,” “hero,” “seafarer,” “carpenter,” and “eternal worker” “on the throne,” “with an all-encompassing soul.” Riasanovsky notes the “programmatic” and, one might add, dualistic “Age of Reason statement” two lines before these praises: “With an autocratic hand/He daringly sowed enlightenment.” He encourages Nicholas I in the poem to “be in everything like your ancestor”: “tireless,” “firm,” and “remembering no evil.”[26] The last Petrine quality—‘remembering no evil’—would be developed and become a mainstay of Pushkin’s positive perceptions of Peter. In his 1835 “The Feast of Peter the First,” Pushkin gives us a Peter with whom “forgiveness triumphs as victory over an enemy.”[27] In the poem “Poltava” Peter is portrayed at another feast celebrating his victory over the Swedes and Hetman Mazepa’s Cossack forces, where “he hosts his own and alien commanders and caresses glorious prisoners.”[28] We see in “Poltava” a hint at perhaps the central strand in Pushkin’s conceptualization of Peter and his historical role: ambivalence, even plurivalence. In back-to-back lines Pushkin describes Peter as “terrifying” and “magnificent.”[29]

Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman, the great cultural historian Solomon Volkov concludes, gave birth to the “Petersburg mythos,” which “would not have existed without Peter the Great and Pushkin.”[30] It is perhaps not going to far to amend Volkov by adding that perhaps Russia’s greatest literary piece is the source of the modern Petrine mythos or legend. The duality of the city’s mythos is inextricably tied to the duality and plurivalence of its “miracle-working builder” and his transformative legacy. The Bronze Horseman’s status as the starting point of the modern Peter mythos is not diminished by its ambiguous incompleteness and mysteriousness but rather is raised higher and rendered more fruit-bearing for further interpretive analysis and meditation; some would say, even prophecy.

Cultural historians who have closely studied Pushkin and The Bronze Horseman are in near unanimity on Pushkin’s and his masterpiece’s ambivalence towards Peter and his legacy. Billington contends Pushkin transforms Falconet’s Bronze Horseman into “ambiguous symbol of imperial majesty and inhuman power.”[31] Solomon Volkov writes of the “duality” in Pushkin’s image of Peter, Peter’s historical role, and the St. Petersburg mythos. For Volkov, Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman “is the start of the Petersburg mythos,” a mythos based on the “duality of the city” whose founder’s image “has always been doubled.”[32] “Pushkin’s vision of the city was dualistic. His evaluation of the role of Peter and his reforms, of the civilizing effect of the city, and of the future of autocratic rule Ithat is, the past, present, and future of all Russia) seems in The Bronze Horseman to rest in balance. Neither took precedence. But their equilibrium was not clearly fixed: the scales trembled and vibrated.”[33] Volkov also argues that “Pushkin’s genius” lies in “that he does not present a clear-cut answer” to a, if not the central question the poem poses: “what is more important—the individual’s fate or the city’s and the state’s triumph?”[34] Riasanovsky notes that Pushin’s “extraordinary work” “remains a riddle;” the writing itself is “crystal clear,” but “not the meaning or the message.” “Pushkin’s Hamlet,” he observes, has as many interpretations as Shakespeare’s, suggesting a mystical – “realms beyond the dry light of the Age of Reason” – rather than rational sources for his creation.[35] Pushkin’s “remarkably rich, complex, and puzzling masterwork” may be the result of his views on Peter being “in transition.”[36]

Some major cultural historians deviate from this concensus. Lotman, for example, asserts that Pushkin intended The Bronze Horseman as a “terrible reproach” to the “historical ruthlessness” of Peter’s willful, cruel and violent forced modernization of late medieval Russia.[37] Lotman may be right, and we can suspect that Pushkin may have softened his public and even private written pronouncements at the implied behest of the authorities. He was keenly aware that Nikolai I and his secret police were focused on his political stance; there could be no doubt about that after his audience with Nikolai I. He also needed to get his writing past the emperor’s censors, and Nicholas I was an admirer of Peter the Great, seeing himself as his successor in magnificence, if not in ideology. On the other hand, Pushkin may have intended or conjured more than one message.

In his later conservative years, Pushkin’s admiration waned for a Peter he saw as “Robespierre and Napoleon in one person” and for policies he considered “embodied revolution.”[38] Specialists concur that the great poet and thinker became increasingly conservative and repulsed by the first emperor’s cruelty, as he became more expert as a historian on Peter’s work. The following quote from his notes for his history of Peter’s epoch reflects both that repulsion and yet ambivalence toward Peter’s ambiguous record and duality: “Worthy of wonder is the difference between Peter the Great’s state institutions and his temporary ukazes. The former are a product of a broad mind, full of benevolence and wisdom; the latter are cruel. Arbitrary, and, it would seem, written with a knout. The former were for eternity, or at least for the future; the latter escaped from an impatient despotic landowner.”[39]

Billington describes Pushkin’s open-minded, complex and objective approach as an observer and historian well:

Pushkin was a relatively unpolemical writer, a man of shifting interests, tantalizing fragments, and elusive opinions. Yet he gradually developed an outlook that can be characterized as conservative in social and political matters and liberal in the realm of spiritual and creative culture. After a youth of many love affairs and close contact with the Decembrists and other romantic reformers, he became a supporter of autocracy in the 1820s’s and a half-domesticated paterfamilias in the 1830’s. He had always shatred the aristocratic distaste for the vulgarity and capriciousness of the common horde. He was a skeptical about the possibilities of democracy in America and tended to praise great men—Peter the Great, Lomonosov, and even at times Napoleon—who had disregarded majority opinion in order to lift standards and advance culture. Always a monarchist, he hailed Nicholas I in more cordial terms than he had Alexander I; praised Peter and derided his Ukrainian foe Mazepa in has Poltava of 1829; and endorsed the crushing of the Polish insurrection of 1830. Increasingly, he felt reverence for continuity and tradition. Violent change of any sort, he came to feel, would bring forth an inescapable revenge of fate. … The flood and madness which engulfs the poor clerk in “The Bronze Horseman” are the revenge of fate for the precipitous reforms of Peter.[40]

Pushkin’s poem crystallized in verse the contradictions between Peter’s laudable goal of Westernization and the coercive and violent means he deployed to achieve it as well as between the Russian Enlightenment era hagiography of Peter as ‘Great’ and his demonization as the ‘beast’ ushering in the apocalypse at least for the remnants of Old Muscovy preserved by the Old Believers and still valued by ancient boyar noble families and elements in the Church.

Pushkin’s introductory stanzas to The Bronze Horseman, are, as Riasanovsky suggests, the most shining example of the Enlightenment Petrine cult and may have been included to misdirect the censors. The narrative plot contrasts sharply with this panegyric. It depicts a low-level civil servant Yevgenii confronting a St. Petersburg cataclysmic flood and the Catherine the Great’s monument to Peter the Great, Falconet’s bronze horseman – that is, Peter the Great – come to life. The former takes the life of his beloved; the second appears to takw what remains of Yevgenii’s own. The bronze horseman as sculpture depicts Russia’s first emperor with his right arm extended out to the right and slightly upward riding a horse standing on its hind legs in fear of and prepared to stomp a snake slithering at its hooves. In the poem, Yevgenii is cut off from his love Parasha as the flood waters have forced the authorities to raise the bridges that connect the citiy’s various islands. Yevgeniy rides out the storm sitting atop one of the sculpted sentry lions along the granite banks of the Neva, and on the opposite embankment the bronze horseman sits arrogantly “on high” atop his steed: “Behold the Image sit, and ride upon the brazen horse astride.”[41]  The storm sweeps away the house and life of Parasha. When the weather receeds and the bridges are lowered, Yevgenii is able to seek out his love. Finding Parasha and her home have been swept away into eternity, he sinks half-mad into wandering homeless and aimless about the city—as if he were “something miscreated.” One night he stumbles into Senate Square and confronts the horseman of cold bronze still sitting atop his steed as if nothing had happened:

Him/Who, moveless and aloft and dim,

Our city by the sea had founded,

Whose will was fate. Appalling there

He sat, begirt with mist and air.

What thoughts engrave his brow! What hidden

Power and authority he claims!

What fire in younder charger flames!

Proud charger, wither art thou ridden,

Where leapest thou, and where, on whom,

Wilt plant thy hoof?—Ah, lord of doom

And potentate, t’was thus, appearing

Above the void, and in thy hold

A curb of iron, thou sat’st of old

O’er Russia, on her haunches rearing! [42]

Yevgenii threatens the “architect” of “marvels”: “Ah, beware of me!” With this the famous fire in Peter the Great’s eye explodes the bronze horseman forth in pursuit of the fleeing “madman” all night whereever he may turn. Hence forward, Yevgenii if he perchance accidentally turned into Senate Square took his cap in hand and slinked by looking away from Peter. The poem ends with Yevgenii’s dead body found washed up on a nearby island by a recent flood.[43]

We can speak of Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman as the finest expression of the not just the Petersburg myth but also of the Petrine legacy or ‘Peter myth’ to appear in literature up to that point. Central to both myths, as Volkov stresses in his groundbreaking culturological study St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, is a self-contradictory “duality.”[44] Each mythos can be said to include discourses on the following antipodal pairs: Pushkin’s hatred/love for Peter and his city; the inhumanity of means of the tyrant-Antichrist/the humanist, Western Enlightenment ends of the Great Reformer; creative triumph/tragic destruction; and state/individual.[45] Although Pushkin expresses directly neither hatred nor love for the city’s ‘architect,’ he expresses his “love” for the “city of Peter” five times in the introductory stanzas.[46] The introduction seems to accentuate Peter’s greatness, which shapes the reader’s perception thereafter of any allusion to power and grandeur as positive praise of Peter. However, the effect of the powerful emperor’s work is death and destruction, catastrophe and cataclysm, which gives way to a sense of fearful awe towards Peter rather than love, admiration, or even respect. However, here the verdict is unclear, ambiguous, balanced. Yet Yevgenii’s disastrous fate resonates with Pushkin’s characterization of Peter as “the lord of doom,” which suggests the Old Believer accusation of Peter as the Antichrist or his instrument rather than the image of a miracle-working builder or enlightening Great Reformer. Yevgenii’s ridicule of Peter’s “creation of marvels” invokes his creative triumph on the Neva with high sarcasm pointing up destruction and tragedy throughout the poem and indeed the city’s later history.

Crucially, Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman is the first artistic treatment in Russian history to address Russia’s cursed question about the conflict between, and relative value of the individual and the state, put squarely on the agenda by Radishchev. Yevgenii can be interpreted to represent the Russian people driven into quasi-modernity by Peter’s whip. Yevgenii’s threat to the high-riding bronze horseman to beware of this lowly, down-trodden clerk is nothing less than the holding up the individual as equal to the state in moral value. And if Yevgenii represents the people, not just the individual, but a society of indviduals of equal worth among themselves and in relation to the state, then his threat is the threat of revolution. If Yevgenii represents the Russian people, harrassed by Peter’s, indeed the autocracy’s willfulness and coercion, rather than just Petersburgers, harrowed by his northern Venice’s icy cold and floods, then Yevgenii’s threat seems to prophecy popular rejection of despotic autocracy—revolution—the revenge of fate for despotic rule. The struggle between the individual and the state and the writer and the state, which Pushkin experienced personally in his relations with Nikiolai and the censors, would have relevance for the fate of Russia and its form of government from The Bronze Horseman forward. In a way, Pushkin was the revenge of fate for Peter, sparking a debate about his role in Russian history and about the proper role of the writer and the individual vis-à-vis the state tyrants like Peter, enlightened or otherwise, that would last for centuries to come. Thus, this theme from The Bronze Horseman resounded down across the centuries into the Soviet era. Soviet Red Army Marshal Leonid Govorov, commander of the Leningrad Front during the Great Patritoic War against the Nazis, the city’s liberator, and, according to Volkov, “a quintessential Petersburger,” in a burst of passion perhaps for political change emotionally recited lines from Pushkin’s poem: “Where are you galloping, proud steed/And where will you plant your hoofs?”[47]

The duality or even plurality of Peter’s creative triumph and his creation’s tragic ‘revenge of fate’ for his inhumanity are reflected in both Volkov’s Petersburg mythos and Pushkin’s prophecy uttered through the Yevgenii. Volkov recounts the revenge against Peter’s city, with its world-historical cultural acheivements and heritage subsumed by cycles of cataclysmic nearly complete destruction: the elimination of Russia’s elite in St. Petersburg and the city’s briliiant cultural legacy during the Russian revolution, civil war, and aftermath; the 900-day blockade of ‘Leningrad’ in which a million starved, froze or otherwise were brought to death by Nazi Germany; Stalin’s pre- and post-war purges of its ‘Leningrad’ elite; and the city’s ultimate survival and triumph (to date), symbolized by the return of its original name as the USSR was collapsing in 1991 and the banishment of the Bolshevik-imposed ‘Leningrad.’ Petersburg’s dichotomy of fate in the 20th century reinforced the city’s dual image in Russian cultural discourse, one mirroring that of its miracle-working builder.

Some historians have been struck by the prophetic element in Pushkin’s poem. In his discussion of The Bronze Horseman, Riasanovsky alludes to, but chooses not to discuss “whether a supreme literary genius” such as Pushkin “can reflect, perhaps even foretell, the turbulent world around him much better than he knows it himself.”[48] Indeed, if Yevgenii’s threat to the horseman-emperor to beware of him was meant by Pushkin symbolize the threat of a future revolution, then Pushkin appears to have had a premonition about the fate of Russia and Petersburg’s giving birth to the February 1917 revolution. To be sure, his prophecy may have been more fear than hope or faith. That fear was shaped by his sympathies for his Decembrist friends’ failed uprising and by his growing discomfort, if not disdain for the increasingly pervasive bureaucratic-police autocracy Peter founded and the revenge it took on the aristocratic revolutionaries.

In 1826, a friend of Pushkin and a former military officer, Pytor Chaadaev (1794-1856), issued a clarion call to the emerging Russian intelligentsia in the first of eight self-published “Philosophical Letters.” Chaadaev charged that Russia had “no past, no present and no future” and that it neither had a history nor had played any historical role in the world. Chaadaev’s initial interpretation of Russian history and culture was a harsh version of the Westernizer critique. He viewed Europe as superior culturally, religiously, and ‘world-historically’ and saw Peter’s reforms as mechanically imitating or ‘aping’ the West rather than transforming Russia into a European country in any significant way. Since Chaadaev, writing in the 1840s, insisted that Russia remained a non-historical nation without a future, any changes resulting from Peter’s legacy logically had been insignificant. Although Russia’s lack of a history and any deeply rooted traditions might have functioned to justify Peter’s coercion and violence and legitimize his bureaucratic absolutism, Chaadaev believed these factors rendered Peter’s reform achievements – to the extent there were any – insignificant. Since they faced no real obstacles, given the absence of a pre-Petrine Russian tradition, any achievements in reform were no great feat and were no more likely to take root than superficial pre-Petrine cultural traits such as the similarly imported and mechanically imposed Orthodox Christianity.[49]

Chaadaev transformed at least his public view of Peter’s legacy after being censored, arrested and declared insane for his “Letters” in 1836 by Nicholas I’s secret police, the Third Department. Nicholas saw himself as the heir of the first emperor’s Enlightenment century image as a magnificent and omnisicient sovereign. He approved the police action against Chaadaev and demanded that he receive a report on Chaadaev’s ‘condition’ monthly. Essentially at the explicit behest of the authorities, Chaadaev issued “An Apology of a Madman” in 1837. In his “Apology”, he distanced himself from the purist Westernizers’ anti-absolutism and harsh view of Peter’s despotic methods. Chaadaev’s re-education transformed his interpretation of Peter from that of despot to that of “the greatest of our kings, our glory, our demigod,” his vision of a non-historical Russia aping Europe to a Russia that since Peter “belonged to Europe and the West,” and his view that Russia had no past, present, or future to a new view: the future belonged to Russia.[50] Chaadaev’s “Apology” reversed the causal arrows of cultural influence and change between Russia and its ‘Other.’ He now was arguing that although Russia had lost the past and it would participate in history’s future achievements and was positioned “to resolve most of the problems in the social order, to accomplish most of the ideas which arose in the old societies, to make a pronounce about those very grave questions which occupy humanity.”[51] In other words, now it was Russia that would transform the West and indeed the world, rather than the reverse. However, Chaadaev’s original “Letters” must be taken as reflective of his real views, and all scholars agree that the Westernism in the “Letters” not the quasi-messianism of the “Apology” constitutes the real Chaadaev. Moreover, the latter left unsullied Chaadaev’s earlier claims about pre-Petrine Russian backwardness and the need for modernizing the country along European lines. Chaadaev’s claims that Russia lacked a history, a deeply-rooted culture and firm traditions prompted a strong response from those who considered quite the contrary, that Russia had a unique and meaningful culture, history, and mission independent no less vital or universal than those of Europe and that Peter’s reforms had compromised their integrity and purpose.

Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) also had a complex and subtle view of Peter that changed over time. A Schillerian in his youth, then a Hegelian, Herzen evolved into a quasi-Saint Simonian socialist, who from the age of fourteen swore dedication to overthrow of the autocracy In 1834 he was exiled and eventually left Russia for Paris, then London, where he published the influential Russian journals Severnaya zvezda (The Nothern Star) and Kolokol (The Bell) and wrote commentary on Russian philosophy, history and politics. Herzen sought to marry philosophical thought, philosophy of history, and the real world of practical action by the autonomous individual in history.[52] Peter was Herzen’s philosophy of autonomous action in history brought from the abstract world of ideas into material world of historical development. Thus, for Herzen, the emperor transformed Russia solely by the power of his will and played a historical role in Russian and even world history equal to that of an entire philosophical-religious movement, that which the Reformation played in German history. As Riasanovsky puts it, Peter for Herzen was revoltion itself.[53] Peter had “assigned to himself the problem of transferring Europeanism into Russia, and he dedicated his life to the solution of that problem.” In the enormity of his role, he could be compared best to Napoleon. The same could be said about his pursuit of his idea “by all means, including even cruelties, as it was done by the Reformation, by the French Convention.” His “great” and unparallelled “originality” lie in that the “problem that he solved, although it was necessary, was not proposed by Russia, but by the genius of the Great one; it was not entrusted to him by the circumstance, but poured by him into the circumstances, brought by his genius into the realm of the ideas of humanity, and it was resolved also by him. … (L)ook and bend your knees to Peter.” Along with his cruelty, Peter did good, not like other leaders in passing or accidentally, but intentionally.[54] In Herzen’s article, “Moscow and Petersburg,” we get a glimpse into why Slavophiles, other Russian nationalists and traditionalist patriots condemn Peter and Petersburg: “Peter saw that there was only one salvation for Russia, to stop being Russian.”[55] Ultimately, he regarded Peter to be a revolutionary, “establishing a new order by blood … (B)y means of a knout and an ax in Russia, humanism is installed.”[56] After Herzen’s exile, his increasingly critical attitude towards Russian autocracy whittled away at his positive assessment of Peter, reshaping it into a predominantly negative one. Now, by virtue of the first emperor’s semi-Westernization of Russia, “Peter did infinite good and infinite evil to Russia.” Including Peter, “all the sovereigns of the house of the Romanovs” had never done anything for the Russian people.[57]

The young Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826) was intially an acolyte of the energetic Westernizing tsar. In a reversal of the results of Peter’s foreign travels that had disenchanted him further with Russian status quo, Karamzin’s travels in the West in 1789-1790 reinforced his adherence to the autocracy’s official view of Peter. Russia’s first emperor remained for him the great Westernizer, modernizer and enlightened autocrat.[58] Reconsidering Europe and the Enlightenment in the wake of the French revolution and then becoming in 1803 Russia’s official court historiographer, Karamzin’s view of the West and Peter’s Westernization darkened. Importantly, Karamzin’s criticisms of Peter did not enter the public square. Peter is missing in Karamzin’s public writing, including his monumental The History of the Russian State, which was left unfinished, the author dying having completed writing only through the period of the Smuta.

Behind the scenes, in an introduction to a political piece, “A Memoir of Ancient and Modern Russia,” submitted to Tsar Alexander I in 1810 for his consideration alone, Karamzin, while heaping praise on Peter’s accomplishments, also strongly criticized Peter’s “passion for foreign customs,” which “surely exceeded the bounds of reason.” Anticipating some of the Slavophile critique, he elaborated:

Peter was unable to realize that the national spirit constitutes the moral strength of states, which is as indispensable to their stability as is physical might. This national spirit, toether with the faith, had saved Russia in the days of the Pretenders. It is nothing else than respect for our national dignity. By uprooting ancient customs, by exposing them to ridicule, by causing them to appear stupid, by praising and introducing foreign elements, the sovereign of the Russian humbled Russian hearts. Does humiliation predispose a man and a citizen to great deeds? … One state may borrow from another useful knowledge without borrowing its manners. These manners may change naturally, but to prescribe statutes for them is an act of violence, which is illegal for an autocratic monarch. The people, in their original covenant with the king, had told him: “Guard our safety abroad and at home, punish criminals, sacrifice a part to save the whole.” They had not said: Fight the innocent inclinations and tastes of our domestic life.” In this realm the sovereign may equitably act only by example, not by decree.

… Until his reign all Russians, from the plow to the throne, had been alike insofar as they shared certain features of external appearance and of customs. After Peter, the higher classes separated themselves from the lower ones, and the Russian peasant, burgher, and merchant began to treat the Russian gentry as Germans, thus weakening the spirit of brotherly national unity binding the estates of the realm.[59]

In the italicized section in the quotation above, Karamzin is admonishing Alexander not just against Peter’s overzealousness. He is invoking the national security value as the central tenet in a foundational Russian ‘social contract’ between the Russian people and the Varangians – and by extension Alexander – whom they wished to be ruled by. Karamzin hints at the core Russian dilemma of orienting itself in relation to its powerful and often expansionist European ‘Other’ from Peter forward and the resulting rise of its internal and external security value:

Would we have today the audacity, after having spent over a century in the school of foreigners, to boast of our civic pride? Once upon a time we used to call all other Europeans infidels; now we call them brothers. For whom was it easier to conquer Russia—for infidels or for brothers? That is, whom was she likely to resist better? Was it conceivable in the reigns of Michael and Fedor for a Russian lord, who owed everything to his fatherland, gaily to abandon his tsar forever to sit in Paris, London, or Vienna and calmly read in newspapers of the perils confronting our country? We became citizens of the world but ceased in certain respects to be the citizens of Russia. The fault is Peter’s.[60]

The neo-traditionalist attack on Peter remained between Karamzin and Alexander until it uncovered in the state archives and published nearly a century and a half later. As such, it played no role in shaping Russian political culture until that time. Nevertheless, Karamzin’s critique may have contributed to Alexander I’s decision in 1821 to abandon his life-long plans to abdicate, radically democratize Russia by decreeing a constitution, and abolish serfdom (see Chapter 6). Karamzin’s critique of Peter’s polarization of Russian society and emphasis on the ‘Other’ nature of Europe in relation to traditional Russia presaged in some ways the broader and harsher analyses which came from Russia’s first wave of Petrine antagonists led by neo-traditionalist Slavophilism.

Antagonists of the Petrine Legacy

The turn of the 19th century and the lack of systemic censorship under the liberalizing tsar Alexander I brought sharp criticism of Peter’s modernizing legacy from two sharply opposed politico-philosophical perspectives: the ‘Right’ consisting of patriotic traditionalists and Slavophiles, on the one hand, and the new socialist ‘Left’ wing of the Westernizer faction, on the other. There was unpublished criticism of Peter’s reign in the 18th century, especially from the perspective of the traditionalist ancient Muscovite nobility that anticipates the later ‘Slavophile’ critique discussed below.[61] These critical perspectives’ emergence was determined by divisions within Russian state and society created by Peter’s reforms. The nobility had been split within by Westernization, with emergence of Westernizers and later an intelligentsia. As the entire nobility Westernized, it increasingly became isolated from the mass of the Russian people. Lower classes were split by the Raskol and Peter’s further removal of both the ROC and Old Believer factions from state affairs. Moreover, they were more thoroughly oppressed – albeit, on different, more secular grounds – by the growing effectiveness of the Petrine-made rationalized Russian state aparatus. Overlaying these divisions was a new secular ideological schism also generated by Peter’s reforms that produced what has remained for three centuries the central debate in one form or another within Russia’s identity discourse: the Slavophile-Westernizer debate.

Ironically, the Slavophiles’ worldview was itself influenced by a Western philosophical strain—German romanticism. Slavophiles typically leveled the harshest criticism of Peter and his reforms. Yet whereas the more nationalist-traditonalist Slavophile critique was given some space in Russia’s still miniscule public square, the Westernizers’ pro-reform critique was driven underground, as the fates of Radishchev, Chaadaev and others would demonstrate (see below). The greater freedom the autocracy allowed for the Slavophile critique was a consequence of the pass Slavophiles cometimes gave to autocratic absolutism; one not afforded by Westernizers’ critiques. This placed the Slavophile position closer on Russia’s political spectrum to the state, its ideologists, and Nicholas I’s “Official Nationality,” which dominated the official strand of thought on Peter, as noted above.[62]

Although Slavophiles and Westernizers both tended to be critical of the overall Russian condition of their time, the latter tended to be more condemnatory, often rejecting the continuing central role of autocracy and Christian Orthodoxy in society, which most Slavophiles accepted.  Whereas Westernizers regarded Peter’s domestic Europeanization efforts of Russia’s internal life as an unmitigated step towards the correct end if achieved by the wrong – specifically, autocratic – means. Slavophiles denigrated Peter’s Westernization as not political, but cultural collusion with an alien element. The result betrayed, transformed, corrupted and divided an idealized, organic Russian national tradition, even civilization. The Slavophiles were not official ideologists, by any means. Some of them and their writings were read by tsars of the 19th century and even with sympathy, but they were also subjected to repression like the Westernizers. As Semyon Frank wrote in his 1949 article ‘Pushkin on Relations Between Russia and the West,’ Westernizers agreed with the Slavophiles on one thing: they considered Peter’s reforms “inorganic, lacking any connection with Russia’s national spirit.” The caveat is that Westernizers saw this as unconditionally positive, seeking Russia’s full transformation into a European culture, while Slavophiles saw this almost exclusively as a negative, preferring the preservation of traditional Russian blagochestie and sobornost’.[63]

Russian Slavophiles argue that Peter the Great’s reforms broke a more evolutionary course of development that would have been more organic for Russia. Ironically, the Slavophilism’s own intellectual roots lay at least partially in Europe, where its leading proponents traveled and imbibed the German romanticism of the age. Alexander I’s Petrine-like Westernizing reformism in the first half of his reign saw a slew of new universities built and an influx of German professors. They brought with them the teachings of Immanuel Kant, who inspired Russian Westernizers, and of Freidrich Schelling, who shaped Slavophile (and revolutionary) thought. Russians, religious and lovers of nature, were taken by Schelling’s cosmology of an organic, unified natural world possessing a ‘world soul’ and diversity of beauty expressed in one way by the plurality of nationalities.[64]

A nucleus of Schelling admirers among the educated nobility arose in the philosophical ‘lovers of wisdom’ (mudrolyubovtsy) society, led by V. F. Odoevskii (1802-1839) and including the theologist-philosopher Ivan Kireevskii (1806-1856). The circle’s members, primarily interested in Schelling’s philosophies of art and nature, were romantic nationalists and “direct precursors” to, if not early Slavophiles. They saw the world as an evolving work of art and art as an expression of both unconscious intuition and conscious rationalism and pined for the emergence of a truly national Russian literature and art.[65] By valuing both Russian ‘intuition’ and Western rationalism, approximations of Russia’s traditionalist blagoshestie (a religious intuition) and Western khitrost’, the lovers of wisdom implied the one-sided nature of Peter’s Europeanizing reforms, if not the one-sided nature of post-Petrine Russia itself, which some argued had been somewhat rebalanced from its own excess of religiosity and superstition by way of Peter’s reforms and the country’s continuing Westernization and industrialization. Odoevsky himself differed from the Slavophiles in that he saw the aristocracy, not the peasantry as the salvation of the Russian tradition. Schelling’s stock among these early neo-Slavophiles rose when in 1839 Odoevskii was told that Schelling “held Russia in high esteem and expected her to do great things.”[66] Odoevskii went to Berlin in 1848 to hear Schelling’s lectures, and the German philosopher told him that Russia “was destined to to something great.”[67] The idea of a special Russian mission for the betterment if not salvation of mankind hed become popular in Russia again, and now Odoevskii had further motivation to develop the idea. In his 1844 Russian Nights he castigated Western commercialism (capitalism), from which only Russia still served as a refuge. Thus, the mission of Russia, the one-sided non-rationalism of which had been counterbalanced by Westernization under Peter and his 18th and early 19th century successors, was to save Western European culture from the ravages of one-sided rationalism, secularism, and commercialism. This should be accomplished, according to Odoevskii, through an injection of Eastern Slavonic spirituality, mysticism, and intuition delivered by a Western European Peter in order to balance Europe’s own one-sided path of development.[68] The relative parity in Odoevskii’s views reflected by the implication of convergence between Russia and the West would disappear in the Slavophilism that he helped to inspire.

Riasanovsky describes well Romanticist Slavophilism’s brief against Peter’s rationalizing Europeanism:

(Slavophilism’s) central dichotomy was that of organic harmony against mechanistic division; of a unity in love, full understanding, and freedom against rationalism and compulsion; of the new ideal of Romaticism against the Age of Reason. Only the Romantic ideal became Russia (not Germany), and the Age of Reason became the West. …

… (T)he Slavophiles were opposed to (Peter) and his work, to contemporary Russian government and society. Peter the Great was a despot, who interrupted the organic development of the country and who wanted to mold Russia like clay in accordance with his rationalistic and utilitarian notions and in direct imitation of the West. His reforms robbed Russia of its independent role in history and made it an appendix to the West, split educated society from the people, and led to such evils as formalism and bureaucracy.[69]

The Slavophiles believed that Peter had torn asunder a uniquely Russian form of society, even civilization based on sobornost’, which could be translated in the Slavophilic sense as ‘organic human connectedness and collectiveness’—the free-willed unity of Christian believers absent of willful individualism and coercive restraint. Western society was the triumph of the latter two qualities. The separate willful individual in an atomized society required a network of formal laws and attendant coercive mechanisms and institutions to restrain him/her. European history, in Slavophile Ivan Kireevsky’s interpretation, was “the history of the struggle between ‘unity without freedom’ and ‘freedom without unity’.”[70]

The first generation of Slavophiles were themselves torn between Russian tradition and European offerings but categorical in condemning Peter than was Karamzin and far less categorical in criticizing Europe and Europeanization overall than their ideological opponents – the Westernizers – were in proselytzing them. They were almost to a man critical of Peter’s ‘aping’ of Europe and his rapid, indiscriminate and coercive implementation of Westernization. They had little to say about democratic institutions or process but were supportive of more democratic outcomes in Russian life. Thus, the Slavophiles often criticized Peter’s methods of Europeanization and his successors’ style of rule as much if not more than Europeanization itself.

Perhaps the foremost first-generation Slavophile thinker was Ivan Kireevsky. His views on Peter and his legacy evolved over time, but he ultimately came to regard the emperor-reformer as only superficially successful by dint of his artificial grafting of separate aspects of European life and its already artificial rationalism and individualism onto an integral, organic Russian spirit. Real Europeanization, in Kireevskii’s view, came only under Catherine II or the Great at the end of the century. Kireevskii was not a Russian nationalist in the sense of crediting characteristics peculiar only to Russia as proper. Rather, Russia was merely the beneficiary of not having its Christian orthodoxy in ways that he regarded Roman Catholicism to have been corrupted. Similarly, Kireevskii explained the changes implemented by Peter the Great despite Russia’s seeming lack of internal contradictions to facilitate their adoption by arguing that Nikon’s reforms of Orthodoxy and the rejection of the majority of belivers that the shismatic Old Believers constituted had essentially created contradictions and paved the way for state reforms. Even later in his philosophical evolution, Kireevskii turned to a new explanation that now implicated religious ossification reflected in the Old Believers’ extremism in orthodox practice, apocalypticism, and self-immolation. To this extreme followed another largely confined to the aristocracy, which began to reject a religious life for one brightened by the conceits, luxuries and attractions of European secularism, individualism and commercialism. It was the new nobility, already compromised by Westernization, that accepted and were affected by Peter’s reforms, not all Russians. Therefore, Kireevskii warned, Peter’s Westernization program created a rift or dualism that plagued the Polish-Lithuanian gentry-state. A vast cultural and economic divide between Poland’s highly educated gentry and the commoner majority engendered decline, disintegration, and partition by foreign powers.[71] Kireevskii did not prescribe a mechanical return to the pre-Petrine order which would be as corrupting as what he saw as Peter’s mechanical grafting of European norms onto the traditional Russian system. Rather, he proposed that the “principles of conduct preserved in the teachings of the holy Orthodox Church permeate the convictions of all sections of society and all estates.” These “higher principles” should not “supplant the European education grafted on to Russia, but…dominate and envelop it fully, to give it a higher meaning and the opportunity for further development, so that the inner integrity of ancient Russia is granted to a new, present, and future Orthodox Russia.”[72] Kireevskii’s younger brother, Peter (1808-1856), a pioneering collector of Russian folk songs, was an important Russian Slavophile thinker in his own right and a “fanatical opponent” of Peter the Great as well. He was said to be distraught that he shared the first name with the first emperor.[73]

Other prominent first generation Slavophiles such as the philosopher Alexei Khomyakov (1804-1860) and the historian Constantine Aksakov (1817-1860) also were influenced by the Schelling and leveled a harsh critique of Peter the Great’s work. Khomyakov, a direct successor of Kireevskii’s philosophical tendencies, was deeply religious, a strong supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian tradition, wearing a beard and traditional Russian dress. Nevertheless, he, like Kireevskii valued European civilization and values. Khomyakov was an Anglophile, who credited the British with attaining the highest level of the greatest European value—a balance between liberalism and traditionalism, between analytical rationalism and organic native development. He did not whitewash Russian realities, as did most other Slavophiles such as Kireevskii and Konstantin Aksakov, and called Russia to repentance, more faithful living out Orthodox teachings, and a more rational approach to acquiring knowledge. He saw Peter the Great’s reforms as hasty and reckless, having created a disbalance between the organic traditionalism and logical analysis. He regarded Peter’s penultimate construction project, St. Petersburg, to be “pagan.” Much as Protestant skepticism was threatening the very future of England, in his view, Peter’s secularizing reforms diverted Russians from the search for pure Orthodox living required in order to fulfill their historic mission of realizing the Christian ideal.[74]

Unlike Kireevskii and Khomyakov, Aksakov had an intense hatred of Europe. He wore a long beard, which the police forced him to shave off, and Russian traditional dress in the pre-Petrine style. On his hatred for Europe, he once said: “I am a Jew by nature: I cannot have friendly relations with the Philistines. He believed that the difference between Russia and Europe lay in the diverging paths they took in forming the state and the contrary system of state-society relations that occurred as a result. Peter’s reforms essentially put Russia in the European mode of state-building. In Europe, the state was formed through conquest and violence, while in Russia it was formed by the Russian people’s voluntary invitation to the Varyags to rule over them. This created an organic unity between the state and society that never existed in Europe outside of law. Ancient Russia had the tradition of the zemskii sobor, in which the ‘land’ had an advisory voice heard by the sovereign. Aksakov initially praised Peter from breaking the chains of “national limitedness,” but then turned against the first emperor and his reforms. They had made any return to organic unity of the state and people impossible.[75]

In a poem addressed to Peter, ‘Petru’, Aksakov averred that Peter’s work had been placed under a curse of inevitable retribution from the Russian people for having spilled their blood in order to Westernize them:

In the name of good and science,

From a country alien provided,

More than once your powerful hand

Was soiled by native blood. …

All Rus’, all life hitherto

You were despised,

And on your great work

The seal of a curse was layed.

Moscow you threw away cruelly

And from the people far,

You built a lonely city –

With the people you could not live! …

So, there will be a time when Rus will rise!

Dispersing the many years’ dream,

She will threateningly impinge the false, –

And your triumph was completed falsely!

The people will let out its wings,

Fear will betray traitors,

The nest and monument of violence –

Your city will crumble into dust!

The people will rise again after the battle

And again the justified people

with liberated Moscow –

Life a free course will take:

Everything false will fall away,

Love will crush all fetters,

The Fatherland happily will blossom –

And your people will forgive you.[76]

When Sergei Soloviev (see below) and other historians in the mid-19th century began demonstrating the limits of Peter the Great’s reforms and their roots in previous tsarist acts of Westernization, Aksakov issued a piercing critique:

Peter was not merely a continuer, and precisely this forms the characteristic of his epoch. Before him only the useful had been taken from foreigners. Foreign life had not been borrowed, our principles of life had been left intact, and Russia had remained independent. Peter, on the other hand, to take everything from the foreigners, not only the useful and the universal, but also the particular and the national, foreign life itself with all its accidental details. … Therefore even the most useful, which had been accepted in Russia before Peter the Great, became of necessity not a free borrowing, but a slavist imitation. Still another circumstance was added to this: namely coercion, an inalienable attribute of Peter’s actions. This coercion, in turn, changed the whole process; what had been done freely and naturally until then began to be performed through compulsion and force. Therefore, the reforms of Peter are defininitely an overturning, a revolution; in this lies the originality and historical significance of his work. … National exclusiveness (which Russia had never known before) appeared on the part of Peter. It was Peter who stood for exclusive nationality, only not for that of his own people, but for those of the West; he attempted to destroy every manifestation of Russian life, everything Russian.[77]

The second generation Slavophiles tended overall to be more generous to Peter and more inclined towards pan-Slavism, valuing Peter’s political and military successes in Europe and completely disregarding his Westernization policies. Nikolai Danilevskii (1822-1885), a botanist by education and the foremost thinker among the second generation Slavophiles, was perhaps the chief proponent of this neo-Slavophile school. For him nations and civilizations were akin to biological organisms and the states that they created were involved in a Darwinian and realist struggle for survival, self-interest, and supremacy. According to this theory, Russia and the Slavs they should lead constituted the nucleus of a new kind of civilization, not a universal one as Europe imagined itself and previous Slavophiles saw in Slavdom. Rather, like other nine civilizations he found to exist, Slavdom was a specific “historico-cultural” type.[78] Therefore, the “Slavic historico-cultural type” was inapplicable to a comparison as to which held universal significance, much as a search for the archetype among various tree types to designate as the best expression of “the concept of plant.”[79] Slavdom had a great historical mission if it could unite. Unlike other historico-cultural types of civilization, it had more than three unique foundational pillars: (1) religious (Orthodoxy); (2) political (autocracy); (3) economy (the peasant commune or obshchina); and (4) cultural (the typically Western scientific, technological and industrial aspects as well as both Western and Russian artistic elements).[80] Danilevskii saw Peter’s reforms as something that Russia suffered through and came out of stronger for having done so. Peter had created a powerful, historical empire that could fulfill the Slavic civilizational mission.[81] But Russia could become Europe no more than an oak could become an elm or an animal become a plant. Therefore, according to Danilevskii’s primordial concept of civilizational historico-cultural types, the effects of Peter’s Westernization inside Russia by definition could only be superficial and incapable of transforming Russia from a Slavic people into a European one.

The Slavophiles were a reaction not just against the 18th century’s Westernizing Russian autocrats. It also was a response to their radical Westernizing contemporaries and their successors. The latter, under the continued influence of Western thinking began to imbibe by the 19th century new socialist thought. Thus, in addition to the nationalist, traditionalist critique typified by the Slavophiles during the remaining centuries of imperial rule after Peter the great, a new socialist and occasional anarchist radical critique of Peter emerged among Westernizers. The lifting of censorship under Alexander II allowed a new pluralism in Russian articulations on the Petrine legacy that lasted until the fall of the Romanov dynasty. An explosion of varied critiques from new quarters, most prominently, from the radical socialist Left emerged. The radical Left in the second half of the 19th century, which helped spawn the likes of the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party (eventually split into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks), was imitally led by the moderately socialist-leaning Belinskii and Herzen. As the intelligentsia and youth radicalized, the most significant of the late 19th century Russian thinkers also represented extremist ideological trends on the Left: anarchism and socialism. Radical Left thought was led by the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, the so-called ‘father of Russian Marxism’ Georgii Plekhanov, and the man who brought socialism to power in Russia, Vladimir Lenin. As Bakunin (1814-1876) radicalized in the 1830s and 1840s, his views evolved from admiration of Peter’s role as enlightener and agent of change through ‘revolution from above’ to condemnation of the first emperor as “a great oppressor of the Russian people” and creator of “a police state.” Bakunin transferred his disdain for Nikolai I’s real police state back on to Peter. The “system of the man of genius” and his state was never before “as threatening externally and as oppressive internally as precisely in our time.”[82]

The Marxist Plekhanov (1856-1918) developed “a complex and nuanced evaluation” of Peter’s legacy.[83] He positively assessed the Western and modernizing direction of Peter’s reforms and foresaging the destructive power of modernization on the Soviet Marxist party-state, he argued Peter’s own modernization laid the seeds for the destruction of the Russian authocratic state by introducing into Russia’s ancient Oriental despotic “Asiatic form of production” the industrial manufacturing and factory plants. By Plekhanov’s time there was “no hole, no wild corner in Russia, where this capitalist form of economic relations did not reach.[84] The liberation of the serfs in February 1861 released the peasant class into the capitalist sector of the Russian ecnomy, expanding it and hastening the coming of the socialist revolution.[85] Overall, Plekhanov’s assessment of Peter’s legacy was negative, emphasing the reforms’ incompleteness, failures, and resulting pain for the bulk of the Russian population.[86] Vladimir Lenin, beneficiary of the semi-bourgeous Russian revolution and Bolshevik mastermind of the October coup that hijacked it, wrote little and said even less about Peter. His most direct and substantial assessment of Peter’s legacy was largey negative: “Peter hastened the adoption of Western ways by barbarian Russia, not refraining from barbarian means to fight barbarism.”[87]

The Soviet view, with occasional shifts in nuance, largely coincided or at least varicated between these early Russian Marxist views of the Petrine legacy. The predominant pre-Stalinist view approximated that of Miklhail Pokrovskii (1869-1932), writing both before and after the Russian revolution, Pokrovskii was a student of the great historian Vasilii Klyuchevskii but in Soviet times built on Plekhanov’s less systematic analysis. 241 He came dominate the state and shrinking non-state sectors of academic historiography in early Soviet Russia. However, Pokrovskii’s was a strictly class-based approach combined with the growing national Bolshevik strain in Soviet culture. The pre-revolutionary revolutionaries’ respect for Peter’s Westernization efforts was wholly dispensed with in favor of a disdain for Peter’s kowtowing to the West as well as that of his successors who had studied Peter’s reforms and the centry of Russian enlightenment that followed. The European enlightenment was, after all, a product of capitalist bourgeois thought and had to be extinguished.[88] Thus, Peter’s “catastrophic” reforms were a mere function of the historical process: the product of European merchant class trade or “merchant capital.”[89]

With the rise to full power of Iosif Stalin by the 1930s, the now condemned ‘Pokrovskii school’ was replaced by, in Riasanovsky’s words, “a much more complex bipolar Petrine image,” which survived until the new era of pluralism during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika.[90] Although the Stalinist view of Peter was largely positive, it also included a negative perspective.  The Stalinist and post-Stalin position resembled the official Tsarist imperial one, praising Peter’s strengthening of the state at home and abroad and supporting the personalist power wielded by Peter and, by projection, Stalin. Therefore, as discussed below, the Stalinist view justified Peter’s destruction of his son, tsarevich Alexei, and, by projection, Stalin’s destruction of his closest comrades along with millions of others. Soviet power even began signing on to the view that Westernization had its beneficial aspects. In accordance with the Soviet value of socioeconomic ‘development’ in advancing from feudalism to capitalism, socialism, then communism, Peter’s modernization in the forms of early industrialization, the expansion of science and education, and more extensive societal organization were respected as progressive. But predictably, as in earlier Marxist treatments, the Stalinist view emphasized the growing ‘class domination’ of the gentry and oppression of the working peasantry under Peter.[91]

Tsarevich Alexei’s Image in Imperial Russian and Pre-Perestroika Soviet Discourse

Until the post-Soviet period, with few exceptions, the image of tsarevich Alexei remained as first established by Peter the Great’s investigation. Reminiscent of Kurbsky’s image in relation to Ivan Grozny, however, rather than being a dissident who colluded with foreigners because of his opposition to the autocrat’s cruelty, Alexei is seen as a colluder, who represented a traditionalist Muscovite or Old Believer opposition opposed to Peter’s Western secularizing innovations. As in Kurbsky’s image, the Petrine standard image of Alexei is tied to his alleged resort to foreign assistance; his act is treason, and the perpetrator of the act is a traitor who conspired with Russia’s external enemies to change Russia’s internal political and cultural course.

Platonov, who regarded the changes engineered by Peter to be less radical than most historians, viewed Alexei in the traditional, derogatory vein.[92] He was “soft,” “surrounded by people of the old custom” and “nurtured in himself pre-reform views, pre-reform theology, and pre-reform tastes: a striving for piety, contemplative passivity, and exhilarating pleasure.” After being forced to renounce his claim to the throne by Peter, Alexei fled abroad and asked Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI “for protection.” Upon his return to Russia and receiving Peter’s forgiveness in exchange for abdication as tsarevich, he named those who convinced him to flee abroad. Peter “learned more than he expected” from the “investigation” of the Alexei affair, discovering Alexei’s “irreconcilable antagonism” towards him “sharply oppositionist” circle of associates and that the tsarevich had been turned by others, including his first wife Yevdokiya, to “act against him.” The death sentence issued by the judicial assembly convened by Peter was never carried out “because of the terrible emotional stress and, perhaps, torture died.”[93]

Perhaps Russia’s greatest imperial-era historian, Sergei Solovyov (1820-1879), a professor and dean at Moscow University in the 1870s, passed on the Petrine condemnation of Alexei. His series of public lectures and Russia’s first great work of modern historiographical scholarship, his six-volume History of Russia From Ancent Times, mark the turn from the enlightenment and romantic eras in Russia to “realist” and scholarly treatments of Peter.[94] Nevertheless, Solovyov’s work offers a positive normative assessment of Peter’s legacy, whch often reads as a defense and apologia of Peter’s acknowledged, albeit, brutal methods. Using the historical comparative method, Solovyov placed Peter’s essential destruction of his son in historical and comparative context. Revolutionary times typically spread confusion, turmoil, and enmity, even “into families.” Just as Christ “declared that He had come to bring not peace on earth but the sword,” so too in “secular history” we see “the death of the sons of Brutus, sacrificed by their father to the new order of things.” Thus, “the frightful overturn that Russia experienced in the first quarter of the eighteenth century brought division and enmity into the family of the reformer and led to the sad fate that befell his son, Tsarevich Aleksei Petrovich.”[95] Although Peter was the “tormentor” and Alexei the “victim,”[96] the tormentor was ultimately in the right:

In front of Peter there was not a son, lacking in ability and conscious of that lack, who had escaped from forced activity and had returned to bury himself in the countryside with a woman for whom he had developed a passion: in front of Peter there was the heir to the throne, firmly basing himself on his rights and on the sympathy of a majority of the Russian people, gladlt listening to projects having the death of his father as the aim, ready to utilize an uprising, even if his father were alive, provided the rebels were strong. But that was not all; the program of sctivity following the occupation of the father’s seat has alrwady been outlined: people close to the father will be replaced by others, everything will move in reverse; everything that had  cost the father such efforts, everything in the name of which he had suffered such misfortunes and had finally obtained power and glory for himself and for the state—all of this will be overturned, with the added proviso that, of course, the second wife and the children by her will not be spared. One must choose: either he or they; either reformed Russia in the hands of a person sympathetic to the reform, ready to continue this work, or the spectacle of that Russia in the hands of a man, who, with his Dosifeis, will be exterminating with delight the memory of the great activity. One must choose: there can be no middle ground….[97]

The first breakthrough from the official Petrine line on Alexei came in 1859 during the liberalizing reign of Alexander II with the sixth volume of Academician Nikolai Ustryalov’s (1890-1937) incomplete History of the Reign of Peter the Great. Ustryalov was the first research historian allowed into the state archives to research Peter and the first to conclude that Alexei had died as a result of torture rather than a stroke, as the unpublished but well-known official version asserted.[98] Otherwise, Ustryalov’s account of Alexei and Peter strikes a “marvelous congruence” with the pro-Petrine view of his emperor, Nicholas I. [99] This quasi-critical line towards Peter and sympathetic one towards Alexei remained largely dormant for another century and a half in Russian historiography.

Alexei Petrovich has figured rarely in the Russian arts. However, the representation of any kind most familiar to Russians comes in Nikolai Ge’s 1871 painting of Peter questioning Alexei, “Peter I Interrogates Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich at Peterhof.” Although Ge was a member of an artistic movement not ideologically far from the Slavophiles, the peredvizhenniki or “wanderers,” whose members might be expected to have disliked Peter and who despised his creation, St. Petersburg, as a European tumor on the Russian traditional body,[100] he underwent a Westernizing epiphany during ten years in Italy. Having “returned from there a modern Italian,” Ge began to see “in everything and everywhere the influence and footsteps of Peter’s reforms.”[101] He was in the thralls of a period in which he sympathized with Peter as he painted Peter interrogating Alexei until he familiarized himself with the archival documents. He now adopted a more neutral stance. “(T)here “could be no sympathy” for Peter, but neither did Ge express sympathy for Alexei. It was all about Peter: “With (Peter) societal interests were higher than fatherly feelings, and this justified his harshness, but it killed the ideal.”[102] Alexei can win no rehabilitation, because he is subsumed by his father and exists only as Peter’s son, not as Alexei, not even as the ordained tsarevich. Although Ge’s painting conveys nothing of this, his remarks on his painting enter into the discursive universe of Peter’s legacy. His remarks, however, like Pushkin’s notes on his never written work on Peter, entered the discourse only when they were published over a century after they were made.

Daniil Mordovtsev (1830-1905), in his 1876 Shadow of the Beast: Idealists and Realists (Ten’ Iroda: Idealisty i Realisty), departed from the standard Russian Imperial approach to take a stance decidedly in favor of Alexei and his party in their power struggle with Peter.[103] Forgotten is Dmitrii Merezhkovskii’s 1905 historiosophical novel The Antichrist: Peter and Alexei, in which the first emperor is depicted as the anti-Christ. The Antichrist: Peter and Alexei is the last part of Merezhkovskii’s trilogy, Christ and Antichrist, in which the story lines of the two previous installments come together in final battle between God and anti-God. This cosmological struggle is decided in Russia in the fight for and against Peter and his reforms. Merezhkovskii, who was extremely popular in Europe and nominated ten times for the Nobel Prize in literature, was deeply influenced by Old Believer theology. In the novel, Alexei is convinced by opponents of Peter’s Westernization led the repressed raskolniki that Holy Russia is the God-carrying nation and must be salvaged as a refuge from the Antichrist of Western rationalism, which Peter has become. On the path of Westernization, Russia will ‘lose Christ’ eventually: “(E)ither Christ against reason, or reason against Christ.” There can be no third way, and in the end “Christ defeats the Antichrist.” Although Peter destroys Alexei, a group of raskolniki claim to find an earthly heaven in Russia’s far north to which to save the world for Christ from reason.[104] Symbolically, Alexei’s execution/murder at the hands of the “beast” (oboroten’) – as Peter is described in the book’s eighth chapter – places him in the role of а Christ-like martyr.[105] In Peter’s eyes Alexei was a Prince Kurbsky-like traitor colluding with foreigners to overthrow a legitimate Tsar. But in Merezhkovskii’s telling Alexei is closer to Avvakum, persisting in the Russian tradition of Orthodox fervency, counterposed to the reforming Antichrist, and leading the ranks of truly Russian Old Believers, unsullied by the Western infection. Thus, Merezhkovskii not only rehabilitates the Old Believer idea of ‘Peter the Antichrist’ but to some degree Alexei’s historical role, which is raised new heights as the last champion of both the true (Orthodox) faith and Holy Russia endangered by Russia’s ongoing Westernization.

The various leaders of the 1905 and 1917 revolutions that brought down the regime of Peter’s successors have little to nothing to say about Alexei. Alexei also is largely ignored in Soviet historiography, but when mentioned he fares worse than Peter—as a traitor to the state. He appears very rarely in the Soviet arts as well, and his image’s fate is the same in Soviet historiography. It is no coincidence that the Stalinist image of Alexei as a traitorous colluder with Western and domestic enemies was put on the screen at the height of the Great Terror purges in 1937 in Vladmir Petrov’s film “Peter the First” (Pyotr Pervyi). The charges against Alexei resonated on the background of the charges being levelled at alleged Bolshevik traitors in the dock at the show trials. Alexei, portrayed in a superb performance by Soviet actor Nikolai Cherkasov, is depicted as an enemy of regime policy and of a powerful Russia, and his conviction and murder are viewed as necessary justice,[106] much as Stalin’s executions and imprisonment of millions were being justified in terms of treacherous conspiring with foreign fascists and capitalist intent on destroying the socialist Motherland. Similarly, in Alexei Tolstoy’s (1883-1945) third and final version of the play “Peter the First” (Pyotr Pervyi), once titled “On the Rack” and written in 1938, Alexei Petrovich is transformed from a simple, fervent victim similar to Merezhkovskii’s portrayal into a colluder with foreign enemies.[107]

Mazepa as Traitor in Russian Imperial Russian Discourse

The Ukrainian Cossack Mazepa, who defected to the Swedes and their Polish ally commander Stanislav Leshinskii in the Great Northern War and thus became an extremely popular legend in Europe and romantic literature, was never forgotten there or in Russia.[108] World history’s most famous Cossack retains his importance in Russian culture even today. There is little doubt that Mazepa’s image through the Romanov dynasty’s remaining two centuries as well as the Soviet century was a largely negative. And it remains a rather central one in Russian political culture: a leading symbol of a traitor who colludes with foreigners against the Russian state. The Russian image of Mazepa as a self-absorbed, inveterate traitor who colluded with foreigners emphazises his Polish origins and defection from the Poles to the Russians to the Swedes.

The tone of the dominant and clearly negative Russian Imperial era depiction of Mazepa was set, as it was in tsarevich Alexei’s case, by the official position of the emperor himself. Set out in Peter’s manifesto “To Subjects of the Little Russian (Malorossiskii) People,” Mazepa’s central image is that of a “traitor.” The manifesto specified further that Mazepa betrayed the Russian throne so that “the Liitle Russian land worked under Polish servitude and the church of God and holy monastaries given to the union (the Catholic uniya).” On the ground, in Mazepa’s capitol of Baturin, Mazepa was hanged in effigy and his emblem was stomped upon. In November 1708, Orthodox churches declared an anathema on Mazepa for breaking his oath to the Motherland and treason.[109]

For the Russian imperial state and most non-dissident ethnic Russians at the time, the name Mazepa, as the Ukrainian scholar Koznarsky notes, became “the imperial symbol of treason.”[110] As Koznarsky notes, Mazepa’s image also played a “pivotal role” that is overlooked in the formation of modern Ukrainian identity that, according to most scholars, took place in the first half of the nineteenth century. Upon articulation of the name, denunciation was required for Ukrainians by the dominant Russian state and society.[111] But a ‘counter-demonstration’ was required on the Ukrainian side as well. Thus, Ukrainians “were repeatedly, even obsessively forced to disassociate themselves and associate themselves with the hetmán,” thereby defining the borders of Ukrainian’s national identity vis-à-vis its significant other: Russia and Russians. Certainly, for the empire’s Ukrainians and the Ukrainian-Russian relationship, “(n)o other name, word, or concept held such emotional sway or visceral power as Mazepa, Mazzepa, mazepa.”[112] The “stigmatized” name of Mazepa was “a common Russian stereotype,” in which “duplicity and cunning” and “treachery and villainy” became “essentialized qualities of the Ukrainian ‘national character’” in Russian culture.[113]

But even in the century immediately following the Petrine era, Mazepa received on occasion mixed reviews. Belyakov underscores the seminal importance of the obscure source Istoriya rusov (History of the Russians) in establishing Mazepa’s early image.[114] Not a scholarly work, the unknown author includes imagined speech of Mazepa, Peter the Great, and other historical figures while proving a mostly accurate overview of Russian history. Moreover, it deviates from the Petrine myth of Mazepa, who is portrayed as caught between two evils, Peter and Sweden’s Charles XII, and having chosen the lesser.[115] Mazepa is portrayed as seeking no fight and merely struggling to do the best for his people. Belyakov summarizes Mazepa’s image articulated in Istoriya rusov, which “contradicts everything that is known about the historical Mazepa”: “From a traitor and betrayer Mazepa became a patriot and defender of his Ukrainian fatherland, a true national hero.”[116]

However, the most important treatment of Mazepa for Russian political culture comes in Pushkin’s poem “Poltava,” in which the poet gives the hetman, not Peter the Great, the central role. Pushkin’s portrait of “Peter’s enemy” is seminal for Mazepa’s future image and a damning one, depicting a “cunning and deceptive,” “ferocious and depraved,” “snake.”[117] Mazepa “loves nobody” and “is ready to spill blood like water.” He is so “ambitious” and egotistical that he risks the Cossacks’ fate by abandoning Peter’s Russia for Charles’ Sweden, because the Russian emperor ostensibly pulled his moustache at a dinner feast. As Ukrainian scholar Koznarsky notes, Pushkin’s poem “Poltava” is “an indicator of and participant in the shaping of the grand narrative of Russian imperial history, where Mazepa fits as a demonized and lowly foil to the monumental character of Peter.” [118] Indeed, Pushkin later was forced to defend his demonization of Mazepa from numerous contemporary critics and leveled even more denigrating remarks about the hetman.[119] Ukrainian writers and historians also countered Pushkin’s portrayal, most notably Petro Golota in his novel Ivan Mazepa, but they were far less read in Russia proper than the great poet.[120] Thus, the image offered by Russia’s greates poet, not those of his critics held the day in Russia’s political-cultural discourse. Despite the plethora of criticism of “Poltava”, in particular for bias against Mazepa and historical inaccuracies, Pushkin’s poem set the tone for future presentations of the Mazepa image until 1917. Its importance in Russian discourse at the time should not be underestimated. Both Belinskii and the Slavophiles regarded it as Pushkin’s, if not Russia’s first national poem. Despite the criticism leading Pushkin to regard “Poltava” a failure, the poem and Belinskii’s laudatory reception of it were pivotal in establishing Pushkin as Russia’s first national poet.[121] According to Belyakov, Istoriya rusov (not Pushkin’s “Poltava”) shaped the view of one reader: Nikolai Gogol himslef. In his article “Razmyshleniya Mazepy” (Reconsidering Mazepa), although Gogol calls Mazepa “the criminal hetman,” he adopts “the Ukrainian patriotic view” of him as defending Cossack freedoms.[122]

Several less talented, “unworthy followers” of Pushkin carried the baton of Pushkin’s Mazepa image onward.[123] Some were more sympathetic to the hetman than the great poet. Pushkin’s nemesis, Faddei Bulgarin (1789-1859), for example, intended his 1834 historical novel Mazepa as a counterpoint to Pushkin’s “Poltava,” which he thought “cruelly slandered” the hetman, and portrayed Mazepa as “one of the most intelligent and educated men of his age,” who ruled the Cossacks “magnificently and autocratically.” Only his lack of virtue “prevented him from becoming great.” Bulgarin’s sympathy for Mazepa may have derived from his Polish ancestry, having fought under Napoleon during the invasion of Russia, and having defected to Petersburg, becoming an agent of Nicholas I’s notorious secret police Third Depertment.[124] Many of the Decembrists also diverted from Pushkin’s view of Mazepa. The heroes of liberty typically displayed a love for Mazepa for his ostensible resistance to tyranny. Indeed, leading Decembrist Kondratii Ryleeva celebrated Mazepa and other rebellious Cossacks as freedom fighters in his poetry.[125] But theirs is a recessive image that arises among dissidents. The predominant image, especially among those emanating from the state, is Pushkin’s Mazepa the traitor.

Pushkin’s Mazepa model prevailed not just in the Tsarist Russian arts but in the sciences as well. Mazepa routinely was cast as a bandit who betrayed the Great Westernizer. In historiography, a similar image emerged later in the decade. Ivan Golikov’s influential The Activity of Peter the Great and Wise Transformer of Russia variously described Mazepa as a “cunning and insidious” “monster” and “most ungrateful criminal,” whose actions reflected the “vileness and viciousmess of this monster’s soul.” Those who allied with Mazepa are “hardened/cruel Mazepist beasts.”[126] Later in the 19th century, even the Ukrainophile Russian historian Nikolai Kostomarov was forced to characterize Mazepa in Pushkinian language while drawing a slightly more complex portrait of the hetman than Golikov.[127] In his biography of the hetman, Kostomarov emphasized that Mazepa “was not the representative of any Ukrainian national idea.” Rather, he was an “egoist”, who “lied to everyone and deceived – the Poles, the Little Russians, the tsar, and Charles – and was prepared to do evil to all of them as soon as an opportunity presented itself to gain an advantage or get out of danger’s way.”[128] A series of other mid-19th century literary and historiographical works represent Mazepa “as a demonized, at once dangerous and dismissible.”[129]

Thus, the Mazepa image as the archetypal cunning Ukrainian Cossack traitor entered Imperial Russian popular culture and vernacular. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky devoted an opera to Mazepa based on Pushkin’s “Poltava,” first performed in Febuary 1884. A widely used encyclopedia of enthographic proverbs published in the 1830s described Ukrainians and apparently Belorussians and Lithuanians as well as “Mazepists” or those “imbued with the ghost/spirit of Mazepa, serfs, khokhols (a deragotory Russian term for Ukrainians as stupid and yet cunning) and forelocks.”[130] Mazepa’s name remained throughout the Imperial era a commonly used derogation used by Russians to offend Ukrainians.[131]

Soviet literature, literary criticism, and historiography on the rare occasions when they addressed Mazepa’s legacy – breaking an ideological taboo – reiterated the Imperial, Pushkinian view of Mazepa as colluding traitor, adding to the mix that he was a manifestation of “bourgeois nationalism” which Soviet communism was in the process of supposedly relegating to the dustbin of history. In N. A. Zadonskii’s 1959 Smutnaya pora (Troubled Times, first published as Mazepa in 1940) the “Jesuit” Mazepa, “agent of the Polish shlyachta,” is said to have “hated Russians, Ukrainians, and Cossacks alike” and carried out a “traitorous policy” and “secret negotiations with the foe.”[132] Soviet scholars defended specifically the Pushkinian position on Mazepa and the historical accuracy of “Poltava,” claiming the latter was a needed response to the romantic Lord Byron’s misleading portrayal of the hetman. In a 1928 monograph Bairon i Pushkin (Byron and Pushkin), republished in 1960 and 1978, Soviet Viktor Zhirmunskii argued that “Poltava” marked Pushkin’s break with romantic Byronism and an insightful psychological study and ethical assessment of the hetman.[133] The notes to the Soviet 1960 edition of Pushkin’s Sobranie sochineniia reiterated Zhirmunskii’s argument and added that Poltava showed Russia (i.e., the USSR) to be a harmnious multinational state, inclusive of its various nationalities but excluding the “deceptive lover of power” (“kovarnyi vlastolyubets”) Mazepa.[134]

Peter’s Image During the Soviet Perestroika and Post-Soviet Russian Periods

The Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin eras, a new tolerance of pluralism, albeit somewhat rolled back under Putin, returned the Petrine legacy to its late Imperial, pre-Soviet condition. The spectrum of opinion on the Petrine legacy returned to a bifurcated, even multipluralist pro et contra structure, as methodology on the subject also reverted to the more realist and scholarly approach to that legacy developed in the late (post-1860) Imperial period. The state and its leaders adopted the passive approach, showing less interest in the legacy no less in trying to control it. Pro-democracy liberals continue to reject Peter’s methods while accepting his Westernizing goals. Anti-democratic nationalist and communist elements – neo-Slavophiles and contemporary ultra-nationalists and neofascists alike sympathize with Peter’s strengthening of the Russian state at home and abroad, but reject his Westernizing bent. Each of these strands, especially the state-autonomous liberal and nationalist orientations have sub-divisions and their own disagreements, but the overall tripartite structure holds. In post-perestroika Russia’s pluralism, especially during the 1990s, the images of Peter are so numerous – enlightened monarch, Great Europeanizing reformer, destroyer of the Russian tradition, Antichrist, even insignificant – that the overall image becomes rather unclear.

The new plurality and passivity on the issue that has penetrated the state has produced an ambivalence, permitting controversial, more abstract interpretations of Peter that can be perceived as negative portrayals within the cultural space controlled by the state, not to mention in the autonomous space. Thus, the state allowed a negatively-received demeaning portrayal of Peter to be ensconsed on state property near Peter’s very grave. On 7 June 1991 Mikhail Chemiakin’s sculpture of the first emperor was unveiled in the St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul fortress a hundred yards from where he lies at uncharacteristic eternal rest. Chemiakin’s Peter is not the imposing figure of Falconet’s bronze horseman, but instead a distorted, even silly Peter. Overall, the sculpture is unflattering. The emperor is misshaped, with an unnaturally small and bald head and impossibly large hands and long fingers, sitting uncharacteristically very still, absent of all dynamism. This Peter is far less significant – almost ignominious – than that on the uncontrollable mare, chasing Russia into modernity—“unglamorous and static,” in Volkov’s words.[135] Many, especially Peter acolytes, find the work a scandal, an insult to the great leader. Chemiakin’s monument reflects the uncertain image that the multitude of contradictory interpretations now available to Russians ultimately has wrought in Russian culture. That it remains in place through two decades of the Putin era attests to continuing space for pluralism of cultural and identity discourse.

Late and post-Soviet liberals have been largely critical of Peter, seeing him as a symbol of the authoritarism they eschew, despite his Westernization policies. At the height of the perestroika era in 1991 leading Soviet and Russian cultural historian and reformist intellectual Dmitrii Likhachev published a seminal article that exposed the fallacy of several generalizations about Russian history and, in particular, about Peter the Great’s role in its development then and still extant in the West. Criticizing “state myths” such as the Soviet ones “of the last seventy years,” he characterized Peter as the “(c)reator of the myth about the history of Russia.” Adopted by Soviet power, the myth held that pre-Soviet Russia had suffered from a chronic “cultural backwardness” so thorough that a major leap forward towards Europe was required and it must sweep away everything from the old order. It was not just the past seventy years that utilized this myth but “the Petrine reforms.” Peter needed this myth and myths about himself to justify his sharp and brutal break with Russian tradition, which was not as authoritarian as most assume.[136] Thus, in rejecting the “firm conviction” “in the West and the East that Russia had no experience of parliamentarianism,” Likhachev blames Peter for the demise of the Russian traditional practice of consultative assemblies, the zemskii sobor and boyar duma, from the 14th to 17th century and revived in new forms only in the mid-19th century only to be crushed by the Bolsheviks’ coup and authoritarianism in the early 20th century. “Only Peter, carrying out his reforms, put an end to the old Russian assemblies with broad composition and representative assemblies of ‘all the people.’”[137] Even Peter’s establishment of St. Petersburg” as the new capitol from scratch near “the country’s dangerous borders, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, in the midst of an unfinished war with the Swedes” is attacked, but from a more traditional or patriotic, national security perspective.[138] Here we have an unwitting allusion to the Russian dilemma. Although Likhachev is wary of Russia’s western borders, he considers “Russia is the East and West” with a “European character.”[139] Viewing early 18th century Russia as a partially Western and increasingly Westernizing country, Likhachev takes to task Peter’s attempt at a rapid and coercive Westernization for needlessly polarizing the country and splitting the Russian Orthodox Church and its believers. He amends the great Russian novelist Anton Chekov, quoting his short story “The Steppe” – “The Russian person loves to remember but does not love to live” – to assert that “the most important Russian national trait” is the Russian “does not live in the present (but) only in the past and future!”[140] For Likhachev, Russians’ veneration of the past explains the “extraordinary development” of historical chronicles in ancient Rus and the self-immolation of the Old Believers in the face of Westernization: “For their past thousands of Old Belivers died, burned themselves in innumerable ‘burnings out’ (self-burnings), when Nikon, Alexei Mikhailovich and Peter wanted to ‘destroy the olden days.’”[141]

In a sense, Likhachev revives the Karamzin thesis critical of Peter’s destruction of worthwhile Russian traditions, but he does so from a distinctly but moderately liberal, pro-Westernizing perspective.[142] This is consistent with the ‘Vancouver to Vladivostok’ spirit of the times internationally, among non-reactionary circles in the Soviet Party-state led by Gorbachev, as well as within the emerging civil society to which many liberal apparatchiki, like Boris Yeltsin, defected in 1990-91 in Russia’s revolution from above.[143] At the same time, Likhachev’s criticism of Peter for terminating rather than expanding the consultative constraints on autocractic power represented by the zemskii sobor and boyar duma is reminiscent of Radishchev’s critique of Peter having not gone far enough by neglecting to develop republican political reforms.

Three years after Likhachev’s article and the demise of Soviet power, liberal historian Yakov Gordin went much further in criticizing Peter. Gordin’s early post-perestroika era study portrayed Peter’s self-image as a “demiurge,” who “built not simply a state. He built a world.” He asserted boldly: “In Russian history Peter the God-fighter has only one analogy is equated with Lenin – Lenin.”[144] Peter the “demiurge built his world, in which there was no place for the autonomous spirit”[145] or organization, as Gordin eloquently demonstrates Peter’s attempt to fully subordinate the ROC to the state, incorporate it into the state, and redirect its activity to serve state interests alone.[146]

Today, what Likhachev saw as Peter’s constructed legends – such as Russia was (and is) ‘Asiatic’ and backward, not European – have not only been retained by Westerners but adopted by many contemporary Russian liberals. This was the focus of a series of lectures and articles by liberal geographer and political scientist Dmitrii Oreshkin on the supposed similarities between Putin’s Russia, on the one hand, and Stalinism, the Tatar-Mongol Horde and the medieval Russia it shaped, on the other. In this view, the Petrine legacy disappears; Platonov’s call not to exaggerate Peter’s accompishments is reduced to an illogical generality. The changes implemented and seeded by Peter’s reforms are completely ignored in favor of the “Tatar Mongol” or “Asiatic” legacy. Thus, pro-democracy political scientist Dmitrii Oreshkin warns: “The one-sidedness of the European view leads to an underestimation of the Asiatic component of our (Russian) statehood.”[147]

Anti-democratic nationalists and communists hail Peter’s successes against the West abroad and his strengthening of the state domestically. Chairman of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) Gennadii Zyuganov praises Peter because he “made the country a great empire.”[148] Nationalists and especially ultra-nationalists continue to decry Peter’s Westernizing secularization. For example, neofascist-Eurasianist theoretician and geostrategist Alexander Dugin lambastes Peter’s “secular” reforms for “shaking” Russian Orthodoxy and subordinating the ROC to “state control” such that it “lost its sacred authority and the harmony of Orhtodox symfoniya” and therefore became “limited in its freedom of the true confession of unearthly Truths.”[149] As a result of Peter’s rejection of the last vestiges of state symfoniya in favor of the modern European absolutist state, Russia “lost its legitimacy in terms of dogma as an Orthodox Empire in the theological and eschatological sense.” Peter’s final abandonment of the Muscovite idea and the “concept of the Third Rome destroyed” rendered Russia a “Protestant” empire closer in its geopolitical and domestic cultural identity, ideology and function to “Lutheran Prussia.” That is, it became Western, though it retained remnants of its more organic Byzantine Orthodox heritage.[150] Therefore, Russia during its “St. Petersburg period” was “ambivalent,” “characterized by dualism.”[151] With its “dogmatic clarity lost hopelessly,” Peter’s secularization sapped Russia of its purpose, drive, and energy: “Henceforth, it was possible to speak only of a continuation by inertia of what was once a robust and theologically based path of the ‘God-carrying nation’ in history.”[152] In Dugin’s thought and that of numerous other nationalist, ultra-nationalist, Eurasianist, and even neofascist ideologists, we see in new form much of the 19th century Slavophile opinion regarding Peter’s negation of Russia’s organic Orthodoxy, his division of Russia into incompatible Western and Muscovite traditions, and his discarding of Russia’s messianistic destiny.

In marketing research published in June 2010 analyzing the “cognitive fields” which Peter the Great’s image occupies in the “Russian consciousness” on the Russian internet or ‘Runet’, Peter emerged as a “symbol of innovations and transformations.” Of twelve cognitive categories in which these articulations appeared, the most prominent were: 20.1 percent were “assessments of Peter I’s activity,” 17.2 percent – Peter’s personality, 8.5 percent – Peter’s acheivements, 7.1 percent – Peter in his historical period, and 6.7 percent – “historical circumstances.” For the category of “Peter’s activity,” positive (52 percent of the 20.1 percent) and negative (48 percent) assessments were evenly spread. Among the negative judgements, reasons included the large human losses (“victims of the reforms’ implementation, St. Petersburg’s construction and in the conduct of the Great Northern War”) and “the extreme attraction of Western ideology that led to the loss of Russia’s uniqueness. Thus, while Peter’s foreign policy and thus national security issues related to foreign military threats do not place high among Russians’ interest in Peter’s legacy – ranked eighth out of twelve cognitive categories with 5.8 percent – Peter’s domestic Westernization policies and their negation of Russian traditions do. This undergirds Peter’s image as a foe of the Russian tradition and a colluder with foreign interference in Russian life. At the same time, he is most often portrayed as a despot and tyrant, paired most often with Ivan Groznyi and Stalin among historical figures, and compared negatively to his father, Aleksei Mikhailovich and his “quiet, gradual” approach to Westernization and reform.[153]

In a less scientific but seemingly indicative survey conducted in 2008 asking 25 Russian state officials, politicians, and business people which Russian tsar they like the most, Peter’s star seemed to be continuing its fall. Of the 25, only two respondents picked Peter as their favorite tsar, both being senators in Russian Federal Assembly’s upper house, the Federation Council. As mentioned above, CPRF Chairman Zyuganov praised him for making Russia an empire but mentioned him positiviely along with four other grand princes/tsars: Vladimir I and “three female empresses,” presumably meaning Ann I, Elizabeth I, and Catherine II and not including Peter’s second wife, Catherine I. Two mentioned Peter in their comments but in denigrating fashion. Deputy Agriculture Minister Vladimir Izmailov called him a “despot.” Chairman of the nationalist-populist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovskii said Russia’s first emperor was “too harsh, like Ivan Grozny” and that he preferred Paul I. The survey pool was dominated by pro-Putin centrist and statist officials but also included three nationalists and communists and one liberal.[154]

Peter’s importance in Russian culture has declined of late. According to scientific surveys of the Levada Center, between 1999 and 2017, the percentage of respondents who mentioned Russia’s first emperor as the “most outstanding” (samyi vydayushchii) person in world history dropped from 45 percent to 29 percent, though Peter has remained among the four or five top vote-getters during the entire period.[155] Thus, the state’s relative tolerance of an autonomous public square and considerable pluralism of opinion has left Peter’s image open to attack from all sides. With the passage of time and the Russian state remaining passive on the issue, Peter’s legacy is, in sum, diminishing.

Tsarevich Alexei’s Image in Late Soviet Perestroika and Post-Soviet Russian Discourse

With Gorbachev’s glasnost and prestroika, Alexei’s image began to undergo significant revision as did his father-antipode, as noted above. Gordin’s 1994 study cited above interpreted Aleksei’s political orientation in an entirely new light. No longer the leader or puppet of reactionary Old Muscovite or Old Believer conspirators targeting Peter, “Aleksei’s program – in its true form – was most likely a rational combination of the transformations already achieved with the preservation of useful tradition, taking into account the real possibilities and orientations for the country’s peaceful development.”[156] Gordin’s Alexei is not a feeble incompetent. Although he “clearly was not a major figure, a significant personality,” he was “capable” of “state activity and shown this more than once.”[157] Alexei remains a colluder with Westerners in fleeing to Austria, but a more innocent one. He did not intend to overthrow his father. Rather, in Western refuge he intended to wait Peter’s death in the hope – realistic in Gordin’s assessment – that he had sufficient support back home from a broad opposition alliance to Peter that had emerged by the end of 1710s among state and military figures and included many pro-Westernization elements.[158] Although the broad opposition alliance included “radical reformist” elements, Aleksei’s most reliable allies within it were “supporters of continuous, gradual reforms” of a Western orientation.[159] This would allow the tsarevich to return through Poland to St. Petersburg, rally his powerful and well-placed allies, and seize power directly or become a regent for the presumed new tsarevich Peter II as a stepping stone to the throne.[160]

A different kind of rehabilitation of Alexei was popularized in ‘Tsarevich Alexei,’ the first part of Vitalii Melnikov’s 1997 cinematic trilogy ‘Empire: The Beginning’ in the early post-perestroika period. A screen version of Merezhkovskii’s 1905 novel Antichrist: Peter and Alexei, Melnikov’s tsarevich Alexei is depicted as a quiet, simple God-fearing man, who had no desire to rule Russia or remove his father from the throne but who was framed by one of the conflicting factions and so tortured to death by Peter.[161]

The prerestroika era’s emerging revisionist version of Peter and Alexei has survived the less, albeit, but still significantly pluralist era of President Vladimir Putin. Thus, Alexei’s rehabilitation continued into the Putin era, despite the Russian president’s supposed admiration for Peter the Great born of his upbringing in St. Petersburg and perhaps of his desire to emulate Peter’s willful, authoritarian style of rule. A version of Alexei similar to that of Merezhkovskii’s and Melnikov’s emerged in historiography with the work of Mikhail Ryzhenkov. In a 2013 article, “The First Tragedy in the ‘House of the Romanovs’: The Alexei Petrovich Affair, 1718,” cited earlier, Ryzhenkov contends on the basis of archival research that Alexei may not have been the traditionalist reactionary that he most often depicted as and was unlikely to have recruited Austrian or Swedish support for a plot against Peter his father. Alexei had significant Western-based education. He knew the German, Latin and Polish languages. Rather than being establishment Orthodox or a reactionary raskolnik, he could be said to have hailed from the semi-Westernized, Kievan-Greek theological camp as opposed to the Western European German form.[162] Furthermore, Ryzhenkov casts doubt on the characterization of Alexei as leading a plot against his father and recruiting Western support to do so. He notes that Alexei’s admission to requesting military support from the Austrians and Swedes came under the duress of torture and came under suspicion because he was the victim of a conspiratorial struggle for power, in which one faction set Alexei up for the fall. Since there is no direct documentary evidence of an agreement between Emperor Charles IV and tsarevich Alexei; the only ‘evidence’ is from the confessions of Alexei and his new lover Efronosiya, carried out with the use of torture under Peter’s direction, if not direct participation. The author claims that Alexei did not die of torture but rather, as the unpublished official version claimed by an attack of apoplexy caused by a powerful emotional stress.[163]

Nevertheless, more establishment academic circles continue to hold to the standard interpretation – for example, Pavlenko’s 2016 biographical study Tsarevich Aleksei, an authoritative work on the subject cited above – retains the view that Alexei conspired with the Austrians to take the throne and was allied with reactionary forces opposed to Westernization alone.[164] Thus, the discursive structure of Russian politics persists in which more authoritarian regimes retain Alexei as a symbol of collusion with Western foes, while those less tied to officialdom tend to doubt or discount the Petrine version of Alexei’s treason.

The Image of Mazepa in the Late Soviet Perestroika and Post-Soviet Russian Discourse

Similar to the image of tsarevich Aleksei and others we have looked at as symbols of collusion and dissent, that of Mazepa’s underwent a rehabilitation as a result of the new pluralism during the late Soviet perestroika era and post-Soviet period. Thus, 70 percent of respondents claimed to know of the figure Mazepa in a July 2009 Levada Center survey conducted among Russians.[165] Gorbachev’s glasnost’ policy quickly gave way to complex critical treatments of Mazepa and Pushkin’s cultural-setting sedimentized negative image of the hetman, returning and yet adding to a more pluralistic layer to the sediment. Thus, Aleksei Parshchikov’s 1989 poem “I Lived on the Poltava Battlefield” (“Ia zhil na pole poltavskoi bitvy”) juxtaposed Pushkin’s constructed world of the battle and daily life in 19th century Poltava. Perestroika thus quickly produced a work that presented the battle “in a true postmodernist vein: neither as an event that can be remembered as a historical fact, nor as an event that can be forgotten.”[166] In this way, Pushkin’s interpretation is relegated from historical fact deserving a prominent place in the political cultural discourse to one of many post-modern ‘truths.’

By the 2000s Russians still have access to various Russian (and Ukrainian) interpretations of Mazepa’s role in both Russian and Ukrainian history, even through the Putin era. For example, Tatyana Tayrova-Yakovleva’s 2007 biography Mazepa offers a balanced view of the hetman.[167] Belyakov’s important study of the Ukrainian identity formation in the epoch of Russian-Ukrainian novelist Nikolai Gogol’, Ten’ Mazepy or The Shadow of Mazepa cited earlier has much positive to say about the hetman, despite its critique of other positive assessments. Although Mazepa was “an extremely unpopular hetman,”[168] he would not have fallen victim to the Cossacks’ catastrophic geostrategic position had it not been for the Great Northern War, to which his position at the Russian court required he contribute Cossack resources to the war effort. However, “events in Europe developed in such a way that the far-sighted and cautious Mazepa considered the future of his power and his homeland.” [169] Thus, the hetman was justifiably a national hero to many, not least of all because he gave life to the Hetmanate that lasted more than half a century until the time of Catherine the Great.[170] Belyakov emphasizes comparative context, noting in regard to Mazepa’s historical role and his place as a hero for many Ukrainians that the hetman “did not stain himself by crimes as terrible” as Ivan Groznyi, who many Russians “are prepared to defend to the last.”[171] Moreover, as Belyakov details, Ukrainians themselves have been highly critical of Mazepa.[172]

In a July 2009 Levada Center survey, the popular Russian perception of Mazepa resulting from the semiotics of the post-perestroika era registered just slightly more negative than neutral, significantly but not strongly more negative than positive. The hetman is regarded as more a traitor and breaker of his oath (to Peter the Great and Russia) by 26 percent of Russians, according to the survey respondents’ answers. Only 11 percent categorize him as a hero of the Ukrainian people, while 24% have a more balanced or neutral perception of Mazepa, choosing the response category “a complex and controversial historical figure.”[173] This pluralism of opinion is reflected in the artistic and historiographical articulations about Mazepa, especially but not solely during the perestroika era. This multiplurality of opinion suggests that the claim in Belyakov’s The Shadow of Mazepa, that “the view of Mazepa as a traitor and enemy of Russia” and “the embodiment of all that is antagonistic” to Russia is the “generally accepted” view of Russians is somewhat overstated.[174] It would be more accurate to say that during the Imperial era and especially the Soviet era this was the dominant view in Russia/USSR, but it was replaced by a broad spectrum of views in the post-Soviet era, with a marginal plurality retained by the image of Mazepa as a symbol of treason.

This persistance of the colluding traitor model in the semiotics of Mazepa, however weakened, is achieved in large part by virtue of the state’s strong support for its survival as a tool of Russian regime legitimation and foreign policy in post-Imperial, post-Soviet central Eurasia. Thus, the state’s close ally, the Russian Orthodox Church has refused to lift the anathema placed on Mazepa in 1709 despite pressure from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and official Kyiv. In an article published on a ROC-affiliated website, the church’s refusal to lift the anathema is justified on the official Russian list of offenses: “betrayal, oath-breaking, going over to the side of the enemy, using arms against fellow Orthodox Christians, and facilitating the dismemberment of one’s own country.”[175] On the international level, where the state can still dominate Russian articulations, Moscow has been both less pluralist, less tolerant of Mazepa’s rehabilitation from traitor status. When the nationalist Ukrainian administration of President Viktor Yushchenko began to name streets after Mazepa and approve the erection of statues in his honor, Russia’s statist Putin administration took notice. On Mazepa’s 370th birthday in May 2009 the Ukrainian government of Viktor Yushchenko praised the hetman, whom Yushchenko praised as ostensibly embodying Ukraine’s “coming to life as a country of European cultural traditions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the decision as an attempt to divide Ukraine’s Russian and Ukrainian populations and draw the latter into confrontation with Russia.[176] Two months later he powerful and influential mayor of Moscow, Yurii Luzhkov, who was very active in encouraging Crimean autonomy if not secessionist semtiment in the 1990s and 2000s, wrote and read publicly at a Poltava reenactment in July 2009 a poem warning Ukrainians not to fall into ‘Mazepianism’ and deploying the hetman’s image as a symbol of evil dividing Russians and Ukrainians:

Today the new Mazepas are striving to distort the truth,

Between Ukraine and Russia, the enmity is kindled and inflamed.

The one who now praises Mazepa, runs risk of acquiring a shame.

Come to think of it, new Mazepa, cross yourself the cupola!

Don’t start your old black deeds again![177]

With the February 2014 ultra-nationalist/oligarchic seizure of power (‘Maidan revolution’) in Kyiv, Russia’s March 2014 re-taking of Crimea, the April 2014-present civil war in Donbass, and the resulting complete breakdown of Russian-Ukrainian relations, the Ukrainians’ rehabilitation of Mazepa took on greater momentum. In 2017, the Maidan regime approved the building of a museum in honor of Mazepa in a tower in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, the center of Kiev and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. One can expect that these developments in turn will create a backlash in Russia against the post-perestroika era’s improved image of Mazepa.


The ‘dislocation’ created by the displacement of Peter’s reforms and the Russian Enlightenment century embedded the Russian security value’s dilemma into Russian history and culture. For ever more Russian leaders, elites and society would reference the West when engaged in discourse on Russia’s proper self-identity and destiny. They would repeatedly be torn between the need to modernize using its ‘constituent Other’s technological and therefore cultural know-how, while simultaneously seeking to prevent Westernization from too thoroughly transforming Russian society, culture, politics and economics. In short, borrowing from the West to fend off security threats from abroad and most notably from Western powers and coalitions risked inviting internal security risks arising from Westernizing cultural change in society.

Peter the Great’s image in Russian culture and thought encompasses a web of competing, cross-cutting, and overlapping interpretations. The autocratic acolytes of Imperial Russia regaled Peter for the enlightenment knowledge he introduced to the Russian people from the West almost solely because it consolidated the Russian state and established Russia as a great power. There was no hint of the collusion critique in this Peter myth. The Great Reformer enhanced Russia’s security internally and externally rather than compromising it. At the same time, the seeming manic-depressive contrast between Peter’s good intentions and brutal coercion in implementation and his fiery temper and ability to forgive at times in his personal affairs contributed to the duality, dissonance, and ambiguity in Pushkin’s symbolic narrative of the Petrine legacy in The Bronze Horseman and others’ ambivalent treatments. Peter’s reign and the antagonists to Westernization it spawned brought new variations of the theme of dissent and collusion. Antagonists of Peter and his reforms redirected the causal arrows in these themes. As during the 17th century Raskol, the Old Believers continued to lead sociaetal dissent in defense of the Russian tradition against Peter, the Westernizing ‘Antichrist tsar.’ For them and traditionalist successors such as the Slavophiles, it was not the Old Believers or themselves who were in dissent but Peter, his Westerners, and his Westernizers. Indeed, Peter functioned on the domestic scene as a colluder with Europe in that he energetically encouraged the growth of European influence in Russian life by way of his radical Westernization policies.

Peter’s image remains one of a great leader in the sense of having profound influence on the course of history. There can be no doubt that he consolidated Russia’s European vector. Though they were unlikely so inclined, his successors would have had to undertake enormous efforts to reverse Peter’s impact. But the jury is still out regarding the relative balance between the losses and gains of his reformist legacy. The overall Petrine image in today’s Russia is declining in terms of both its importance and positive valence. At the same time, it seems to be one that not only has shaped and informs but also reflects back Russians’ preference for a soft authoritarian leader capable of protecting Russia from what a significant number of Russians regard as the old and new Russian tradition opposed Western military and political meddling.

Meanwhile, images of the Petrine legacy’s semiotic nemeses, Alexei and Mazepa, have diffused from their dominant Tsarist and Soviet eras’ images as traitors into a multi-plural field of symbols, with the traitor semiotic no longer hegemonic, no less monopolistic, but rather barely predominant and a complex, often sympathetic image gaining more currency. With Ukraine’s place at the center of the ‘new cold war,’ Russia now poised in geostrategic conflict with another Slavic Other, Ukraine, serving as the eastern outpost of Russia’s European Other, the two sides are wielding equally false images of Mazepa the hetman, respectively: inveterate traitor versus Ukrainian national hero. This could regenerate Mazepa’s traitor image in Russia.

The return to a plurality of images and opinions regarding Peter’s legacy in the post-Soviet period perhaps ironically reflects Russia’s partial return to the West after 70 years of monolithicism. The state, regardless of its soft authoritarian style and reborn suspicion of Westernizers and the West as a result of NATO expansion, now tolerates and even engages this plurality of thought in relation to Peter and the West, if not so much to Russian Westernizers. True to the Russian dilemma’s accompanying national security value protecting against both foreign and domestic foes. Westernizers or at least radical opposition Westernizers, are regarded as fifth columnists, colluders, and even traitors by some ruling elites. On the other hand, charges of collusion with foreigners is hardly a purely Russian idea, now is it?



[1] Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

[2] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 305.

[3] Pavlenko notes in the “Author’s Note’ in his 2008 study Tsarevich Aleksei that Russian historiography “is not rich in works devoted to” tsarevich Alexei. N. I. Pavlenko, Tsarevich Aleksei (Moscow: Prospekt, 2016), p. 1.

[4] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 135.

[5] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 25.

[6] One Peter acolyte in the opposition was the “most important Russian literary critic in Russian history, the socialist Westernizer, Vissarion Belinskii (1811-1848). ‘Furious’ Vissarion, as Belinskii was dubbed by contemporaries for his fiery temperament and texts, was “unqualified and uncompromising” in his “championing of Peter.” Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 125-31.

[7] Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 35-52.

[8] A. N. Radishchev, A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, translated by Leo Wiener, edited by Roderick Page Thaler (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1959), pp. 45 and115, cited in Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979), p. 43.

[9] A.N. Radishchev, “Osmnadtsatoe stoletie,” Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow, 1907), volume I, pp. 462-4, at p. 462, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 58. See also Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 49-50.

[10] Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, p. 43 and A. N. Radishchev, “Pismo k drugu, zhitelstvuiushchemu v Tobolske, po dolgu zvaniia svego,” Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow, 1907), volume I, pp. 67-75, at p. 75, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 59.

[11] The Decembrists were also products of the Romantic age in Russia. Romantic Polish ‘Slav’ ideas influenced the Decembrist-affiliated Union of Slavs and there was an idealization by some of the ancient Russian liberties and the commune—themes popular among the Slavophiles. See Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 65-7.

[12] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 66-7 and Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, p. 68.

[13] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 66-7.

[14] S. S. Volk, Istoricheskie vzgliady dekabristov (Moscow and Leningrad, 1957), p. 413, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 67.

[15] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 66.

[16] Dostoevsky is famous for his rejection of Petersburg. This along with his traditionalist, anti-Western leanings suggests he was no admirer of Peter the Great. Tolstoy began preparing but eventually abandoned his plan write a novel addressing Pter and his era. Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 217 fn 194.

[17] S. L. Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” in S. L. Frank, Mirovozzrenie Rossii (St. Petersburg: Nauka, 1996), pp. 277-88, at p. 278.

[18] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” p. 282.

[19] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” p. 279.

[20] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” pp. 278-82.

[21] Yurii Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: Biografiya pisatelya (St. Petersburg: Azbuka, 2015), pp. 42-3.

[22] Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: Biografiya pisatelya, pp. 57-61.

[23] Solomon Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History (New York: The Free Press, 1995), p. 23.

[24] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. 23-4.

[25] Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: Biografiya pisatelya, p. 257.

[26] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 88.

[27] A. S. Pushkin, “Pir Petra Pervogo,”, last accessed on 25 July 2018.

[28] A. S. Pushkin, “Poltava,”, last accessed on 26 July 2018.

[29] Pushkin, “Poltava.”

[30] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. xiv-xv.

[31] James H. Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture (New York: Vintage, 1970), p. 332.

[32] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. xiii-xiv.

[33] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, p. 25.

[34] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, p. 6.

[35] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 87.

[36] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 92.

[37] Lotman, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin: A Biography of a Writer, p. 262.

[38] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” p. 280

[39] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 91 and Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, p. 12.

[40] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 333-4.

[41] A. S. Pushkin, “Mednyi vsadnik: Peterburgskaya povest’,”Медный_всадник_(Пушкин).

[42] Pushkin, “Mednyi vsadnik: Peterburgskaya povest’.”

[43] Pushkin, “Mednyi vsadnik: Peterburgskaya povest.”

[44] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. xiv and 5.

[45] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. xiii-xv, 424-5, 547.

[46] Pushkin, “Mednyi sadnik: Peterburgskaya povest.”

[47] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, pp. 448-9.

[48] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 87-8.

[49] Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 88-9.

[50] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 98-103.

[51] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 103.

[52] Aleksandr Gertsen, Byloe i dumy (Moscow: EKSMO, 2007), pp. 146-7; Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: The History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, pp. 377-89; and Losskii, Istorii russkoi filosofii, pp. 62-5.

[53] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 138.

[54] A. I. Gertsen, “Dvadtsat osmoe ianvaria,” Sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh, the Aacademy edition, volume 1, Proizvedeniia 1829-1841 godov (Moscow: 1954), pp. 32-33 quoted and cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 137.

[55] A. I. Gertsen, “Moskva i Petersburg,” Sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh, the Aacademy edition, volume 2, Stati i feletony 1841-1846 godov (Moscow: 1954), p. 35 quoted and cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 138.

[56] Gertsen, “Moskva i Petersburg,” pp. 299-300 quoted and cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 139.

[57] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 140.

[58] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 68-70.

[59] Richard Pipes, Karamzin’s Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia, a translation and analysis by Richard Pipes (New York, 1966), pp. 121-2, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 71-2.

[60] Pipes, Karamzin’s Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia, pp. 123-4, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 72.

[61] An example is the very serious critique written by Prince Mikhail Shcherbatov (1733-1790) in his essay Discourse on the Corruption of Morals in Russia, which was never published during his lifetime. Shcherbatov argued that Peter’s opening to the West had transformed a simple, traditional society where family rank and religion kept human ambition and conceits in check with Western modernity’s tendency towards “voluptuousness” (strastoliubie) or the unfettered drive to satisfy each sensual appetite. The continuing manufacturing of increasingly sophisticated but nevertheless unnecessary and artificially inspired wants, producing an asocial ambition and egoism in individuals and society as a whole. Scherbatov pointed to the end of arranged marriages under Peter increased attention to personal appearance, with ‘dandies’ parading the promenades to display themselves. The new bureaucracy and meritocracy also sparked personal ambitions and conceits. Shcherbatov also emphasized the pressure the new bureaucracy exerted on Russians and the disappearance of faith along with superstititon and of love of God along with fear of hell. As Walicki notes, Shcherbatov’s analysis carries weight as “a historical document,” given his familiarity with many who lived during and even before Peter’s reforms and with the effects of the latter in the decades after the reforming emperor’s death. Shcherbatov’s essay was published for the first time in 1858 by the radical Alexander Herzen. Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 27-29. For more on Shcherbatov, see Andrzej Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 22-32.

[62] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 87.

[63] Frank, “Pushkin ob otnosheniyakh mezhdu Rossiei i Yevropoi,” p. 280.

[64] Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, pp. 309-12.

[65] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, pp. 64 and 66.

[66] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 75.

[67] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 75.

[68] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, pp. 75-80.

[69] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 143-4.

[70] Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, pp. 94-5.

[71] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, pp. 128 and 144-6.

[72] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 147.

[73] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 123 and Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 145.

[74] N. O. Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1991), pp. 29-42.

[75] Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, pp. 44-6.

[76] See Kontstantin Aksakov, “Petru,”,, last accessed on 17 July 2018.

[77] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 145-6.

[78] N. Ya. Danilevskii, Rossiya i Evropa (St. Petersburg: 1888), p. 125, cited in Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, pp. 79-80 and N. Ia. Danilevsky, Rossiia i Evropa, Vzgliad na kul’turnye i politicheskie otnosheniia slavianskogo mira k germane-romanskomu (4th ed.; St. Petersburg, 1889), pp. 113, cited in Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, p. 292.

[79] Danilevsky, Rossiia i Evropa, Vzgliad na kul’turnye i politicheskie otnosheniia slavianskogo mira k germane-romanskomu, p. 33, cited in Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism, p. 293.

[80] Losskii, Istoriya russkoi filosofii, p. 80.

[81] Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth Century Russian Thought, p. 504.

[82] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 135-6.

[83] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 238.

[84] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 239.

[85] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 238-9.

[86] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 239.

[87] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 236.

[88] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 242-54.

[89] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 244-5.

[90] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 305.

[91] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, pp. 255-302 and 305.

[92] Platonov, Lektsii po russkoi istorii, pp. 540-3.

[93] Platonov, Lektsii po russkoi istorii, pp. 538-40.

[94] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 165.

[95] S. M. Soloviev, Istoriia Rossii s drevneishikh vremen (29 volumes in 6 books, St. Petersburg, no date), XVII, column 402, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 163.

[96] Soloviev, Istoriia Rossii s drevneishikh vremen, XVII, column 406, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 163.

[97] Soloviev, Istoriia Rossii s drevneishikh vremen, XVII, column 482, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 164.

[98] N. Ustrialov, Istoriia tsarstvovaniia Petra Velikogo (St. Petersburg, 1859), Volume VI, p. 294, cited in Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 115.

[99] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 116.

[100] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, p. 136.

[101] N. Yu. Zograf, Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge: pis’ma, stat’i, kritika, vospominaniya sovremennikov (Moscow: Isskustvo, 1978), p. 84.

[102] Zograf, Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge: pis’ma, stat’i, kritika, vospominaniya sovremennikov, p. 100.

[103] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 165. Mordovtsev’s novel can be read at D. L. Mordovtsev, Ten’ Iroda (Idealisty i Realisty) (Stavropol: Glagol’, 1993),, last accessed on 24 August 2018.

[104] D. S. Merezhkovskii, Antichrist: Pyotr i Aleksei, ‘Epilogue: Christos gryadyashchii,’, last access on 19 August 2018.

[105] Merezhkovskii, Antichrist: Pyotr i Aleksei, ‘Kniga vosmaya: Oboroten.’

[106] Pyotr Pervyi, film directed by Vladimir Petrov, 1937,, last accessed on 21 August 2018.

[107] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 225.

[108] On Mazepa’s popularity and mythology in Europe, see Hubert F. Babinski, The Mazeppa Legend in European Romanticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974); Viscount E. Melchiore de Vogue, The True Story of Mazeppa; The Son of Peter the Great: A Change of Reign (London, 1884), translated from the French Eugene-Melchior, Vicomte de Vogue, Mazeppa, la legende, et l’histoire, in Le fils de Pierre le Grand; Mazeppa; Un changement le regne (Paris, 1884); Theodore Mickiw, English reports on Mazepa, Hetman of Ukraine and Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, 1687-1709 (New York: Ukrainian Historical Association, 1983); and Theodore Mickiw, Hetman Mazepa in Contemporary European Sources, 1687-1709, Izbornik: Istoriya Ukrainy IX-XVIII st. Pershodzherela ta interpretatsii, no date.

[109] Sergei Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya (Moscow: AST, 2016), p. 497.

[110] Taras Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Volume 31, Numbers 1 and 4 (2009-2010): Poltava 1709: The Battle and the Myth, pp. 569-615, at p. 570.

[111] Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” p. 569.

[112] Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” p. 571.

[113] Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” pp. 569 and 575.

[114] The author and precise period of writing of Istoriya rusov (“date of creation”) remain unknown (somewhere between 1769 and 1818). Belyakov claims the likely author is Vasilii Poletika and that the book was published during the reign of Alexander I. Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, p. 505.

[115] Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, pp. 505-6.

[116] Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, p. 506.

[117] Pushkin, “Poltava,”, last accessed on 26 July 2018.

[118] Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” p. 570.

[119] For Pushkin’s response to critics of his depiction of Mazepa see A. S. Pushkin, “Vozvrazheniya kritikam ‘Poltavy,’”, last accessed on 26 July 2018.

[120] Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” pp. 589-594, 597-600, and 602.

[121] Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” pp. 582-3 and 610, fn 61.

[122] Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, pp. 506-7.

[123] Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” p. 589.

[124] Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” pp. 584 and 595.

[125] Riasanovsky, The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought, p. 67 and Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, p. 508.

[126] Ivan Golikov, Deianiia Petra Velikogo, mudrogo preobrazovatelia Rossiia, 2nd ed., 15 vols. (Moscow, 1837-43), Vol. 11, pp. 3, 6, 10 and 127, cited in Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” p. 576.

[127] Nikolai Kostomarov was a Ukrainophile of the first order and a founder of the modern Ukrainian national movement along with the poet Taras Shevchenko. Born in Voronezh to Russian parents, he studied at Kharkiv State University, learned Ukrainian, and became a scholar of Russian and Ukrainian folklore and history. He was no denier of Ukrainian national identity or of Ukrainians’ and Cossacks’ lack of allegiance to Russia. In 1845 he founded the first Ukrainian nationalist organization, the Cyrill-Methodius Society (Kirillo-Mefodievskoe obshchestvo), which sought to establish a democratic federation of the Slavic peoples, with its capitol to be in Kyiv. In an 1861 article, Kostomarov asserted that there was already a “South Russian nationality” (“Yuzhnorusskaya narodnost’”) in Kievan Rus’. See A. Yu. Minakov, ed., Ukrainskii vopros v russkoi patrioticheskoi mysli (Moscow: Knizhnyi mir, 2016), p. 12.

[128] Kostomarov, Mazepa, p. 329.

[129] Examples include: Faddei Bulgarin’s sketch of Peter “Ocherk kharaktera Petra Velikovo” (A Scetch of the Character of Peter the Great), Mikhail Pogodin essay “Petr Velikii” (“Peter the Great”), Nikolai Polevoi’s Istoriya Petra (The History of Peter), and Belinskii’s literary review article “Petriana.” Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” p. 602.

[130] Ivan Snegirev, Russkie v svoikh poslovitsakh: razsuzhdeniia i izsledovaniia ob otechestvennakh poslovitsakh i pogovorakh, 4 vols. in 2 (Moscow, 1831-34), Vol. 4, p. 171-2, Koznarsky, “Obsession with Mazepa,” p. 576.

[131] The Russian historian Komarovskii noted in the late 19th century that the term “khokhol-Mazepa” (‘khokhol’ is a derogatory Russian word for Ukrainians) was a common slur used by Russians to insult Ukrainians. N.I. Kostomarov, Mazepa (Moscow: Terra-Knizhnyi klub, 2004), p. 333. An 18th century Russian drama critique noted that “to “call a Ukrainian Mazepa was more offensive to him than when it was in the past to call a Jew a Samaritan.” Pavlo Fedchenko, ed., Istoria ukrainskoi literaturnoi krytykyta literaturoznavstvo: Krestomtiia, 2 vols. (Kiev, 1996-8), Vol. 1, p. 35.

[132] N. A. Zadonskii, Smutnaya pora (Moscow: Sovetskaya Rossiya, 1959),, last access on 4 September 2018.

[133] V. M. Zhirmunskii, Bairon i Pushkin (Leningrad: Nauka, 1978), pp. 201–216.

[134] Sobranie sochineniya A. S. Pushkina, 10 Volumes (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo khodozhestvennoi literatury, 1958-1962), Volume III (1960), p. 491.

[135] Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, p. 542.

[136] Likhachev, “Russkaya kul’tura v sovremennom mire,” Novyi Mir, No. 1, January 1991, pp. 3-9, at p. 3.

[137] Likhachev, “Russkaya kul’tura v sovremennom mire,” pp. 3-4.

[138] Likhachev, “Russkaya kul’tura v sovremennom mire,” p. 5.

[139] Likhachev, “Russkaya kul’tura v sovremennom mire,” p. 6.

[140] Likhachev, “Russkaya kul’tura v sovremennom mire,” p. 6.

[141] Likhachev, “Russkaya kul’tura v sovremennom mire,” p. 7.

[142] Indeed, he proposes at the end of the article, the creation in a “neutral country” of a “European-wide university” subdivided into colleges each representing a European country presenting science and culture and open for “inter-penetration” and “exchange.” The university should be “European in the culturological sense, that is also the USA, Japan and the Near East” (and of course Russia) for Russia’s post-Soviet integration into the West and the West’s overall integration, enrichment, and mutual understanding. Likhachev, “Russkaya kul’tura v sovremennom mire,” p. 9.

[143] On the 1990s’ Russian revolution from above, see Gordon M. Hahn, Russia’s Revolution from Above: Reform, Transition, and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (New Brunswick: Transaction, 2002).

[144] Yakov Gordin, Mezh rabstvom i svobodoi (St. Petersburg: Lenizdat, 1994), p. 15.

[145] Gordin, Mezh rabstvom i svobodoi, p. 17.

[146] Gordin, Mezh rabstvom i svobodoi, pp. 13-23.

[147] Dmitrii Oreshkin, “Gosudarstvo i vozhdestvo,” Novaya gazeta, No. 71, 6 July 2018, See also Dmitrii Oreshkin, “V blizhaishchem budushem neizbezhno novoe Smutnoe vremya,” Otkrytaya Rossiya, 13 February 2016, and Dmotrii Oeshkin, “Putin – eto gibridnyi Stalin,” Lektsiya Dmitrya Oreshkina, Otkrytaya Rossiya, 9 February 2016,

[148] “Vam kakoi tsar bol’she nravitsya,” Kommersant, 21 July 2008,

[149] Aleksandr Dugin, Osnovy geopolitiki (Moscow: Arktogeya, 2000),, Chapter 3, section 3.5.

[150] Dugin, Osnovy geopolitiki, Chapter 6, section 3.

[151] Dugin, Osnovy geopolitiki, Chapter 6, section 1.12.

[152] Dugin, Osnovy geopolitiki, Chapter 1, section 1.12 and Chapter 6, section 1.3.

[153] The study examined articulations from some 20 Russian newspapers (from across Russian’s political spectrum, from Izvestiya to Novaya gazeta), websites, and social media sites about Peter the Great in Natal’ya Zelyanskaya and Dilara Ichkineeva, “Istoricheskie portrety: Pyotr I v obshestvennom soznanii runeta,”, 29 June 2010,

[154] “Vam kakoi tsar bol’she nravitsya,” Kommersant, 21 July 2008,

[155] Since 1999 Peter has repeatedly ranked among the top four or, after the inclusion of Putin in 2003, five persons, usually in fourth or fifth place. In the 2017 survey and several previous, Peter finished in fifth behind Stalin (38 percent) in first place, Putin (34 percent) in second, Pushkin (34 percent) in third, and Lenin (32 percent) in fourth. “Vydayushchiesya lyudi,” Levada Center, 26 June 2017,

[156] Gordin, Mezh rabstvom i svobodoi, p. 66. Gordin bases this claim on the ostensible enormous influence that constitutionalist Prince Dmitrii Golytsin had on tsarevich Alexei’s education as a figure close to Peter and on the mature Alexei as one of his trested advisors. Gordin, Mezh rabstvom i svobodoi, p. 67.

[157] Gordin, Mezh rabstvom i svobodoi, pp. 67-8.

[158] Gordin, Mezh rabstvom i svobodoi, pp. 68-82.

[159] Gordin, Mezh rabstvom i svobodoi, pp. 74-5.

[160] Gordin, Mezh rabstvom i svobodoi, pp. 68-82.

[161] Imperia: Nachalo, 1 Fil’m: Tsarevich Aleksei, fil’m directed by Vitalii Mel’nikov, 1997,, last accessed on 20 August 2018.

[162] Ryzhenkov, “Pervaya tragediya v ‘Dome Romanovykh’: Delo tsarevicha Alekseya Petrovicha, 1718 g.,” pp. 168-69.

[163] Ryzhenkov, “Pervaya tragediya v ‘Dome Romanovykh’: Delo tsarevicha Alekseya Petrovicha, 1718 g,” pp. 152-7 and 162-6.

[164] N.I. Pavlenko, Petr Velikii (Moscow: Mysl’, 1990), p. 404.

[165] “Poltavskaya bitva – 300 let spustya,” Levada Center, 9 July 2009,

[166] Alexandra Smith, Montaging Pushkin: Pushkin and Visions of Modernity in Russian Twentieth Century Poetry (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), p. 320 analyzes Aleksei Parshchikov, “Ia zhil na pole poltavskoi bitvy,” in Aleksei Parshchikov, Figury intuitsii (Moscow: Moskovskii rabochii, 1989).

[167] Tatiana Tairova-Iakovleva, Mazepa (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2007).

[168] Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, p. 507.

[169] Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, p. 491.

[170] Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, pp. 507-8 and 510.

[171] Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, p. 510.

[172] Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, pp. 500-4.

[173] “Poltavskaya bitva – 300 let spustya,” Levada Center, 9 July 2009,

[174] Belyakov, Ten’ Mazepy: Ukrainskaya natsiya v epokhu Gogolya, p. 508.

[175] Yurii Maksimov, “Esho raz po povodu anafemy Ivana Mazepy,”, 12 February 2008,

[176] “MID Rossii rasskazal ukraintsam, kak nuzhno otnositsya k Mazepe,”, 15 May 2009, and James Marson, “Border Battles,” Kyiv Post, 28 May 2009,

[177] Irina Koval′chuk, “Luzhkov napisal poemu ‘Poltava’,” Segodnya, 10 July 2009, news/14064392.html, last accessed 11 July 2010.


About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, Dr. Hahn’s most recent book is Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War”. He has authored three previous, well-received books: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.

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