The Trek to the East before 1917
‘Russia’s history is that of a country undergoing colonisation.… Migration, colonisation constituted the basic feature of our history to which all other features were more or less related.’ 1 V. O. Klyuchevsky, probably the greatest of Russian historians, was the first to substantiate this assertion. Other interpreters of the Russian scene have also seen colonisation as a powerful influence in Russian historical development. B. H. Sumner, at the beginning of his Survey of Russian History, states that ‘throughout Russian history one dominating theme has been the frontier’.2 Down through the centuries the Russians have spread over vast expanses of Europe and Asia. Sometimes the primary reason for the occupation of new tracts of land was political, to escape enserfment, later to alleviate the burdens of a serf’s existence, to escape military service; sometimes economic, the infertility of the land, the stultifying effect of the mir, overpopulation. Given that most peasants farmed on a subsistence basis, their only answer to the demands of officials and landlords for a share of their harvest was to flee. They always hoped to find an area where they would be permitted to retain all their output. Many migrated to the southern parts of Russia and gradually migration spread to the shores of the Black Sea.
KeywordsSteppe Region Migration Policy Virgin Land Irregular Migrant Land Reserve
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