The “Neglected Majority”

In his book The Russian Empire: a Multi-Ethnic History, Andreas Kappeler surveys Russia in terms of its countless distinct ethnicities and cultures. Chapter eight, “the Late Tsarist Multi-ethnic Empire between Modernization and Tradition,” focuses on data from the 1897 general census of the Russian population. The census contained bias from various existing prejudices at the time, but it is an invaluable source when attempting to define the population of the largest and most varied territory in the world. The census included data on “social status, profession and educational level,” making it possible to study social, economic, and cultural trends in the Russian Empire. One of the largest changes Kappeler points out is the increased diversity caused by expansion. He states that the “young peoples” in newly acquired territories began to outnumber the established Russians and Eastern Slavs. Non-Russians constituted more than half of the total population, but the census did not distinguish between “Little Russians” (Ukrainians and Belorussians) and Russians, so Russians officially made up two-thirds of the population. The increased diversity of the empire was countered by a conservative push towards “cultural russification,” achieved through codifying the heterogeneous population.

One of the most revealing examples of the preference for Russians was the trend in peripheral areas such as Bessarabia, where Russians composed a very small percent of the population (8 percent), but were a majority of the hereditary nobility (55.8 percent). Kappeler describes the disproportionally high numbers of Russians in upper administrative offices and the central government pushing for the cultivation of specific cash crops in periphery regions as a form of “internal colonialism.” This colonial structure with Russians on top, along with census data pointing to the necessity of being able to speak Russian to be successful, displays a clear and unsurprising preference for Russian culture. The preference for Russian culture did not however, extend to a preference for the Russian people. Russian peasants continued to live in utter destitution and often fared worse than the non-Russian peasants on the eastern and western edges of the empire. Kappeler describes the “Russian centre” as paramount in the military and political spheres, yet common Russians had a lower life expectancy, and thus lower standard of living, than Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Jews, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Tatars, and Bashkirs. Kappeler seemingly concludes that despite a certain degree of hatred or prejudice against people such as Muslims, Poles, and Jews, the Russian elite continued to also neglect their own people, and chose expanding their wealth or territory over improving the lives of their citizens.

Why did Russians lag so far behind other ethnic groups in things such as education, urbanization, and life expectancy?

Works Cited

Kappeler, Andreas. “The Late Tsarist Multi-Ethnic Empire between Modernization and Tradition.” Chap. 8, In The Russian Empire: A Multiethnic Empire. Translated by Alfred Clayton, 283: Longman, 2001.

What to Mate of Multi-Ethnic Late Tsarist Russia?

When Russia grew in its empire, they also grew in the number of ethnicities within its empire. Since Russia grew in the number of ethnicities it had within its empire, Kappeler’s chapter on ethnicity in late tsarist Russia felt like a whirlwind. But, as much as a whirlwind as the chapter may have felt, one takeaway I did get was that a great number of nationalities, if not all nationalities, were treated relatively equally.

I believe this because of the high number of non-Russians who were in the upper echelon of Russian Empire society. Regardless of the russification that non-Russians may have gone through/did go through, it is still impossible to ignore the fact that, for example, “the Muslims of Aderbaidzhan (3 per cent) and the Germans (1.4 per cent) had a considerably higher proportion of hereditary nobles than the Russians.”[1] There is also the fact that the most literate groups were not Russians, but Estonians, Latvians, and Germans.[2] If the Russian goal was to thoroughly subordinate non-Russians, then the high number of literate and noble non-Russians demonstrate that they were either doing a poor job of that…or not doing the job at all.

But at the opposite end of the spectrum-peasants and how long the average person lived-Russians were still worse off than many other ethnic groups. With peasantry, our class has talked about how peasantry was abolished in certain ethnic areas of the empire, but not in Russia itself. Furthermore, Russian peasants faced poor conditions, even compared to many non-Russian counterparts.[3] Even more damning for anyone who argued that there was a “Russian master race” was the fact that Russians also had lower life expectancy (and therefore probably a lower quality of life) than those of many other ethnicities, including the Jews (who many would think would be particularly oppressed.[4]

Is it possible that there is evidence which shows oppression instead of equality? Probably, but the statistics presented by Kappeler gives me more of a rhetoric of ethnic equality than one of ethnic inequality.


How did the treatment of non-Russian ethnicities change over time in the Russian Empire? Is it a narrative of progress, or not?

[1] Andreas Kappeler, The Russian Empire: A Multiethnic History. Trans. Alfred Clayton. Pearson Education: 289.

[2] Ibid., 310.

[3] Ibid., 322.

[4] Ibid., 323.


Kappeler, Andreas. The Russian Empire: A Multiethnic History. Trans. Alfred Clayton. Pearson Education.

General Cencus of the Russian Empire

Kappeller’s chapter, entitled The Late Tsarist Multi-ethnic Empire Between Modernization and Tradition, focusses on a comparison between two times during the Russian Empire, the late nineteenth century Russian Empire and the pre-modern multi-ethnic empire. Specifically Kappeller discusses how  when compared to each other, the changes and constants made to the Russian Empire during the end of the nineteenth century become significantly more apparent. Furthermore Kappeller uses the 1897 General Census document of the Russian Empire in order to accurately explain his argument.

Over the course of this chapter, I found one comparison in which Kappeller made of particular significance. Kappeller, in the chapter, had stated numerous significant differences between the various Russian groups within Russia, such as the Jews, Germans, Greeks and Armenians, had also become apparent within his original comparison. More precisely, during this discussion Kappeller stated how during the end of the nineteenth century in the Russian Empire, particular non-Russian groups were being better represented among the urban population than the actual Russian groups during the Russian Empire in the end of the nineteenth century. Because of this I came to ask the question of how and why did particular non-Russian groups become better represented within the Russian Empire during the end of the nineteenth century as opposed to during the empires pre-modern mulit-ethnic period?