[Rachel Hicks] 

Inorodtsy: literally meaning “of other origin,” inorodtsy denoted the ‘aliens’ or ‘natives’ of the Russian empire living specifically in Asia (Slocum, 177).

Referring to anyone who was an ‘other’, inorodtsy applied to many different groups depending on the time and definition of a Russian. Kappeler implies that the word originally referenced a religious division as it developed from “inovertsy,” which means non-believers (Kappeler 168). The term was used informally in the seventeenth century and was referenced in a few legal documents in the eighteenth century, but was not defined legally until 1822 (Slocum, 176-177).

In Siberia in the eighteenth century, the Russian administration was mostly concerned about “the natives’ religious status and the mechanics of their exploitation” in order to know how to tax them (Slocum, 177). In contrast, in Asia the Legal Commission of 1767 made nomads second class citizens but sedentary Muslims were not defined as inorodtsy, and in 1798 a statue was unveiled to provide means for “inorodtsy” to become full citizens (Kappeler, 169). Thus the term inorodtsy cannot be translated as heathen or infidel; rather, it was a term that encompassed many aspects of life that Russians found peculiar in the inhabitants of central Asia and in Siberia. Even those who converted were still considered to be part of the inorodtsy, as they were different (Slocum 177).

Codification of the term

In 1822 the word inorodtsy was legally defined by Speransky in Russian law. The defining of the term not only sheds light on how the tsarist government understood its ‘foreign’ inhabitants, but also shows the Eurocentric enlightened mindset that had entered into Russia under Catherine II. Speransky who had served as governor of Siberia “felt that earlier regulations regarding Siberian natives had failed to take into account the enormous variety of native cultures and modes of existence” (Slocum, 178). His “statute concerning the administration of the inorodtsy” divided them into three groups (Kappeler, 169). The settled, nomadic, and wandering were all, over time, supposed to become full Russians with varying levels of self governance until they became acceptably sedentary (Slocum, 179). The delineation of groups based on their lifestyles shows that religion, ethnicity, and language were all factors that needed to be civilized before one could shed his or her classification as inorodtsy; simply reforming one aspect was not enough. The settled group was “equivalent of ‘natural citizens,’ their legal rights and obligations differentiated only by religion and estate” with an exemption from conscription (Slocum 179-180). The nomads and the wanderers were distinguished by taxes: the nomads paid the isak and local taxes, the wanderers paid only the isak (Slocum 180). All were exempt from conscription (Kappelear, 170). Ideally Spernansky foresaw the incorporation of the inorodtsy into their proper classes in Russian society after this period of second class citizenship; however, with the growing national sentiments of the 1800s and the Bolshevik revolution, his plan was never executed.

Redefinition of the term

As Russia subjugated more of her borderlands, the term inorodtsy applied to more individuals; through its broad application, Russian authorities redefined the term to cover all groups who were perceived as a “dangerous alien presence within the body politic” (Slocum 183). Jews in the western borderlands who were civilized were called inorodets and even through conversion could not become Russians (Slocum, 183). Alienness extended to all non-similar groups as Russians attempted to define themselves during a period when the rest of Europe was defining herself through nationalism. The ‘native homeland’ under the Russian fatherland allowed for local identities under pan-Russianism, but in 1870 this idea appeared only in the press and did not translate into tsarist policy which could not denationalize places like Poland (Tolz, 137-139). The regime proceeded to educate the inorodtsy in accordance with Alexander II’s reforms. At first in their own language the Il’minskii Schools were to help convert the locals (Tolz, 142). These schools were underfunded and were later discontinued as the fear of indigenous nationalism developed.

As Russia became more nationalistic “the concept lost its originally neutral significance and rather served…to arrogantly mark off those foreigners who were relegated to another rod, another tribe, another way of life, and, potentially, another, foreign race” (Kappeler as quoted in Slocum 185-186). In 1907 with the revelation from the census that unless Ukrainians and Belarusians were included, Russians were the near-ethnic-minority in their empire, language became equally important to define the inorodtsy reflecting the transient nature of the term (Slocum, 186). This, combined with the fear of Asians from the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese war, pushed Russia to define inorodtsy as anyone different, especially ethically or linguistically.

In the end, the term was dropped by the Soviets who deemed it politically incorrect and created a new system to understand minorities (Slocum, 190). The term inorodtsy encompassed Buriats, Tungus, Iakuts, Ostiaks, Voguls, Jews, Khazaks, Siberians, and many others. The term originated initially to distinguish the ‘alien’ from the Russian; however, as Russians defined themselves throughout the nineteenth century the term encompassed those mainly in Siberia and central Asia who were different and therefore could damage the multiethnic empire unless they assimilated.


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