Fyodor #Dostoyevsky on the #Slavic Question

Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s Diary (1877, November).

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872.
Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872.
Some Quite Special Remarks about the Slavs That I Intended to Make Long Ago.

Incidentally, I’ll make a few special remarks about the Slavs and the Slavic question. And I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time. It’s just now that everyone in Russia has suddenly begun talking about the imminent possibility of peace, about the imminent possibility of somehow solving the Slavic question. Let’s give our fantasy free rein and imagine suddenly that the whole matter is ended, that through Russia’s insistence and blood the Slavs are already liberated and, moreover, that the Turkish Empire no longer exists and the Balkan peninsula is free and is living a new life.

Of course, it’s difficult to predict down to the last details just what form this Slavic freedom will assume at first—that is, will it be a kind of federation of the small liberated tribes (NB: it seems a federation will still be a very, very long way off) or will there be small separate domains in the form of tiny states with sovereigns who have been summoned from the various ruling houses?

Neither can one imagine whether Serbia’s boundaries will at last be expanded or whether Austria will stand in the way; the extent of territory Bulgaria will occupy; what will become of Herzegovina and Bosnia; what sort of relations will ensue between the small, newly liberated Slavic peoples and, say, the Romanians or even the Greeks—the Greeks of Constantinople and the others in Athens.

Finally, will all these countries and tiny lands be completely independent, or will they find themselves under the protection and supervision of “the concert of European powers,” including Russia? (I think that these little peoples themselves will all certainly request a European concert, even including Russia, but solely as a means of protecting them from Russia’s territorial ambitions.)

None of these issues can be precisely resolved ahead of time, and I won’t venture to solve them. However, even now it’s possible to know two things for certain: (1) that sooner or later all the Slavic tribes of the Balkan peninsula will ultimately be freed from the Turkish yoke and will begin to live a new, free, and, perhaps, independent life; and (2)… Well, it’s this second thing, which will most certainly come to pass, that I intended to talk about long ago.

This second thing is my inner conviction, complete and overpowering, that Russia never will have and never has had anyone who can hate, envy, slander, and even display open enmity toward her as much as all these Slavic tribes will the moment Russia liberates them and Europe agrees to recognize their liberation! And you needn’t raise objections, dispute my view, or shout that I am exaggerating and that I hate the Slavs! On the contrary, I have great love for the Slavs; but I am not going to defend myself because I know that everything will come to pass exactly the way I have said; and this is not due to the supposedly base and ungrateful nature of the Slavs, not at all-in this sense they are the same as everyone else; it is precisely because such things can happen on earth in no other way. I’m not going to enter into details here, but I know that we certainly must not expect any gratitude from the Slavs; we ought to prepare ourselves for this in advance.

I repeat: after their liberation they will begin their new life by asking Europe—England and Germany, for instance—for guarantees and protection of their freedom, and even though Russia will also be part of the concert of European powers, they will do this precisely as a means of defense against Russia. They will certainly begin by announcing banner she raised among humanity. But those people, especially at the beginning, will be in such a pitiful minority that they will be subject to mockery, hatred, and even political persecution. It will be particularly pleasant for the liberated Slavs to announce and trumpet to the whole world that they are educated peoples capable of attaining the heights of European culture, while Russia is a barbaric country, a gloomy northern colossus) that she does not even have pure Slavic blood and is the oppressor and hater of European civilization.

They will have a constitutional form of government from the very beginning, of course, with parliaments, responsible ministers, orators, and speeches. They will take tremendous comfort and delight in this. They’ll be in raptures when they read reports about themselves in the Paris and London newspapers informing the whole world that after a lengthy storm in parliament the cabinet has finally fallen in Bulgaria and a new one has been formed from the liberal majority, and that some Ivan Chiftlik of theirs has at last agreed to accept the portfolio of president of the council of ministers. Russia must seriously prepare herself to watch all these liberated Slavs rushing rapturously off to Europe to be infected by European forms, both political and social, to the point where their own personalities are lost; and so they will have to undergo a whole long period of Europeanism before comprehending anything of their own significance as Slavs and their particular Slavic mission among humanity. These little countries will be eternally quarreling, eternally envying one another and plotting against one another.

Of course, the moment there is any serious disaster they will certainly turn to Russia for help. No matter how much they may spread hatred, gossip, and slander against us in Europe as they flirt with her and assure her of their love, they will always instinctively feel (in a moment of disaster, of course, but not before) that Europe is the natural enemy of their unity, that she always was and always will be, and that if they exist in the world it is naturally because there is a gigantic magnet, Russia, irresistibly drawing them all to her and so maintaining their integrity and unity. There will even be moments when they will be capable almost consciously of agreeing that were it not for Russia, the great center of the East and the great attracting force, their unity would collapse in an instant and fly into fragments and their very nationality would disappear into the European ocean, just as a few drops of water disappear into the sea.

Russia’s lot for many years will be the heartache and the travail of making peace they will broaden Russia’s Slavic nature and her very soul; that they will even have an influence on the Russian language, literature, and creative forces; that they will enrich Russia spiritually and show her new horizons. I confess that these notions have always seemed to me no more than academic over-enthusiasm; the truth, of course, is that something of this sort will certainly take place, but it will not happen for another hundred years, say, and in the meantime, and perhaps for another century, Russia will have nothing at all to borrow from the Slavs, either from their ideas or from their literature; they have a lot of maturing to do before they can teach us anything. On the contrary: through this whole century, perhaps, Russia will have to struggle against the narrow outlook and stubbornness of the Slavs, against their bad habits, against their certain betrayal of Slavdom—which is not far-off—for the sake of the European forms of social and political organization they are so eager to embrace.

After the settlement of the Slavic question, Russia will obviously be faced with the final settlement of the Eastern Question. It will be a long time before the Slavs of today understand what the Eastern Question means! Indeed, it will also be a long time before they understand what Slavic unity, brotherhood, and harmony mean. To explain that to them, continually, by deed and by great example will be Russia’s ever-present task in the future. Once more, people will ask: “What’s the purpose of all this? Why should Russia take on such a task?” The purpose of it is to live a higher life, a superior life; to illuminate the world with a great, selfless, and pure idea; to realize and ultimately create a great and mighty organism of a brotherly union of peoples; to create this organism, not by political force, not by the sword, but by conviction, example, love, selflessness, and light; to elevate, at last, all these little ones to her own level, to an understanding of her maternal mission—that is Russia’s aim, and those, if you like, are also the benefits she will derive. If nations do not live by superior, selfless ideas and by the superior aims of serving humanity, but only to serve their own “interests,” then these nations will certainly perish; they will lose feeling, grow impotent, and die. But there are no aims higher than those which Russia sets for herself in selflessly serving the Slavs and not demanding their gratitude, serving their moral (and not merely their political) unification into one great whole. Only then will the whole of Slavdom pronounce its curative word to humanity There are no aims on earth higher than these. Consequently, there can be nothing of more “benefit” to Russia than to keep these aims before her, to continue ever to clarify them to herself and to continue ever to elevate herself spiritually in this eternal, ceaseless, and valiant toil for humanity.

Let the present war come to a favorable end, and Russia will certainly enter a new and higher phase of her existence.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, A Writer’s Diary: 1877-1881.


One thought on “Fyodor #Dostoyevsky on the #Slavic Question

  1. Pingback: Russophilia & Russophobia: Between Scylla & Charybdis | Russian Universe

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