Siberia


Siberia
   For nineteenth-century Russia, Siberia was a resource frontier like the legendary American West for the United States. Until the peasant liberation of 1861, migration to Siberia was mostly compulsory. Exiles were forced to work in Siberian mines. By 1858, nearly 3 million people lived in Siberian, 1.7 million in the western and 1.3 million in the eastern part. Suspicious of British engagement in China after the Opium Wars, the tsarist government began to develop the Siberian frontier. Fearing British expansionism and taking advantage of China’s weakness, Russia annexed in the 1850s and 1860s parts of China’s northern borderlands, specifically the Amur region and the nearby Pacific shore where the harbor Vladivostok was founded in 1860. In 1861, the so-called great Siberian migration began. Alexander II gave peasants from European Russia who wanted to settle in Siberia free homestead on state land and exempted migrants to the borderlands from taxes. Between 1882 and 1890, nearly 200,000 peasants settled in Siberia, but the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad accelerated this process. The project of the Trans-Siberian Railroad was not only ambitious, but also a serious drain on the national budget as the construction swallowed up a sum between 770 million and 1 billion dollars. Nevertheless, the economic development of the Siberian frontier before World War I would have been unthinkable without the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Thanks to the railroad, 2.5 million peasants migrated to Siberia between 1896 and 1904. Migration contributed to the Russification of the frontier. By the outbreak of World War I, the Siberian population was overwhelmingly Russian. In the same period Siberia’s agriculture was booming thanks to the import of American machinery. The most famous Siberian product on the world market was butter. The nineteenth century also saw the birth of a strong regional movement in Siberia. For many Russian exiles, Siberia became a homeland where they propagated their democratic conviction that the people in Siberia were freer and more egalitarian than in European Russia. They envisioned Siberia as a “second America” and believed that the natural resource base of Siberia would accelerate industrial revolution and democratization. In the nineteenth century, however, the majority of intellectuals and officials in European Russia rejected any westernization and democratization and stressed Russian national exceptional status independent from Europe and America alike. Ultraconservative tsars like Alexander III and Nicolas II feared Siberian separatism, so that any autonomy or federalist plans for the Russian Empire were rejected.
   See also <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Kotkin, Stephan, and David Wolff, eds. Rediscovering Russia in Asia: Siberia and the Russian Far East. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1995;
    Stolberg, Eva-Maria, ed. The Siberian Saga. A History of Russia ’ s Wild East. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
   EVA-MARIA STOLBERG

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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