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Denis Vovchenko, “Russians and Muslim Slavs: Brothers or Infidels? (1856-1914)”.pdf

Denis Vovchenko, “Russians and Muslim Slavs: Brothers or Infidels? (1856-1914)”.pdf

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05/15/2014

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 1
Denis Vovchenko, “Russians and Muslim Slavs: Brothers or Infidels? (1856
-
1914)”
 
 NB: “
This paper is a draft, and is not to be circulated or disseminated without the express written
 
consent of the author.”
 
“There stood out a flaky minaret. ‘Ouch! Is it a Muslim village? But everyone knows that
all Bulgarians are Orthodox Christians. And they are drinking wine which is forbidden by the Quran. But if the village is Christian, what is the minaret doing here? If it is a Muslim village,
are they with us or with the Turks? I doubt they are with us.”
1
 This quote is not from an Orientalist 19
th
 century travelogue but from a best-selling historical spy novel published in 1998 and later turned into a movie in 2005. Just like Russian reactions to the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina of 1990s, it shows both the importance of ethnic kinship (including alcohol consumption) and its limits
 – 
 to be one with mother Russia, you need to be part of the Orthodox Christian commonwealth. From mid-1800s to early 1900s, the relationship between the Russians and Muslim Slavs went from religious hatred to unrequited ethnic love, which left a bitter aftertaste on the eve of the First World War.
“Pre
-
modern” Background (1600
-1856)?
Greek, Slavic, and Arab Christian Orthodox populations were conquered by the Ottomans after the epic battle of Kosovo in 1389 and the shocking capture of Constantinople in 1453. Muscovite and Imperial Russia adopted a flattering role of the only remaining independent center of the most true branch of Christianity and of potential liberators of their less fortunate coreligionists from the Muslim yoke. In exchange for a generous grant of alms, in 1562 the
1
 Boris Akunin, Turetskii Gambit (Moscow: Zakharov, 1998), p. 2
 
 2
Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized Ivan the Terrible as “Tsar and Sovereign of all
Orthodox Christians east to west all the way t
o the Ocean” in the bloodline of Roman emperors.
2
 Balkan Christians, typically clerics, played a leading role in the Orthodox
millet 
 - an autonomous Ottoman institution based on religious affiliation. They were the main source of
Russia’s knowledge about Muslim Slavs. To sensitize their patrons in Moscow to their plight, they would often demonize the “Turks.” Serbian Abbot Vasili
i of St Sava and Ascension
Mileshev Monastery was not alone going as far as to say that “we live among Turkish people
like sheep among wolves ransoming Christian faith from godless Turks with no helper other than the Lord, St Sava of Serbia the Miracle-wor 
ker, and you, o righteous Sovereign.”
3
 In 1700s,
requests like that were occasionally made in the name of “the poor Slavic nation” (
narod 
) implying that only Orthodox Christians were true Slavs.
4
 Sometimes Serbs and Bulgarians were
said to be part of “our Slav
-
Russian nation” (
 slaviano-rossiiskii narod 
).
5
 
 Naturally, Russian rulers responded in the same language. Catherine II incited “pious” “Orthodox Greek and Slavic nations” (
narody
) to join Russia’s holy war against the oppressive
infidel Hagarenes. Their treacherous government itself started hostilities to support Catholic Poland because Russia demanded equal rights for Orthodox Christians there. Local Orthodox Christians were more numerous than the Hagarenes in the Balkans. It was time for them to join their Russian broth
ers in Christ to expel the infidels and to liberate with God’s help Constantinople, “the capital of ancient Greek emperors.”
 6
 
2
 Nikolai Kapterev, Kharakter otnoshenii Rossii k Pravoslavnomu Vostoku v XVI i XVII stoletiakh (Sergiev Posad, 1914), pp. 26-29
3
 Abbot Vasilii of St Sava and Ascension Mileshev Monastery to Tsar Alexei, 1647, Svetlana Dolgova et al. eds., Moskva-Serbiia, Belgrad-Rossiia. Sbornik dokumentov i materialov. Vol. 1 (Moscow-Belgrade: Arhiv Srbije, Glavnoie arkhivnoie upravleniie, 2009), p. 256; Archbishop Mikhail of Kratov to Tsar Alexei, 26 December 1647, ibid, p. 263
4
 Archbishop of Belgrade Vikentii to Empress Anna, April 1732, ibid., p. 396
5
 Serb Patriarch Arsenii IV to Empress Anna, 9 January 1738, ibid., p. 407
6
 Catherine II to Balkan nations, 29 January 1769, ibid., pp. 428-430
 
 3 Russian victory in 1774 was decisive but not as far reaching as envisioned above. Although the northern Black Sea littoral had been lost to Russia, all Balkan areas remained in the Ottoman Empire. Taxation and discrimination against Orthodox Christians seem to have increased because at least in Serbian lands they were seen as Russian puppets and the fifth
column in future wars. “Our main opponents and enemies are Turks, the so called Boshnaks,
who speak the same language as we do and used to have the same religion but having renounced Christ the Savior gave themselves to blasphemous Mohammad to follow him to eternal
damnation.” It was Muslim Slavs who not only destroyed Orthodox churches and seized Serbian  property but also took Christian wives and children inflicting “indescribable pain and suffering.”
7
 There was plenty of information about ethnic affinity among religiously diverse Slavic  populations but only the Orthodox addressed the Russian government as a traditional clientele. In their dealings with the Porte, the Russian Foreign Ministry officially spoke only of coreligionists, for example, when obtaining routinely required permissions to rebuild or repair churches and monasteries in Herzegovina before the First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813).
 8
 Writing to Russian
representatives, Christian Slavs themselves often excluded their Muslim cousins, “Montenegro
and neighboring province of Herzegovina are populated by the Slavic nation (
narod 
) whose courage and implacable hatred of the Mohammedan yoke as well as unbroken loyalty to the
Russian throne are known across Europe.”
9
 Catholic Slavs were just as bad, for example, those in control of the rich Ragusa Republic on the Dalmatian coast. Montenegrin ruler praised the Russian Consul General Carl Fonton who
7
 Serbian headmen to Catherine II, February 1784, ibid., p. 433
8
 Vice-Chancellor V. P. Kochubei to Ambassador V. S. Tamara, 15 July 1802, Narochnitskii A. L.,. et al. eds., Politicheskiie i kulturnyie otnosheniia Rossii s iugoslavianskimi zemliami v pervoi treti XIX veka (Moscow: Nauka, 1997), 12
9
 M. Nikshich to Alexander I, 25 January 1803, ibid., p. 13

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