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A Vasnetsov painting
A group of Russian Children in 1909.

See also: Pan-Slavism.

Slavophilia is a Russian movement originating in the 19th century that wanted the Russian Empire to be developed upon values and institutions derived from its early history. Slavophiles were especially opposed to the influences of Western Europe in Russia.[1]


As an intellectual movement, Slavophilism was developed in nineteenth century Russia. In a sense there was not one but many slavophile movements, or many branches of the same movement. Some were to the left of the political spectrum, noting that progressive ideas such as democracy were intrinsic to the Russian experience, as proved by what they considered to be the rough democracy of medieval Novgorod. Some were to the right of the spectrum and pointed to the centuries old tradition of the autocratic Tsar as being the essence of the Russian nature. The Slavophiles were determined to protect what they believed were unique Russian traditions and culture. In doing so they rejected individualism. The role of the Orthodox Church was seen by them as more significant than the role of the state. Socialism was opposed by Slavophiles as an alien concept, and Russian mysticism was preferred over "Western rationalism". Rural life was praised by the movement, which opposed industrialization as well as urban development, while protection of the "mir" (rural society) was seen as an important measure to prevent growth of the proletariat.[2]

The movement originated in Moscow in the 1830s. Drawing on the works of Greek patristics, the poet Aleksey Khomyakov (1804-60) and his devoutly Orthodox colleagues elaborated a traditionalistic doctrine that claimed Russia has its own distinct way, which doesn't have to imitate and mimic "Western" institutions. The Russian Slavophiles denounced modernization by Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, and some of them even adopted traditional pre-Petrine dress.


The doctrines of Aleksey Khomyakov, Ivan Kireevsky (1806-56), Konstantin Aksakov (1817-60) and other Slavophiles had a deep impact on Russian culture, including the Russian Revival school of architecture, some Russian composers, the novelist Nikolai Gogol, the poet Fyodor Tyutchev, the lexicographer Vladimir Dahl, and others. Their struggle for purity of the Russian language had something in common with ascetic views of Leo Tolstoy. The doctrine of Sobornost, the term for organic unity, intregration, was coined by Ivan Kireevsky and Aleksey Khomyakov. This was to underline the need for cooperation between people, at the expense of individualism on the basis that the opposing groups focus on what is common between them.

In the sphere of practical politics, the Slavophilism manifested itself as a pan-Slavic movement for the unification of all Slavic people under leadership of the Russian tsar and for the liberation of the Balkan Slavs from the Ottoman yoke. The Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78 is usually considered a high point of this militant Slavophilism, as expounded by the charismatic commander Mikhail Skobelev. The attitude towards other nations with Slavic origins varied, depending on the group involved. Classical Slavophiles believed that "Slavdom", that is the alleged by Slavophile movement common identity to all people of Slavic origin, was based on Orthodox religion.[3] Russian Empire besides containing Russians, ruled over millions of Ukrainians, Poles and Belarussians, that had their own national identities, traditions and religions. Towards Ukrainians and Belarussians, the Slavophiles developed the view that they are part of the same "Great Russian" nation, Belarussians being the "White Russians" Ukrainians "Little Russians". Slavophile thinkers such as Mikhail Katkov believed that both nations should be ruled under Russian leadership and are essential part of Russian state.[4] At the same time they denied the separate cultural identity of Ukrainian and Belarussian people,[4] believing their national as well as language and literary aspirations are result of "Polish intrigue" that aims at separating them from Russians.[5] Other Slavophiles like Ivan Aksakov recognized the right of Ukrainians to use Ukrainian language, however seeing it as completely unnecessary and harmful.[6] Aksakov however did see some use of "Malorussian" language as practical, it would be beneficial in struggle against "Polish civilizational element in the western provinces"[4]

Russian Kingdom of Poland

Besides Ukrainians, the Russian Empire also included Poles, whose country had been partitioned by three neighboring states, including Russia, confirmed at the Congress of Vienna. Poles proved to be a problem for the ideology of Slavophilism. "For generations Poles had been a sort of embarrassment for Russian nationalism as the core of Russian nationalism since the middle of the nineteenth century was an idea of Slavophilism. This ideology (as with many others) was inconsistent. On the one hand their representatives emphasized Orthodoxy as the essential characteristic of the Slav. On the other hand, the very term Slavophilism implied that benign characteristics of Slavs stemmed from their ethnicity which had nothing to do with Orthodoxy. This explanation also implied the political unity of the Slavs, or at least their mutual gravitation to each other, and here Poles were an endless embarrassment".[7] Slavophiles indicated that the characteristics of the Slavs stemmed from their original ethnicity, but at the same time Slavophiles believed that Orthodoxy equaled Slavdom. This belief was opposed by very existence of Poles within Russian Empire, who while having Slavic origins were also deeply Roman Catholic , this faith forming one of the core values of Polish national identity. "It was after the nineteenth century partitions that the Polish church became the symbol of Polishness in the eyes of practically all Poles. Massive Russification following the 1832 uprising practically eliminated all Polish institutions and made Russian dominance of public life in public life practically universal. What was left was the Roman Catholic church. It became the foremost symbol of Polishness and Polish resistance, with every move taken by St.Petersburg to weaken it interpreted by Poles as a further attempt to eradicate the Polish nation from the face of the earth. Under these circumstances being Roman Catholic was not only a religious but also nationalistic "duty"." [8]

Also while Slavophiles praised the leadership of Russia over other nations of Slavic origins, the Poles very identity was based on West European culture and values, because of the influence of their church, and resistance to Russia was seen by them as resistance to something representing alien way of life. "From its beginning, Poland drew its primary inspiration from Western Europe and developed a closer affinity with the French and Italians, for example, than with nearer Slavic neighbors of Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine heritage. This western orientation, which in some ways has made Poland the easternmost outpost of Latinate and Catholic tradition, helps to explain the Poles' tenacious sense of belonging to the "West" and their deeply rooted antagonism toward Russia."[9] As a result Slavophiles were particularly hostile to the Polish nation, often emotionally attacking it in their writings."The Slavophiles were quite virulent in their attacks on the Poles. According to Iurii F. Samarin, Poland was transformed into a "sharp wedge driven by Latinism" into the very heart of the Slavonic soul with the aim of "splitting it into fragments." Nikolai I. Danilevsky, a Slavophile, dubbed Poland the "Jesuitical gentry state of Poland" and that "Judas of Slavdom," which he compared to a hideous tarantula greedily devouring its eastern neighbour but unaware that its own body is being eaten by its western neighbors. Fedor I. Tiutchev, a leading Russian poets, also called Poles "Judas of Slavdom."[10]

When the Polish uprising of 1861 commenced, Slavophiles used anti-Polish sentiment to create feelings of national unity in Russian people. The popular anti-Polish and anti-European feelings were enhanced by Slavophile writers such as Katkov, to create national solidarity. [11] and the idea of a cultural union of all Slavs was abandoned.[12] With that Poland became firmly established to Slavophiles as symbol of Roman Catholicism and Western Europe, that they detested.[13] and as Poles were never assimiliated within the Russian Empire, constantly resisting Russian occupation of their country, in the end Slavophiles came to belief that annexation of Poland was a mistake due to fact that Polish nation couldn't be russified.</ref> "Of course, the Poles were never really integrated into Russia, and were a constant thorn in the side for St. Petersburg. Regular uprisings and revolutions made Russian control of the Vistula provinces tenuous at best. True Slavophiles like Nikolai Danilevsky regarded the annexation of Poland as a mistake, saddling Russia with a powerful and hostile element, never to be truly Russified."[14] "After the struggle with Poles, Slavophiles expressed their belief, that notwithstanding the goal of conquering Constantinople, the future conflict would be made between the "Teutonic race" and the "Slavs", and the movement gradually turned into Germanophobia. "Once the Polish threat was over, the Slavophiles formulated another set of goals. Without renouncing the 300-year-long objective of seizing Constantinople and the Straits, they argued that the coming clash would be between the Slavs and Teutons."[15]

It should be noted that most Slavophiles were liberals and ardently supported the emancipation of serfs, which was finally realized in 1861. Press censorship, serfdom, and capital punishment were viewed as baneful influences of Western Europe[16]. Their political ideal was a parliamentary monarchy, as represented by the medieval Zemsky Sobors.

Post Serfdom

After serfdom was abolished in Russia and the end of the uprising in Poland, Slavophilism began to degenerate and turned into aggressive Russian nationalism and the promotion of Pan-Slavism. New Slavophile thinkers appeared in the 1870s and 1880s, represented by scholars such as Danilevsky and Leontiev. Danilevsky promoted autocracy and imperialistic expansion as part of the Russian national interest. Leontiev believed in a police state ideology aimed at preventing European influences from reaching Russia.[17]


Later writers Fyodor Dostoevsky, Konstantin Leontyev, and Nikolay Danilevsky also developed a peculiar conservative version of Slavophilism called pochvennichestvo (from the Russian word for soil). This teaching, as articulated by Konstantin Pobedonostsev (secular head of the Russian Orthodox church), was adopted as the official imperial ideology in the reigns of Alexander III of Russia and Nicholas II of Russia. Even after the Russian Revolution of 1917, it was further developed by émigré religious philosophers such as Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954).

Many of the Slavophiles influenced prominent Cold War thinkers such as George F. Kennan, instilling in them a love for "Old" Russia as opposed to Soviet Russia. This in turn influenced their foreign policy ideas, such as Kennan's belief that the revival of the Eastern Orthodox Church in WWII would lead to the reform or overthrow of the Soviet Union.

See also


  1. Encyclopedia Britannica Slavophile article
  2. From Nyet to Da: understanding the Russians, page 65 by Yale Richmond, Intercultural Press; 3rd edition (January 2003)
  3. "Classical Russian Slavophiles often conflated language and religion, equating Slavdom with Orthodoxy" The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography page 230 by Martin W. Lewis, Kären E. Wigen, University of California Press; 1 edition (August 11, 1997)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The Image of Ukraine and the Ukrainians in Russian Political Thought (1860-1945) by Volodymyr A. Potulnytskyi, ACTA SLAVICA IAPONICA, Volume 16 (1998) Journal of Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University
  5. Toward a United States of Russia: Plans and Projects of Federal Reconstruction of Russia in the Nineteenth Century page 137 by Dimitri Von Mohrenschildt, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press 1981
  6. Sovremennaia Letopis', No. XVII, 1861, pp. 124-125. "I do not believe in a possibility of creating a Malorussian common literary language, except for purely popular works of art, and I do not see any possibility of that, and I do not want and I cannot want any artificial attempts to destroy the wholeness of common Russian development, the attempts to lead the Malorussian artists away from writing in the Russian language. Thank God, that Gogol' had lived and worked before these demands appeared: we would have no "Mertvye Dushi"; you, or Kulish, would have fettered him with a tribal egoism and would have narrowed his horizon with the outlook of a single tribe! But, of course, no one of us has ever wanted or intended to stand in your way. Write as much as you please, translate Shakespeare and Schiller into the Malorussian dialect, dress Homer's characters and Greek gods in a Malorussian free-and-easy sheepskin coat (kozhukh)!"
  7. Reassessment of the Relationship: Polish History and the Polish Question in the "Imperial Duma Journal" article by Dmitry Shlapentokh; East European Quarterly, Vol. 33, 1999
  8. Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and East European Politics Page 51 by Pedro Ramet, Duke University Press 1989.
  9. U.S. Library of Congress, Country Study Poland
  10. Shlapentokh, 1999.
  11. Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis page 54by Ariel Cohen, Praeger Publishers (August 30, 1996)
  12. Dreams of the Eurasian Heartland: The Reemergence of Geopolitics Charles Clover March/April 1999
  13. Impressions of Russia by Georg Morris Cohen Brandes, T. Y. Crowell & co 1889
  14. The End of Eurasia: Russia on the Border Between Geopolitics and Globalization by Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  15. Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis page 54, "Thus Slavophilia transformed itself into Germanophobia."page 55 by Ariel Cohen, Praeger Publishers 1996
  16. History of Russian Philosophy by Nikolai Lossky ISBN 978-0823680740 p. 87
  17. The Extreme Randy Nationalist Threat in Russia: The Growing Influence of Western Rightist Ideas page 211 by Thomas Parland Routledge 2005

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