Historical Precedents

We are very fortunate to have, as a partner in this effort, Sofia Slutskaya from Krasnodar, Russia. Sonya, as a part of her doctoral work, studied the general issue of community and "community networking" in pre-revolutionary (19th century) Russia. Sonya will be sharing with the CIVNET-Russia project the results of her studies, including a bibliography on the subject.

Please take the time to read this page - the material posted here should be very helpful in exploring the historical roots of "community" and community networking in Russia.

We are grateful to Sonya who recently rewrote the entire telecommunications server of Friends and Partners. Much of this material is being made available on this site for user convenience.


The Russians associate the "community" with an especially American concept. There seems to be difficult to find the exact equivalent in Russian not only of the phenomenon itself but even of the term. Whether this point of view is correct? To answer this question we should know what do Americans mean by the word "community".

The word "community" has got at least three meanings. First, people living in one place, district or country; second, a group of people having the same religion, race, occupation or with common interests, and third, people having things in common, being alike in some way. The term "community" unites all three meanings. So, it means people living together, having common opinions and convictions and joint activity; they together working, pleasantly occupying their time after work, doing shopping, selling, celebrating festive occasions etc.. From this definition we could say about "a sense of the community", a sense of belonging to the united social formation. The main features that characterize the "community" are self awareness and willing and ability to create.

The notion of "local community" unwittingly revives a memory of strong Russian local lore movement in the second half of the XIXth century as well as of the philosophy of this movement.

Of course, local lore movement in the XIXth century was not just the union formed according to the regional principle . Trying to formulate this phenomenon, a well-known Russian literary scholar and historian, N.K.Picsanov, used the concept of "regional culture family". In his book N.K.Picsanov wrote: "Let us call culture family not mechanical but close, organic uniting culture events and figures" [15]. "Regional culture family" is featured not only by the interest to the local community, its history and current state. The main feature due to which the family is formed is "...uniting living figures. The other sign of the family is not its organizers but successors; the culture family could not be supposed without bringing up the youngers by elders, without promotion of some or a whole group of pupils. This family could not exist without joint activity that leads to the steady objective results" [15]. Is not this a definition of local community united by place, opinions and ideas and activities on studying, developing and improving the place. Numerous particular examples from the history of various regions in Russia prove the existence of local communities, "regional culture families" in many regions.

The Russian culture families as the American "communities" were characterized not only by specific, typical for one region, features but also by general, common for many regions, features. The Russian meaning of the notion "regional culture family" is supported by the united mechanism of self-identification and self -awareness developed in many regions. This mechanism was developed by order of the center or on the initiative of local forces, various organizations uniting local intellectuals and people interested in studying and development of the region. Among those institutions we should mention statistic committees of provinces, the amateurs of place-studying societies, church-archeological and church-historical committees and commissions.

However, the presence of the institutions that could be the centers of the regional culture life is not a sufficient condition to speak about the existence of local culture family. The other, not less important feature, is an active role of local press and peculiarity of local publishing activity.

Regional periodicals played actually the role of the center in all regions uniting local intellectuals and created the original informative infrastructure due to which the information could be shared between the authorities and population, between the representatives of different layers of population and due to which it became possible to have dialogue with the population on the most important events in local live.

Characterization of the research and publishing activity of regional local lore organizations, determination of the role which these organizations played in local community once more proved the possibility of carrying out the comparison between the philosophy of the American "community" and Russian "regional culture family". To support this idea we consider in detail the activity of some organizations which were functioning in various regions in Russia before the revolution in 1917.

Statistic committees of provinces were established in 1834 together with the formation of Statistic Department at the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. Although provincial statistic committees were officially in the Center's subordinate, they were fully dependent upon the provincial officials. The chairman of the committee was governor. The members of the committee were all regional officials, known well-to-do persons of the region, the head of local clergy. However, a real work was done by the "real members", i.e. teachers, world mediators, office workers, educated church attendants. Most of them were young people who were enthusiastic about the progressive ideas. They lived not only in the town of a province but also in the remote places of the region. It was a circle of provincial intellectuals who gathered and systematized statistic information for central bureaucratic bodies. The major, official function of statistic committees was to gather statistic information on various subjects required by the central statistic committee and to prepare statistic registers enclosed to the reports of the officials of provinces. But the important thing is that the active forces of a province were united under the officials' names. It was natural that the productive youth did more than just to implement narrow official tasks given by the authorities. The main objective was to study local place and local life in all their originality.

Printing-houses of the provincial boards were functioning in most provinces. Editors published the local registers and closely connected with the statistic committees. The interest to certain local subject-matters, a group of the participants and a circle of authors reflected in the local registers united the committees and editors.

Local statistic committees were known for their unprecedented in Russian regions publishing activities. First of all, their publishing focused on the issue of "Memorandum-books". The "Memorandum-books" were a regular edition with general program in all provinces in the Russian Empire. The first part of this book included the reference information and the second one represented statistic tables, materials on statistics as well as the articles on ethnography, history, archeology, geography. The second part of the "Memorandum-book" serves until nowadays as a source of various information on appropriate region.

The great works of the local investigators were published in "Transactions" of statistic committees. Although "transactions" were also a regular edition, they were published from time to time. "Transactions" contained the works on economics, meteorology, ethnography, history, written on the basis of the information on local area. The issues of "Transactions" were realized not only through sale but also were loaned and free of charge distributed. The issues of Transactions were loaned not only in the statistic committees but also in archive commissions, church-archeological and church-historical committees and commissions, the societies of the amateurs of the local place-studying. It says about the interest to the activities of one committees to another, about the relation between the institutions (organizations) of similar type all over the Russian Empire.

Provincial cultural islets of Russia were interested in local history. They solicitously treated to documents, which reanimated the past of local community. The special institutions were established for preservation and analysis of historical documents. The excerpt from a document of the past can give us an entire characteristic of this institution : " On 13 of April, 1884, under the imperial resolution of Committee of Ministers there ware established Provincial Archival Academician Commissions. They dealt with archive materials, which related to local history. Those commissions consisted of employees and of private persons, who were not officials, but who could be useful ..."(24)

The main goal of Archival Commissions was to create provincial historical archive; to collect and put in order archival documents, which were of great historical importance. These Commissions besides their own duties were able to search for antiques, describe and illustrate them. One of the duties of these Commissions was the compiling of inventories and indexes of archive documents.

The most of these commissions had their own printing bodies, which were published according accumulation of materials. Often the names of these editions were : "Works" or "Proceedings". Various materials and documents, articles and results of researches, reports of commissions working activity were published there.

One may consider "Provincial Bulletin" to be the most ancient and the only edition for a long time throughout all Russia. In each province it had the own local substance. The life of these editions started in 1830 from the moment of approving the statement about edition governmental printing bodies in province. Towards the end of 19-th century the number of provincial bulletins was about 80.

The main goal of the edition and it's content are formed by program, stated in "Statement about the order of conduct of an affair in province administrations" of 3-d of June, 1837. "Attached to each province administration special provincial bulletins are edited for the purpose of getting at any time information about resolutions, orders, instructions of provincial administration" (16).

All editions are divided into two parts : official (formal) and non-official. The contents of official part forms the orders of provincial administration and Head of province; reproofs and awards to officials; staff displacement; estimates of obligations and taxes; announcements about legal proceedings, fugitive runaway and hobo; dead bodies and lost documents; about epidemics and other disasters.

In non-official part one can put the news about extremely incidents in province; about plants, factories, mines, trade, fairs, market prices, state of harvest; about navigation; about meteorological researches and extraordinary natural phenomena; about opening the new educational institutions in province; about interesting historical news concerning province; obituaries. In time in non-official part are published the articles of scientific character : geographical, topographical, historical, archaeological, statistical, ethnographic data (11) . The periods of provincial bulletins activity raising concurred with the extension of the amount of articles about local land (country) in them. And on the contrary the periods of decay were remarkable for poor coverage of local life and for great amount of faceless reprints.

There was very much done by Russian Orthodox Church for the purpose of existing of cultural islets, for provincial local communities. In particular for strengthening of idea about indissoluble tie between Church and people, for study of Church history as an inseparable part of region history there were established in last quarter of 19-th century the church-and-local-lore organizations.

The church-local lore organizations were busy with study of own territory from the standpoint of church history, archaeology, religious life of people. Their main goal one can turn to following statement : " Church Historical-Archaeological Community has the goal to study the past and the present religious and public life of local land, memorials of antiquity collecting and preservation for the benefit of Church and Science"(9).

Their main objectives were : protection of memorials, study of church history of the region, creation of historical descriptions of the eparchy, studying and description of local archives, studying of religious customs and rites, dissemination of archeological knowledge in the society, mainly among persons of holy orders, organization of archeological exhibitions and public lecturing. Several types of church-and-local-lore organizations have formed in pre-revolutionary Russia: 1) church historical depositories; 2) church-archeological and church-historical committees and commissions; 3) commissions for historical and statistic description of eparchys; 4) commissions for analysis of consistory archives. They included traditionally museums (historical depositories) and libraries. Just founding of eparchial historical museum, which dealed with collection of material and written relics of the past, often initialized an activity of church-archeological committees and commissions. explainment of religious and moral life of orthodox local land residents" [25] in its collections. According to its regulations, library funds of church-and-local-lore organizations must have local lore orientation and must include archeological, historical and ethnographic reference books and literature devoted to specific region. So, in the journal of Perm church-archeological society conference, the significance of the library was defined as follows: "in due course, it may acquire a special value, since it concentrated the works devoted to Perm land history, which are published in limited quantity and soon become the rarities, and some of them don't appear in book markets at all" [5].

Scientific and exploration activity of church-and-local-lore organizations was not reduced to organization of museums and libraries. Many time was devoted to archeological and ethnographic expeditions for the study of eparchies. Besides the expeditions, archives of ecclesiastical department were an important source of church antiquity. Archive documents and descriptions of archives might be published in local eparchial registers, and its editorial staff "was glad, without doubts, of such fresh and characteristic materials promising a history full of interest to eparchy" [10]. However, any activity for studying of local community life and history might be resultative only on condition that large number of interested people are involved into it. Therefore, the propagandistic activity was an important part of church local lore activity. For the studying of eparchies, which sometimes took up vast territories, it was necessary to enlist local parish priests, teachers and students of parish schools and spiritual colleges as members and correspondents. Besides the persons of holy orders, also secular people of both sexes might be members of the committees.

A great importance was attached to dissemination of church-historical and archeological knowledge, organization of exhibitions and public lecturing. Tver eparchial historic-archeological committee even organized, jointly with scientific archive commission, archeological courses for members of committee and commission, graduates and teachers of Tver educational institutions "for the dissemination of archeological knowledge in order of more successful studying and protection of relics of the past, mainly church relics" [14].

For assistance to church antiquity study amateurs, was published programs, descriptions of temples, archeological antiquities and people's customs. church-and-local-lore organizations actively interacted with regional archive commissions; they realized an exchange of publications and information. Moreover, in regions where eparchial church-archeological committee or historical depository was not created, the archive commission shouldered its functions. So, in Viatka, with support of all-eparchy priesthood congress, was created a church historic-archeological museum attached to regional archive commission. Historical depositories attached to archive commissions existed in eparchies of Kostroma, Orenburg and others. Publishing activity of church-and-local-lore organizations promoted the dissemination of archeological knowledge and involvement of new forces into the committees, stimulated an exploration activity.

The basic publishings of church-and-local-lore organizations were historic-statistical descriptions of eparchies, catalogues and descriptions of historical depositories and works. The works of church-and-local-lore organizations, as well as analogical publishings of statistical committees, were planned most often as periodical, but released episodically. Many of them began as notifications about new receipts to church historical depositories or as its catalogues. The other cause of works' appearance was an impossibility to publish large research works of church-and-local-lore nature in eparchial registers. The basic topics of researches of committee members and reports of local priesthood were histories of separate churches, monasteries and parishes; biographies of local Right Reverends and eminent specimens of persons of holy orders; histories of spiritual educational institutions, objects of religious worship and church art. Much consideration was given to recording of customs, rites, local songs and dialects.

All these materials, sequenced in the defined system, might compose the full history of eparchy. Historic-statistical descriptions of eparchies performed not only a function of historical description of given territory from religious point of view, but also a reference function, since they covered all parishes and churches of the eparchy with maximal completeness. Parish descriptions, composed by local priests with(?) special program, served as a base for publishings. Reading of eparchies description program allows to see that the church interested not only religious aspects, but also economic status of inhabitants, their attitude to social life, their mode of life. Much consideration was given to description of superstitions, rites, and customs. So, priesthood of Volyn region was offered to introduce "various folk songs, Christmas carols, tales, facetious sayings, proverbs, wedding and christening customs, etc." [2] in their descriptions. Eparchial registers played a great role in the creation of historic-statistical descriptions of eparchies. They published programs of descriptions and instructions for its composition.

Many descriptions were published in the registers or as applications to them before to be published as a separate edition. The publishers of eparchial registers were also the compositors of the descriptions. Sometimes, also secular local lore occupied with preparation and publishing of the descriptions. In our story about the activity of church-and-local-lore organizations, we already noted the eparchial registers many times, since this itself edition was most often a center of local lore activity of Russian Orthodox Church in different regions. The registers began to be published in 1860s, and in 1917 were published almost in all eparchies.

The answer to the question about the causes of eparchial publications' appearance may be found in priesthood's speeches and articles of that time. So, Right Reverend Dmitri (Muretov) wrote that "the existence of eparchial registers may serve well for enlivening of whole eparchial administration, for drawing it together with whole flock, for encouragement of subordinated priesthood with promulgation of laudable and helpful actions and persons fervent in their service" [23]. As a reason of creation of local eparchial press organ, one may to attribute a necessity of putting of directives and measures of superior and local church administration into practice. Moreover, the church administration used this press organ also for clearing up community response to its directives. So, in the official part of "Stavropol eparchial registers" the directives of eparchial administration must was printed "...with the right of free disputation" [3]. At second, that is especially important for us, the registers must served as "...a feasible expression of internal spiritual life of the priesthood itself" [1].

Another important urgent motive of creation of namely local edition was a necessity of regard and mirroring of specific features of each eparchy. So, in the "Reference about Perm eparchial registers" was written: "Besides common interests, each eparchy might have its own ones, its own puzzling questions that are pushed by life...the specific past of given land, ethnic composition of inhabitants, mode of life, even geographical conditions, since some sides of priest activity depends on them and partly is defined by them" [7]. Thus, among the reasons of eparchial registers appearance, the priesthood's need in specific local information and knowledge about the features of history of development and existence of their eparchy was almost the main need of priesthood. It's namely the task, which may be resolved only on the local level.

The place, which was occupied by eparchial registers in provincial life, was defined by width of local and local lore information presented in them. It was connected mainly with the priesthood's need of knowledge of their parishes' history. "...A novice priest must know the past life of his parish to act more advisable and successful in his new parish" [17]. Satisfying this need, eparchial registers often initialized the collection of historical, archeological, and ethnographic materials, the creation of historic-statistical descriptions of eparchies. Moreover, the programs of such researches were published in the edition. More than once, a summon to parish priesthood to collect legends, to describe customs and rites of local inhabitants, and to send parish chronicles to edition rang from its pages. Such, on the one hand, local lore character of the edition caused by purely practical need of local priesthood. However, the problem was not reduced to this. Registers' creators seeked for the ways to make the edition interest, to enlist readers and subscribers. And they saw the solution of this problem in attachment a brightly expressed local lore trend to the edition.

The improvement of eparchial registers, in their creators' opinion, depended completely on local priesthood, which must be not only readers, but also authors of articles. A summon to collaboration may be found on the pages of Minsk, Novgorod, Voronezh and many other eparchial registers. The publishers defined also, what information is necessary to receive from local priesthood: "...the most desirable is to see descriptions of religious, moral and ritual life of the flock, the picture of believes conservated in people, both church and popular" [19]. This and similar desires may be reduced to several directions, in which the collaboration of priesthood and eparchial registers was desirable; these directions are description of customs, rites, and holidays existing among local people; of history and modern life of the parish.

To reinforce local lore content of the edition, it was proposed to enlist contributors not only from local priesthood, but also from other social groups: "Contributors from all social groups are necessary; it's need to find it, to give'em the program of desirable information and messages, to offer'em a salary for the labor... the non-official part of edition needs a free paid labor, with this labor it may gain readers and even free subscribers" [6]. The studying of activity of various organizations, which existed in pre-revolutionary Russia, allows to talk about come common regularities, about the rightfulness of the conception of regional cultural nest, about existence of really local communities in pre-revolutionary Russia, united not only with the same territory, but with common ideas. To this ideas are related:

  • an interest to the history and to the modern conditions of local community, understanding of its unicality, yearning to collect and publish the facts of local history, archeology, ethnography, economical and social life, to attract community's attention to the most interesting and important sides of region's life;

  • a community of activists representing various groups of local intelligentsia (teachers, priesthood, journalists, writers, musicians, etc. Appearance of Regional Statistical Committees, archive commissions, church-archeological institutions and other local organizations considerably expanded a circle of persons occupying with collection and proceeding of materials on and people's economy, life and art. In the hands of local intelligentsia, that entered into new institutions, was converted to descriptions of various sides of surrounding life. It's typical that the same activists, as a rule, took part both in statistical committees and in archive commissions, published their works in regional and eparchial registers, in other local editions;

  • a close interaction of local lore organizations that are situated in different regions. Statistical committees, archive commissions, and church-archeological institutions distributed their editions to similar institutions through all Russia, complectated their libraries with editions of related organizations, and their representatives met on congresses and conferences, and exchanged experience and ideas;

  • almost all local lore organizations in pre-revolutionary Russia had their own press organs. It's connected not only with yearning for publishing collected materials, but with necessity of live exchange of ideas, of attracting the attention of whole local community to important issues of social life.

Such, an address to experience of American "communities" is not only an interest to useful and interesting foreign practice for us, but resurrection of our own historic experience, and possibility of its reviving on a new technological base.

(Cited sources listed in Russian version; they're not translated to English).


Fear of life in one form or another is the great thing to exorcise. - William James

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