What is a ‘Minority’ in an Imperial Formation? Thoughts on the Russian Empire

Paul Werth, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Is minority a term applicable to groups in the Russian Empire, as an imperial formation? This article seeks to answer this question by engaging with two others: (1) Was there a term (or terms) that conveyed that idea? And, (2) Was there a historical experience among particular segments of that society with attributes that we may associate with “minorities”? The article proposes that, on the one hand, there can be no minorities unless a majority has itself come into being, and, on the other, that growing association of the state with the Russian people specifically, and the claim that other East Slavs were also Russian despite regional particularities, along with efforts to create a kind of citizenship through institutions that were inclusive of non-Russian peoples, began to constitute such a majority and minorities in Russia.