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The traditional Russian policy with regard to Jews, at least since the late sixteenth century (Ivan IV), was simply not to tolerate their presence. From the moment when Kiev was taken from Poland Jews were expelled from the city. In 1727, Catherine I, Peter's wife and successor, expelled them from Ukraine and in 1742 Elizabeth I, Peter's daughter (very early in her reign, which began in 1741) expelled them from all her territories. Solzhenitsyn argues that these were shortlived and ineffective measures but it is nonetheless obviously significant that this was the policy. With regard to Elizabeth I, one of the greatest of Russian rulers, Poliakov says:

'In 1743, the governing senate submitted to Elizabeth Petrovna, Peter the Great's daughter, a detailed report pointing out the profits that the imperial treasury could gain if Polish Jews were admitted to the fairs in Kiev and Riga. The Empress's response was brief and peremptory: "From the enemies of Christ I do not wish to draw either interest or profit" she wrote with her own hand on the margin of the report.' (4)

(4) Léon Poliakov: Histoire de l'antisémitisme t.1, Calman-Lévy, n.d. (the text of this edition was originally published in 1981) , pp.420-1.

Even after the Polish partitions, when the Russian government had to accept responsibility for a large Jewish population, Jews continued to be excluded from Russia itself, albeit with increasing exceptions through the nineteenth century to 1917. This needs to be borne in mind when we come to the pogroms of the late nineteenth century. Often called 'Russian' pogroms they in fact occurred in Ukraine, Byelorussia and Moldova (Bessarabia). There is a question here which I think Solzhenitsyn doesn't sufficiently discuss. The 'Jewish problem' faced by successive Russian administrations in the early days was largely a matter of the triangular relationship between landlords, peasants and Jews, the latter playing the role of middlemen between the other two. But what sort of landlords? Still Catholic Poles? And what sort of peasants? Presumably Orthodox, but could they be described as Russians?


In his book The Education of a true believer, Solzhenitsyn's friend Lev Kopelev (the model for Lev Rubin in In the First Circle) describes his upbringing as a Russified Jew in Kiev in the pre-revolutionary period, and his own liking for Ukrainian culture and the celebration of all things Ukrainian that marked the Komsomol in the 1920s. But the differences among the different peoples of the area were still very much alive:

'My brother and I spoke to each other in German. But out in the yard and on the street and at school it was known that we came from a Jewish family. Unfriendly boys yelled at us: "German, German, sausage man/ride a horse as fast as you can./He got on a horse without a tail/ and rode it backward as fast as a snail." Or "Lousy yid, caught alive, number five,/ on a rotten post crucified." "Yid dope,/ he runs on a rope."

'Picking on others of different nationalities, the kids would holler: "Dirty Uke, dirty Uke,/ good for a poke, good for a joke!" And they would hear the answer: "Russky, Russky, you're the joke,/ why don't you go and climb an oak./ Go down the road - puff up like a toad!" Or "Polack, Polack,/ ate a toad under a rock."'

And later:

'In the terrible, famine-stricken spring of 1933 I had occasion to be in several Ukrainian villages and in several Russian villages during the course of one week. They were all in the Volchansky district, several kilometers apart. For over a hundred years, since the time of the Arakcheyev military settlements (5) they had been each other's neighbours. And yet, among the many oppressive and sad memories of those days, such conversations as these stuck in my memory:

'A peasant woman, no longer young, but even in her pallid, edema-swollen face you could see that she had been very handsome, was saying that she would not permit her son to marry a young woman from the neighbouring Ukrainian village.

'"I won't let that Uke girl in my cabin - she's unkept, unkempt, unclean. It's all a show with them: they whitewash their huts and dress up on holidays. Just like the gypsies. But take a look under their ribbons, their beads and what do you find? Lice, and nits besides [...]"

'She spoke with conviction, certain of her righteousness.

'But the next day in the Ukrainian village, I listened to the same elderly, commonsense wives and mothers. In every family there were swollen bellies, people dead of starvation, but neither enervation nor grief could weaken in them the bias, the suspicion, the ill will toward their neighbours.

'"If my son takes a Russky girl, he can go live in the home of his father-in-law. I swear I won't live under the same roof with her. Those Russkies live like pigs: their huts aren't whitewashed, never swept, cockroaches everywhere, bedbugs ..."'

(5) Military-agricultural colonies established under Alexander I as an inexpensive reserve of trained military forces. The first was established in 1810 under Count Alexei Arakcheyev in Belarus. In 1817 Count Arakcheyev officially became the head of all the military settlements in Russia. They were very unpopular, provoking a major mutiny in 1831. They were eventually abolished in 1857.

(6 )Lev Kopelev: The Education of a true believer, London, Wildwood House, 1981, pp.100 & 108.

It could be that in the late eighteenth century the Ukrainian or Byelorussian peasant was as foreign to the Russian administrator as the Polish landlord.