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None of this implies any particular concern with the wellbeing of the peasantry. This - the perceived need to protect the peasantry against Jewish exploitation - was to become a major theme in Russian-Jewish relations throughout the nineteenth century. Its first major expression was the report submitted in 1800 to the Tsar Paul I by Senator Gavrila Derzhavin.

Paul had succeeded to the throne after Catherine died unexpectedly in 1796 following the second and third partitions of Poland (1793 and 1795) which brought a large further influx of Jews into the Russian Empire. Soon after Paul's accession a devastating famine broke out in Byelorussia and Derzhavin (who had previously been asked by Catherine to look into the condition of the Jews) was commissioned to report on the causes.

D.S.Mirsky's History of Russian Literature ('first published in London in 1927 and which has been a bible for student generations ever since' (11)) calls Derzhavin 'the greatest poet of the century, one of the greatest and most original of all Russian poets ... His philosophy is a joyous and avid epicureanism that does not deny God but admires Him quite disinterestedly. He accepts death and annihilation with a manful thankfulness for the joys of ephemeral life. He combines in a curious way a high moral sentiment of justice and duty with the resolute and conscious decision to enjoy life to the full. He loved the sublime in all its forms: the metaphysical majesty of a deistic God, the physical grandness of a waterfall, the political greatness of the Empire, of its builders and warriors ...' (12)


(12) D.S.Mirsky: A History of Russian Literature from its beginnings to 1900, New York, Vintage Books, 1958. pp.49-51. Mirsky, after living in London as an emigré, returned to Russia in 1932 and died in captivity in 1939.

The Jewish website, on the other hand, not questioning Derzhavin's greatness as a poet, says: 'Unfortunately for the Jews, Derzhavin was no friend of the Jews. He was altogether a proud and hard man, with a bad temper. He was extremely selfish and was interested in his career and success more  than in anything else. For the Jews he had nothing but contempt ... It was in June, 1800 that Derzhavin was ordered on his new investigation [of the famine in Byelorussia] and after several months he came to Vitebsk to write his report. In October he returned to Petersburg with his report, which he called "Opinion" (in Russian Mnenie).

'Although the original complaints about the famine were directed against the estate owners, and the emperor's order mentioned nothing about investigating the Jews, Derzhavin had immediately decided that it was the Jews' fault and he was determined so to report. He only needed certain "facts" to make a case against the Jews, and his main purpose was to collect such information as would be most damaging to the Jews ...

'Derzhavin blamed the famine on the Jews and recommended that the Jews be expelled from the rural areas, should not be allowed to rent inns, make and sell spirits, and other measures restricting Jews.'

The interest of is that it is the website of the Lubavitch Jews. Solzhenitsyn generally avoids discussion of specifically religious matters but it is surely interesting to note that the formation of this most important movement of hasidic Jews coincided with the Polish partitions. The first Rebbe of the chabad movement was Rabbi Scheur Zalman, Maggid (preacher) of his home town, Liozna, near Vitebsk, incorporated into the Russian Empire in the 1772 partition. (13) According to the account, Derzhavin's nefarious project was defeated by Rabbi Schneur Zalman, largely through his connections with people in high places:

'Rabbi Schneur Zalman had seen to it that Derzhavin should receive good opinions about the Jews. Many estate owners and members of the local authorities had promised Rabbi Schneur Zalman to be fair, and to speak favourably of the Jews. But Derzhavin ignored almost all the favourable things he had heard about the Jews. He made only one exception, mentioning in his report that Prince Lubomirsky, a prominent nobleman and estate owner in White Russia, declared that the Jews were very helpful to him in the management of the estates and were generally useful to the population at large. (Prince Lubomirsky was an admirer of Rabbi Schneur Zalman and after Rabbi Schneur Zalmnan's second arrest and acquittal (14) invited the Rabbi to settle in the town of Liadi, which belonged to the Prince).'

(13) It was his son and successor, Rabbi Dovber Schneuri, who settled in the town of Lubavitch, giving the movement its name.

(14) This was a consequence of the inter-Jewish quarrel between the hasidim and the mitnagdim ('opponents'), followers of the Gaon of Vilna (Vilnius), Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, still regarded as an authoritative figure in Talmudic studies. The difference was between the traditional Jewish emphasis on exegesis of the law in the light of the Talmud, an essentially intellectual exercise, and the new emphasis on mystical experience and charismatic leadership (though the Gaon was also a noted exponent of the Kaballah). The 1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia gives his experience of the hasidim/mitnagdim confrontation as a major cause of Derzhavin's dislike of Jewish culture.

Paul I was assassinated in 1801. His son and successor, Alexander I, was present in the building where the assassination occurred and the assassins were never punished. Paul was said to have been mad, but a Russian Orthodox website, arguing that he should be recognised as a Saint, gives this alternative explanation for the murder which, although not strictly relevant to the subject under discussion, I can't resist sharing:

'The forces of dark feared the influence of God's anointed king on the fate of nations. A conspiracy arose, at the head of which stood several high officials and embittered officers who dreamed of liberties. The Emperor's orders began to be distorted to the point of becoming unrecognisable. The conspirators very cunningly influenced the society of the capital city against the monarch. The headquarters for the conspiracy became the salon of Zherebtsova, sister of the three Zubov brothers who would be the future murderers, while at her back stood her "friend," English Ambassador Sir Charles Whitworth. Lopukhin (15) testifies that the participants in the murder received two million pounds in English gold through Zherebtsova. The Tsar's treaty with Napoleon for a march on India, which would have undermined British colonial power, was his death sentence. The conspirators openly declared that the interests of England were dearer to them than the interests of Russia.

(15) Possibly Pyotr Vasilyevich Lopukhin (1753 – 1827) whose daughter, Anna, was Paul's mistress. Paul did in fact enter into into an alliance with Napoleon for a joint invasion of India, a project aborted by his assassination -

'By March 1801 the conspirators' exacerbation reached a high point, and they decided to commit regicide. Tsar Paul I was brutally murdered in the night of 11th to 12th March 1801. Napoleon commented on the event thus: "Without the death of Tsar Paul, England would have been lost."' (16)