‘For the Homeland and the Tsar’: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the War of 1812 as a Tool for Building Imperial Loyalty of the Youth (Summary)

Olga Mastianica (PDF)

Throughout the 19th century, officials of the Russian Empire in the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) faced the challenge of forming and ensuring the imperial loyalty of non-dominant ethnic groups. It was a difficult task because some of the new subordinates upheld the hopes of restoring the former statehood, which they had tried to implement during the Napoleonic Wars and uprisings in 1830–1831 and 1863–1864. The article aims to assess how and by what means the central and local governments tried to implant the image of the Russian state’s integrity and construct the self-image of the loyal subordinates of the empire. The War of 1812 episode in the lands of the former GDL perfectly illustrates two competing historical memories.

In the Northwest Krai, representatives of the local government structures and local Russian intelligentsia responded to the War of 1812 as the Polish fight for freedom, and the symbol of political autonomy created the so-called regional narrative. The academic, educational and popular historical literature in Vilnius has explained how the Polish hopes associated with Napoleon were unfounded. At the same time, it was emphasised that, unlike Napoleon, the Russian Emperor Alexander I cared for the development and dissemination of Polish education and science and reflected on rebuilding statehood. In addition, the interpretation was made that only the nobility, represented by the Poles, supported Napoleon.

It should be noted that this regional narrative was not widely disseminated. As a result, only individual academic works and the sparse historical and educational literature used the narrative. However, in Vilnius, unlike in Moscow, the publishing industry had not developed publications specially oriented to young people, and the published works could not consolidate the mental image of imperial propaganda and its emotional effect.

Keywords: the War of 1812, historical memory, imperial loyalty, Russian Empire, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth