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Julia Malitska

Julia Malitska is a doctoral candidate at the Södertörn University (Southern Stockholm, Sweden) with affiliation to the Centre of Baltic and East European Studies and School of Historical and Contemporary Studies. She is preparing her dissertation under the title Negotiating Imperial Rule: Colonists and Marriage in the nineteenth century Black Sea Steppe. She also holds  Candidate of Sciences (2010) and Master (2006) degrees in History from Dnipropetrovsk National University, Ukraine.

The Golden Cage: Imperial Politics, Colonist Rank and Marriage in the Nineteenth-Century Black Sea Steppe

In the Empress Catherine’s reign (1762-1796), people from German lands were invited to settle vast Steppe territories newly annexed by the Russian Empire and were promised free land, exemption from taxes, and religious freedom. The first German-speaking migrants arrived on the banks of the Volga River in 1764. During the 1804-1812 period, Alexander the First (1801-1825) published a series of decrees, setting new conditions for extensive Central and West European immigration into the Russian Empire and facilitating new influx from the troubled German lands to newly absorbed Black Sea Steppe and Bessarabia. Ethnically and confessionally  diverse German-speaking  people who eventually migrated into the Russian Empire were granted colonist rank and referred to as „German colonists” in imperial legislation and discourse. Until 1870s, „German colonists” with the colonist rank enjoyed a variety of privileges that legally differentiated them from other imperial subjects; they also had separate administration and elements of self-governance. The colonist rank that specified their place and role in the imperial polity brought not only rights and privileges but also set a number of limitations.

This paper  discusses the imposition of  the legal restrictions on marriage of the German-speaking colonists in the Black Sea Steppe, and the dynamics and logics of policy formation. In doing this I focus on marriage eligibility of the colonists and on the marriage conclusion procedure. The analysis suggests instrumentalization and subordination of colonist marriage to Russia’s politics in the region, pointing out the role of gender, confession and social position in policy formation and implementation. The empirical foundation of the paper derives from imperial legislation and archival materials of Ukraine. I argue that colonist marriage came to be regarded not only as a social institution to maintain good morals and sexual expression, but was primarily a bedrock of economic sufficiency, success of colonization, welfare of the region, and imperial rule security there.