Irkutsk: Decemberist fallout
Well, here’s another milestone: Trips and Tales No. 60 – a diamond anniversary! I’m not sure what we should draw from this. Hmm … probably nothing, so back to Irkutsk then and a little bit of background history as you explore the region on your Trans-Siberian adventure.
Last time we drew to a close with Decemberist exiles of relatively high social standing, serving out their time in Siberian exile with some ultimately staying to make a go of it once their perceived debt to the state had been satisfied.
The notion of re-settlement was often a factor in the punishment post-incarceration, to the point of allocating the exile a small area of land and basic tools from which they could … in theory … survive. Survival could readily depend upon prior experience of the conditions, personal resources (including finances) and social connections. Those who had too few of the above could (and would) quite easily perish.
Not least of these “connections” being the wives who often followed their exiled husbands voluntarily into Siberia and who would petition the state for concessions to their sentences, leniency, even privileges … voices hard to ignore through their (legal) innocence, matrimonial dedication and of course again: social standing. These voices were echoed and reinforced simultaneously by similar requests and petitions from the “folks back home”, often forming in total a persuasive and ultimately effective mechanism for a change of fortune … such as the welcome nullification of labour commitments for instance.
All this in the face of strict legislation and constant monitoring of exiles by agents of the state … an endeavour intended to suppress and limit the endeavours of this burgeoning community though paradoxically serving to reinforce it’s mutual bond and status. Out of this bond and its wish for the improvement of circumstance came a veritable movement of initiatives that established seats of learning, a development of agricultural variety and method, improved medicine and medical practice for the region, a development of music and the visual arts, enhanced literacy and in turn the propagation of literature … all of which were also available to enhance the lives of grateful, native Siberians …
These original residents not only favoured this newly imported intelligentsia’s rejection of Nicholas I’s rule … seeing it as a blow “for the people” but now could also experience tangible benefit to their daily lives and community.
The influence was far-reaching, affecting and incorporating a great many aspects of Siberian life: socio-economic, geographical, political, cultural … and more.
With the ascendency of Alexander II to the Russian throne in 1856, amnesty was granted to the Decemberist exiles, their official titles restored and the status of persona non-grata individually lifted, opening the way back to Moscow and the “civilised” European Russia that had once expelled them.
Of course this was now 30 years after their arrival in the east … and by this time many of them called Siberia “home”… Why now head west to pick up pieces of a life forcibly abandoned 3 decades ago? Or to start over again in senior years? In such a time-frame lives had irrevocably changed at both extremes of the Empire. For many, familial and professional connections had long since gone leaving nothing to return to. Some, quite simply were now too old and infirm to make the change, others no longer had the finances available to fund their former lives, and others still did return to see the abolishment of serfdom and other progressive political and legal reforms instigated during Alexander II’s reign before his assassination in 1881.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 61) Irkutsk on the rise
[Photo by Sergey Gabdurakhmanov]