almost exclusively on the tsar as the symbolic father of subjects who often spoke different languages, belonged to different ethnic groups and practised different religions.49 An independent public sphere able to promote alternative identities may have been more restrictive than elsewhere in Europe, but it allowed for new expressions of being Russian that relied less on the person of the tsar or on Orthodoxy than on the imperial model. The emerging literary markets for high-, low- and middle-brow readers posed the broadest challenges to tradition as they pondered the possibility of a unified identity in a multinational and multiethnic empire or presented secular notions of Russianness that emphasised the geographical expanse of the empire and its historical achievement.50
In the decade leading up to World War I, the Russian autocracy faced growing and seemingly irreversible social and political unrest without offering any viable alternatives to eventual revolution. Peter the Great had left his mark by creating a schizophrenic Russia that shifted uneasily between its older Slavic Orthodox and newer western selves as it created a new path for the empire. By way of contrast, Tsar Nicholas II preferred to lean on the Slavic Orthodox roots of his people in an attempt to revive an outdated Muscovite notion of tsar and people as united in history and destiny. In this, the doomed tsar deferred to what he considered to be the natural inclination of his subjects towards a new type of Orthodox piety, which longed for a distant past while taking advantage of the benefits of modern technologies.
49 This is a basic theme of Hosking, Russia, people and empire. Cf.R. Wortman, Scenarios of power: myth and ceremony in Russian monarchy, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995-2000).
50 Brooks, When Russia learned to read, ch. 6.
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