Russification and Empire at the Edge of The Imperial Capital: Finnish and Estonian Schools in St. Petersburg Province, 1875-1914
In a recent seminar at the Kennan Institute, Dr. Steven Duke, Assistant Director of International Academic Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed the Russification efforts of the Russian government toward ethnic groups in the St. Petersburg province around the turn of the 20th century. He explained that because most ethnic minorities had access to community or church schools, the central government focused its efforts toward introducing Russian language in schools. He argued that the Russian government's ambition to introduce Russification reforms were not matched by results on the ground. According to Duke, a number of factors limited the overall effectiveness of the Russification efforts and the overall instruction of Russian in schools within the St. Petersburg province varied widely.
Duke began his discussion by explaining how different ethnic groups had different levels of access to schools. According to Duke, Germans and Finns had access to best schools in the province, including the well-known church school, St. Peter's, which was run by a Petersburg German Lutheran congregation. He stated that many of the German Lutheran schools were some of the most expensive in the province, and were intended largely for the nobles, with many Russian parents sending their children there to receive a "European" education. Duke pointed out that other ethnic and religious groups, including Finns, Estonians, Jews and Tatars established schools throughout the province and were largely responsible for the type of curriculum that was taught in those schools.
Duke discussed the disconnect between the government's ambitions to introduce Russification and actual results on the ground. He presented data that illustrated substantial increases in government spending on elementary education throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly after 1908. However, he continued, a mandate for how those funds were to be spent was never provided to the schools. He explained that the money from the state went first to the provincial level and then to the district level, and therefore the central government had relatively little leverage over the instruction in most primary schools. Duke noted that the pastors or the schoolteachers, who were largely against Russification, mediated the administrative side of Russification efforts, and the school districts did not have full coercive power to mandate that Russian be taught for a certain number of hours or weeks.
Duke noted that despite ethnic differences there is evidence that Russian was taught in most schools. He explained that many children recognized the economic advantages of learning Russian and therefore sought opportunities where they could receive instruction. He contended however, that teachers were largely responsible for classroom curriculum and therefore the availability of Russian language training varied from school to school. He noted that most schools were poorly attended, which also made Russification efforts difficult. Up until the eve of World War I, the actual finishing rate of ethnic schools was somewhere between 5-15 percent. Duke explained that this meant that the schools were in constant flux, making the administration of Russification efforts that much more difficult.