In This Review

Russian Citizenship: From Empire to Soviet Union
Russian Citizenship: From Empire to Soviet Union
By Eric Lohr
Harvard University Press, 2012, 288 pp

Borders are not merely lines on a map patrolled in the real world by guards and customs officials. They also embody the rules and practices that determine who falls under a state’s jurisdiction, with what rights and obligations, and who gets to come and go -- and on what terms. In this careful, economical history, Lohr demonstrates that Russia is not the eternally immured nation it has seemed for much of its history, with the Soviet Union only its most extreme version. Even before Peter the Great, but especially after the Great Reforms of the 1860s, Russia’s efforts to modernize led to a patchwork approach to immigration, emigration, and naturalization. Lohr effortlessly guides readers through the complex evolution of the rules for determining who was a Russian citizen as the expanding empire engulfed foreign peoples. In this story, the Soviet Union is the outlier, both because of the thick walls the Communists erected and because they based citizenship policy on class, rather than on ethnicity or place of birth. Over the centuries, however, Russia’s Jews were the policy’s most consistent victims.