The rhetoric and logic of the representations of the Russian-Turkish War of 1877–1878 in Russian public discourse
The Balkan crisis of 1875—1876 and the ensuing Russo-Turkish war of 1877—1878 were the first major foreign policy challenges for the Russian Empire in the entirely new public sphere situation. The military reform of 1784, which replaced recruitment with conscription, translated in the involvement of the general public in the current events. The new public sphere, which had been developing from the 1850s, required new languages both to describe and to transform reality, as well as to produce a collective action. The tremendous public excitement, which spread across the most diverse strata of the Russian Empire in 1876—1877, was indicative of an effective mobilisation rhetoric. However, the disappointment, which quickly followed, and the devaluation of the events of those years by public opinion suggest that, although sanctioned by the authorities, the language of mobilisation was not effectively controlled by them. In this article, I analyse the structure of the public language of 1876— 1877, which was shaped by different actors who used it to express their attitudes to the current events. I identify a series of principal oppositions employed by most actors. I analyse these oppositions from the perspective of orientalism and demonstrate that an orientalist vision of the conflict was instrumental in ‘Westernising’ the image of the Russian Empire. The critics of this model placed both parties of the conflict in a common oriental framework but did not equate them. Self-orientalisation was viewed as a political challenge that required Westernisation, which did not apply to the other party to the conflict that represented the Orient proper. The political authorities of the Russian Empire could not retain control over the broad rhetorical framework that they created. The awareness of these problems was a factor of the qualitative changes in the official rhetoric of the regime that took place in the 1880s.
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