Looking for a Way out: Trans-Siberian Transportation Projects at the Turn of the 20th Century

Mikhail Agapov

Abstract


Referring to a large number of journalistic works of the turn of the 20th century that reflect the views of different business, political, and social groups, the author analyses the narrative strategies underlying the representation of both implemented and hypothetical Trans-Siberian transportation projects. The article aims to explicate the cultural attitudes and political goals of the authors of the transportation projects which formed their strategies of mental appropriation of territories. The author singles out and analyses three aspects related to the perception of Siberian space: imperial, regional, and transnational. According to the first aspect, Siberian space was regarded as an enormous geopolitical bridge meant to connect the centre of the country with remote Russian territories (the Far East) and Russia’s spheres of influence (Manchuria, Northeast China). This approach was implemented when the Great Siberian Railway was built and came to represent a horizontal distribution of power, connecting the imperial centre and the periphery. The regional idea of Siberia was a metaphor of its closedness: this was not induced by its nature but rather by artificial economic reasons. The Russian government favoured the export of Siberian butter but not that of grain. The Great Siberian Railway was thus regarded as a means of improving foreign trade. However, this route for Siberian grain was closed following the introduction of the Chelyabinsk railway tariff in 1896. Under such circumstances, Siberians had to resort to the idea of the 1860s–1870s of organising a transit trade route from Siberia to Europe. At the turn of the 20th century, there appeared two approaches to how this could be fulfilled: by joining the basins of Siberian and Central Russian rivers (Siberian River Routes) or establishing a connection between these rivers by means of the Kara Sea (Northern Sea Route). According to the third – transnational – aspect, all three routes were regarded as elements of global transit routes to be established. Following the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War, the Russian authorities considered it a national communication system which was not only of economic but also of military and strategic importance. On the eve of World War I, the idea of the Northern Sea Route as an international route was replaced by the idea of it as a “natural monopoly” of the Russian state.


Keywords


geographic imagination; transport routes; Trans-Siberian Railway; Siberian River Routes; Northern Sea Route

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2018.3.327

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