Peter the Great: Westernization, Mimesis and Rivalry

Guest lecture by Mikhail Suslov, Uppsala University

The modern period of the history of Russia began due to the efforts of Peter the Great (1672-1725). In this talk we will look at Peter’s reforms, which embodied the powerful thrust to imitate Western Europe in administration, military, economics, culture and everyday life.

The sweeping scale of these reforms made Russia the first country of the European periphery, which underwent such a thorough Westernization. Under Peter, hitherto backward and Asiatic Russia actually became a part of the Western world. Effects and consequences of Westernization constitute one of the main themes in the Russian modern history, but in this lecture I will focus on international tensions, which emerged from Russia’s competition for resources and recognition with countries of Western Europe.

Modernized Russia was able to marshal impressive military power due to its advantageous strategic position in Eurasia, centralized despotic government, and a big army recruited from millions of serfs. Soon Russia broke the backbones of its two deadly enemies, Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and challenged other great powers. For the next three centuries, Peter’s policy of Westernization locked histories of Russia and Europe in a short circuit of imitation, rivalry and aggression.

Mikhail Suslov is Marie-Curie Researcher at Uppsala Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies (UCRS), Uppsala University. He is the editor of Digital Orthodoxy in the Post-Soviet World: The Russian Orthodox Church and Web 2.0 (Stuttgart: Ibidem Verlag, 2016), and (with Mark Bassin) Eurasia 2.0: Post-Soviet Geopolitics in the Age of New Media (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016).