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Russia’s censorship policy in the Caucasus is part of the imperial-colonial goals that the highest authorities of this country had towards the people of the Caucasus. Specifically, the censorship policy of the empire in Georgia fought against the idea of the national identity of the Georgian people and the restoration of an independent Georgian state, and the people who dedicatedly fought for the realization of this idea.
The history of Russian censorship in the Caucasus and Georgia officially begins in the middle of the 19th century, namely, from 1848, when the Caucasus Censorship Committee was established, which was the official institution implementing Russia’s chauvinist-colonial policy in the Caucasus and Georgia in particular. However, the pre-history of Russian censorship is longer and more loaded with imperial content, because its goal was much more difficult, namely: the abolition of the Georgian kingdom-principalities, the incorporation of all of Georgia into the imperial space, the Russification of the country.
When we get acquainted with a lot of materials that reflect the intelligence activities of people with special tasks sent to Georgia by the Russian government, starting from Peter the Great, ending with the activities of people sent by the emperors Paul and Alexander, we realize that controlling the current events in our country was a priority of the Russian government’s foreign policy.
Russia’s censorship policy controlled everything that the empire needed to preserve the conquered country, to study the moods and aspirations of all its citizens, to punish those who dared to turn to the past, to completely assimilate the population and to kill forever the idea of independence in the people.
Some time before the conquest of Georgia, the officials sent on a special mission got to know the local political, economic and cultural situation, created the ground for the conquest of the country, and after the conquest, the committees with the chief rulers had a special task of studying the mood of the population and the thought of the creative elite (Kovalensky, Knoring, Musin-Pushkin, etc.). The information obtained as a result of this control was sent to the ruler of the Caucasus, who in turn reported this information to the highest authority, the emperor himself. The multivolume set of acts compiled by the Caucasus Archaeological Commission is full of such information.
Before the conquest of the Kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti, the so-called duty of “Chief Censor” was performed by Petre Kovalenski, an official specially sent to Georgia by Emperor Paul I. He recorded the views of interesting political figures, informal settings and thoughts expressed during meetings, and prepared the ground for Russia’s conquest of the Caucasus. At the beginning of the 60s of the XIX century, before the release of the Acts, Adolphe Berge published “Councilor of State Petre Kovalensky’s Notes on Georgia”. It clearly shows how Kovalensky tried to influence the king of Kartli-Kakheti through personal conversations, to confront him with the Caucasian khanates, including those who were in friendly relations with the royal court of Georgia, he organized inspirations by bringing down the division between the kings and princes within Georgia itself, and all this was part of the imperial policy of Russia.
A special conclusion based on complete control over the population led to the creation of the secret police in 1831, which is nothing more than the imposition of complete censorship on the actions and desires of the Georgian people. On May 23, 1831, Adjutant-General Benkendorf was addressed by the governor of the Caucasus, General Ivan Paskevich, and presented the project of creating a secret military police in Transcaucasia, with the center in Tbilisi. It consisted of 29 paragraphs and the establishment of prospective personnel. The project was approved by Emperor Nicholas I on July 7 of the same year. In its very first paragraph, significant words have been stated: “Among the population of Georgia and other provinces of Transcaucasia, which in most cases were subdued by the power of Russian weapons, there are many people who, as a result of wrong thinking, do not look at the Russians as protectors,
but as conquerors, and therefore they are hostile to the Russian government” (Acts 1878: 343).
Due to the existing situation, the author of the project proposes to the emperor a number of secret intelligence measures, which will prevent the government from conspiracies, anxiety, etc. Paragraph 8 of the project states that in provinces, regiments, judicial institutions, ports, customs, border quarantines, foreign consulates and generally in places where foreign citizens gather, the secret police was to have their own secret agents; Paragraph 9 states that the postal service should check and monitor suspicious correspondence and possible encrypted information contained therein. Paragraph 10 states that even the clothes and personal belongings of suspicious persons should be secretly searched when crossing the border. Paragraph 19 states that the secret police should always be on the lo-okout for “people who are free-thinkers and insolent against religion and the government”.
Paragraph 24 deals with military units; Secret Service officials were to find out if there were “secret societies among the officers, or parties malicious in their content, or intrigues of any kind, and from whom they originated” (Acts 1878:343-345).
As we can see, the newly formed secret police agency is becoming a very powerful weapon in the hands of the Russian imperial state. Its main purpose was to detect and prevent events similar to the conspiracy of 1832, however, national forces always acted against it, and the secret police could not reveal the conspiracy until December 9, 1832.
Censorship was tightened in 1837, when Russian Emperor Nicholas I arrived in Georgia for the first time. From the memories of Luka Isarlov, an eyewitness of the events, who later became the “fierce censor” of the Caucasus Censorship Committee, it is clear how extensive the censorship was everywhere and on everything, so that this visit could end peacefully. We can consider December 23, 1837 as the beginning of the history of the censorship of the Georgian printed press, when by the order of the Russian emperor, censorship of the books coming out of the printing house was entrusted to the office of the governor of Georgia, and the teachers of Tbilisi gymnasium were appointed as censors.
It is true that official censorship was imposed on print production and it had cruel forms, but due to the fact that a small volume of the printed literature was published in Georgia at that time, publications were monitored by the governor-general of the Caucasus until the end of the 40s. The government did not consider it necessary to establish a special Caucasian censorship committee.
The establishment of the Caucasian Censorship Committee in 1848 had several reasons related to both local and international historical events.
1) The revolutions of 1848 in European countries scared the Russian government. It decided to prevent the possible spread of ideas and literature coming from Europe, especially since involvement in the revolutions earned Russia the name of the “Gendarme of Europe” and undermined its international authority. The desire to prevent possible events forced the imperial authorities to establish the Caucasus Censorship Committee.
2) A lengthy Caucasian war was going on, which threatened the eventual conquest of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire. At such a time, by implementing a strict censorship policy, the imperial government excluded free thought among “foreigners”.
3) The establishment of the Caucasus Censorship Committee, we think, was the result of the activity of the liberation movement of the Georgian people, which started immediately after the abolition of the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, did not stop until the 40s and weakened Russia’s positions in the Caucasus.
4) We think that the establishment of the censorship committee against the background of the newly introduced Viceroy institution in the Caucasus and its goals prove once again the perfidious nature of the soft power policy of the empire and its loyal Viceroy Mikhail Vorontsov.
Russia could not appear as a complete rejector of liberalism, and on April 18, 1865, Alexander II granted some freedom to the press, which marked the beginning of the reform of censorship. On January 26, 1863, the Ministry of Internal Affairs was assigned the task of monitoring literature and journalism, and it was considered necessary to develop new protective mechanisms in the legislation. A special commission was created, the chairman of which was D. Obolensky, according to whom, the same liberal reforms as in other areas should be reflected in the printing business. In 1863, Obolensky had already developed a project on printing, the main censorship authority became the “Main Department of Printing”, and on September 13, 1865, a law was passed, according to which state and academic scientific publications, classical literature texts, and their translations should be exempted from censorship. In the empire, the appropriate policy was carried out towards all the people.
Observing the documents of the Caucasus Censorship Committee allows us to show what the situation was in this regard in the Caucasus, in particular, how the laws were implemented in Georgia.
It was clear to the central government of Russia that it could not suppress the culturally different peoples included in the empire and could not change the identity of the Caucasians by force of arms alone; Therefore, they allowed a certain revival of national culture in relation to Georgia. Such a policy would have preserved Russia’s liberal appearance and, obviously, would not endanger the existence of an integral state.
Georgian national figures use the Russian policy of this period and get national affairs in order. From the materials of the 480th fund preserved in the National Archives of Georgia, it is clear that the newly established Caucasus Censorship Committee was less active at the beginning; Its implementation started relatively later, which was caused by the expansion of publications, coverage of political, social and national problems in them. At the same time, it is conceivable that at the beginning the action
specifics of the committee were not fully refined yet. Its transition from being under the jurisdiction of the Caucasus Educational District and then the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (1863) and then (1867) directly to the Governor of the Caucasus shows that it acquired special state importance.
Since the mid-70s, the committee’s field of action has been expanding, if previously three censors and chairmen were in charge, then the number of states increased and control over the publishing activities of Stavropol, Tergi and Kuban provinces was added. In general, observation of the archives of the Caucasus Censorship Committee reveals that special tightening of the printing business in the state began in 1875, which is obviously related to the above-mentioned reform, during which (1874) the activity of the Caucasus Censorship Committee was expanded and its staff increased. It should also be noted that the work with individual nationalities of the Caucasus in the 70s is still in the process of development, in Georgia there is a period of relative warming in this regard, the study of national history and ethnography is allowed, which the local national forces are taking advantage of and are starting to care for the revival of Georgian culture;
In the 70s, the work of Dimitri Purtseladze, Dimitri Bakradze and activities of others, the names of whom may still be revealed arouses special interest in this regard. Censorship Committee shows special vigilance towards revolutionary persons. Since mid 70s of the 19th century, censorship work becomes relatively stricter. This strictness will increase later.
The materials of the Caucasus Censorship Committee - the committee charter and circulars, the correspondence of the main division of the Viceroy’s Chancellery with the committee and the resolutions of the Department of Internal Affairs give us a perfect idea of the management of imperial cultural and educational activities; It sheds light not only on the history of the struggle for freedom of expression, but also helps to determine the main principles and trends of the mechanisms of influencing and manipulating public opinion at the time, which is especially important for us in the context of modern “information wars”.