Empress of the Russian tribe
|Catherine the Great, an admirer of the French Enlightenment, transformed her empire between 1762 and 1796 from a patchwork of territories, each with its own privileges, into a centralised state that relied on administrative uniformity and common laws. The empress carefully dismantled the institutions of the Hetmanate, including its military regiments, and even wanted 'to eradicate the hetmans from memory'. She regarded the nobility as the vanguard of the Russian nation, and that nation as the leading force of the empire. During her reign the ideal of unity between the Orthodox and the empire was firmly established. But the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth between Prussia, Austria and Russia undermined that unity. Russia took two-third of Poland's territories and there came millions of Catholic Poles and of Unionates (Eastern Christians under the Church of Rome) among her new subjects.
|After the French Revolution resonated violently in the failed Polish revolts against the enlightened despots, Catherine changed her ideas about the unity of the empire. She now justified her conquests not only with strategic or historic arguments but also in ethnic terms. She stated that the Orthodox population of the Commonwealth (in Ukraine and Belarus) belonged to the same tribe as the Russians and had no fraternal feelings towards the Poles. The empress dismissed efforts to convert non-Slavs to Orthodoxy but for the East-Slavic dissidents of the Unionate Church she started a campaign for their forcible conversion to the faith of their 'fathers and forefathers'. Catherine never accepted ethnicity as the main defining feature of her most loyal subjects but her depiction of them as people of the same Russian tribe laid the foundation for a superior Russian identity in the next century.