Sunday Laws and Ethno-Commercial Rivalry in the Russian Empire, 1880's-1914
February 14, 2006
This essay describes efforts to legislate an obligatory cessation of commercial activity on Sundays and Orthodox holidays in cities throughout the Russan empire. It documents a fascinating and revealing conjuncture of economics and ethno-national relations in the last decades of the tsarist period. Though ethnic diversity had long been a trait of Russia's entrepreneurial class – indeed, non-Russian minorities such as Germans, Jews, Tatars, and Armenians had often outshone ethnic Russians in their commercial prowess, particularly in borderland and port cities of the empire – tension and conflict in commercial interactions had for the most part remained subtle, making them (to the historian's frustration) more often a well-hidden aspect of local, everyday life than of big events and crises. The controversy over Sunday laws, however, brought such tensions into the open, perhaps even exacerbating them, and aired them on a national level.