Decembrists, Rebels, and Martyrs in Siberian Exile: The ‘Zerentui Conspiracy’ of 1828 and the Fashioning of a Revolutionary Genealogy

SLAVIC REVIEW 72.3 (2013)

Abstract: In May 1828 the authorities in eastern Siberia uncovered plans, hatched by the Decembrist Ivan Sukhinov, to stage an armed rebellion among the penal laborers of the Nerchinsk mines. Sukhinov was planning to march on Chita in order to liberate his fellow Decembrists from captivity. Found guilty of the charges, the ringleaders were executed and Sukhinov committed suicide. Yet the conspiracy was a fantasy, conjured into being by the chaotic conditions of penal labor and official fears of exiled revolutionaries directing insurgencies in Siberia. The state’s destruction of Sukhinov and his alleged co-conspirators created the fictional memory of a revolutionary hero and a noble, if doomed, rebellion. In their memoirs published in the postreform era, the Decembrists offered contemporaries an inspiring tale of insurgency and martyrdom in Siberia. The “Zerentui conspiracy” articulated new possibilities of revolutionary protest in exile.