In the Russian collective memory, Siberia has long been associated with freedom, where there are no constraints or limitations and no rule of law: a place where good and bad were inverted, bandits could become heroes, and where fugitive slaves and serfs had a chance to start a new life as freemen. The vast and seemingly boundless lands of Siberia contributed significantly to this imagery. Consequently, this myth of freedom has been extended to incorporate the people originating in these lands. From its discovery to the present day, Siberia has been a mental concept as well as actual geographical location. The elusive and mysterious Russian land beyond the Ural mountains became one of the most polysemic and multifaceted images in the collective memory of Russian people. Siberia has never acted as a single administrative unit within Russia, nor has it ever existed as independent political entity. Siberia remained part of the country while retaining a separate past and a separate present. A melting pot of rich and poor; brave and smart yet barbarous and cruel; harsh and plentiful. It was seen as a land of opportunity, but also of despair and hopelessness, a land of prisoners and slaves but also of the free. From the very beginning, Siberia was represented as both a frightening heart of darkness in the Conradian vein and a fabulous land of plenty; it was remote and limitless. The actual ‘discovery’ and exploration of Siberia did not change that. Indeed, more utopias were created for the duality of Siberia was reinforced by explorers who exoticised the region as a realm in which the infernal reigned over the heavenly.

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