The Tsarist Constitutional Russia

Sára Juhošová                                                           History                                                             III.IBDA


In 1855, Alexander II of Russia came to power after the death of his conservative father, Tsar Nicolas I. Since then, the empire has overcome huge changes and reforms that have left people questioning their leader.

There have been rumours of the Tsar preparing a constitution which would limit his powers. Oftentimes, it is dismissed as ridiculous. Why would the Tsar of the great Russian Empire give up any part of his power willingly?

Yet the speculation is there. Since the beginning of his reign, Tsar The Tsarist Constitutional Russia Alexander has established reforms that his people wouldn’t dare to dream of during the times of Nicolas I: legal reforms, military reforms, censorship reforms, and – most shocking of all – social system reforms.

The Emancipation Edict of 1861 caused an uproar. Russia, in all its glory, used to have one of the few remaining peasantries in Europe. Tsar Alexander made it his work to abolish it.

The emancipation freed all serfs and allowed them to become their own masters. They got the chance to buy their own properties and build their lives.

On the other hand, it caused a sort of chaos. All these changes sound like a dream come true – as long as you have the money to be able to deal withthem – and that’s rarely the case with the ex-serfs.

Changes in society are always hard to make because the society is rarely ready and perfectly armed for what is to come of them. There are many out there who do not realize this and criticize the Tsar’s incompetence for their own misfortunes.

Another one of Alexander’s huge reformist steps were his legal reforms. Truly, they are admirable. The system he developed is one of the most efficient, professional and practical systems out there.

Not only does it make place for fairer judgement but it also lets “common folk” be part of it. By opening the court sessions to the public, Alexander allowed public opinion to take shape. He permitted criticism of the jury, of the system, of the Tsar himself. He tolerated people voicing their disagreement towards the country and its workings.

In other reforms, Alexander lowered the censorship on books, newspapers, pamphlets – or any ideas being spread. For conservative Tsarist Russia, this was a big step. People can suddenly say almost whatever they want without fearing harsh punishment.

The result is amazing: new figures are emerging, new ideas are being shared, and new ways of thinking are being created.

The schools and universities have more freedom. They are no longer tied to any other power and are allowed more freedom in their curriculums. Students are therefore being brought up more open-minded and resourceful.

Active, revolutionary and young people are what Russia sorely needs to catch up with the rest of the world yet is the country really ready for it?

People are still suffering from poverty and hunger, the reforms aren’t spread all over the country and there are protests to the Tsar’s actions from all sides. Some argue that there are no reforms needed, some that they are moving too slowly.

All those things do not put the Tsar in an easy position. After the assassination attempts, even he has turned to slightly more conservative approaches.

And the questions still stand. Is Russia ready for these reforms? Are the reforms being applied in the right ways? And most importantly: are the reforms helping to improve Russia or are they simply leading up to an imminent revolution?

It is hard to answer all of these but one thing is for sure: tension is building up and sooner or later, one way or another, something big will happen.