Alexander the Second and the Title Tsar Liberator
In the 19th Century, Russia had no zemstva, very little education,
industry and railway building, a biased judicial system and very few
freed peasants. Czar Alexander II, who succeeded Nicolas I in 1855,
went some ways to remedying these deficiencies through a series of
reforms. Alexander II became the great modernizer of Russia, walking a
delicate line between preserving Russia's Slavic identity and enabling
its people to benefit from Western advancements. For this reason he
was known to some as the ‘ Czar Liberator’. However, indeed he was a
liberator in name only.
Alexander II initiated substantial reforms in education, the
government, the judiciary and the military. In 1861, he proclaimed the
emancipation of about 20 million privately held serfs. It has been
described as "the greatest social movement since the French
Revolution" and constituted a major step in the freeing of labour in
Russia. Yet at the same time, it helped to undermine the already
shaken economic foundations of Russia's landowning class. The Czar
abolished a Russia tradition, the serfdom, which symbolizing class
struggle and feudalism. This was a very great step forward in the
modernisation of Russia.
Reforms of local government were closely followed emancipation. Russia,
for the first time, was given a judicial system that in important
respects could stand comparison with those of Western countries. In
1864, most local government in the European part of Russia was
organized into provincial and districts Zemstva, which were made up of
representatives of all classes and were responsible for local schools,
public health, roads, prisons, food supply, and other concerns. It
gave people a taste of democracy and the right to vote.
For the educational reform, the Czar adopted a more liberal education.
Censorship was relaxed, the universities were given freedom and
independence, and more Western ideas were introduced to scholars and
students. People were more open-minded and became to demand more under
these ‘liberal’ reforms.
Though Czar Alexander II returned to reactionary rule when an attempt
was made to assassinate him in the 1860s, he did turn once more to
reform in 1880. He made plans to set up a General Commission which
would include representatives from the Zemstva. This would not be a
parliament but would be a ‘consultative voice’ when the Czar required
it. But this was an attempt towards a parliamentary government.
Superficially, Czar Alexander II seemed to be so liberate from his
series of reform. Yet, notwithstanding these measures, it would be
wrong, as is sometimes done, to describe Alexander II as a liberal. He
was in fact a firm upholder of autocratic principles, sincerely
convinced both of his duty to maintain the God-given autocratic...