150th anniversary of the abolition of serfdom in Russia

The regime of servitude in Russia was abolished by the manifesto issued the Emperor Alexander II on March 3, 1861 (19 February, according to the Julian calendar). This date marks the settlement in Russia of this form of link between Russian peasants and their feudal lords.

Alexander II ascended to the throne after the death of Tsar Nicholas I in 1855. The successor he inherited a country weakened by the reign of his father, named by his contemporaries “the gendarme of Europe”, and ruled the country until his tragic assassination at the hands of terrorists in 1881. The abolition of serfdom that regarded as the main problem of the political, economic and social development of the State is due to Alexander II.

Enslavement by bonded labour existed in Russia in different degrees of dependence among the servants to landowners: at first peasants were legally free and in the 15th century could change to their overlords in “the day of Yuri” (Saint George). Finally, the enslavement of peasants ended in 1649 with the “code of Council”

The main differences were that a farmer could stay or not in a field of their Lord; be or be not sold separately from the land that was working, in the time limits for search of serfs fugitive, in the amount of the fine for leakage, etc. Finally the conditions of the serfs became hereditary and they could not leave the land without the permission of their Lord.

In the old Russia a huge mass of peasants was divided into two groups: first, one composed of the State and ecclesiastical serfs, and a second which depended on the nobility. In the early 19th century were initiated some measures to restrict the rights of landowners on the servants: in 1808 banned selling servants at fairs, in 1833 was forbidden to separate the members of the same family, etc.

In 1856 by Alexander II was organized a secret Committee on “improving the way of life of the peasants of landowners”. “The order in the matter of possession of the ‘souls’ [so called the servants in Russia] cannot be irrevocable”, said the Emperor in his speech before the nobles of the Moscow province.

In those times that Russian society required urgent changes in the political and social system first appeared new words of the political sphere: the “óttepel” (thaw) and “glasnost” (transparency), which would be revived after a hundred years in the times of Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev.

On February 19, 1961, Alexander released the manifesto on the reform of the regime of servitude involving freedom of Russian peasants. This was the main merit of Alexander II.

However, the reforms of Alexander had some failures, in particular, from the supporting grounds should be paid by the peasants with the redemption of their ancient feudal obligations. The nobility received the total amount of the cost from the hands of the State through bonds by an amount equal to 90% of the valuation of alienated lands. However, this reform was strongly criticized by the right and left, however, despite all its faults, the abolition of serfdom was an important step towards the transformation of the Russian society.

In addition to the liberation of peasants, Alexander II undertook other important reforms: the extension of education and the creation of the new University Statute of Russia (1863); the reform of the courts, creating courts with judges and juries free (1864); the release of the press (1865); an administrative reform involving changes in the system of self-government in the regions and the creation of local authorities elected by the people – the zemstvos-(1864) and cities (1870); the military reform (1874); and the construction of railways and others.

The “revolution from above” by Alexander II, called the “age of the great reforms” by some historians, despite being contradictory had many mistakes; the most important among them was the absence of a Constitution.

During his lifetime Alexander II suffered six attacks: the first in April, 1866 at the hands of the terrorist Dmitri Karakózov. In addition, in 1880, only by chance the Tsar kept the death in the Winter Palace where detonated a bomb Stepan Orlov, Member of “The will of the people”, underground organization who professed ideas of overthrowing the monarchy using terror as a method of revolutionary struggle to achieve their goals.

The tragic assassination of Alexander II at the hands of this organization took place on March 13, 1881 (March 1, the Julian calendar) on the Boardwalk of the Catherine Canal, St. Petersburg. Some activists of this revolutionary group killed Russian Tsar through two large explosions of dynamite in its path.

That day the Emperor had to sign a package of reforms called by his contemporaries ‘ the Constitution of Lóris-Melikov ‘, so called because the name of the Minister of the Interior of the Government of Alexander II, Mikhail Lóris-Melikov. These extensive liberal reforms may have completely changed the political, social and economic life of the Russian nation…

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