Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

30 Oct 2001, 8:30 a.m.

I've actually caught up a tiny bit on my Russian…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I've actually caught up a tiny bit on my Russian Imperial History reading, which is quite fortunate, since I have a midterm tomorrow.

Two passages particularly caught my eye. The first, I excerpt from "Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia" (1811) by Nicholas Karamzin. Karamzin was a conservative historian who didn't like Tsar Alexander I's reforms.

Russia, after all, has been in existence for a thousand years, and not as a savage horde, but as a great state. Yet we are constantly told of new institutions and of new laws, as if we had just emerged from the dark American forests!

Second: One cannot discuss the history of Russian revolutions without mentioning the Decembrists. In 1825 tight cadres of (mostly) educated nobles, officers in the army, tried to overthrow the government. One reason for their dissatisfaction: during the Napoleonic Wars and subsequent occupations, Russian officers spent time in Western Europe. How embarrassing they found it to say, "We are fighting for the freedom of humanity, against Napoleon's tyranny," and have to answer for Russian serfdom!

A. Bestuzhev wrote, in a letter to Tsar Nicholas I analyzing the uprising:

The army, from generals to privates, upon its return, did nothing but discuss how good it is in foreign lands. A comparison with their own country naturally brought up the question, Why should it not be so in our own land?

At first, as long as they talked without being hindered, it was lost in the air, for thinking is like gunpowder, only dangerous when pressed....