Juan Manuel Jaramillo Lleras

For what reasons and with what results did Alexander II reform Russian institutions?
In 1855, Alexander II assumed the throne of an isolated, weak Russia. His father, Nicholas I, had repressed modern western political thinking and limited social and economic progress. The new Tsar was faced with a rather difficult situation; he felt it was his duty to modernize and transform Russia whilst keeping the tradition of autocracy and nobility. To do this, he introduced what is now considered to be the grandest social reform in 19th century Russia, Europe or even the world; the emancipation of the Serfs. This granted him the name of Tsar Liberator, and it led to a series of important reforms that revolutionized Russia. This essay discusses the reasons for the mentioned reforms and their eventual results on Russian institutions and society. Firstly, it could be argued whether Alexander II reformed Russian society for humanitarian reasons. Some may think that he recognized the desperate situation of his people and devotedly worked on reforming the institution as to improve the living quality of Russian peasantry and people in general. The evident immorality of serfdom led Alexander II to fight for their rightful freedom and establish them as a new class of free, working people, nevertheless, the modern point of view, defended by many contemporary western historians, is that he was nothing more than an autocrat who realized that his position as absolute leader and the future of tsarism were compromised by the growing dissatisfaction of Russian society. The humiliating defeat of Russia in the Crimean war caused the government financial problems and unrest amongst the serfs who had been recruited in the army, but its greatest consequence, was that it showed that the political, social and economical systems used in Russia had failed. While the ideas of the French revolution spread throughout Europe, and countries such as Britain established themselves as major powers through means of a developed industry and market, Russia was stuck in almost every aspect, and the economy was starting to suffer. In April 1856, Alexander II said “Existing order of serfdom cannot remain unchanged. It is better to abolish it from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below”. Evidently, the Tsar realized that the existence of serfdom was holding Russia back and would eventually cause problems to the integrity and stability of his and future tsarist governments and so, he decided to abolish it. This led to his biggest reform, the emancipation of serfdom. Alexander II established emancipation committees all over Russia, and by 1861, the emancipation law was signed and published. The truth is that this new law was not well thought and it only created discontent amongst conservatives and nobility, who considered it to be a very ‘liberal’

meant a great administrative reform. but this land was usually very expensive and the government charged heavy taxes or “redemption payments”. Reforms to the legal system were actually successful. strategic railways were built. The appearance of Zemstvos. brought great reforms to the military institution. New. The man in charge of these reforms was Nikolay Milyutin. brother of the minister of war. Universities were now allowed to accept more students.reform which reduced their power. local industry. a new penal code was created and the idea that everyone is equal before the law was established. nevertheless. his reforms were massive. . which were local self-governments for rural districts. but it wasn’t really well planned or carried out. Dmitri Milyutin. the emancipation of the serfs was. The minister of war. The military service period was reduced from 25 years to 6 years and the introduction of universal military service. The period in which Alexander II ruled over Russia was definitely a revolutionizing and transforming one. and liberals who thought that it simply wasn’t well planned and left the peasants even worst off than before. the government and even the military system. Whether he did it for selfish reasons or for the good of his people. military education of soldiers was emphasized and brutal punishments. The nobility and rich classes had always been allowed to bribe themselves out of military service but with the new reforms. the Zemstvos were really controlled by the government and the conservative nobility. One of the greatest effects of this reform was the fact that further reforms had to be carried out as a result of it. Reforms were also made to the education system and the new minister of education. All these aspects marked an enormous reform of the military system in Russia. they could not escape their obligation so easily. they were buy land from the landlords. give lectures on philosophy and European government and in 1863. and the situation of the serfs didn’t improve or was even worse than before. poor relief and the maintenance of roads. Dmitri Milyutin. made all men liable to join the army at the age of 20. a new University statute gave universities more autonomy in the managing of their own affairs. This gave the sense of a much more independent and free government. which occupied 74% of the seats. local health. Trials in open court. Indubitably.S Norov reversed the repressive methods of the previous reign. A. bridges. for now they had to pay for a land which was not big or good enough for them to produce wealth. and he established these provisional assemblies which were to administrate primary education. When the serfs were ‘freed’. an enormous social reform which changed Russian society for good. The sudden freeing of twenty three million people called for reforms within the judicial system. etc. in theory. such as branding. were abolished. a jury system and judges who were independent from the government were all introduced to create a more stable and fair judicial system which replaced the justice of the landlords upon their ‘properties’ (serfs).

The emancipation of serfdom marked a new era in Russian and European history and led to the reformation of almost every single Russian institution. Although this name may be exaggerated. nevertheless. since serfs did not really gain freedom but simply acquired debts and more problems. It did gain him a lot of enemies since no political or social group was genuinely satisfied with the results. and this is reflected upon his assassination. in 1881. which gained him the name of Tsar Liberator. who opposed his father’s liberal reforms and managed to counter-reform many of the institutions. He was succeeded by Alexander III. the future of Russia. a much more conservative.although not very successful. . the emancipation of serfdom remained and changed forever. the reform is modernly considered to be the greatest Russian reform of the 19th century. reactionary Tsar.