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The Enigmatic Tsar and His Empire

Russia under Alexander I. 1801–1825


Edited By Alexander Kaplunovsky, Jan Kusber and Benjamin Conrad

In many ways Russia under Alexander I was an epoch of exploration and revision of empire and state-building. The authors of this volume explore the Alexandrine-era Russia not from the traditional vantage point of the emperor and his inner circle but from the point of view of experts and elites. These «men on the spot» drafted «maps» of the empire and its collective subjects and constructed social, political, and economic imaginaries of the empire. All these revisions and projects did not necessarily lead to an immediate and consistent (re)organization of the political, social, and cultural structures of imperial space. The Alexandrine Russia may be interpreted much more as a «laboratory» in which different potential scenarios for modernization were designed, discussed, and tested—but also rejected and forgotten.

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Russia a Republic? Some Remarks on the National Consciousness of the Decembrists (Lorenz Erren)


Lorenz Erren

Russia a Republic? Some Remarks on the National Consciousness of the Decembrists

1. The Puzzle

The Decembrist movement puzzles all European intellectuals when they first read about it. What did its members have against Tsar Alexander I? How did the liberal nobility come up with the idea of killing a liberal monarch? How did such a ruthless attitude emerge toward a ruler who had done no serious harm to them? Why did they not resort to milder measures? Was there no hope left to witness the constitutional reforms that had been announced by the tsar himself?

Moreover, did they not fight against their own interests? What made these nobles argue for the abolition of noble privilege? Why were they so eager to put an end to the “golden age of nobility,” still so coveted by most teachers of Russian literature? Could these estate owners sincerely feel sympathy for their serfs? Did these “counts and princes” really want to “turn into shoemakers”?1 Why did they name their secret association the “Union of Salvation,” when Mother Russia had already, so long before, been saved from Napoleon? What sort of calamity was hanging over the Russian Empire? Did the Russians not possess—in contrast to the Germans, the Polish, and the Hungarians—their own state, in fact the most powerful in Europe? What were they really missing? Moreover, if it is so difficult to explain their motives convincingly, why do later generations...

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