The Crimean War occurred partly because of Nicholas I’s miscalculations, but also because the French and British were looking for opportunities to weaken Russia, whose position in Europe and the Middle East seemed dangerously strong. In the wake of defeat, Alexander II abolished serfdom, introduced a Western-style legal system, created elected local government institutions (zemstvos), eased censorship, and radically modernized the army and the communications system. His reforms did not, however, create stability or consensus in Russia. Both the peasants and the landowning nobles believed that the land rightfully belonged to them and were dissatisfied by the emancipation settlement that had ended serfdom. Many young upper- and middle-class Russians felt that Alexander’s reforms had not gone far enough to improve the peasant’s lot, to bring Russia up to Western levels of prosperity and freedom, or to allow Russians the right to express their political opinions and to participate in government. A terrorist movement emerged in the 1870s, and the campaign of assassination of senior officials culminated in Alexander II’s murder in 1881.
The increasing terrorism and social conflict in the empire’s last decades strengthened the emperors’ conviction that the empire would disintegrate into anarchy without a resolute authoritarian regime. They believed that Russia was too poor and too divided by class and ethnic differences for any form of democracy to work. In the last weeks of Alexander II’s reign, he was persuaded to introduce modest constitutional reforms that would have allowed a very limited degree of public participation in government. His son Alexander III, however, abandoned the reforms and embarked on a policy of repression when he became emperor after his father’s assassination. Alexander III curtailed the rights of the zemstvos and the universities. Civil freedoms were further infringed by emergency decrees that allowed anyone suspected of political opposition to be exiled by administrative order without recourse to the courts. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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