The Empire of Lost Opportunities. On the History of Public Attitudes in the Russian Empire in the Late 1810s – Early 1820s

Kiyanskaya O.I.


The article focuses on the social and political situation in Russia in 1814– 1825, describing a change in the intellectual elite’s sentiment – a shift from the admiration for the victorious tsar to the ideas of regicide and a necessity of radical change in the state system. Analyzing the phenomenon of Alexander I, the author argues that it was his reformatory intentions and the personality of the tsar himself on which the younger generation of Russian nobility, who had just returned from the war, based their hopes for their own social realization and wider opportunities for a more active role in the political life in Russia. Yet, by the late 1810s, there had prevailed a trend towards «tightening of the screws» in the country. The army focused of parades and more strict discipline, new military settlements were being set up, the Church orthodoxy was imposed at universities, while liberal professors were expelled and censorship became more and more severe. The opportunities for the participation of young nobility in political life were, in effect, reduced to zero. The period from the 1810s to 1820s stands out in Russian history as an «era of secret societies». The paper traces the evolution of this phenomenon, starting with a loose organization for the «assistance to the government» all the way to the anti-government clandestine organization whose members planned a «military revolution». The government facilitated this transformation, as the young men, being frustrated in their expectations, began seeking alternative means for their political activism. The author concludes that the military uprisings of 1825–1826 were an inevitable consequence of these political changes in the post-war Russia. The uprising of the Decembrists determined the vector of the relationship between power and the thinking elite for many decades to come.


Alexander I; abolition of serfdom; constitutional projects; secret societies; military settlements; Welfare union; the Decembrists.

DOI: 10.31249/rsm/2020.02.01

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