Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The Russian Empire took the road of stubbornness and isolationism. Russia had monarchs that helped push the nation toward progress in the 18th centuries under Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. They brought the empire out of the shadows and to the world’s attention as far as the new United States of America. Russia was moving forward until it hit the 19th century and conservative monarchs. The monarchs of the 19th century feared the changes just as many of France did though the actions they took would hurt them. Russia did not have a Napoleon III to straddle the line and push France forward.
The Enlightenment was understood by Alexander I who was the grandson of Catherine the Great. His father would not hear of the new ideals and fought them with a vengeance. He treated the citizens harshly in his fear of the change these new ideals brought with them. As Alexander I assumed the throne, he was more liberal than his father. He reversed many of the actions giving the appearance of one accepting the Enlightenment ideals though remained highly conservative. Advancement would not be seen until Alexander II came to power and discovered how badly behind the times Russia was. The Crimean war revealed the ugly side of refusing reform.
Alexander II did not look to please the people. He looked to politics. His move was to decentralize the government of Russia. The government was still in control but on a local level. He did follow Napoleon III in improving the infrastructure of the empire by building the railroads the nation needed during the Crimean War. In a reflection of Enlightenment ideals, He freed the serfs. Steps were made to modernize the nation and give it many of the ideals it sought, but complete freedom from corrupt government was not to be. Alexander II refused to give up the power he had. Government was not to be given to the people.
In process of taking tiny steps toward the future, Russia took major steps back as the rulers began to isolate the nation which would hurt the development of the nation. Intellectual and economic exchanges were limited and at times cut off completely. In the desire to keep the absolute monarchy and prevent revolutions such as France was having, the government closed off Russia from the rest of the world. Though Alexander II did much to modernize the navy, there was too much to catch up to.
As the 20th century loomed before them, France was in a position to move forward though it would find bumps along the way with deposed rulers and mini-revolutions. Russia was far behind the race of being a power to be reckoned with in the new century. The many years it had been held back while the rest of Europe surged forward did extensive damage that would take generations to repair. Both countries found themselves facing change. They had traditional forms of government that were too old and tired for the new world. Each choose their path through their reactions to that new world. France jumped in with both feet and tried to change everything at once. The result was bloody conflict that continued for many years. Russia squelched the revolts but not the discontent that spread through the land nor the results of poor internal improvements. France might not have chosen an ideal way to usher in a new era of history, but it was more successful than Russia by never isolating itself from the rest of Europe. It moved along with the world though it stumbled. Russia had to be forced to move along and would not fully accept the fact until the 20th century.
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