(RUSSIA, 1856-1900 – continued)

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Alexander III, Pogroms and Student Revolutionaries

Alexander III, thirty-six years-old when he ascended the throne, the second son of Alexander II, associated the assassination of his father with liberal reforms instead of seeing the assassination as a security failure. He claimed that parliamentary institutions and the liberalism of Western Europe were inappropriate for Russia and that Russia could be saved from the revolutionaries only by the traditional authoritarian rule of his family – the Romanov's – including adherence to the faith of the Orthodox Christian Church, of which he was head.

The Russian writer, Count Leo Tolstoy, appealed to Alexander III to spare his father's murders and "to meet his enemies on the field of ideas." The terrorists had ideals, said Tolstoy, and he advised Alexander to counter their ideals with "another ideal, higher than theirs, greater and more generous."

Tsar Alexander III was closer to the ideology of his former tutor, Konstantine Pobedonostsev, since 1880 lay head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Pobedonostsev argued against parliamentary government, declaring against "the dexterous manipulators of votes." He described elected representatives as defending the interests of narrow constituencies. A monarch alone, he said, embodies the common interest. Pobedonostsev saw liberal ideas as a threat to Romanov authority and claimed that all opposition to Romanov authority should be ruthlessly crushed.

Pobedonostsev, moreover, viewed Jews as the killers of Christ – that somehow the actions of a few Jews more than eighteen hundred years before were the responsibility of all Jews through the ages – collective guilt.

For many in Russia, an association was made between the assassins of Alexander II and "the Jewish plague". The assassination of Alexander II was followed by a string of pogroms against the Jews, by attacks on Jewish communities and the property of Jews. The murder of Jews occurred. Jews had been money lenders, and to many Russian peasants, and many who had migrated to the cities, the Jews were extortionists who bled Christian peasants with high interest rates.

Jews had already been restricted to towns and smaller settlements inhabited by merchants and craftsmen within what was called the Pale. They were not allowed in the countryside alongside non-Jews. A few Jews had managed to surmount these restrictions, while only a small percentage were allowed to study at a university. At the bottom of his order, in 1887, to restrict the number of Jews at universities, Alexander III wrote: "Let us never forget that it was the Jews who crucified Jesus."

Many Jews had been invited to settle in Poland before the Russians had taken control of Polish lands, and now many from Russia-controlled Poland and from western Russia would be among those "Eastern Europeans" who migrated to the United States. Between 1881 and 1914 nearly two million Jews would arrive in the United States, mostly from Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile the government's Department for Protecting the Public Security and Order, the Okhrana, founded in 1880, made no distinction between terrorists and activists of the non-violent variety. Censorship was tightened, and publishers and writers with liberal ideas were harassed. Activists were arrested, imprisoned, commonly tried by courts-martial and ex-communicated. Thousands were exiled to Siberia and in some cases hanged. But opposition to monarchical rule was not eliminated. It was merely forced underground.

With new property requirements for voting, the electorate of St. Petersburg decreased from around 21,000 to around 8,000, and the electorate of Moscow decreased from around 20,000 to around 7,000. note85

Only the Orthodox Church was allowed to proselytize, and the Catholic and Protestant churches in the empire were subject to surveillance. The involvement of the Orthodox Church in primary education was increased, parish schools increasing from 4,500 in 1882 to around 32,000 by 1894. Higher education for women became more restricted. University autonomy was abolished. Students were prohibited from forming organizations, and teachers were appointed by the Ministry of Education rather than elected by their colleagues as before. Universities in Poland and the Baltic provinces were obliged to use the Russian language, and this was applied also in Finland, then a part of the Russian Empire.

Several attempts were made to assassinate Alexander III, but, in 1894, after months of illness, he died of disease of the kidneys – one of which had been injured in a train derailment. His eldest son, Nicolas II, at age of twenty-six, became tsar – the tsar whose decisions would change the world in the years 1914 to 1916.


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