V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > B. The French Revolution and Europe, 1789–1914 > 8. Eastern Europe and the Balkans, 1762–1914
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1801, March 24)
8. Eastern Europe and the Balkans, 1762–1914
a. Russia
Population. With a population of 36 million in 1796, Russia experienced enormous growth during the 19th century, reaching 125 million by 1897. The vast majority of these people were peasants, but urban areas also grew, especially with industrialization.  1
Society and economics. As Russia's market economy grew in the first half of the century, with rapid expansion of grain exports to western Europe, the gentry found its indebtedness increasing. This fact made many hostile to economic and social reforms, creating a situation in which reforms were often limited or highly qualified. Industrialization did nothing to ease these tensions.  2
Culture. The period 1820–80 is considered the golden age of Russian literature, producing artists such as Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, and Pushkin. As in politics, however, Russian culture retained a tension between Western art forms and ideas and a desire to establish distinctive Russian themes. For many this debate meant little—approximately 45 percent of Russians were illiterate in 1917, despite big literacy gains.  3
Tsars: Alexander I (r. 1801–25), Nicholas I (r. 1825–55), Alexander II (r. 1855–81), Alexander III (r. 1881–94), and Nicholas II (r. 1894–1917).  4
Alexander I began his reign by granting an amnesty to political prisoners and exiles, abolishing torture, repealing the prohibition of foreign books, and so on. With a group of intimate friends (the Informal Committee: Czartoryski, Kochubei, Novosiltsov, Stroganov), Alexander discussed various reforms and the project of a constitution for Russia. Though the constitution was not introduced, the central government was reorganized, and modern ministries replaced the old “colleges.”  5
The right to own estates was extended from the gentry to all free Russians.  6
A law was passed regulating the liberation of the peasant serfs of owners who desired to make the change. This was the first move of the government toward the abolition of serfdom. Further reforms were postponed because of the many wars in which Alexander became involved.  7
Kharkov and Kazan Universities were founded.  8
War with Persia (See 1804–13) resulted from Russian annexation of the kingdom of Georgia. The Russians were victorious, and Persia recognized the annexation, besides ceding to Russia Deghastan and Shemakha.  9
Russian expansion in North America. Forts were built in Alaska (occupied by Russian pioneers in the late 18th century) and even in northern California.  10
WAR OF THE THIRD COALITION (See 1805) against France. This ended in Russia's defeat and the conclusion of the Treaty of Tilsit, by which Alexander and Napoleon became allies.  11
War with the Ottoman Empire (See 1806–12). This was hurriedly concluded in 1812 by the Treaty of Bucharest, which gave Russia not only Bessarabia, but rather extensive rights in the Danubian Principalities.  12
War with Sweden, through which Russia acquired Finland. Finland was organized as an autonomous grand duchy, with the Russian tsar as grand duke. Constitutional government was guaranteed to the Finns by a special act.  13
After these wars, Alexander resumed his reform schemes, with Michael Speransky as his chief counselor.  14
An attempt to introduce civil service examinations failed.  15
A council of state was established to draft new laws and watch over the legality of administration. The ministries were also reorganized, and a regular system of state budgets was introduced. Speransky presented a plan for a constitution, but it too remained unrealized. Opposition of the conservatives and personal disagreement with the tsar led to Speransky's downfall and temporary exile (1812).  16
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.