Russia, eyeing new change, marks Tsarist reform

3rd March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Thursday marked 150 years since the most significant reform of the Tsarist era, at a time when its modern rulers are struggling to make history with a drive to modernize the country.

Tsar Alexander II on March 3, 1861 issued the decree to emancipate the serfs, a decision which ended centuries of feudal ownership of peasants by landlords and which would have massive historic consequences.

The move was accompanied by other major reforms like the creation of elected local councils and also led to the creation of a big urban working class who would play the key role in the 1917 Russian Revolution.

The former imperial capital Saint Petersburg was to mark the anniversary with a conference called "Great reforms and the modernisation of Russia" seeking to draw parallels between the Tsarist reforms and modern politics.

Meanwhile Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, was to preside over a ceremony at the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.

President Dmitry Medvedev has embarked on an urgent drive of modernisation to move the economy away from its dependence on energy exports to an innovation-based model, warning Russia faces an impasse if change is not made.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said this month that Russia was going through a "historic moment" which would determine within the next 5-10 years whether the country could "kick the habit" of oil and gas dependence.

A top official from the United Russia party made the startling admission that 150 years after the historic decree, Russia had yet to completely rid itself of the mentality of serfdom.

"After 150 years, this sensation has not gone away and the feeling of serfdom remains in much of our consciousness," said the deputy head of the ruling council of United Russia, Yury Shuvalov.

"Even when we discuss questions important for society we get scared of taking decisions because this feeling of serfdom sits deep inside us," he added, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Despised by conservatives for his reforms but scorned by liberals for not going far enough, Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881 by left-wing revolutionaries.

Yet the reputation of the man known to some as the "Tsar Liberator" has grown in recent years as Russia's new rulers rehabilitate the Romanov dynasty who were ousted in the 1917 revolution.

© 2011 AFP

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