sergei witte

Empress Maria Fyodorovna of Russia

[In the first years of the reign of Nicholas II] the final say rested with his mother. She increasingly interfered in political matters, sometimes annoying Nicholas´s ministers who considered her influence on the Tsar´s decisions incorrect and harmful. Maria Fiodorovna did her best to support her son - she thought herself more experienced and having better knowledge of people than her Nicky. She spent much time in his family, adored granddaughters and constantly demonstrated to her son her approval and was proud when he made successful acts. In 1899 Maria Fiodorovna wrote to her father to Copenhagen: “Nicky made a fine speech … he spoke easily and quietly, not choosing words and I did not feel any fear”. She retained this fear for Nicky through the years, up to her death … And probably her mistake was that she could not overcome her fear as she failed to put firmness and self-assurance into his soul. It must be noted that Alix could neither do that persuading her husband to be more firm in his decisions, to show his willpower. However, one cannot deceive one´s nature - Nicholas was an honest and sincere man, but that was so little for a statesman called to control the fate of the huge Empire. One thing remained for them - to be near Nicky supporting and directing him … 

Sergei Witte, who was a minister for many years under Alexander III, once had a conversation with the Dowager Empress: “You want to say that the Sovereign has no character of an Emperor?” - “This is true,” answered Maria Fiodorovna, “but in an emergency he is to be replaced by Misha, and the latter has even less willpower and character.”

The Russian Empresses: Maria Fiodorovna, 2006

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October 17th 1905: October Manifesto issued

On this day in 1905 Russian Tsar Nicholas II issued the October Manifesto. The manifesto was mainly the brainchild of Count Sergei Witte as a response to the Russian Revolution of 1905. The ‘revolution’ was a period of mass unrest against the government and due to general frustration with working conditions and poverty. The tsar’s manifesto promised civil liberties and an elected Duma (parliament). However, the provisions were not enough for many and civil liberties were still limited. This contributed to the success of the 1917 Communist Revolution.

The Causes of the 1905 Revolution

(Scene from Eisenstein’s film ‘Battleship Potemkin’)

The social tensions in Russia came to a head in 1905 as revolution engulfed Russia and threatened the Romanov monarchy. Although the revolution was ultimately unsuccessful, the tsar was forced to grant significant concessions (in the form of a representative parliament) and it took a year for the tsarist government to restore social order in the urban centres.

The 1905 revolution was triggered by the events of Bloody Sunday - January 8, 1905. Thousands of protesters marched under Father Gapon to petition the tsar for better working conditions and increased political rights. As the protesters approached the Winter Palace, Cossack troops became intimidated and fired at the unarmed protesters, killing hundreds of them. 

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Economic Reforms in Late 19th Century Russia

(Count Sergei Yulevich Witte)

The reign of Tsar Alexander III (1881-1894) has traditionally been characterised as a period of reaction and conservatism. Though this is generally true on the political front, it should be recognised that Alexander III encouraged economic reforms in order to build up Russian economic power. The policies of Finance Minister Sergei Witte (1892-1903) are said to have resulted in a period of unprecedented economic growth for Russia driven by foreign investment. However, despite what appear to be strong economic performance indicators, it is also necessary to examine the impact of the economic reforms on Russian politics, and therefore Russian society as a whole.

In 1881 Alexander III appointed Nikolai Bunge to head the Ministry of Finance. In his time in office (1881-1886), Bunge pursued policies which may be retrospectively described as Keynesian in order to modernise the Russian economy. Attempts were made to lighten the burden of tax on the peasantry, and in 1883 the Peasant Land Bank was created in order to provide loans to the peasantry to encourage economic development.

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