Which cities have the most nihilists?
From peasant liberation, proletarian misery and nihilists: Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881) modernized Russia in difficult times and paid with his life for it
Terrorism is not a new invention. In the second half of the 19th century, political murder became a common means. Tsar Alexander II was assassinated five times before the last one cost him his life. The podcast tells its story.
Join us on our journey through the world of money. Today we stop in Russia. We are in the year 1881 AD.
Few rulers did more for the freedom and prosperity of their people than the Russian Tsar Alexander II.
Alexander was born in 1818. In 1855 he succeeded his father on the throne. It was a bad time for Russia.
Russia got involved in the Crimean War. On the Black Sea coast, it fought against Great Britain and France, who supported the Ottoman Empire. The Crimean War revealed what the Russian elite had long since claimed: Russia was hopelessly underdeveloped. It had nothing to oppose the industrialized great powers.
Alexander II got to work. In 1861 he passed a law that gave the serf peasants free citizenship. He renewed education and criminal law. He abolished corporal punishment and reformed the administration. And, of course, Alexander II supported all entrepreneurs who were ready to industrialize Russia.
They were happy to come because the peasant liberation provided them with cheap labor. Many former serfs moved from their villages to the cities and looked for other, better-paid jobs. But a new misery replaced the old one.
Many people lost their roots. There was no protective village community in the city that could help in the worst of emergencies. Hunger, cold, disease - those who were not among the economic winners lived at the subsistence level. Many idealistic people were appalled by the consequences of the liberation of the peasants. They blamed the state, a state that only supported the rich and powerful.
Authority, that seemed to be the big problem. No Russian government had given its poets and thinkers so much freedom. That is the only reason why such a large resistance movement could arise. Soon after a novel by Ivan Turgenev, its members were called nihilists. He wrote about this class of people: "A nihilist is a person who does not bow to any authority, does not recognize any principle, and should be so widespread."
Most nihilists vehemently opposed any violent change. But of course there were extremists among them too.
The first assassination attempt on the tsar took place on April 4, 1866. A Russian student pointed the gun at the Tsar to shoot, but a peasant who happened to be there knocked the gun out of his hand. The tsar got away with no physical injuries. But this broke his will to reform. Alexander no longer looked for reconciliation. He alienated himself from his people.
The second attack took place in Paris. Again the tsar was unharmed, unlike many officials and dignitaries in Russia. A wave of terrorism hit Petersburg and Moscow, killing countless people. The tsar also remained in his sights. He survived two more attacks. Only the fifth was the last and cost him his life.
Of course, it didn't improve anything. Alexander II was followed by his son Alexander III. He vowed to destroy the liberal movement. Of course he couldn't.
Oppression became part of everyday life. This was another step towards the Russian Revolution. But even that could not really improve the fate of the poor and the powerless.
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