Page:The Russian Review Volume 1.djvu/17

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The Recent Progress of Russia.

By Mark Villchur.

Russia occupies a peculiar position in the family of great nations. The largest country of Europe, stretching from the White Sea to the Caucasus and from the Baltic to the Pacific, Russia has remained far below the modern standard of political, economic, and industrial development. Yet, intellectually, the country is well on the level with Europe's civilization, to which she has added a wealth of ideas in the realm of literature, art, and morality.

We hear so much nowadays of the inefficiency of Russia's present social system, of her lack of ambition in the line of practical endeavor, that we are apt to overlook the really wonderful progress that Russia has made in the course of the last few decades.

The whole history of Russia's march onward represents a succession of bitter struggles between the old Muscovite Russia and the new social forces, the latter developing under the benign influence of the Western civilization that poured into Russia through the "window to Europe", cut open by Peter the Great. The country has progressed constantly, despite the fact that many battles were lost by the champions of civilization. While the progressive movement usually went on by leaps, the reactionary tendencies, when triumphant, never succeeded in making more than a few backward steps at a time.

The reforms of Peter the Great were the first leap forward, and they played havoc with the old Muscovite institutions. It took Russia almost a whole century to adapt herself to the European ideas and customs which were forcibly introduced by the first Emperor of Russia.

The emancipation, in 1861, of over twenty millions of Russian serfs, coupled with the other great reforms of the sixties, which brought forward upon the political stage new and more democratic elements, was another great advance. But it was followed by two decades of political reaction. During this unfortunate period, the whole policy of the Russian State was characterized by the protection of the gentry, which was declining despite the fact that it was the object of favorable legislation during the reign of Alexander III. The growing economic power of the