The Russian Empire
Russia in the 1860s and 1870s was in a great upheaval. Its ruler, Tsar Alexander II, had negotiated the end of the Crimean War in 1856, ending four years of conflict between Russia and an alliance comprising England, France, Sardinia and Turkey. Russia, at the time one of the greatest powers in Europe, had wanted to seize control of the Balkans and other territory that had been controlled by Turkey, but had been stopped temporarily by Turkey and her allies. Although the war was over, the ‘‘Eastern Question’’ still loomed over the region, and Russia still wanted to acquire access to the Mediterranean Sea, and to expand the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. As part of the settlement that ended the Crimean War, Turkey agreed to enhanced tolerance for Christians within its borders.
In 1861, Alexander began a series of dramatic social reforms. Until that year, about one third of the population of Russia were serfs, or indentured servants who worked for a landowner. They were not slaves, but not entirely free either. Dostoevsky’s father had almost one hundred serfs attached to his country estate; they received accommodations and a share of the land’s yield in exchange for manual labor. Alexander issued the Emancipation Edict of 1861, abolishing the system of serfdom, freeing all the serfs, and requiring landowners to make land available for the serfs to purchase. Alexander also weakened his own power,...
(The entire section is 532 words.)