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Emergence of "Dual Russia"


The Petrine Reform is often seen as the main cause and the starting point of the irrevocable split of Russian society into two parts. His reforms transformed the upper levels of Russian society while the masses remained largely unaffected by them. Peter had forced the nobility to acquire the technical knowledge of western Europe, to adopt European styles of dress and manners. An increasingly Europeanized education of the upper classes brought with it a familiarity with the philosophies and theories of the Enlightenment. 

A Russian noble family 

Soon many Russian nobles even preferred to speak the languages of western Europe (particularly French and German) to Russian. By the nineteenth century their world was European in dress, manners, food, education, attitudes and language, and was completely alien to the way of life of the Russian popular masses. 

Thus a cultural and ideological wall  was set up between a secular westernized elite and the lower classes who remained bound by tradition and religion. In the words of Tibor Szamuely: A curious process took place in Russia as a result of the Reform, a process that in a way resembled a foreign conquest in reverse: whereas, for instance, in England Norman baron and Saxon peasant gradually grew closer, in time evolving a common nation, a common language, a common culture, in Russia the nobility and the peasantry, already separated by rigid social barriers, rapidly came to inhabit what were to all intents and purposes, different worlds alien and incomprehensible one to the other.

This cultural gulf proved to have tragic consequences for Russia. In the nineteenth century many progressively minded members of the Russian educated classes, who sincerely aspired to bridge the cultural divide and atone for the suffering of the masses, joined the Russian revolutionary movement. Their radical blueprints of improving the lot of the common people often reflected their less than perfect understanding of the life and mentality of the masses. Utopian and unrealistic, these ideas not only failed to lead the Russian people to the promised luminous future but, tragically, lured it to a historical cul-de-sac.

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Peter the Great


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