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"Senseless Dreams"


The enforced isolation from the realities of everyday life in Russia and the general atmosphere of insecurity and fear that had permeated his childhood years were largely to blame for a strong aversion which Nicholas developed not just to the opponents of autocracy themselves, but practically to any idea or demand that arose from the liberal-minded section of society. Brought up to believe fully in the divine origin of autocratic power, he was probably even psychologically unable to understand the fact that, as one Russian journalist observed, the very realities of life in Russia placed bombs in the hands of those who would far rather have held a pen. 

A home background of this kind helps to explain a  significant episode which took place in January 1895, practically three months after his accession, when the new Tsar met the representatives of the nobility, the zemstvos and the towns at the Winter Palace.

Nicholas II

There is an inescapable parallel between this meeting and Alexander II’s public appearance before Moscow nobility forty years earlier. Both tsars used the occasions to make public announcements of their political intentions. However, whereas Alexander II in his speech broke the news of the impending reform of serfdom, his grandson, by contrast,  chose the occasion to dash any hopes of political reform by expressing himself in words which seemed to some a ‘spiteful trick’: 


I am pleased to see representatives of all estates who have journeyed here to profess their loyal sentiments together. I believe in the earnestness of these sentiments, that have been inherent in every Russian since time immemorial. But I know that recently in some rural assemblies the voices have been heard of people carried away by senseless daydreams of the representatives of the zemstvos participating in the business of domestic administration.  Let all be appraised that I, dedicating all My efforts to the well-being of the people, shall preserve the principle of autocracy as firmly and steadfastly, as it was preserved by My unforgettable late Parent.


The offensive phrase ‘senseless dreams’ referred to the idea of a modest consultative role in the national government requested by the representatives of the zemstvos. Their liberal proposals were thus dismissed by Nicholas off-hand, completely and without reservation. His unwillingness to consider even moderate plans for reform dashed the liberals’ hopes for peaceful change and pushed them to the left of the political spectrum. They began to turn a sympathetic ear to the radicals’ call for a violent opposition to tsarism.

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