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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Tsar Dmitry II?

Dmitri MedvedevComparing yourself with your historical predecessors can be a tricky business ­ especially if you're the leader of a country with such an "unpredictable past" as Russia's.

In his speech to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of serfdom, President Dmitry Medvedev perhaps predictably drew parallels between Tsar Alexander II's reforms and the modernisation drive his currently engaged in.

"In essence we are continuing a political course that was set 150 years ago," Medvedev told an audience in St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Palace. 'Freedom cannot be put off another day."

And Medvedev compared Alexander II's reforms favourably with the Soviet industrialisation drive, calling his policy one of "normal, humane development".

But while the liberal sentiment appears noble, when looked at in terms of results, the example of Alexander II's reforms does not augur that well, it has to be said.

Most historians (across the political spectrum) now agree that Alexander II's piecemeal reforms, such as they were, actually ended up make life worse for many of Russia's poor peasants ­ and were certainly a case of too little, too late.

And the backlash that came in the second part of Alexander II's reign, when he swung away from reform and back to reaction, ended up fuelling the "narodnik" movement. The young Russian intelligentsia turned towards individual terror, which led to Alexander's assassination in 1881.

The "liberal" reform of Alexander II's early years in power was followed by nearly half a century of reaction, as his two imperial successors failed to develop the country economically or socially beyond the level of a backward country.

Thus the theme of reform from above, while appropriate in today's Russia, does not necessarily give great confidence ­ if the model is Alexander II.

Various commentators last week suggested that Medvedev's speech might be yet another marker being put down for a 2012 presidential bid.

Yet if that is the case ­ and the jury is still out as to whether Putin or Medvedev, or Putin and Medvedev, will stand for president next year ­ surely there must be a better role model around than an absolutist monarch who gave up on his reform programme halfway through.

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