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"Two Russias"

 

Again, the Petrine Reform is often seen as the starting point of the irrevocable split of Russian society into two parts. Peters reforms transformed the upper levels of Russian society while the masses remained largely unaffected by them.  

 
A Russian noble family

Peter had forced the nobility to acquire technical knowledge of Western Europe and to adopt European styles of dress and manners. 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.

Peasants. Painting by A. Venetsianov

Thus a cultural and ideological wall was set up between a secular Westernized elite and the lower classes untouched by modernization. This cultural gulf proved to have tragic consequences for Russia. In the nineteenth century many progressively minded members of the Russian educated classes sincerely aspired to bridge the cultural divide and atone for the suffering of the masses. Some joined the Russian revolutionary movement. Their radical blueprints for improving the lot of the common people were often utopian and unrealistic and failed to lead the Russian people to the luminous communist future. 

 
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