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Controversial Reign

 

For nearly three centuries Peter the Greatís reign (1682-1725) has consistently been seen as one of the main focal points of Russian and European history. His reforms left a lasting impact on Russian development and are often regarded as a  watershed dividing Russian history into two main parts: pre-Petrine and post-Petrine. Indeed, Peterís reforms inaugurated Russiaís modern history. 

It is difficult to find another period in Russian history as controversial as Peterís reign. It is exceptional as a period of transformation which combined within it and forcefully accentuated all the conflicting tendencies that would continue to mark Russian development for many years to come: the seemingly incompatible extremes of a Russia balanced between Europe and Asia, between Muscovite traditional culture and Western civilization, between Eastern despotism and European Enlightenment. A country that could combine European Great Power status with an economy based on serfdom.

In Russia, the political and ideological controversy over Peterís legacy started almost immediately with his death. The history of Russian political and social thought can be seen as the history of the development of contrasting views of the Petrine Reforms. This has been particularly true since the time of the ĎGreat Debateí between ĎWesternizersí and ĎSlavophilesí in 1840s, which revolved around the issue of the direction which Russia had followed as a result of Peterís transformation. The debate helped crystallize the attitudes of various political currents - conservative, liberal, reactionary, revolutionary, reformist - towards the legacy of Peter the Great. Even more important, the prescriptions and blueprints of Russiaís future paths of development were made by these diverse political forces on the basis of their highly controversial and ideologically colored assessments of Peterís reign. Since then, the Petrine Reforms have remained as a peculiar touchstone for every Russian ideological and political movement, as the Ďacid testí of their intentions. 

In the present age of Russiaís latest attempt at modernization, Peter has once again re-emerged as the key figure of Russian history, whose Reform continues to dominate Russiaís past and, in a vital sense, her future as well. Peterís transformation of Russia contains within it all the essential elements of the age-old Russian dilemma which have confronted all Russian reformers since Peter: the problems of continuity and change, of tradition and innovation, of searching for its own distinct destiny or joining the mainstream of Western civilization.

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Peter the Great

 

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