Women’s Influence in Russian History
“Behind every successful man is a hard working woman.” This cliché could not be scientifically proved but the contribution of women in all aspects of life has had a great impact on the platform of the world history. Leaders have come and left memorable marks receiving credit for their exploits forgetting the silent role that their wives, sisters, mothers, cousins etc played in the overall outcome of the exploits.
In other situations, women who could have been thought as powerless, feeble and naive have taken an initiative to come up with brave moves that have remained etched in the bowels of history. These are the kind of women whose efforts have remained unnoticed due to the normal worldly perception of the position of a woman in the society and these are the women that this essay will identify and give credit to.
Russia has been one of the greatest players in the international affairs. In fact, for a long time in history, Russia remained a super power until the Second World War. Several events in the Russian history could have led to this privilege.
This could be in terms of leadership strategy or personal traits of the leaders. This essay will expose the role that women who did not posses direct power to influence the directions of Russia’s internal affairs played and the results and implications of their role in the history of Russia. To achieve this, the essay will explore the influences that women had to the tsars which resulted into events that remained marked in the Russian History (emayzine 2009).
Mentioning Russian history without mentioning the Russian revolution is like mentioning football without players. The most striking and encouraging part of this revolution is that it was purely triggered by women. This is the first role that cannot go unmentioned when studying about the role of women in the history of Russia.
Under the leadership of Tsar Nicholas II, the Russians were so much weighed down by problems that the tsar himself decided to take over the control of the army. This was because his regime was completely depended on the army and bureaucracy.
With the army unable to produce the much needed weaponry, they went into the war poorly led and poorly armed. This resulted to a great number of casualties. During the period of 1914 and 1916, Russia had lost more than two million soldiers. In addition, six million others were either captured or injured (emayzine 2009).
Tsar Nicholas was a man who highly depended on his wife Alexandra in most of his decision making. This had been one cause of troubles that Russians encountered. Alexandra believed in one Rasputin and made him interfere with most political and economic decisions of the country. Although Rasputin was later assassinated in 1916 after the elite society could not tolerate him, the economic conditions of Russia were already in tatters (emayzine 2009).
It was until 1917 that the woman decided to take control of the economy that men had failed to salvage. In the beginning of March, the women of Russia, whose political voices could not have been heard or responded to, took an initiative that changed the course of Russian history (William et al).
Weeks earlier, the price of bread had skyrocketed making it quite expensive for the citizens who were having a hard time due to the economic down turn. Unfortunately for these tired mothers who had to leave sick and hungry kids at home in order to go to the factories to work for 12 hours, the government imposed a rationing program on bread.
This was an action that acted as a spark that was meant at lighting the groups of women who were referred to as highly combustible material by a police report.
On 8 March, an internationally recognized women’s day, the streets of Petrograd experienced the wrath of a woman scorned. Thousands of women marched through its streets chanting and carrying with them anti autocracy messages and calling for peace and the availability of bread.
During the match, working women and other factory workers also joined them leading to the closure of factories. Infuriated, the tsarina wrote to the tsar ordering him to stop the madness. Being a person who always responded to his wife’s demands, the Tsar ordered his army commanders to stop the demonstrations even if it meant shooting at the angry crowd.
At first, the forces went by the orders but later, they also joined in the demonstration. The legislative body was forced to intervene and on 12 March, they took temporary control of power and thus a provisional government was established with the tsar getting abdicated on the same day (William et al).
This marked the Russian revolution. A movement triggered by the neglected Russian woman who took power in her hands and changed the history of Russia.
One of the greatest implications of this revolution was the transfer of power from the central government to the Council of People’s Commissars whose membership constituted of all-Bolsheviks (Fitzpatrick 65). On 26 October, the names of the commissars were read out and the head was Lenin while Trotsky was people’s officer of Foreign Affairs. This government was a friendlier one with policies that favored the common man.
Another thing was the abolishments of principles that oppressed the common man and the enacting oaf other ones that gave him power. Among the principles ratified was the issue of land. This issue was addressed inn terms of a decree that stated, “the right to private property in the land is annulled for ever…the landlord’s property in the land is annulled immediately and without any indemnity whatever…” (Mosley par.8).
Furthermore, the coming to power of the new government led to the end of the participation of Russia in the world war. This was done through the signing of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Under this treaty which was signed in 1918, Russia was obligated to leave the Baltic States which are Poland, Finland and Ukraine (Mosley par.9).
It was from this new twist that the Bolshevik Party referred to as the Russian Communist Party by then started to experience opposition. This led to a decision where the party employed the method crushing and gagging their opponents. This was after the civil war that lasted from 1918 to 1920.
All these happenings were triggered by the woman who had no political power by then nor had she the ability to dictate to the tsar.
Another personality that has had indirect influence in the Russian history was Sofia Paleologina the wife to Ivan III. Although their marriage was against the dictates of the Orthodox Church because of the relationship as cousins, Ivan went ahead to marry Sofia under whose influence Russia experienced several marks in their history (Kronstain par. 3).
One of the contributions Sofia in the history of Russia was the introduction of the double headed symbol into Russia from Constantinople. Although this is debatable as many historians seem to differ, Kronstain quotes Kliuchevsky who writes that it was Sofia who brought this symbol which was later adopted as the insignia of the city of Moscow. An insignia is a symbol that was used to show the government’s position.
Another attribute of Sofia was her influence in the shedding of the Mongol yoke by Russia. This period of history is marked as one of the ugliest happenings in history of Russia. The rule of the Mongols which spread for about two and a half centuries was marked by the worst system of leadership of Russia.
Among the ills cited to be caused by the Mongols was the rule of autocracy. Historians also blame the rule of the Mongols to have caused the technological backwardness and corruption.
In addition, the rule of the Mongols marked the beginning of the, “social ethic of collectivism…” (Weir par.5) which according to Weir is what has led to the lack of impetus in all the individual initiatives. According to Kronstain, it was not the effort of Ivan the third to rid Russia of this bad governance of the Mongols but it was the effort of his wife Sofia.
At the end of the 17th C, Russia was a completely agricultural society which exhibited very little cultural advancement. This called for policies that would help Russia attain a place in the international scene that could give them strength.
In the effort, the increase in links with the West looked as a more probable solution. The relationship with the west therefore led to development of new, formerly non-existent, manufacturing sectors. These new move by Russia was meant to strengthen their economic base.
Although the move was based on a common good for the Russians, it was greatly opposed by boyars who felt that their original culture was being eroded through the tsar’s effort to westernize Russia. Therefore, Ivan III managed to increase his links with the West despite this effort from the opposition of the idea.
According to Kronstain, the effort to increase the contact with the West was not Ivan’s own initiative. She goes own to describe that it was his wife Sofia who influenced him to take this step.
Finally, it was during Ivan III’s rule that the procedures in the Muscovite courts took on a new turn. This is also attributed to the one and only Sofia. According to country data, Ivan III compared himself to other emperors like the emperor of the Byzantine Empire and Mongol Khan.
This was reinforced by the introduction of Byzantine procedures, terms, titles, rituals and even emblems like the double headed eagle which later came to be Moscow’s insignia. All these happened after the marriage between Ivan and the daughter of the last emperor of the Byzantine Empire. This daughter who is said to have influenced the changes is Sofia Paleologina.
The contribution of Sofia can therefore be seen to be of great impact to the history of Russia. Without her contribution, the rule of the Mongol would have plunged Russia further into the abysmal depths of corruption and bad leadership. Furthermore, it was the effort of the same Sofia that Russia increased its relationship with the West.
This played an important role in the ensuring that Russia started experiencing an economic stability doing away with the social collectivity policy that was the in thing in Russia thus giving room for individual efforts.
With this, the technological and economic position of Russia was improved with collaboration with other traders from the West. These contributions are too much to be taken for granted. Unfortunately, history gives most of the credit to the tsar only forgetting the influence that led to the initiative by the tsar.
Aside from political history, there has been great contribution to the cultural history of Russia by women. One of the greatest contributors in this area was Ksenia Godunova. Daughter of Boris one of the rulers of the Russia, Ksenia exhibited characters that later founded a popular Russian culture. These were the characters of patience, morality and worth.
These characters which were exhibited by Ksenia formed the major theme and focus of several historical songs written by foreign travelers during the seventeenth century. Apart from the travelers, common people also shared in her stormy world and thus mentioned her compassionately in their laments.
To this moment, Ksenia’s embroidery work remains saved at the Trinity-St.Sergio Monastery. All these exhibited within her tumultuous life of innocent suffering. Although her father wanted the best for her, Ksenia was followed by misfortunes which turned her life into a story of misery (Pushkareva et al 79).
Ksenia was a beautiful woman who was of middle height with rosy cheeks, fair skin and long dark braids. She was talented both in writing and composing music. This was one thing that made her father, Boris to have a desire to give to the hands of a person from where she could grow her talent.
To achieve this, he wanted her to get married to Swedish prince who later refused to be converted to orthodoxy thus making the marriage fail. In the next instance, ksenia was to be married to a Danish prince who later died unexpectedly after an attack of fever just before the wedding. At age 23, the Ksenia’s father died giving way to Dmitri who annihilated the Godunovs sparing only Ksenia just to make her his concubine.
The wife to the false Dmitri did not accept ksenia’s position as a concubine to her husband. This made her oppress Ksenia until she finally was send to a monastery forcibly. Despite all this, ksenia never responded by paying back with malice. This is the reason why she later became the epitome of the Russian woman.
In conclusion, the Russian woman has not been given too much opportunity to express her worth but this did not put her down and out. Despite the unfavorable circumstances, she has prevailed to come up with influence that has made changes in Russian history. Although this has been the norm, the position of the woman has experienced a slight improvement of late.
The government still has men getting the majority of almost everything including property ownership. This does not prove that the position of the woman has not improved.
Currently, women are accessing greater heights in politics proved by the presence of women like Irina Khakamada co-leader of the SPS party and Svetlana Savitskaya the communist deputy and at the same time the first woman to step on the moon who have made the top five on the list of their parties.
In addition to these two, the number of women in the party lists has since improved with each party having at least two women in their top ten list. The current duma boasts 35 women with the federal Council having 7 women.
Although Zhirinovsky proposed for a quota system, the idea was rebuked by ligachyov one of the communist deputies purporting that it is the voter who is going to decide who the winner is and not the decision of the legislature.
It is therefore important for the women in Russia to continue making an effort so as to get into positions that will allow them to make decisions. This will mean that they do away with their in-depth perception of life by preferring a rich husband to a bigger position of power (Mereu 2003).
Emayzine.com. Russian Revolution of the 1917.
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press: New York, 2008.
Kronstain, Kristina. Women in Russian History.
Longman, Adison. “The Rise of Russia.” Pearsson Education.
Mereu, Francesca. “What Women Want: A Seat in the Duma.” The Moscow Times.
Mosley. “History of Russia” University of Chicago.
Pushkareva, Natalia and Levin, Eve. Women in Russian History. M.E Sharpe: London, 1997
Weir, Fred. “A Second Chance for Genghis Khan? Christian Science Monitor.
William, J ,Duiker, J, Jackson, J, and Spielvogel. World History. Vol II. Cengage Learning: New York, 2006.
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