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What were Peter the Great's westernization policies and how did they help modernize Russia?

By rsndude May 07, 2006 1162 Words
Tsar Peter I, also known as Peter the Great, ruling Russia from 1689 to 1725, implemented major military and domestic reforms that centralized Russia and increased its role in Europe. He centralized his power and revolutionized the role of the servant nobility, creating a vast bureaucracy that would stabilize Russia. He would apply Western principles to his armies and the Russian Cossacks would expand throughout Eurasia. Peter also introduced radical reforms that discouraged the ancient traditions of the Boyars and in establishing St. Petersburg would create a model European city. His great changes would revolutionize Russia and establish the nation as a formidable power in Europe.

It was during Peter the Great's reign that a large standing army of over 200,000 troops was instituted. This standing army was created in 1699, allowing the Tsar to consolidate his power and keep internal peace, while at the same time protecting Russia from foreign invaders. To create such a large standing army, the Tsar had to conscript peasants and commoners to serve the military, while Boyars, or Russian noblemen had the choice of either serving in the army or in the civil administration, for life. After creating a large standing army, the Tsar needed to create a navy that could hold its own at sea. Although much of the navy was made up of foreign officers, Peter felt that by modernizing and westernizing the armed forces, it would become stronger. To create an educated military and officer class, Peter had many schools and universities built. Compulsory education became a requirement of nobles, which helped them become educated in martial combat. Prior to the creation of these several military schools, the Tsar searched Europe for talented generals and officers, which would make up a large portion of his army, and the whole officer caste of the navy. This expansion of forces allowed Russia's army to grow in power, as well as expertise and efficiency. Peter the Great's military reforms aided him in establishing Russia as an arduous force in Europe. However, Peter was not able to undertake these major changes in the military administration without the funding that came from direct taxation, which would later help pay for other reforms.

During Peter's rule, the taxes rose three times causing the peasantry and commoners to become even more oppressed, while the nobles were exempt from paying taxes. It was through these various taxes that the Tsar was able to fund his military spending, and domestic reforms. Peter introduced a soul tax on all males, excluding the clergy and nobility, which allowed Peter to pay for the various conflicts that would arise with Sweden and the Ottoman Empire. As Peter's reforms began to take action, the split between the "enserfed peasantry" and "educated nobility" widened, causing a rift and social immobility. However, his military reforms helped to create a modernized army that would defeat the renowned Swedish forces in the Northern war (1700-1721), gaining Estonia, Latvia, and the sea fortress that would become St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg came to be known as the model European, baroque-style city. It was founded in 1703, following the Northern Wars, and proved to be a strategically important city, being the key to the Baltic trade. In 1711, Peter appointed a nine-man senate, which became the highest court of appeal. In the same year, an Oberfiscal was appointed aided by a staff of fiscals who had to be secret appointments as they had the task of checking the honesty and integrity of government officials . The following year, the Tsar moved the capital to St. Petersburg continuing his reforms from his modernized city. Peter based his appointments on merit, and so his government came to be known as a meritocracy. This allowed for more efficient nobility that had to earn their power, and would bring more talented and educated patriciates. This system of meritocracy, made the nobility dependent on service and not on birth. It was through a more efficient aristocracy that Peter was able to control the state, and bring about reforms that would strengthen Russia. Peter had not only military reforms, but also social and domestic reforms that helped shape Russia as a power in Europe.

When Peter took power in 1689, Russia was still under a heavy Asiatic influence, primarily from the Mongols. Peter felt it was necessary for Russia to become westernized, if it was to become modernized. He introduced the western dress, manners and customs in the social and family life of each Russian. Integrating men and women at social events, he brought about dances and balls that were unheard of previously. He made men shave, and outlawed long Asian robes. Peter punished those that disobeyed his decrees, and in certain exceptions allowed certain citizens to keep their habits if they paid a tax. Through these social reforms, Peter claimed to be serving the common good, and explained his reasons, so as to gain the confidence and support of the general populace.

Another one of Peter's major social reforms was the institution of the primogeniture, where the first son in the family inherits everything and the remaining sons are obligated to work for the government or the military. This system, and Peter's already austere militaristic service obligation proved to be successful, increasing the size of the army substantially, and producing a large enough army to defeat its foes. While creating an efficient military, Peter also subordinated the nobles and the church, allotting him total control of the state.

Peter did not nominate a patriarchy, or the head of the Church, and in 1700, he placed the powers and functions of the Patriarch in the hands of a commission, which was known as the Holy Synod. It was presided over by a direct representative of the Czar. Peter was hereafter able to control the church, and its wealth. Around the same time, Peter also attempted to industrialize the economy. To industrialize the economy, Peter built factories, roads and canals, while creating favorable circumstances to boost industry. Peter found the economy to be essential in his rule, since the state owned the industrial enterprises either directly or indirectly, adding to the Tsar's revenue, and Russia's wealth. Peter invited foreigners to settle down in Russia believing that these foreigners would indirectly be the catalyst that would westernize Russia, and that the citizenry would pick up the Western ideas, arts, and science. He promoted the learning of science and mathematics and set up common schools for imparting training in these subjects. This westernization that the Tsar encouraged helped boost the economy, and allowed the gradual emersion of a stronger Russia.

Russia rose to power in the beginning of the 18th century due to the Tsar's reforms that vastly changed Russia. Peter the Great's absolute rule brought in these significant reforms, thus westernizing Russian society and modernizing the army. His changes allowed for the development of Russian culture and intellectualism. Due to the Tsar's innovative ideas, a western Russia arose into the world political scene with a fresh new Russian image.

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