The Russian Revolution
The Russian Revolution of 1917 is also called the Bolshevik Revolution or the October Revolution. In 1917 there were actually two revolutions in Russia. One was the February Revolution in which the Tsar abdicated his throne and the Provisional Government took power. The other was the October Revolution in which the Provisional Government was overthrown bythe Bolsheviks.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 played a very important role in world history and also a major role in the history of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Baltic peoples also played a major role in the 1917 Revolution, particularly the Latvian Bolsheviks who comprised a key portion of the Red Guards that defended the Bolsheviks at a crucial time in its earlyexistence.
Earlier, during the 1905 Revolution in Russia, the peasants in the Baltic took this as their cue to revolt against their rulers. At different times in history, the Estonian and Latvian peasants had been ruled by Tsarist Russia, the Kingdom of Sweden, and the Baltic German nobility; Lithuanian peasants were governed by Russia and before it, by the Kingdom of Poland (1569 to 1791).They saw this time period as an opportunity to finally take control over their destiny and to rule them selves. Though it didn't lead to independence at this time, it independence did emerge from 1918 till 1940 for the people of the Baltic States.
I. Years of Repression/Serfdom
The people of the Baltic territories where today the countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania exist were enslavedby serfdom from about the time of the 12th century to about the 19th century. The Baltic has been fought and ruled over by many different people, most notably ethnic German nobles, Poland, Sweden, and finally Tsarist Russia. The natives of the Baltic who comprised the majority of the population, the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians, did not own the land and thus they did not have politicalpower. The peasants did the back breaking labor but the result of it was not their own enrichment but that of the local German and Polish nobles.
At the start of the 1800's the Baltic peasants received some freedom from the Baltic German nobles in Estonia and Latvia, while Lithuanian serfs were emancipated in 1861, together with all serfs in the Russian Empire.
II. The 1905 Revolution
InRussia in 1905, the people's faith in Nicholas II, the Russian Tsar, was waning. In that year, Russia was defeated by the Japanese in number of navy battles. "But the one event that unleashed a fury of mass action and set Russia well and truly on the path to revolution was the cold-blooded shooting of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in St Petersburg on 22 January 1905. 'Bloody Sunday' triggered awave of massive demonstrations and strikes throughout the empire (Kirby 228)." Not only in Russia did the workers react, but throughout the empire. The empire that included the Baltic, where in Riga 50,000 workers went on strike (Kirby 228). In Kurland, today Western Latvia, 184 estates were burned and 82 Baltic Germans were killed by angry farmers (Von Rauch 14). In Estonia, farmers saw theserevolts as a chance to grab land that had previously been noble land (Raun 89).
The Tsar reacted harshly to these uprisings and in so doing he "provided symbols and martyrs.... In other words, 1905 made revolution for Latvians concrete (Ezergailis 21)." Nearly one thousand people in the Baltic were captured and executed and thousands were exiled to Siberian prison camps (Von Rauch 14). Butthere was a positive outcome to these uprisings. Not only did the people feel more empowered than ever before but one concession that the Tsar made was to grant people representation in the Russian government in the form of the Imperial Duma. Though the Dumas may not have had much real power, they did teach the Baltic political leaders valuable lessons, which they would later use in their countries...
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