Miranda Beaven Remnek
The emergence of politicised civil society is often preceded by the growth of public opinion. This can in turn be traced to those social spaces where an increasingly responsive press interacted with other sites of debate. In this way the press, along with venues such as learned societies, salons, coffee houses, cafés, clubs, theatres, and masonic lodges, helped to foster the exchange of ideas and formation of opinion. In the West, these institutions arose in close succession, 1 but in Russia, the pace of change was slower. Often thought to have been a country where political stringencies resulted in stunted growth, Russia in the early nineteenth century was, however, in a state of flux, 2 as this chapter will demonstrate. This was true despite the autocracy's secure position and the lackof attempts to introduce public participation in government on the French model. Indeed, the first real tremor came only in 1825 with the Decembrist Revolt that accompanied the rise of Nicholas I to the throne, and the upheaval was quelled at no great cost to the autocracy. 3
Even government officials were often unable to influence policy in significant ways. Granted, there were exceptions. In 1826, the elder statesman and legal specialist M. M. Speranskii first proposed using locally produced provincial gazettes as a vehicle for government decrees, statistical data and information of general interest or benefit to the public. In the decades to come, these organs provided a significantly broader number of provincial readers with the information they needed to begin a political dialogue. Even so, only a few appeared immediately (such as Tifiisskie vedomosti (Tifiis Gazette) in 1828–32). 4 Indeed, according to W. B. Lincoln, 'one of the most critical shortcomings of Nicholas I's system had been that it had failed to produce any politically or socially responsible group whose voice was heard in the highest spheres of Russia's government'. 5 Thus, as far as direct political participation was concerned, opportunities at most social levels were decidedly minimal throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Nevertheless, Russians belonging to the educated sphere of society were sometimes allowed more freedom than their compatriots, and the