Reforms of Alexander II; era of national enlightenment and russification

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One of the most important steps of the rule of Alexander II, was the founding of the new parish system in 1866. This made the peasantry free from the rule of the landlords. Before that, several peasantry-related laws had significantly eased the process of buying the farms, even though the legislation still created conflicts and even rebellions. Most well known of these was the Mahtra War in 1858. The major legislative change of Alexander II era, was the new passport law, which allowed the peasants to travel within the borders of Russian Empire more easily.

Along with the reforms, Estonian national movement started to form, treasuring Estonian language and culture. The central figure of these national awakening years was Johan Voldemar Jannsen. He found the newspaper "Perno Postimees" in 1857 in Pärnu, and later "Eesti Postimees" in Tartu. His actions can be seen as the beginning of the journalism tradition in Estonia. Jannsen relished the idea of "being Estonian", and among other things, brought the phrase "Estonian nation" to wider use. Establishing the singing and playing society of "Vanemuise" was among his accomplishments. In all his doings, he was helped by his daughter Lydia Koidula, who became one of the most famous poetesses in Estonia. In 1869, the first Song Festival took place in Tartu, and  Jannsen stood behind that too. Another noteworthy action was the Aleksander-school movement, that strove for the creation of Estonian gymnasium. Young Jakob Hurt stepped to the position in front of the Aleksander-school committee.

In 1870, the national awakening rose onto a new level; Jakob Hurt became to be a noted leader.

On his initiative, the Society of Estonian Literati was formed, that soon consolidated almost all the educated and Estonian-minded people. At the same time, a group called "Petersburg's Patriots" was active in St. Petersburg, lead by artist Johann Köler. They tried to leave a positive impression on the czar about the activities in Estonia.

Probably the most active figure during the national awakening period was Carl Robert Jakobson, who, in 1868, held tree patriotic speeches, speaking about the eras of light, -darkness and -awakening of the Estonians. He started to publish radical newspaper "Sakala" in 1878. Jakobson's abruptness and diverge in views with Jannsen and Hurt soon split up the national movement. Jakobson's and Hurt's supporters started to fight over power in different national organizations.

Era of russification: after Alexander III came to power, Estonia was faced with major changes. Under these, the educational system suffered probably the most: in 1887, Russian became the compulsory language at schools, and students were denied to speak Estonian even between the lessons. Teachers, who did not know enough Russian, were fired. All this decreased interest towards education. At the same time, more orthodox churches were build all over Estonia. On the other hand, russification weakened the positions of Baltic-Germans and made it easier for the Estonians to get appointed to higher positions. Thanks to this, in the beginning of the XX century, Estonians came to power in many cities, among those in Tallinn,.

Source: M.Laur, A. Pajur, T. Tannberg "Eesti ajalugu II" Tallinn 1995 "Avita"


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