The Revolution, that didn’t happen

12:06 12.07.2012 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs

The anniversary of the "Bolotnaya Square events" will not pass unnoticed. That is, it would have passed down the road to oblivion, if not accounting for the private memories of the white ribbons and other accessories unusual for Muscovites. Yes, even worse, the events of December 2011, which declared themselves almost a national triumph in the birth of a civil society, were not taken to heart by Russians.

But it is not for nothing that we are accustomed to making an account for the year, and the closer we get to the anniversary, find sorrow in the unfulfilled dreams. "Why are the people silent? So much the worse for them," became the common sarcasm from our intelligentsia. For others, it is just boring to live without major planetary events, not least the ones that amuse and tease the people in the street.

It is true, during "boring times" history likes to repeat itself as farce.

 The French poet Alphonse de Lamartine said about the time of the reign of King Louis Philippe that: "France was bored." Against the background of a bored society, the revolution which overthrew the throne of the King of France came as a complete surprise to both the court and the Radical Republicans. So then, the French Revolution repeated itself as farce in "boring" July, 1848. The guillotine, the Jacobins, the tragedies of Robespierre and Marat, the bloody settling of accounts with yesterday's colleagues, the boiling political passions - all these things France left behind in the XVIII century. The main reason that led to the revolution looks so prosaic that under different circumstances the possible consequences would be thought quite trivial. The authorities banned the political feasting of the opposition, and, without knowing it they pulled the trigger that led to an irreversible chain of events for France. One must say that the feasting in the political clubs in the capital and in the provinces became the only possible form of protest for the antiroyalists after the government banned the holding of rallies and meetings in the city streets.

At first glance, the decision to separate the political demagoguery from the habitat of the urban plebs was reason enough. However according to a Russian agent in France, over six months no more than 20,000 people gathered at banquets and clubs. True, the French monarch had other internal enemies:  economic turmoil, large debts and, as a consequence, a financial crisis. However, the king had enough supporters in both houses of parliament, while the Republicans were split and divided into parties and groups in the degree of their radicalism. Moreover, the person of Louis-Philippe was not colorless, and the king’s nature was not timid.

 According to  Alfred-Auguste Cuvillier-Fleury, teacher to Louis Philippe’s son, "He was a good politician, a serious and decent man, and yes, very active and visionary, who sought to rule by law and told people:" Live quietly, work, trade, become rich, respect freedom and do not shake the foundations of the state. “A king, who speaks this way, requires only from his people that the people are happy, and he does not offer them any extraordinary spectacle, or emotion - is this not a legitimate king of a free nation? And such a regime lasted 18 years! Is this not long enough? "

Surprisingly, it turns out; in St. Petersburg the threat of such a situation was understood. According to an expert on the history of Russian-French relations, Dr. Natalia Tanshina: "In Russia it was well understood what such a “boring life” could lead to."

In a humble report by the Third Section in 1839 it was noted that: a long-lasting peace and long-lasting war are two extremes that produce the same effects in human beings: minds that change opinion and thirst for the situation to change and this produces comments from which a general opinion is formed.

By the time of the revolution Nicholas I had his "eyes and ears" in Paris, and they were very observant and sensitive. Their owner was a very gifted diplomat, Chargé d’affaires of Russia to France Nikolai Kiselev, whose reports are stored in the foreign policy archives of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Until recently, they were almost unknown to historians and only now have been brought into scientific use by Dr. Tanshina.

Kiselev witnessed the events of February 22nd, when protests erupted after a banned banquet was attended by representatives of many sectors of society, including "left wing" deputies and peers, and Parisian workers.

At first, the mood of the demonstrators was determined by men who came "more out of a sense of curiosity rather than from a sense of open hatred", and everything went relatively smoothly and without incident. No one expected the serious consequences of the demonstration.

The events of the following days, according to Kiselev, "no one could have predicted: we were all caught by surprise, even those who suddenly found themselves at the helm." Further, everything developed along the classical patterns of revolutions.

From the very beginning the opposition “consensus" lost control over the crowd, which they themselves had provoked "with their usual populist charlatanism. As a result, according to the Russian diplomat, the whole rabble of Paris mixed with other segments of the population and against their wishes set the tone for the "revolution" and the political agenda.

The ballyhoo was sparked exclusively by a bunch of brats, which were numerous in this city of over a million people, who were bored and willing to do anything to entertain themselves ... all sorts of actions, appearing wherever there were the smells of disturbances and rioting. At the same time, the recognized "leaders and members of democratic societies" were nothing more than "passive observers."

Unexpectedly for all, friends and enemies alike, Louis-Philippe dismissed the Guizot government which was loyal to him, and the streets of Paris practically exploded, seeing the move as a clear weakness on the part of the King, which also plunged his supporters into gloom. The subsequent flight of Louis Philippe to Britain put an end to the history of his dynasty in France.

At that time, and not without bitterness, Kiselev wrote to St. Petersburg: "The undeniable fact is that despite the most impressive ministerial majority in both Houses and the most obvious agreement between the king and the ministers of the Houses, the ministers and the King were swept away by just one whiff of rebellion, brought about by several newspapers and democratic societies.”

The only worry for the radicals was the situation in the provinces, which in their eyes “some brats and vagabonds in the capital were in control of their lives without them having a hand in their fate."

In order to ensure the left wing majority in the Constituent Assembly, the interim government was forced to use all their administrative abilities, sending each of the departments an authorized Commissioner. Meanwhile, armed gangs roamed the countryside, inspiring fear and causing panic among well-meaning people who now remembered with fondness the "boring days and years."

The situation was so uncontrollable that Kiselev, contrary to the instructions of Nicholas I, refused to leave a country smothered by rebellion, in the interests of the security of Russian subjects in France.

One must say, these fears were not unfounded. The crowd, despite assurances from Ministers of the Provisional Government, was vaguely delirious with the heady fumes of the Paris Commune and the idea of exporting the revolution. Tsarist Russia was in their view the most desirable, the most attractive and also the most powerful bulwark against "liberty, equality and fraternity" in Europe. But this fateful hour had not yet come for Russia...

As Kiselev predicted, "The New Republic" was short-lived, mired in terror against ordinary Frenchmen, the extent of which would have been unthinkable in the days of Louis Philippe. Revolution can’t be bloodless; otherwise it would be called something else.

"In the days of the June uprising in 1848,” wrote Tanshina, ”the Republicans cruelly dealt with a people driven to despair, in the name of and for the benefit of their revolution, as always happens. During the uprising about 11 thousand workers were killed, many were thrown into prison or exiled, and 1.5 thousand shot without trial. "

Russian Princess Darya Lieven, who emigrated to Britain from Paris, wrote from her forced exile with sincere sorrow for France, where she had lived for several years: "they will move from dictatorship to chaos and again to be at the mercy of a dictatorship ... from delirious fever to straitjacket – but what will be the end result? .. Even the working classes say: "Since the rich are gone, we have become even poorer - we need a king."


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