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New collection of the Presidential Library reveals unknown facts about the State Duma of the Russian Empire

8 April 2021

115 years ago, in the spring of 1906, the most significant event in the social and political life of the Russian Empire took place. It was the elections to the State Duma - the first representative legislative body in the history of the state. There were four convocations of the State Duma. Two fist Dumas were dissolved by the imperial government. Despite everything, this institution worked until the fall of the monarchy.

The Presidential Library's portal releases a new collection State Duma in the History of Russian Statehood, which features unique materials. It includes research by historians, memoirs of deputies, verbatim reports of meetings, photographs, as well as the first and only documentary footage of the opening of the first meeting of the First State Duma of the Russian Empire.

The emergence of the Russian State Duma was the result of the revolutionary events of 1905. On August 6, the Supreme Manifesto proclaimed the establishment of the Duma as a "legislative institution". Soon, the continuing revolutionary movements forced the Emperor to accept a significant extension of the Duma authorities.

On October 17, Nicholas II issued a The Manifesto on the Improvement of the State Order. According to the definition of the lawyer Bernard Ketritz, cited in the publication The First State Duma (1907), the Manifesto "opened with this recognition: "Troubles and unrest in the capitals and many areas of our Empire fill Our heart with great and painful sadness... The current crisis may cause a deep national disorder and a threat to the integrity and unity of Our Power. The great vow of the Tsar's service charges Us... to strive for the quickest end of the troubles so dangerous for the State". The Manifesto gave "the population the solid base for civil freedom" and established "a resolute right to accept laws with the mandatory approval by the State Duma".

Elections to the Duma were carried out by electors in the curia (categories of voters, divided into groups according to estate and property) of landowners, urban citizens, peasants and workers. The Ketritz publication contains the report The State Duma in Figures. It states that on June 15, 1906, the Duma included "65 landowners, 111 farmers, 24 merchants, 61 officers from regional and city administrations, 10 professors, 4 privat-docents, 23 teachers, 38 lawyers, 19 doctors, 14 priests". The majority of the deputies were representatives of the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets).

The opening of the First Duma was held on April 27, 1906, in Saint-Petersburg in the Throne Hall of the Winter Palace. We may observe this historical event 115 years ago thanks to the rare newsreels, available on the Presidential Library's portal.

Count Sergei Witte was dismissed from the post of Chairman of the Council of Ministers a week before the opening of the Duma. His Memoirs give the following description of the opening ceremony: "The Tsar appeared in the hall... in a ceremonial dress, with all the highest officials of the Court and retinue. <...> This extremely solemn appearance, indeed, was of historical significance. It was the first and only Emperor's appearance before the representatives of the upper and lower Houses. His Majesty was rather pale but calm and had a very solemn look. The Emperor's speech was very stately and reasonable. <...> ...The following phrase later became significant for me: "My ardent desire is to see my people satisfied and to give to My Son a strong, prosperous and enlightened state". "The royal speech was greeted with a thunderous hurray", writes journalist and lawyer Sergei Varshavsky in the book Activities and Proceedings of the First State Duma (1907). - <...> When the Royal Highnesses left the hall, everyone hurried to the exit and the golden uniforms merged with the peasants' jackets - the old Russia merged with the new into one stream".

Saint-Petersburg met the opening day of the Duma as a festival - the streets were decorated with flags, passionate orators spoke on the squares and pavements. The deputies' procession from the Winter Palace to Tavrichesky was surrounded by jubilant crowds of people, who shouted: "Freedom! Amnesty! Hurray!"... "But here is the Tavrichesky Palace", - continues Varshavsky. "The crowd completely blocked the street and... forming a gallery out of raised hands, let the people's representatives pass through. They walked as if they were protected and blessed by the people". "…S. A. Muromtsev was elected the Chairman of the Duma", - the publicist Mikhail Mogilyansky describes the beginning of the work of people's deputies in the publication The First State Duma (1907). <...> "A great deed requires a great feat", said the first Chairman of the State Duma in his first speech. And the listeners realized that this feat would be performed...".

From the very first days, the Duma showed firm determination to resist the authoritarianism of the tsarist government. The response to the royal speech was an address demanding an amnesty for political prisoners, political freedoms, a solution to the land issue, etc. But, according to Mogilyansky, "the official response to the staunch, vigorous and emphatic demand of the people - "land and freedom!" was "neither land nor freedom". Chairman of the Council of Ministers Ivan Goremykin did not approve a single demand of the Duma. During two months of work, the Duma accepted about 400 claims concerning illegal actions of the government. The deputies were accused of "making noise and offensive treatment of ministers". Bernard Ketritz explained this by following "...the Duma recognised what fruitless work it had to fulfil, and in what narrow framework it was placed...". "You may accuse the Duma of anything, but you cannot deny that it worked for the good of the tormented country", so Varshavsky defended the people's deputies.

On the morning of July 9, 1906, the deputies who came to the meeting found the guards around the Tavrichesky Palace. The doors were locked. The manifesto on the Duma's dissolution stated: "The deputies elected from the population, instead of working on building a legislative body, have swift the direction... The peasantry, confused by such disorders, did not expect a legal improvement in their situation and launched open robbery in several provinces, plundering others' property, breaking the law and disobeying legal authorities. <...> May peace be restored in the Russian land..." (publication Proceedings of the First State Duma). The Manifesto also announced new elections.

Although the First State Duma lasted only 72 days, these were the days that opened a new page in Russian history.