Russian peasants had a great propensity to ‘misunderstand’ and embellish information which filtered though to them on items of legislation. They invariably ‘misunderstood’ laws to be more in their interests than was intended Some peasants, moreover, then acted on the basis of their misunderstandings, trying to take advantage of the laws. This phenomenon was reported by contemporary tsarist officials, and commented on by other educated Russians. In the middle of the 1850s the Slavophile, Yurii Samarin, wrote:

The periodic appearance [among the Russian peasantry] of false rumour-spreaders is caused by the general expectations and hopes which are constantly circulating among the people … Given the present mood of the serf class, a drunken speech by a deserter, a mistaken understanding of a decree … [or] any event which for some reason attracts attention can cause alarm (trevoga) somewhere and, in a moment, arouse the ever-present idea of freedom … When an Imperial Command is announced to the people which does not concur with their secret expectations, they do not believe [the landowners, officials and clergy] … When a manifesto reaches them, they read a promise for the desired freedom between the printed lines.1


Migration Europe 


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© David Moon 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Moon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryThe University of Newcastle upon TyneUK

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