My brother-in-law gave me a great new LP from The Decemberists for Christmas and I’ve had a ton of fun playing it in my office. There’s something about spinning vinyl in a digital world that I find irresistible but that is neither here nor there.
What I really wanted to tell you about today has nothing to do with this talented group of musicians, but everything to do with an intriguing group of Russian revolutionaries who went by a similar name and lived some 200 years ago, the Decembrists. The Decembrists or Dekabristy led an unsuccessful conspiracy to overthrow Nicholas I on December 26, 1825. Nicholas had assumed the throne earlier in December after his older brother Constantine had removed himself from the line of succession.
The Decembrists were mostly members of the upper class who had military backgrounds. Compelled in part by their observations of the mistreatment of peasant soldiers in the Napoleonic wars, their exposure to the West European liberal-revolutionary ideals and their frustration with the economic stagnation in Russia at the time, the Decembrists grew contemptuous of the old guard and embraced the reformative spirit.
At any rate, the rebellion was quickly quashed by Tsar Nicholas, several of its leaders were executed and the majority of the roughly 3,000 involved in the uprising were sentenced to hard labor and and eventual settlement in Siberia. And that’s where the story really got interesting.
The Decembrists were welcomed by the locals as they were seen as generals who were persecuted for their loyalty to the people, which culminated in their refusal to take oath to Nicholas I. Despite the challenging and incredibly restrictive circumstances, the Decembrists’ and their irrepressible concern for continuous betterment managed to stay in contact with one another and in time, programs they initiated had a dramatic effect on Siberian economy and culture.
The Decembrists taught one another languages, music, arts and crafts, established schools, libraries and organized medical care. Their scholarship and entrepreneurship examined and influenced virtually every aspect of Siberian life. I imagine the centuries-old movement was full of imperfections and limitations, but like the LP of the group by almost the same name, it managed to influence the mind and heart of at least one person in the year 2013.