From monarchists to democrats
Author: Nataly Venger
The Mennonites were invited to the Russian Empire by the Empress Catherine the Great. How did the monarchy change its attitude towards the Mennonites and why did it happen?
The Mennonite colonization was started by Catherine II. It was one of the methods of colonizing new lands: increasing the population to improve the economy of the empire. In the Manifests written by the Empress, new settlers were promised additional benefits. The active emigration policy for the Mennonites allowed them great economic prospects. ‘The Mennonite Privileges’ were signed by the Empress in 1788. Interestingly, other ethnic groups and the Russian population were not given these benefits.
Paul I (1796–1801), Alexander I (1801–1825) and Nicholas I (1825–1855) also supported the Mennonites. Paul I gifted the Mennonites with a ‘Charter of Privileges’ regarding their moral behavior as an example for other social groups. Alexander I established new colonization rules relying on wealthy immigrants. He ordered to gather all the former laws into “Colonies’ Statues”. The Monarch funded construction of churches in the villages Orloff and Rudnerweide. The settlement Alexandrwohl was named in honor of Alexander who visited Steinbach and Tiege. Nicholas’ II ideology was reflected in the slogan ‘Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality’. Even though Mennonites were Protestants, they supported the idea of a ‘monarch as father'. They demonstrated their devotion to the monarchy. In 1937 Nicholas II also supported the ‘Privileges’.
Change of status
The modernization and unification conducted by Alexander II started a new chapter in the history of settlements. In 1871–1874 Mennonites lost their ‘colonist’ status and were drawn into alternative military service. Nevertheless, reforms did not stop the development of colonies, mostly because Alexander II did not support nationalists. Mennonites kept the idea of ‘economic messianism’ that determined their connection with the monarchy. A new settlement was named in honor of Alexander.
From monarchists towards democrats
Alexander III (1881–1894) and Nicholas I (1894–1917) were influenced by nationalistic sentiments. Following the ideology of nationalism, they equated the Russian nation with Orthodoxy and were against Protestants. Nicholas II supported the anti-German legislation of 1914–1918. For a long time the Mennonites supported the monarchy. Yet democratic processes engaged settlers in dialogue with the government. These processes were caused by the revolution of 1905–1907 and by Russian nationalism. It changed the Mennonites' attitude from supporters of the monarchy to supporters of democracy and parliamentarism.