Just after taking the throne in the spring of 1855, Alexander II convened a meeting of his ministers to assess the state of Russia, and in particular, its participation in the Crimean War. Unlike under previous Tsars, several of the “enlightened bureaucrats” didn’t hold their tongues and provided the newly minted Emperor an honest appraisal of the Empire. Among them was this unnamed Finance Ministry official, who gave the following assessment of the Imperial system:
“Nowhere is there so much and at the same time so little centralization as there is in Russia. On the one hand the ministries have arrogated to themselves the virtually exclusive right to decide all matters, but at the same time there is not the slightest link between the separate ministries. Everyone’s perpetual concern to safeguard himself against having to take legal responsibility necessitates a fearful expenditure of effort, paper, ink, and time, slows down the transaction of business, removes from the provincial and district agencies all the feelings of independence, and teaches them to act surreptitiously if at all. It goes without saying that all this stops short at the people, who have been abandoned to the authorities’ exploitation.”1
I couldn’t help but note the resonance this passage has for Russia today.
1 David Saunders, Russia in the Age of Reaction of Reform, 1801-1881, Longman, 1992, 209.