Peter the Great and the origins of modern Russia
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 02/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Russia has seen many fascinating rulers over the centuries, and perhaps foremost among the list of Russian czars is Peter the Great. Coming to power at the end of the 17th century, Peter instituted sweeping social changes in the land and carved out the first true Russian empire. His influence was vast and far-reaching, but his is still a mixed legacy, as the good he did is offset to some degree by the violence unleashed by his tyrannical ruling style.
Russia had never seen anyone like Peter, especially not in the role of czar. He had no use whatsoever for the stagnant nature of traditional Russian life, and the cornerstone of his reign was the forced modernization of the country. He harbored a hatred of Russian traditionalism, and from his childhood days he developed an undying fascination with the western European lifestyle. He was determined to modernize Russia for its own good - no matter how many people had to die and suffer in the process. It is that element of tyranny that generated unease among his subjects and resonates still today in the historical interpretation of this unique Russian emperor.
He became the undisputed ruler of Russia at the age of 17. At 6'7", he bore an imposing figure; he adopted western dress and grooming and eventually forced the Russian people to adopt western fashion, as well. He ignored (and later exiled) his frumpy wife and unloved son Alexei, preferring the feminine charms of those ladies with a western background; he later fell in love with and married a commoner, and he allowed the people to reject arranged marriages and choose their own spouses, as well. His fascination with the West was only strengthened by a tour of the European continent in his early 20s. He was especially enamored with the Dutch and their seafaring ways. It's almost impossible to believe, but he voluntarily worked as a ship's laborer in a Dutch shipyard for four months - while he was the undisputed czar of Russia. He had military advisers from the west even as a child, and the "play army" he commanded in his childhood developed into the heart of the modern army Peter sent to war against the Turks and, later, the Swedes in an effort to expand his empire.
This video points out the grand accomplishments of Peter and contrasts them with the more problematic aspects of his rule. Peter did revolutionize and modernize a Russia mired in the past and resistant to change of any sort: he vastly expanded industries such as mining and manufacturing, built a standing army trained in the western military tradition, built Russia's first navy, built (through the blood of thousands of forced laborers) the magnificent city of St. Petersburg, increased the number of schools and allowed non-noble students to pursue an education, and revolutionized the military, courts, and civil service by establishing service rather than privilege as the source for promotion and advancement. All of these positive reforms (not all of which were embraced by the people) came at a price, of course: war with Sweden lingered for more than twenty years, thousands of men were conscripted to fight or build Peter's grand city of St. Petersburg, and all Russians bore higher taxes as the means to pay for Peter's improvements. The nobility, as you might expect, did not care for their loss of privilege, and the traditional Russian society feared that western influence robbed the people of its innate Russian essence.
Toward the end of Peter's reign, he began to fear that his son Alexei, whom he had never loved or paid any attention to, was conspiring with the Russian nobility and certain European nations to overthrow him - and we now know that his fears in this regard were not groundless. Nevertheless, Peter had his son tortured and killed (well, actually, he died mysteriously before he could be executed), and many folks cannot get past the fact that Peter could treat his own son so cruelly.
Peter the Great was a fascinating man who left a permanent legacy on Russia and her people. Peter's story is essentially the story of the birth of modern Russia, a story we in the West generally know little about. Watching this video biography won't make you an expert on Peter the Great, but it will certainly enlighten you as to the man's great historical importance and better acquaint you with the seemingly innate ambivalence in Russian society between traditional self-dependency and western-influenced modernization."
Peter the Great in duplicate!
Oleg B. Petroff | Aurora, CO USA | 07/10/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with other reviews that Peter was an exceptional man and that the historical contents of the DVD has its merits. What potential customers need to be aware of is that this DVD is a copy of a chapter in volume II ofRussia - Land of the Tsars. It is unfortunate that Net Video is trying to increase its sales by serving the same dish under different names; but it is even more unfortunate that Amazon recommends that we buy both DVD! You have been warned, just buy one but not both."