February 19 in Russian history

1861: Emperor Alexander II signs the decree on the abolition of serfdom. The serfdom became a heavy burden in Russia in XVIII century, when the peasants lost the last remains of freedom they still had. Since then, many Russian rulers attempted to abolish the serfdom. Catherine II, being a friend of Voltaire, of course, planned to liberalize the Russian legislation, but she was not too consistent, under the stress from her advisors. The same may be said about Alexander I. The reform of Alexander II was only partial. Moreover, the peasants did not understand the new laws and the rumors were spreading that the "real" law which gives them full freedom, was stolen by the landlords. Mutinies followed. Anyway, however partial, the reforms became the basis for the next steps, including the formation of the elected bodies of local self-government, educational, military and legal reforms.

1938: The drifting polar research station "Severny Polyus-1", the first drifting polar station in the world, finishes its odyssey. The station was founded in 1937 by Ivan Papanin (head of the expedition and cook, Pyotr Shirshov (hydrobiologist), Evgeny Fyodorov (astronomer) and Ernest Krenkel (radio engineer). The exploration of the Arctic Ocean was necessary to provide the reliability of the Northern Sea Route. To make it possible, a state organization was founded and, as one author put it, "the people who came to the North after reading too many Jack London stories, became a part of a huge state machine." The possibility of life on the drifting ice was proven by the crew of steamship Chelyuskin 13 years earlier. So, on May 21, 1937, the four expedition members landed on ice near the Northern Pole. The expedition became yet another "victory of communism" and the life of the station was heavily politicized. All four expedition members were elected members of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR while working on the station. In spite of this ideological burden, the scientific input of the expedition was also immense. They made meteorological observations, measured the polar currents, magnetic fields and so on. See the photographs from "Severny Polyus-1" here.

1954: On the 300th anniversary of the Pereyaslav Rada and the re-unification of Ukraine and Russia, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopts the decree on the transfer of Crimea from Russian Federation to Ukraine. Khrushchev spent many years in Ukraine and the transfer of Crimea was his gift to the republic he loved. Nobody knew, of course, that 40 years later Ukraine will be a separate country.

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