June 01, 1998

Rubbing Salt in Peasants' Wounds

Salt in their Wounds

Nearly every ruler on the Russian throne withstood large or small popular revolts. In the days of old, people mainly protested abuses of power by the tsar's dignitaries, turning to the tsar himself for help and justice, believing that the tsar knew nothing about the evil or cruel actions of his servants.

There have been many reasons for popular uprisings throughout Russian history. But a special place among revolts is occupied by those concerned with life's simplest necessities, such as salt, bread, matches, and honey. The demand for and prices of these items fluctuated, but the people’s relationship to them was constant and unchanging throughout centuries of Russian history. These necessities became a unique barometer for the political and economic life of Russia. For example, before World War I was declared in 1914, the people already knew that war was inevitable, not because they followed the movement of the world's political powers, but because matches and salt disappeared from the markets. Exactly the same thing happened on the eve of World War II. In former centuries, rising prices or the imposition of some kind of limit on salt, bread, matches, honey, or vodka evoked furious protests from the broadest segments of the population.

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