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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Dumas, 2 Different Sets of Ethics

One hundred years ago, a peaceful procession of about 140,000 workers approached the heavily guarded Winter Palace in St. Petersburg with a petition asking Tsar Nicholas II to establish a constitutional assembly. Guards opened fire, killing and wounding some 4,600 people.

But that day, Bloody Sunday on Jan. 22, 1905, also paved the path for Russia's first parliament -- an upper and lower house whose members had very different professional and personal ethics than their contemporary counterparts.

"A huge country, Russia was in need of both a strong power and clever reforms," historian Lyubov Lushina said at the opening of an exhibition titled "First Revolution, First Parliament" at the State Historical Museum this month. "Bloody Sunday was the first attempt to democratize Russia and establish parliamentarianism."

Bloody Sunday set off a wave of violent attacks against tsarist officials and public upheaval, which culminated in a national strike in October 1905. The museum's biggest exhibit is a steam siren from St. Petersburg's Putilovsky Machine-Building Plant that announced the start of the strike.

"The current view is that the turmoil was spurred by the evil and extremist will of the Bolsheviks, who were supported by hooligan elements in the mobs," said Konstantin Levykin, a professor of history at Moscow State University. "Meanwhile, one should not forget that Russia was at a decisive crossroads in its development at the time, and it was the Russian intelligentsia who made a major contribution to the first Russian revolution of 1905-1907 and gave the country [its first parliament]."

With the nation's infrastructure all but paralyzed, Nicholas signed a historic manifesto Oct. 17, 1905, promising civil rights to the population and creating the country's first parliament. The State Council, the upper house, and the State Duma, the lower house, convened for the first time on April 27, 1906.

A huge lithograph on display at the museum depicts the moment. Members of the State Council wearing full-dress uniforms with epaulets are lined up on a side of a wide aisle in the Tavrichesky Palace Hall, while State Duma deputies -- some wearing modest shirts or hunting outfits -- stand in a motley crowd on the other. The tsar and tsarina are in the middle, visibly shocked by the audacious behavior of the deputies, who also talked loudly throughout the entire ceremony.

"I will never forgive this," Nicholas was overhead saying at the time.

The museum contains reams of original documents from the first revolution -- photos of the first deputies, including Vladimir Nabokov, father of the same-named author of "Lolita"; and even a menu from the restaurant where members of the first Duma's biggest faction, the Constitutional Democrats, celebrated their electoral victory. The menu is covered with their signatures.

Judging by the documents, the ethics of Russia's first lawmakers differed significantly from members of the State Duma and Federation Council today. For example, the tsarist government offered luxury apartments in St. Petersburg to the first Duma's 478 deputies, but they declined in favor of their own apartments or modest local hostels. In contrast, many contemporary and former Duma deputies leapt at the chance to live in luxurious Moscow apartments supplied by the government, and a number have refused to move out when their terms ended or even to pay their own electricity bills.

The first lawmakers received huge salaries of 4,200 rubles per year, as shown in a checkbook on exhibit. At the time, a visit to the doctor cost 20 kopeks and a kilogram of beef -- a luxury amid soaring food prices -- went for 50 kopeks. Also unlike current lawmakers, the first deputies faced huge fines of up to half their monthly salaries for missing a hearing without excuse or violating the rules on how to speak during a session.

"The first Russian parliament was often called the Duma of public anger, and its senior members understood that they had to work out the culture of discussion in the parliament," Lushina said. "As such, the first speaker of the Duma, Moscow University law professor Sergei Muromtsev, announced this rule for deputies: Tough ideas are allowed in the Duma, but tough forms of expression are banned."

Nicholas dismissed the first Duma after 10 weeks. He said that instead of drawing up laws, the deputies were investigating the authorities and thereby intruding on his authority. The first parliament filed more than 300 requests for information to the government and passed only two laws: a ban on capital punishment and measures to help provinces that had been hit by a famine.

In all, four Dumas were elected before the 1917 Revolution removed the tsar from power.

The fourth post-Soviet Duma is now in session, and it and President Vladimir Putin are facing a wave of public anger and street protests over social reforms that eliminated Soviet-era benefits to the needy. Incidentally, no lawmakers appeared for the opening of the new exhibition at the museum, which is located across the street from the Duma building. The exhibit runs through Feb. 28.