zemstvo [key] [Rus., from zemlya=land], local assembly that functioned as a body of provincial self-government in Russia from 1864 to 1917. The introduction of the zemstvo system was one of the major liberal reforms in the reign of Alexander II. Each district elected representatives, who had control over education, public health, roads, and aid to agriculture and commerce. The district zemstvos elected executive committees and delegates to the provincial assemblies, which in turn elected an executive committee for the province. A similar system was introduced (1870) for town governments. Representation in the zemstvo was proportional to land ownership, and the electorate was divided into three groups—private landowners, urban population, and peasant communes. Although landowners predominated over the peasants and townspeople under the electoral system, the zemstvos accomplished imposing progress in the fields of education and health within the half century of their existence. The zemstvo was the stronghold of the Russian liberals and constitutionalists, who after the February Revolution of 1917 democratized the electoral system and sought to make the zemstvos the basis of the new regime. When the Bolsheviks came to power in Nov., 1917 (Oct., 1917, O.S.), the functions of the zemstvo were taken over by the soviet.
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