There was hardly any organisation in the history of Russia that existed under all types of state structure. The Free Economic Society is one and only exception.

In 1765, the best period in the rule of the “enlightened” Empress Catherine II, her court, in particular Count Mikhail Vorontsov, Prince Grigory Orlov, Count Zakhar Chernyshev, Adam Olsufyev and several others, sent a petition to the empress entreating her to allow them to establish an economic society whose “joint labours” would take care of “improving agriculture and housing construction.” The society was to be free, meaning independent “of any government” and working under the auspices of the empress herself. On October 31, 1765 Catherine II sent them a reply, approving their plan for the creation of the Free Economic Society and its charter, drafted by Mikhail Lomonosov. She also suggested the emblem of the society: “Bees bringing honey to the beehive, with the inscription: Useful.” The idea of the organisation itself was advanced by Lomonosov, who died several months before its establishment. The privileged situation of the Imperial Free Economic Society and the rights granted to it were reaffirmed by each of Catherine's successors, with the exception of Paul I. The last imperial decree approving the operation of the Society was signed by Nicholas II in 1894.

The Imperial Free Economic Society did much for Russia. Its members initiated the abolition of serfdom and drafted a mechanism of the reform implemented by Alexander II. It also introduced obligatory primary education and the statistics service and promoted the use of new types of agricultural crops, in particular potatoes, in Russia.

Society members were A. M. Butlerov, N. V. Vereshchagin, G. R. Derzhavin, V. V. Dokuchayev, V. G. Korolenko, I. F. Kruzenshtern, D. I. Mendeleyev, A. A. Nartov, P. P. Semyonov-Tyanshansky, A. S. Stroganov, L. N. Tolstoy and many other prominent scientists and public figures of Russia.

The society was also an energetic publisher, issuing 280 volumes of the society's magazine “Works” and nine other periodicals. It distributed millions of copies of books and booklets free, including 126 publications of its Literacy Committee. The library of the society had over 200,000 books and a unique collection of publications (over 40,000 books and booklets) issued by regional groups.

The Founders of the Imperial Free Economic Society

After the February 1917 revolution, the Free Economic Society, which played a major part in the history of Russian public and cultural development, gave way to new forces. It was only in 1982, when the Research and Economic Society was created in Russia, that the traditions of Russian economists were revived. The initiative of creating the Research and Economic Society was advanced by Academician T. S. Khachaturov, who died since. The Research and Economic Society was renamed the National Economic Society in 1987 and regained its historical name, Free Economic Society, in 1992.

Today the Free Economic Society has branches in all regions of Russia and embraces over 11,000 organisations and some 300,000 scientists and specialists. Society members are actively collaborating with state structures, evaluating programmes and projects, doing research and consulting representatives of federal, regional and local authorities on questions of the current economic policy. The Free Economic Society is a member of such prestigious organisation as the International Union of Economists, a UN non-governmental member. The Union has the status of the General Consultant of the UN Economic and Social Council and rallies representatives from 42 countries.

The Free Economic Society does major research and takes part in international forums and consultations, in particular in the research project on “Problems of National and International Economic Security,” the Russian forum “The Economic Development Strategy of Russia: A Step into the 21st Century,” round tables “Russia at the Turn of the 21st Century” and “Anti-Crisis Management in Banking and Industries,” and international congresses on inter-regional cooperation. The Society participates in the drafting of inter-regional programmes of the UN, UNESCO, the EU, and the Pacific Cooperation Council. It also energetically collaborates with foreign non-governmental structures, enterprises, foundations and scientists. The Free Economic Society is carrying out several programmes jointly with international organisations, such as “Employment Problems,” “Problems of Investments and the Development of Financial and Banking System,” “Ecological Problems of Safe and Stable Development of the Global Economy,” and the forum “World Experience and Russia's Economy.”

Society members are actively working to train a new generation of economists. They have elaborated a concept of teaching the basics of economics in schools, since this subject is not on the tuition programme of general schools. General and higher school and post-graduate students can submit their research works to a public competition of young economists. It is so popular both in Moscow and regions that the jury usually has to consider several thousand research works. Competition winners not only receive considerable monetary prizes, but also get a chance to publish their projects in a separate volume of the “Works of the Free Economic Society.” The Society has established an association of young economists, which is gathering momentum.

The Free Economic Society is working for the present and the future alike. Manager of the Year is another highly popular competition held by the Society, with aspirants fighting for the title of absolute winner and titles of winners in 20 management spheres. A jury chaired by Yegor Stroyev, head of the Federation Council, the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, and consisting of outstanding scientists and heads of ministries and departments chooses the manager of the year. It should be said that mostly heads of small and medium businesses and young businessmen aspire for the title.

Society members deliver lectures, hold seminars for managers, accountants, heads of marketing services and other staff members of private companies. These programmes of advanced training allow commercial enterprises to become more effective.

Like the Imperial Society before the 1917 Revolution, the Free Economic Society today is actively working in the publishing business. It printed the collection of works by T. S. Khachaturov (for the 90th anniversary of his birth) and four volumes of works by L. I. Abalkin (for the 70th anniversary of his birth). The annual publication of the Society's “Works” was resumed in 1994, and some 30 volumes have been printed since then. In 1982-2000, the Free Economic Society published as many research works as the Imperial Society did in the 152 years of its existence (1765-1917).

The newspaper “The Economic News of Russia and the Commonwealth” saw the light of day several years ago, together with supplements: “The Customs Herald” and the “Documents” (collection of normative acts). In 1999, the Free Economic Society and the International Union of Economists launched a programme of publishing 95 volumes of the Economic Encyclopaedia of Russian Regions. The total annual edition of research projects, magazines and newspapers published by the Free Economic Society and the International Union of Economists amounts to 11 million copies.

The top leadership of Russia welcome and support the operation of the Free Economic Society.

© The Free Economic Society of Russia
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