'They did nothing wrong' – royalists hail rehabilitation of Russia's last tsar
MORE than nine decades after a Bolshevik execution squad gunned down the last tsar of Russia and his family, the country's supreme court has declared the imperial dynasty victims of political repression, marking the official rehabilitation of the house of Romanov.
The decision overturns a lower court ruling that classified the killings as plain murder, and exonerates Tsar Nicholas II and his family of the alleged crimes the Bolshevik regime used to justify their killing.
A spokesman for the supreme court said it "had declared as groundless the repression of Tsar Nicholas and his family and rehabilitated them".
Tsar Nicholas, who ruled the massive Russian empire as an absolute monarch, died when he, his wife, Alexandra, and their five children were shot without trial in the town of Yekaterinburg, eight months after the October revolution of 1917.
Their descendants, who have been trying for years to get the authorities to acknowledge that the family was executed for political reasons, welcomed the court's ruling.
A spokesman for Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who led the campaign to rehabilitate the royal family, said she had "expressed her joy and satisfaction after the decision".
Alexander Zakatov, the head of the chancellery of Russia's self-styled Imperial House, said: "It was very important for our society that the crime committed 90 years ago was condemned, and that unfair accusations against the tsar and members of his family, that they were enemies of the people…should be removed.
"We have achieved victory. The law has been carried out and now we can draw a line under this with great satisfaction and happiness."
He said the grand duchess would soon be sent an official document recognising the tsar and his family as victims of Soviet repression. She planned to place the document alongside other historical artefacts in the imperial archive in Madrid.
Another branch of the Romanov family issued a statement saying: "The fact that the Russian state took the decision is a step towards repentance and the rehabilitation of all innocent Bolshevik victims."
By finding the tsar a victim of political terror, the court has completed the remarkable transformation of the discredited man who died with his family in a grimy cellar in the early hours of 17 July, 1918 on the orders of Russia's revolutionary government.
Throughout the years of the Soviet Union, government propaganda vilified the last tsar, giving him the derogatory nickname "Bloody Nicholas" and accusing him and his family of a litany of crimes.
But attitudes have gone through a volte-face since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. No longer a taboo subject, interest in the Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia for 300 years until its bloody demise, surged, as Russians, for the first time, were able to appraise the role of the monarchy in Russian history, without the fear of repression or arrest.
When the remains of the imperial family, which were discovered in 1991, were reburied in St Petersburg seven years later, they were laid to rest with great solemnity and pageantry, while in 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonised the slain family as martyrs.
However, while there has been a resurgence of genuine interest, if not popularity, in the monarchy, political analysts have also argued that the rehabilitation of the imperial family has suited the needs of Russia's present leaders.
The country's former president, Vladimir Putin, gave his official weight to the rebuilding of some of the pillars that once supported the autocratic Romanov regime. During his two terms in office, the Orthodox Church also enjoyed a renaissance, while Russian nationalism was promoted, giving rise to criticism that, by promoting features of pre- revolutionary Russia, Mr Putin was trying to turn the office of president into a latter-day tsar.
His successor, Dimitry Medvedev, who, at 42, is Russia's youngest leader since Tsar Nicholas, is also reported to have an admiration for his imperial predecessor.
The court ruling, which places the burden of guilt on the Communists, will also help the Russian government discredit the current Communist party, one of the country's main opposition groups.
Support for the imperial cause, however, is unlikely to lead to a revival in calls for the monarchy to return.
Enthusiasm for the restoration of the Romanov dynasty to the imperial throne remains confined to only a few thousand Russians, while die-hard Communists continue to see them as criminals, and millions of other citizens place them somewhere in between.
The decision to classify the tsar as a victim of political repression came despite the possibility some of his descendents may now seek compensation from the state, which owns vast tracts of former imperial property including St Petersburg's Winter Palace, now the home of the world-famous Hermitage Museum.
But legal experts dismiss this, pointing out that, so far, nobody has been granted compensation for crimes committed during the Communist period.
German Lukyanov, a lawyer for the Romanov family, said the court's decision, which is final, was based on law and no politics were involved. "In the end, this will help the country, this will help Russia understand its history, help the world to see Russia observed its own laws, help Russia in its development to become a civilised country," he said.
Ignominious and bloody end of a dynasty
THE act of execution which saw the end of the Romanov family was in itself a messy, desperate affair – not a clean firing squad, but a hail of ricocheting bullets fired by nine Red Guards, at least some of whom where drunk at the time.
The Royal family, comprising Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, their daughters, the Grand Duchesses Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga and Maria, and the Tsarevich Alexei, who had all been placed under arrest in March 1917, were at the time imprisoned in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, a militant Bolshevik stronghold.
At 2:33 am on 17 July, 1918, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and three servants were woken and taken into a basement room and shot.
Nicholas was the first to die. He was hit by multiple bullets to the head and chest. The last ones to die were Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga and Maria, who were wearing several pounds of diamonds within their clothing, thus rendering them bullet-resistant to an extent. They were speared with bayonets.
The bodies, after being soaked in acid and burned, were initially disposed of down a mineshaft at a site called the Four Brothers.
After rumours of their whereabouts started to circulate locally, the bodies were loaded on carts to be taken to another site.
One of the carts broke, however, and the decision was taken to throw the corpses into a sealed and concealed pit on Koptyaki Road, a cart track some 12 miles north of Yekaterinburg.
Notice of the Romanovs' deaths appeared in the national press two days later.
The telegram giving the order on behalf of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow was signed by Yakov Sverdlov, after whom Yekaterinburg was later renamed, Sverdlovsk.
While official Soviet accounts identified the local Ural Regional Soviet as taking the decision to kill the Romanovs, it has since become clear that the ultimate order to shoot them came from Lenin himself, not wishing, as Leon Trotsky put it, to leave the "(pro-monarchist] Whites a live banner to rally around".
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