The hundredth anniversary of the murder of the Imperial Family at the House of Special Purpose in Ekaterinburg has passed. We now know quite a lot about the murders, more than we once did. We know for sure that all the family, and several of their servants were killed; we know too that the order came from Lenin mediated through the local Soviet. All the various fantasies surrounding figures such as “Anna Anderson” have now been put to rest forever. And yet, as this excellent article by Konstantin von Eggert in this magazine makes clear, for many in Russia the question of Ekaterinburg remains a live issue.
This is seen in the recent visit to the site of the murders by the Russian Patriarch, who blames the murders on evil influences from abroad. While it is perfectly true that Marxism is not native to Russia, Marx being a German, it has to be said that this thesis is both simplistic and misleading. Moreover, it is to be remembered that terrorist groups such as “People’s Will“, which was responsible for the murder of the Tsar Liberator, were pretty endemic in Russia.
Of course, someone was responsible for the Tsar’s murder, but the most obvious candidates for blame are the perpetrators, the Urals Soviet and Lenin himself. The Patriarch is in a bit of a bind, one that will be familiar to Catholics, for the Catholic Church has also entered difficult territory with some of its recent canonisations. The fact remains that Nicholas II, whom the Orthodox believe to be a saint, was a very bad Tsar, and though religious after his marriage, a man of exceedingly poor judgment. As for his wife, Alexandra, she was blamed long before the revolution broke out for all the woes of Russia, and in particular for being under the influence of Rasputin. Her own relatives, including her sister (now Saint Elizabeth of Russia in the Orthodox Church) the former Grand Duchess Ella, thought she was mad.
I recently re-read the Alan Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra, which is a deeply sympathetic biography, but which at the same time acknowledges the sheer folly of the Imperial couple, particularly in the years 1915-17 which led to the disintegration of the Imperial government. More recent biographies which have come out for the anniversary are equally damning. Robert Service’s book, which I reviewed for this magazine, uncovers the unpalatable fact (which was long known) that Nicholas blamed the Revolution on a Jewish conspiracy. That brings us back to the Patriarch, and the idea that true Russians would never have murdered their Little Father the Tsar – it had to be the work of outsiders. All of this rather ignores the unpalatable fact that though Nicholas has had a good press since his death, he was loathed by millions at the time of his death and lamented by very few.
And yet those children… Patriarch Kirill is right to go to Ekaterinburg to mark the anniversary because the murder of the Tsar (who was a well-meaning man, if a disastrous ruler) and his innocent children, not to mention the servants, was an iconic twentieth century crime. We need to mourn the deaths of these innocents, and all the other innocents who have followed them, victims of political absolutism. The crime committed in the House of Special Purpose is a crime that tells us a great deal about Bolshevism, and a great deal about what invariably must follows when we fail to defend innocent life at all costs.