Trip Through Time / How the ‘bloody Czar’ became a saint / Nicholas II (1868-1918) in Yekaterinburg
PHOTO: The Russian Orthodox church near the site of Ipatiev House that houses a shrine dedicated to Nicholas II
August 29, 2013
Yu Tamura/Yomiuri Shimbun CorrespondentYEKATERINBURG, Russia—In the February Revolution of 1917, Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia’s House of Romanov, which ruled the nation from 1613 to 1917, was overthrown. Along with his family, he was murdered the following year in Yekaterinburg in Russia’s Ural district at the age of 50.
Today, opinions on the once vilified czar have changed. Signs that dot the city read, “Nicholas II, please forgive us for killing you.” As this year marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Romanov dynasty, mourning for the czar has been heightened.
If you drive 30 minutes from the city center and turn onto a gravel road that winds through a forest of white birch trees, you’ll come across a wooden arch painted with the words “The Romanov Monument.” Nearby, a two-meter-high cross marks the place where Nicholas II’s remains are said to have been found. Oksana Arkhipova, a 29-year-old researcher at the state archive, said: “Public opinion on Nicholas II is divided. People rarely visit this place.
* The Yomiuri Shimbun
People place candles in front of the shrine to Nicholas II.In the early 20th century, the last czar clamped down on uprisings staged by the serfs and general strikes. Amid accelerating social chaos and a war against Japan, police opened fire on about 100,000 unarmed laborers who were demonstrating for political freedom and improved working conditions. This day in January 1905 is known as “Bloody Sunday.”
When the February Revolution came 12 years later, a provisional government supported by workers and soldiers seized power. Nicholas II was forced to step down and was held prisoner along with his wife, Alexandra, and their five children.
After defeating the provisional government, Bolshevik revolutionaries transferred Nicholas II and his family to Yekaterinburg where they were confined at Ipatiev House, the home of a merchant. They were shot to death there in April 1918, to prevent the counterrevolutionary army from rescuing them.
The reputation of Nicholas II, who was remembered as the “bloody czar” during the Soviet era, began to be rehabilitated after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. After presiding over the demise of the Communist Party’s dictatorship, President Boris Yeltsin sought to revive the Russian traditions and values of the dynastic period to help the nation reclaim its position as a superpower. And since the Russian Orthodox Church, a pillar of the nation, designated Nicholas II a martyred saint, the tragic history of his family has attracted public sympathy.
According to historical materials on display at an event held in Yekaterinburg to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the dynasty’s foundation, the only food Nicholas II and his family were given to eat during their incarceration at Ipatiev House was bread, milk and cheese. About two weeks before their execution, Nicholas II expressed concern about his son Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia. He wrote in his diary that his son was no longer able to straighten his knees. Irina, a 55-year-old woman who attended the memorial event said, “I couldn’t stop my tears as I imagined such a cruel ending from flowing to my family.”
Politicized even after death
On the site of Ipatiev House, which was demolished, there is now a six-lane road. It seems the last days of Nicholas II are lost in history. Aleksandr Kapustin, the 58-year-old president of the state archive, said, “We don’t have enough research on Nicholas II here.”
Nicholas II’s remains were laid to rest at a cathedral in St. Petersburg by the post-Soviet government in 1998.
At the Russian Orthodox church built near the site of Ipatiev House, the flickering flames of candles that light up a shrine engraved with “Martyr Saint Nicholas II” seem to symbolize the fate of the last czar.
Tamura is a correspondent in Moscow.
Nicholas II, who reigned from 1894 to 1917, became a strong advocate of autocracy perhaps due in part to the assassination of his grandfather, Alexander II, by revolutionaries. In 1891, during a visit to Japan as crown prince of the Russian empire, Nicholas was slashed by a Japanese policeman with a sword in Otsu. His relations with government officials became acrimonious due to the deterioration of the war situation with Japan and his dubious close ties with Grigory Rasputin, a self-proclaimed holy man.
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