The Rehabilitation of Nicholas II By Natalia Poklonskaya

I’ve been a fervent anti-Communist ever since I was old enough to know what Communism is. This fact surprises some people, especially when they find out that I put years and years of effort into learning to speak Russian. I suppose they think that a love of the Soviet Union led me to study Russian. Even though it’s been gone for twenty-five years, it still looms large in many people’s imaginations.

The thing is, though, the Soviet Union was never what led me to Russian. It was imperial Russia—specifically, the imperial Russian family of the doomed last tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife and five children. They were what initially sparked my interest in the Russian language. (I feel like there’s a certain irony in that the form of Russian I learned is slightly different than what they spoke. After the Bolsheviks seized power, they enacted a wholesale orthographic reform of the Russian language. Certain letters were removed from the alphabet and the spellings of words were changed. Even some grammar was changed. As a result, I can read the pre-Revolutionary Russian, but couldn’t reliably produce it myself since I have never learned the spelling rules that were used at the beginning of the twentieth century.)

Anyway, enough about Russian orthographic reforms. That’s a subject for a whole other post. Today’s post concerns a fabulous article published yesterday, November 3, on Vzglyad, a major Russian newspaper. It concerns a blog post written by Natalia Poklonskaya, former Prosecutor General of the Crimea (which, as we all know, is now Russian territory) and current parliamentary deputy. I’ve blogged about her before, and though I knew she had some admiration for Nicholas II, I hadn’t realized the true depth of her feelings.

Before I go any further, here is a translation of the article, courtesy of yours truly. Here is the link to the original.

Poklonskaya puts Lenin in line with Hitler

State Duma Deputy Natalia Poklonskaya has stated that the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II, is one of the most maligned government officials in history. In her words, “the monsters of the twentieth century,” among whom she counts Lenin and Hitler, “do not attract such stigma as the tsar who was murdered with his family.”

“There is no government official in history who has been so maligned as the last Russian emperor Nicholas II. For many decades, people have heard only ridicule and loathing in relation to the murdered tsar,” she wrote on LiveJournal.

Poklonskaya emphasized that “Party ideologues, commentators, writers, artists, screenwriters, [and] directors competed with each other in an effort to blacken the holy name of the sovereign. If the tsar acted firmly and fought with revolutionaries—the leftists called him “bloody.” If he opened the parliament and allowed freedoms—the right called him weak-willed. For radicals of all stripes and shades, thinkers and commentators, statesmen—the most important thing is to be confidently silent about what the tsar, Nicholas II, did. He built railroads, had the lowest taxes in the world, education accessible to all, the most democratic labor legislation, glorification of saints, the building of churches and monasteries, preservation of Russia’s identity—all of this is freedom and the pride of Mother Russia!”

According to her, the unprecedented pace at which Nicholas II conducted his reforms—the modernization of the Russian economy and industry, education, public health, and agriculture—was not only comparable to Peter the Great’s reforms, but in many ways outpaced them. “The unfinished results of the tsar’s reforming of the country were distorted in every way and unjustifiably awarded to the revolutionaries,” she noted.

She stated that “murderers and detractors” called the tsar “weak,” “weak-willed,” and “bloody.”

“The monsters of the twentieth century (Lenin, Trotsky, Hitler, Mao Zedung), who spilled a sea of human blood, did not attract such stigma as the kind and gracious tsar who was murdered with his family, who dramatically improved the welfare of his people, and who at the end of the twentieth century was canonized,” Poklonskaya pointed out.

Earlier on Thursday, Poklonskaya stated that she will not “taint herself” by seeing Aleksei Uchitel’s film Matilda. The tells the story of the relationship between Emperor Nicholas II and ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya.

On Wednesday, Poklonskaya reported that she sent a request to Yuri Chaika, General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, about examining Uchitel’s film Matilda. The director himself then said that the prosecutor’s office had already examined film materials and hadn’t found any transgressions.

Earlier, representatives of the social movement Tsar’s Cross appealed to Poklonskaya with a request to conduct an inquiry in relation to Uchitel. The activists found anti-Russian and anti-religious provocations in the upcoming film Matilda.

In turn, the House of Romanov is indignant about the “historical smears” in Matilda.

The premiere for Matilda is set for March 30, 2017. The film tells the story of the relationship between the Russian emperor Nicholas II and prima ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya.

Now, keep in mind a few things about this article:

  1. This was written by a Russian government official. She’s pro-Putin, pro-Crimea being a part of Russia, and a parliamentary deputy to boot. My point is she isn’t someone nobody’s heard of. Trust me: people over in Russia know of her.
  2. The newspaper that ran this piece is a major paper. It’s not some random, small, fringe paper. It is a respected publication with headquarters in Moscow and official support from the Kremlin.

That something like this could be openly published in a major Russian news outlet is amazing. Seriously, for me reading this was almost as powerful as the time I stood outside the room in the Cathedral of Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg where the remains of Tsar Nicholas and his family are interred. It’s that big of a deal to me.

Though I do believe Nicholas made mistakes during his rule, a lot of what Poklonskaya wrote is true. Nicholas did try to reform the country, only to have the credit stolen from him after his death. Even I, an ardent anti-Communist, thought the Soviet government had brought literacy to the Russian people and had built Russia’s railroads. Two professors, both of whom were actually not pro-monarchist in the slightest, informed me that I was wrong, that the Soviets stole credit for these achievements and people believed it for years. (In fact, a quick internet search shows that people still believe it. I’ll have to try to dig up my sources on the matter.)

I also don’t agree with Poklonskaya’s antipathy towards the film Matilda (not to be mistaken for the 1990s American film of the same name, of course!). Like it or not, Nicholas II did have an affair with Matilda Kshesinskaya, a ballerina, before he married his wife Alexandra. Personally, I’m going to reserve all judgment on the film until I’ve actually seen it (and I would love to see it).

Don’t get me wrong—there’s lots to criticize about Russia nowadays. I wish it were less corrupt and more willing to let people other than ex-KGB men from Leningrad wield real power in politics. I wish the somewhat tight connection between government and the private sector were weakened, and I wish state-owned companies could be properly privatized. But still, we live in amazing times. I’m still in shock (in a good way) that this article even exists, and I wish I were a better translator and could do it more justice in English.

I do know one thing: as soon as I publish this article, I’m going to add Natalia Poklonskaya’s blog to my RSS reader. Anyone who could write something like this deserves to be read.