The following editorial was published in the 11th March 2010 edition of
International Affairs. Click HERE for the original editorial
There are times when the human soul is filled from within with such an overbearing and unassailable feeling of evil and gloom that it requires inhuman power, some extraordinary exploit to overcome it … This is when the person prone to suicide shouts faint-heartedly: “I don’t want to live, and I’m not going to live,” while the long sufferer beseeches: “I can’t live, but I yearn for Life.” This is akin to the Agony in the Garden, when Jesus prayed in such earnest that it was as if great drops of blood were falling to the ground, when he prayed for this cup to pass him by.. .so that the light would not be engulfed by darkness. And not somewhere remote, in far-off galaxies, but right here in the heart, and only then in the galaxies, which, compared with the human heart, are nothing but dust and ashes… “All around me I see treason, cowardice and deceit” are not only the words Emperor Nicholas II used to reproach his contemporaries for forsaking him, they express the agony he felt for them, “for they know not what they do.” Had he not felt this agony, the Sovereign’s daughter would not have written, “He forgave everyone…,” which was the message of reconciliation he asked her to give everyone who hadremained faithful to him. He also forgave us, only do we really “not know what [we] do…”? After the toxic gas of the revolutionary propaganda evaporated, after the whole of Soviet historiography had insulted and spit in the face of the royal family, after the archives were opened for public perusal, after the letters, diaries, memoirs, and eye-witness accounts were published, and after we became free to take sober account of the tragedy of the royal family’s murder, we suddenly hear from the television screens and from the incompetent historian: “The empress was a idiot.” While another philosophizing TV anchorman, primping and preening, would say sneeringly: “I am not one of those who believes Nicholas II was a man of strong will.” These people cannot “not to know”; they simply do not want to know.
The world is quicker to defend its villains than its saints. A few stal-wartly souls would try to break their way into Tsarskoe Selo to defend the family to whom they had given their oath of allegiance. And these were not the high-ranking generals who unanimously advised the emperor to abdicate from the throne, who saw, like no one else in Russia, how much effort, mind, and soul the Sovereign had invested in rectifying the situation in the army. “Holding victory in his hands, he fell to the earth alive…” Winston Churchill wrote in his book World Crisis, 1916-1918, London, 1927, Volume 1, p. 476, about Emperor Nicholas II. This is how people fall when struck perfidiously from behind.
One young cornet was lucky enough to find his way into the palace. The abdication had been announced, but the emperor was not at court. Fear for his life and the future of his children were growing with each passing hour. “With a single gesture, the empress bade me to stand; her magnificent eyes were even more sunken from sleepless nights and anxiety and expressed the unbearable torment of her long-suffering heart.
What unearthly beauty and stateliness emanated from this eminent imperial figure!” But Alexandra Feodorovna did not feel sorry for or try to comfort herself. “I am very grateful that you have come to see me and not abandoned me on this difficult and dreadful day! I would really like you to stay with me, but that, to my immense regret, is impossible. I know and understand how hard this is for you… I ask you to please take off my insignia, because I could not bear it if some drunken soldier tore them away from you in the street! I believe that you will continue to wear them in your heart!” she said to the cornet, comforting him. And this Sovereign, Her Majesty, no, she was simply a Woman in the true meaning of this word, was being called an “idiot” throughout the country. Why? Well, you see, Count Witte had once been summoned to Her Majesty, whereby she compassionately expressed her surprise that there were so many poor and impoverished people in Russia and almost demanded that he stop this disgrace. “Oh! What naivety!” Yes, what treasured naivety!
While filming a movie about Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, our film crew worked in Darmstadt, the home town of the two imperial sisters. Everyone was amazed at the attention Alix and Elizabeth’s family gave to the impoverished, orphans, and all the needy citizens in this modest duchy of their father, the size of which could, naturally, in no way compete with Russia’s expanses. Of course, the Grand Duchy of Hesse was a European province. At first, the empress could not and, I think, was unable her entire life to reconcile herself to that fact that what could be done in her former Homeland was impossible in her new, boundless Homeland, which she came to love with all her heart. Who can reproach her for this? “I love those who yearn for the impossible,” said the great Goethe.
Incidentally, Alexandra Feodorovna received the cornet wearing a white nurse’s gown. From the very beginning of the war, she and her daughters had been caring for the wounded, and the entire family had donated large sums of their own money to set up hospitals, equip hospital trains, and purchase medication, equipment, and clothing for the frontline soldiers.
On the eve of the war, no other European government did more to defend peace than the government in St. Petersburg. In November 1921, at the Washington Naval Conference, the U.S. President would say that the proposal to limit arms by reaching an agreement among the nations was nothing new. It was enough to recall the noble strivings expressed 23 years ago in an Imperial Rescript from His Majesty the Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias. This was followed by an extensive quote from Nicholas IPs note, in which he appeals to the whole world to convene an international conference in order to curb the arms race and develop mechanisms for preventing wars in the future. The world was surprised that this proposal did not come from a weak, defenseless state, but from a vast and omnipotent empire. All the great powers ignored this proposal. Kaiser Wilhelm II said that in practice he would continue to rely only on God and his sharp sword. England, which had the strongest navy in the world, refused to go for any reductions.
Japan, which was hatching its own plans in the Far East, ignored the Russian note. Russian Foreign Minister Count Muraviev figuratively noted that the people reacted enthusiastically and the governments distrustfully. Anyone else would have given up, but Nicholas II continued his efforts. A repeat note followed, and the Hague Peace Conference was indeed convened in 1899 under the chairmanship of the Russian ambassador to London. A whole series of extremely important decisions was made, including on the non-use of poison gases and explosive bullets, conditions were drawn up regarding the upkeep of prisoners-of-war, as well as principles for peacefully settling conflicts, and the International Court that functions to this day in The Hague was founded. Were these not rather too many achievements for a “weak-willed” and “weak-minded” czar, before the perseverance and foresight of whom stubborn Europe was bowing? The main ideas of the Russian initiative were more fully realized in the creation of the League of Nations, which later passed the baton on to the United Nations. It is no accident that the original document calling on the states to take part in The Hague Peace Conference of 1899 signed by Nicholas II is exhibited in the UN building in New York.
Alexandra Feodorovna, as we know, was the granddaughter of British Queen Victoria. In his letters, the heir to the Russian throne wholeheartedly called her “my dearest grandmother,” since she played an important role in their marriage. After breaking the resistance of his father, about the “staunch will” of whom the entire world had no doubt and who was not in favor of the heir marrying a Darmstadt princess, the enamored crown prince came up against another obstacle. The protocol demanded that the future empress convert to Russian Orthodoxy. This created a serious bone of contention for the young couple, and it was Queen Victoria who managed to persuade her granddaughter to agree to this step. Nicky’s letters were full of genuine warmth and gratitude toward his “dearest grand-mother” for her inestimable service. However, in one letter she scolded the young czar with respect to the anti-British articles that appeared in Russian newspapers. To which she received the following reply: “I must say that I cannot prohibit people from openly expressing their opinions in the press. Don’t you think I have not been upset myself by the rather frequent unfair judgments about my country in the English newspapers? Even the books I am constantly being sent from London give a false account of our actions in Asia, our domestic policy, and so on.”
Several months later, the young couple expressed their joy over Queen Victoria’s consent to be godmother to their first child, Grand Princess Olga. Being accustomed to the European sound of the royal family’s names, Queen Victoria was evidently rather puzzled over the Russian emperor’s choice of name for his daughter. “We chose the name Olga because it has already been used several times in our family and it is an age-old Russian name,” Nicky wrote in November 1895. But in the very next letter sent from Darmstadt, Queen Victoria, his “dearest grandmother,” was in for a rude awakening when she tried to put pressure on Nicky in the interests of British policy in the East. “As for Egypt, dear Grandmother, this is a very serious issue that affects not only France, but also all of Europe. Russia is very interested in its shortest routes to Eastern Siberia being free and open. Britain’s occupation of Egypt is a constant threat to our sea routes to the Far East; for it is clear that whoever controls the Nile valley also controls the Suez Canal. This is why Russia and France do not agree with Britain’s presence in this part of the world and both countries wish for real integrity of the canal.”
March, which saw the murder of Alexander II and the abdication of Nicholas II, was a fateful month for the Romanov dynasty … “Perhaps when we throw them the Romanov crown, the people will have mercy on us; General Headquarters, [Commander-in-Chief] Alexeev, and the generals have long been in favor of the idea of a state coup,” mumbled Alexander Guchkov, Duma’s Chairman, “deathly pale with a trembling chin” in those days to a handful of frightened State Duma deputies.
So, whose side are we on? On their side, or on the side of he who, after removing his crown, said: “If Russia needs a sacrifice for its salvation, I will be that sacrifice!”
© International Affairs. 4 June 2020