Once upon a time in Imperial Russia, a grand celebration was held to commemorate 300 years of Romanov rule. Visiting dignitaries from across Europe stood awestruck by the sheer number of faithful subjects gathered outside the Winter Palace. A luxurious ball was thrown and the hall was awash with a sea of furs, jewels and tiaras, blushing young maidens, gallant young lads, rich foods, lilting music, and much merry-making. This feast for the senses could only be described as a fairytale—a Russian Fairytale—owing to the intensity of its grandeur. But underneath the pomp and circumstance, unrest and resentment were simmering and had been simmering for a while in the secret corners of politics. It boiled over into such chaos a short four years later that Tsar Nicholas II, the supposed representation of God Himself on earth, was forced to abdicate the throne.
The fairytale was over.
The tsar sought for protection from his cousin, the look-alike King George V of Great Britain. It was granted. But in the UK, news of asylum generated outrage by the Labor and liberal parties. Cousin George feared he might be met with the same fate as Nicky, and so, the offer of asylum was rescinded. Meanwhile, to protect the Imperial Family from the wolves of revolution, Kerensky’s provincial government whisked them to the Urals during the winter of 1917. The idea was to evacuate the family abroad through Japan once spring came. But the Red Tide was fierce, and the last ruling Romanovs became political prisoners of the Bolsheviks.
100 years ago, in the pre-dawn hours of July 17th, 1918, the Romanovs and a few faithful servants were corralled into the basement of a “house of special purpose”. Here is where historians disagree as to the proceeding events. However, the general consensus is that Nicky and Alix, and their five children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei, were assassinated by the Bolsheviks under the order of Vladimir Lenin. To Lenin, for a one-party communist dictatorship to live, an absolute monarchy had to die.
Here is where the chorus of if-onlys cries out in lamentation. If only the Czechoslovak Legion had reached the Romanovs a week earlier… If only the disorganized White Army, whose canons were within earshot of the Romanovs, had stormed Ekaterinburg… If only Cousin George had a stiffer resolve… If only they had survived.
One might call it fate, a build-up of missed opportunities, or a series of unfortunate events: Nicholas was unprepared to perform the duties of the Tsar upon the death of his father, Alexander III; he fell in love and married a German princess whose family was openly anti-Russian; he dithered in calling for peace during the Russo-Japanese War when defeat was inevitable; he hid behind palace walls when peasants and workers rioted for better working conditions and wages; he tolerated Rasputin’s seemingly ubiquitous presence with his family, which fanned negative press; he entered his woefully unprepared and outdated army into WWI where they were soundly beaten by the Germans on the Eastern Front; and he watched helplessly as a severe winter caused food shortages and riots on an already collapsing government in 1917. By this point, even the officers of the Imperial army were loath to remain loyal to the Tsar, and the spirit of revolution was flying strong and high.
Was it deserved? Was it necessary? To depose of their emperor is largely traumatic for a nation whose diverse people no longer have a common figure to rally behind. It brought an abrupt end to centuries of tradition, and curtailed a possible future in which Russia may have evolved into the Eastern mirror of Great Britain.
Had they survived and recovered the throne, Tsar Nicholas II may have been persuaded to transform Russia into a constitutional monarchy, perhaps even out of necessity due to his hemophiliac son, Alexei. The atmosphere of an imperial fairytale would have changed, certainly scaled back for economy’s sake, but it would have still been alive and significant for the morale of the people. Most importantly, the continuation of this particular monarchy would have stopped the needless abuse, backwardness, spying, secretiveness and paranoia of the subsequent dictatorship in its tracks. It may have prevented both the direct and indirect deaths of nearly 100 million people for an untried, untrue, half-baked armchair brain aneurysm in the form of Marxist-socialism, and its twin brother, communism. This cancer of a political ideology would not have rapidly metastasized into Asia, the Middle-East, Africa and Latin America. There would have been no Cold War, no Cuban missile crisis, no East-West Germany, no Maoism, no Khmer Rouge, no gulags, and in a united Korea, Kim Jong Un may have been admired as a basketball star by Dennis Rodman instead of the other way around.
On the anniversary of the death of Nicholas II, we are reminded of the thin line that separates war and peace. We reflect on how the lives people live now are closely tied to events that happened once upon a time. In this case, the action of murdering a defenseless, captive family who 99.9% of us have no relation to, caused an avalanche of destruction as the consequences rippled through the generations. Rather than delivering on the promise of liberty or independence touted by the Communists, the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II was the first omen of a revolution that would usher in tyranny. It is a tyranny whose reverberations we are continuing to fix to this day.
Kathryn Colucci is writer from the Midwest and is currently working on a historical novel concerning fictional events in the decades before Nicholas II was deposed.
This post was originally published by Kathryn Colucci at AMI NewsWire, 12 July 2018.