Friday, June 21, 2013

Tsar Nicholas II: The Irony of Myth

Here is an insightful essay about the last Tsar by Gareth Russell. To quote:
The irony of the pervasive view that Nicholas II was chronically weak and indecisive is that it completely misrepresents Russian history - both the downfall of four hundred years of tsarism and the rise of eight fraught decades of Communism - because had Nicholas II been as malleable as Trotsky, Sandro and popular historiography suggests, his reign and the fate of the Russian monarchy would have been very, very different. In 1894, Nicholas dismissed calls for democracy in Russia as the agenda of "senseless dreamers." For an entire decade, despite mounting pressure, he maintained that position. It was only thanks to the near-total collapse of law and order during the riots of 1905, the assassination by nail bomb of his uncle Sergei and numerous government ministers, defeat in the war with Japan and the impassioned advice of his finance minister, Count Witte, that Nicholas gave way and granted Russia a constitution, a parliament and elections. He did so after much thought and under the assurance that this sacrifice would bring the uprising to an end. It did not and Nicholas never forgave Witte or the liberals for what he saw as an humiliating trick. Nonetheless, from 1906 until 1914, Nicholas stuck with the bastardized version of a constitutional monarchy that he and Witte had created. He was certainly as far to the Right as it was possible to go without actually being the wall, but he did not budge from that position. When it came to the matter of Rasputin, his wife's spiritual adviser ludicrously alleged to be her lover, Nicholas stuck to a middle course of allowing Rasputin access to the palace in order to pray over his haemophiliac son Alexei, which pacified the Empress and her clique, but refused to listen to Alexandra's increasingly-pious belief that Rasputin was in touch with the true will of the Russian people. Nicholas knew that his wife was on the verge of a near-permanent mental breakdown because of their son's health and that she blamed herself; her belief that Rasputin was a saintly, practically virginal, peasant man of God plucked from Siberia like the shores of Galilee was unshakable and although Nicholas did not agree with her, he always seemed to regard Rasputin as absurd but inoffensive and slightly quaint. He allowed Alexandra to talk about him, but until the final months of imperial rule, he never, ever listened to her too seriously. (Read entire post.)

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