An exhibition in Moscow is displaying archival material on Czar Nicholas and his family.
A Russian Orthodox believer held an icon of the czar’s family at a meeting on Thursday for the 90th anniversary of their executions.
By COURTNEY WEAVER
Published: July 20, 2008
By COURTNEY WEAVER
Published: July 20, 2008
MOSCOW — The black-and-white photographs are ordinary enough: Czar Nicholas II, his wife and their five children relax in the countryside. His wife, Alexandra, mingles with patients in a hospital. Their son, Crown Prince Aleksei, poses in a traditional Russian sailor suit.
But to many of the Russians who visited the new “Crown of the Czar” exhibition in Moscow last week, these pictures of the royal family were breathtaking. Older people who grew up versed in the canon of Marx and Lenin seemed particularly grateful to see documents and other items that had been locked away in archives for so many decades.
“We know very little about this period,” said Vera Milkhina, 66. “I didn’t study this kind of history — only political science and the history of the Communist Party.”
The exhibition’s popularity underscores a nationwide renewal of interest, and even affection, for the imperial family.
Besides the crowds flocking to the exhibit in Moscow, thousands of pilgrims traveled on Thursday to Yekaterinburg, 900 miles east of Moscow, to pay respects at the site where the family was executed by the Bolsheviks exactly 90 years before, and others took part in ceremonies in St. Petersburg.
In addition, the Russian authorities announced last week that DNA tests by three independent laboratories had confirmed that remains found in Yekaterinburg last summer were those of Czar Nicholas’s daughter Maria and only son, Aleksei. Remains of the other five family members were found nearby in 1991.
The Moscow exhibition is at the Church of the Christ Savior, which itself is a symbol of Russian revival, having been torn down by Stalin and rebuilt in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union as Russia again embraced the Orthodox faith.
In a museum in the church’s basement, mothers and daughters crowded around pictures of the teenage Romanov sisters. Grandmothers wearing long dresses and head scarves stood for long periods in front of every photograph and letter.
Ms. Milkhina, a petite woman whose white bangs peeked out from beneath her head scarf, began to cry when she spoke of the czar.
“Of course, as a government official maybe he made a few mistakes,” she said. “But as a man, as a Christian, he was a great figure.”
In history books, Nicholas II is often portrayed as naïve and weak. His regime could be brutal, as in the Bloody Sunday killings of peaceful protesters in 1905, and incompetent, as in its performance in World War I. In some quarters in post-Soviet Russia, however, he is depicted as a thwarted visionary and a beacon of the Russian Orthodox faith.
The current exhibition, sponsored by the state archives and groups affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church, tries to strike a balance between the czar’s historical and religious roles.
The display cases contain documents and photographs inaccessible to the public in Soviet times.
Among them are Nicholas II’s letter of abdication from March 1917 and the ration card given to him and his family when the Bolsheviks held them captive.
There are also artifacts never before displayed, like the rifles the killers used.
The church’s few contributions to the exhibition are religiously oriented, including a photograph of the current church leader, Patriarch Aleksei II, in Yekaterinburg, in which his body appears engulfed by a green halo. There is also an icon with a mystical connection to the czar.
Elena Chirkova, an archives official, said the collaboration between the church and the archives was not always smooth. She said the church had engaged in “spiritual censorship” of items that did not portray the czar positively, like a picture of him smoking a cigarette and a photograph of the family with the mystic Rasputin.
Ms. Chirkova said that while in the Soviet period the Romanov family was painted negatively, now the czar’s reign tends to be romanticized.
“The church has its own opinion about everything concerning the history of Russia, the history of the czar,” she said.
Nikolai Muratov, manager of the church museum’s exhibitions, said he expected that 300,000 people would visit “Crown of the Czar,” which will close in early September. As he wandered around the site, which the Soviets had once converted into a swimming pool, he said Russia had been headed for greatness before the revolution.
“The tragedy of the Romanovs,” he said, “was the tragedy of Russia.”