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Russia’s Monarchy a Sensitive Issue as February Revolution Centenary Marked

  • Daniel Schearf

On March 8, 100 years ago, a revolution erupted in Saint Petersburg that ended the monarchy in Russia and set up a provisional government that was overthrown by the Bolsheviks just months later. That led to the rise of the Soviet Union and the spread of communism globally.

But there are still Russians today who defend the monarchy as sacred, and a few who even hope for its return.

Once loyal subjects of the Tsar, factory workers revolted over corruption as World War I took a toll on living standards.

Some 30,000 workers from the Putilov Plant, now called the Kirov Factory, joined the uprising.

“The workers of the Putilov Plant, like all other Petrograd [Saint Petersburg] workers, took part in the strikes and riots caused by their dissatisfaction at the economic situation in the country,” says Kirov Factory Museum director Igor Savrasov.

“It was the third year of the war. There was not a big difference among the workers. There was a shortage of bread for everyone.”

Russia's "February Revolution", which took place in March according to the Gregorian calendar, saw Tsar Nicholas the Second abdicate in the face of a popular uprising.

When the Bolsheviks seized power from a provisional government, aristocratic and wealthy families fled.

But some returned to join the new regime.

“My parents did not become truly Soviet, but my sister and I were more assimilated,” says Ivan Artsishevskiy, whose father was from a line of military nobles. “I served in the Soviet army, so I fully went through the system. In my family, we all believed in being with Russia whether it's for good [times] or for bad.”

Respect for monarchy remains

Artsishevskiy helped in the reburial protocol for Russia's last royal family, the Romanovs, who were executed by the Bolsheviks after the revolution and canonized in 2000.

A descendant of nobility, he teaches etiquette to Russia’s next generation.

“As the result of the Soviet achievements, a huge part of our genetic pool was destroyed, and the selection was of negative character. So now, we must correct it,” says Artsishevskiy.

A century after the Russian monarchy fell the Russian Imperial House, keepers of the Romanov legacy, wants legal recognition.

“We continue to stick to our monarchical convictions. And we continue to believe that monarchy for Russia is a historically natural mode of existence,” says director of the Russian Imperial House Alexander Zakatov. “Russia was a monarchy for more than a thousand years before the revolution, which brought us a lot of misfortunes.”

Zakatov acknowledges there is no present condition for the monarchy’s restoration in Russia - a grand understatement for most Russians.

Defend Saint Nicholas

But underscoring the sensitivity about the monarchy, a Russian film titled "Matilda," about the last Tsar’s affair with a ballerina, is being criticized even before its release later this year.

“Judging by the images that I have seen in the trailer, we may say that it doesn't correspond to real history,” says Zakatov. “It gives a twisted image of Tsar Nicholas the Second, and in many aspects it is blasphemous, because he is a saint ascribed to sainthood.”

Monarchist and Orthodox groups have deemed the film insulting. Natalya Poklonskaya, the former Kremlin-appointed Crimean prosecutor-general and current State Duma deputy, argues the film will upset religious feelings and in November called for a criminal investigation.

A group called “Orthodox State-Holy Russia” called for a ban and allegedly threatened to set fire to cinemas that show the film, earning a rare rebuke from the Kremlin.

“This organization is not registered with the Justice Ministry. So, in fact, this concerns the threats by anonymous extremists," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to the TASS news agency. "Such actions are absolutely inadmissible,” he added. “The president said that the state will respond harshly to these manifestations.”

As Russia marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, few will mourn the loss of the Russian monarchy.

But many will remember the Bolsheviks who seized power, the destructive civil war that followed, and the Soviet empire they established.

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