Friday, September 29, 2006

Maria Fiodorovna

Tsarskoe Selo Revisited ...

Yesterday took place the re-burial of Maria Fiodorovna in St.Petersburg, next to the tombs of the Romanovs as was her dying wish. The Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna, wife of Alexander III (immortalized more than anything else by a bridge between the Paris' Rive Droite and Rive Gauche) and mother of Nicholas II was a donor of Danish blood to the Imperial DNA. History tended to treat her better than her unfortunate daughter-in-law. In a liberal democratic monarchical system the consorts of the Sovereigns are politically irrelevant. In Autocracy things were slightly different..

I happened to be re-reading some material on the Russian Revolution for purposes I will explain to the Right Honourable Reader in due time. In a kind of “ all men being equal although some might be more equal than others” analogy, all great books on the Russian Revolution are equally enlightening but Orlando Figes ’s “A People’s Tragedy – The Russian Revolution 1891-1924” sheds more light than most. There one can find small precious vignettes on secondary actors of the Tragedy.

Maria Fiodorovna is remembered on two highly dramatic political events. The opening ceremony of the first embryonic Parliament in Russian history, the (First) State Duma in 27 April 1906; and the peculiar mix of land-reform and Russian Nationalism that was beyond the famous western zemstvo crisis of 1911.

On the first occasion, held in the Winter Palace, the two worlds were set in different halves of the Throne Room. The Court was on one side, the representatives of the liberal landowning classes and the peasantry on the other. A total flop, as we would say now. And now back to Figes: “As the royal procession filed out of the hall, tears could be seen on the face of the Tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress (Maria Feodorovna). It had been a ‘terrible ceremony’, she later confided to the Minister of Finance. For several days she had been unable to clam herself from the shock of seeing so many commoners inside the palace.’ They look at us as upon their enemies and I could not stop myself from looking at certain faces, so much did they seem to reflect a strange hatred for us all’.

On the second occasion, she showed better political skills than his son’s entourage. Stolypin, the lost last-hope of Russian statesmanship, threatened to resign if his Western Zemstvo Bill was not approved, using, by the way, the stratagem of a direct promulgation by the Tsar when both chambers were closed. Says Figes: “ It had taken several hours of persuasion by his mother, the eminently sensible Dowager Empress, to get the Tsar to go against the advice of his wife (who was at centre of the plot against Stolypin). When he received Stolypin at the Gatchina Palace his face was ‘red from weeping’.

Should we care in any way for this "ancient history"? Well, yes, very much so. The centenary of "1917" is just round the corner. Is this blogger's deepest conviction that by that time, on the eve of the expected commemorations, our "final" impressions about the Russian Revolution will be set in stone. What future generations will think of what really happened then will no longer be modifiable. A bit, if you want, when a given event gets the movie industry treatment.( Will anyone have a alternative view to the Irish Question after seeing Ken Loach's films? ).

It's a sort of race against time. The temptation to see, for instance, Lenin with pink coloured glasses will be enormous. The fight for a revisionist's view of the role of White leaders in the Civil War, like Kolchak, Denikin or Wrangel, is very much on, but there is not too much time left. Between the canonization of Nicholas II by the nostalgics of Imperial Russia and the canonization of Vladimir Ulianov by the nostalgics of Soviet Russia there must be another way. The Russian Revolution still is the single most important event to explain modern politics and to fail to understand it is to fail to understand how our political forces have evolved.

No comments: