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Messages - Elisabeth

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Again I maintain that it was the position of the Army which was the tipping point. I think had the General Staff supported NII he would have sent the Duma representatives packing. The problem was that they had lost faith in him (they never liked the fact that GD NN was canned) and his moving to Stavka meant that they were in daily contact with him, a bad idea. Had he stayed in Petrograd (or better yet moved to Moscow away from all that leftist internationalist agitation and arguably among those with nativist patriotic sentiments whose loyalty ot the Crown might have been more easily preserved -- not for nothing did Lenin move the capital) he would have had to rule at a remote distance through his deputies who could be blamed (viz., Protopopov, Sukhomlinov, etc.) for all the problems and dismissed when necessary (a la Ollie North in Iran Contra and Rumsfeld for Abu Ghraib). This would have been the smart political thing to do on one level, but probably from his 19th Century perspective a dishonorable thing to do.  I think he thought it was his personal duty to lead the Army at its time of crisis. Unfortunately,  once there as CinC (apart from whatever inadequacies he made have had to act in such capacity) the Monarchy lost its "magic and mystery" (cf., The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot).  By the way, Gen. Alexeiev subsequently distinguished himself with the White Army before his death.


Of course it was the loss of the army's support that cost Nicholas his throne. That's always the case in modern (and probably even premodern) revolutions. Once your own army wants to depose you, your goose is cooked. You're done, plain and simple, because the army is the real source of power and social control. Without an army, you can't accomplish anything.

Probably we're just circling back to Robert K. Massie's argument that NII had the personality for a constitutional monarch, but not for an autocratic one, no matter how hard he tried to be the latter. If he'd been more intellectually inclined and prescient, he probably would have reached a compromise with Russian society, he would have agreed to limit his own powers in exchange for staying on the throne. If he'd been both more intellectually gifted and forceful a personality, which he clearly wasn't, he would have preserved the autocracy as he wished to preserve it. What's so tragic about Nicholas (well, it would be tragic if his many mistakes hadn't cost so many lives) is that he was utterly determined to live up to standards as a ruler and autocrat that as himself, the individual human being Nikolai Aleksandrovich, he couldn't possibly meet. His sense of honor was actually too strong, he was a 19th-century, old-fashioned gentleman, never intended to be a ruler, who when confronted with the brand new face of the 20th century, completely lost his nerve.

Elisabeth going back to your response to my last post. I referred to Nicholas' "trusted generals." They WERE trusted generals, i.e., ones he, Nicholas, trusted. The generals were not trustWORTHY , but they were trusted by Nicholas. Although Nicholas was distrustful of his critics, he was simultaneously, as you yourself later noted in your post, a naif at least politically and I would say personally overall as well.(guess  from whom his children got their innocent, preternaturally trusting nature and naivete ?) His trust was just  misplaced, consistent with his often  poor character assessment of others, including both friends and opponents. I don't know that Nicholas had any reason to distrust Alexeiev, Ruzsky, et al.  prior to that last session with them at Pskov. In terms of their military advice and pursuit of the war and Russia's interest they had shown no treason, cowardice or deceit. In the end though , they were disloyal to him, and their pressuring him to abdicate hardly showed great courage.

As for what Nicholas knew or should have known about the physical threat to his and his family's safety from the political opposition, I don't think we're that much in disagreement. Obviously the example of Alexander II, his father , his uncle Serge, his own murdered ministers, was not lost on him. For significant periods his own personal movement was  greatly circumscribed by terrorist threat.
And yet it's not psychologically unusual or maladaptive in terms of everyday functioning to "tune out" the danger. Otherwise one would be virtually paralysed Life goes on amidst the most extreme violence and danger even in wartime. London  during the Blitz, in Berlin and other German cities during massive routine Allied bombing raids,  in Sarajevo during the  period of Bosnian Serb attacks,  in American workplaces after noon on 9/11. The danger Nicholas faced from the extreme political left was, for him,  out of sight and in some abstract future.
I'm just suggesting that Nicholas had  at some level mentally incorporated or already factored in the latent threat from  extremist political opposition. He had survived one war, a revolution, extended periods of labor violence, untold strikes, two and a half years of a second war..Experience had taught him that he should continue to survive. I guess he drew the wrong lessons.

I still maintain that even with better judgment and a stronger character , after his abdication Nicholas was in no position to extract any real guarantee of future safety. Even then he and his family might have survived if the asylum arrangement with Great Britain hadn't fallen apart.

In fact I don't much disagree with you, Rodney, because you're right, you've made an excellent point: people who are in danger over a long period of time psychologically adapt to that danger and often come to discount it. As we know from 20th-century history, human beings eventually adapt to the most terrible conditions -- it's in our makeup. We rationalize, we start to ignore, in the worst cases we become depressed and apathetic. My personal opinion is that when Nicholas abdicated he was depressed and apathetic.

So we agree that NII was in a terrible emotional state when he abdicated. No doubt for that very reason he couldn't negotiate with these "treasonous" and "treacherous" generals for his family's safe passage out of Russia. I think in fact it cost him his last reserves of strength to demand that his son Aleksei be left out of the succession. He was probably to some degree afraid that the generals would not accept this condition (and indeed at least one general later expressed regret about it, since he thought, perhaps not completely unrealistically, that an invalid child, a boy tsar, with a rather charismatic presence, might have served as a rallying point for constitutional monarchists in the country -- not to mention the Russian people, who even at the time were known for their sentimental attitude toward children in general). But if Nicholas hadn't been so psychologically vulnerable, and so basically silly politically, --  if there had been a Peter the Great in his place, for example, or a Catherine -- then they would have wrested good terms for their loved ones no matter how dire the situation. But then of course Peter and Catherine probably wouldn't have found themselves in such a situation to begin with.

I think that is what I was trying to say, but I wasn't very clear.

It just seems that he also gave the fate of his family to the Provisional Government and to his faith as well as giving up his throne and the autocracy of Russia.

I wonder if he was under the influence of drugs at the time.  Had he began using cocaine and other drugs for more that the common cold?  He seemed to be at a breaking point by the time the abdication was presented to him.

I see what you meant now, Alixz, probably we agree on just about everything in fact... IMHO NII didn't necessarily need to be under the influence of powerful drugs (whether from Badmaev or an ordinary cough preparation -- many common, over-the-counter drugs at this period had codeine or laudanum or other strong sedatives in them) to behave the way he did at Pskov and Mogilev. It's my impression that drugs or not, he was in the grip of a nervous breakdown of some kind, and probably having heart problems as well, unless these were a symptom of panic attacks (also likely).

But Alixz, what precisely were Nicholas and Alexandra "addicted" to? What got them into so much trouble with the best (and worst) Russian minds and political figures of their day?

The principle of autocracy.

In which case they were never cured, were they? They never even learned to manage their "habit."

Alixz, I do think Nicholas was so abject in his abdication that it raises serious questions about his psychological state. However, I don't think he was a Twelve-Step kind of person, nor was Alexandra -- for one thing, some of the steps were obviously impossible for them to take, given their individual personalities, psychologies, and upbringing:

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

How often were Nicholas and Alexandra wrong and how often did they admit to it? The answers are FREQUENTLY and NEVER. Whether it's because they were brought up royal or else severely lacking in political astuteness or both (I think both myself), they were almost always wrong about every major political action they took, as events invariably bore out, and yet they don't seem to have ever taken a personal inventory, much less a political one, and admitted to their often lethal mistakes. In their own minds, N&A rarely, perhaps never, did wrong, only other people (usually political figures who wanted to limit N's autocratic powers) were wrong and needed to apologize. They kept this view until the day they died. I think they were all but impervious to logical argument.

It's telling to me that the only regret about his reign that Nicholas ever expressed was after the provisional government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks. Nicholas expressed regret that he had abdicated. Okay, at this point words fail me because this is at one and the same time so utterly typical of the poor man and so utterly politically nonsensical.

Sorry to come down so hard on you, Rodney, in my previous post -- I shouldn't have implied that you were accusing me of blaming N&A for their children's deaths -- but some of the members here have insisted so repeatedly -- and I have admittedly become over-sensitive on the subject as a result.

That said, I don't agree with your argument that "The example of the French Revolution notwithstanding, Nicholas wasn't negotiating with Jacobins. He was dealing with his most trusted military advisors, his own chief-of-staff (he was still overall Commander-in-chief at the time) and with no knowledge , or foreknowledge, of actual Bolshevik ( as opposed to merely left-liberal) future strength and what that might portend." Firstly, Nicholas wrote in his diary the night of his abdication, "All around me I see treason, cowardice, and deceit." Those are very strong words, and they refer to those very same generals, his top military staff, whom you claim he "trusted."

For that matter, I would argue that the precarious situation of N&A, in terms of actual physical safety, is completely similar to that of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette -- particularly and most strongly in the case of Alexandra and Marie Antoinette. You need only look at the alarming level of popular hatred and vitriol directed against them during the last years of their husbands' respective reigns. This hatred was not factually based, it was, dare I say it, practically a form of mass hysteria. The two royal women were such hated figures, in fact, that they could easily have been lynched by the mobs that assailed their palaces -- in Marie Antoinette's case, she almost was, twice (!), before ultimately falling victim to the guillotine.

Furthermore, Nicholas certainly was aware of the Bolshevik political program, as well as the program of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs, arguably the most popular political party in Russia at the time, since they had broad peasant support -- and this party was a nest of terrorists). Certainly his Okhrana were aware of these parties' political programs and would have made him aware of them, too, if he needed an education in the matter, which I don't think he did. Face it, throughout his reign NII seems to have regarded anyone who was left of center as a potential regicide. This is understandable psychologically if not politically defensible in a constitutional monarch, because as I and others here have already pointed out in this thread, Nicholas grew up under the shadow of revolutionary assassination. He watched his grandfather die in agony from a revolutionary's bomb and his own father Alexander III was the target of a (failed) assassination plot led by Lenin's own older brother, Aleksandr Ulianov. In addition there was the assassination of his uncle Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich in 1905, the assassination of Stolypin in 1911, as well as numerous other assassinations of political figures, both high and low, that plagued the first years of the twentieth century. Again, I would ask all of you to revisit the question of the rising tide of political violence in Russia. To my mind it was the obvious political trend of the future (so really, why for so long did Lenin and Stalin come as such a big surprise to students of Soviet history?). Any political figure, especially a tsar on the verge of abdicating, had to take political violence into account if he wanted himself and his loved ones to survive a revolution.

I must admit the idea of Nicholas negotiating over his abdication and safe departure never really occurred to me. Mostly because it was  so out of character, and practically and politically  a non-starter. In many respects he never governed from a position of strength of character or confidence, even at the best of times. When confronted at Pskov by Russky (his chief -of-staff?) and the opinions of his Front commanders, he knew it was all over. After protecting his son's condition, he seems content to have let Michael assume the burden of rule.

I think General Ruzsky and Nicholas's other leading generals might very well have been taken aback by the speed and utter abjectness of the tsar's abdication, since after all NII had been defending his autocratic rights for over two decades, against a mounting storm of public criticism, at least from the urban elites (including the middle class). Remember, initially Nicholas made no conditions whatsoever, he merely abdicated in favor of his son Aleksei (March 1, 1917). It was only on the following morning, after consulting with his court physician, Fedorov, that he decided to make it a condition of his abdication that his son the tsarevich be passed over in the succession in favor of his brother, Mikhail Aleksandrovich. So Nicholas actually did make a condition on the terms of his abdication, moreover, it was technically a completely illegal condition, because under existing Russian law he had no right whatsoever to abdicate on behalf of Aleksei Nikolaevich.

But as for negotiating a safe departure from danger , or from Russia, he wasn't in any position to demand anything really. On March 1 he was Emperor but his government had fallen in Petrograd and he was a bystander, not in control of anything. Think this : what if he had said ,hell no !to a demand for his abdication. What then ?  It seems likely he would have been forcibly compelled eventually. But in a game of chicken with his top commanders and the Provisional government, he wasn't going to win.
Also, to negotiate a departure deal, he needed a negotiating partner, that is, a party that could fulfill its part of the deal. It was soon apparent that the Prov. Gov. couldn't uphold its  implied commitment to get the  ex-Imperial family ( wholely or in the form of just the children) out of the country. Fate, in the form of a measles outbreak at Tsarskoe Selo , contributed.

But as I've pointed out, Nicholas did make a condition to his abdication (moreover, an illegal one). But that was it. Instead of negotiating with his captors (after all, he could have made things much more difficult for them), Nicholas took it completely on faith that the new government of Russia, which let's note had not even been formed yet on March 1/2 1917, would permit himself and his immediate family, including the heir, safe passage from revolutionary Russia to Great Britain or some other accommodating Western European country. This is so politically naive. Nicholas, with his oft-proclaimed mistrust of democratic forces, much less revolutionary ones, should have realized this. It's a testimony to his terrible psychological state that he didn't. Because he could easily at this point have made the issue of "safe passage" a condition of his abdication. Indeed, if he had done so, and the PG had been unable or unwilling to fulfill this obligation, then NII would have had absolutely legal grounds to oppose the PG and any government that succeeded it, in the interests of saving his family, or for that matter, regaining his throne (which was clearly Alexandra's objective, judging from her letters, right up until the family's  last days in Ekaterinburg).

There's no denying Nicholas' fatalism and passivity, but I can't condemn him or Alexandra for the awful fate that befell his children later. Sadly,  and ironically, the IF's unity and devotion to each other led them all to share the tragic end that only Nicholas may have deserved.

Why does everybody keep implying that I'm condemning N&A for "the awful fate that befell [their] children"? Ultimately the Bolsheviks bear all the blame for that, as murderers always do bear the blame for killing innocent people. I am merely pointing out that N&A as politicians -- and let's be real, they always wanted to be viewed as serious politicians -- made an entire series of miscalculations that contributed to their children's vulnerability. N&A were not politically astute, to put it mildly.

Obviously I don't agree that we should somehow blame private citizens like Anne Frank's parents for their decisions in keeping their family safe during an unprecedented event like the Holocaust. I brought that up earlier in the discussion.

However, I am pointing out here that Nicholas II and Alexandra Fedorovna were in a completely different situation than the Frank parents. First because the Russian Revolution of February/March 1917 was not a historically unprecedented event -- everybody who was educated in Russia knew that the French Revolution was the precedent and the warning for their own revolution. Secondly, Nicholas and Alexandra were first and foremost politicians, or at least so they imagined themselves, and in fact as emperor and empress of Russia they had wielded very real, indeed immense political power from 1894 until 1917, that is, for over two decades. For over 20 years they had possessed the actual power to affect the course of historical events. Moreover, they continued to believe, even an entire year after NII's abdication, that they were vital to the course of political events in post-revolutionary Russia (c.f., their delusional notion that the Bolsheviks needed NII to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk). So why were they so incredibly naive in February/March 1917? Why didn't NII negotiate for the safe passage out of Russia of his family? Why didn't Alexandra, surrounded by her sick children, take it seriously when one of her oldest servitors at Tsarskoe Selo told her that when the house is burning down, the first people to be taken out are the invalids? Other people could clearly see the writing on the wall, why didn't they, with all their engrained, exaggerated fears of the evils of democracy and intellectuals, liberals and left-wingers and progressives, and so on and so forth?

I'll summarize my (latest) point, then: in February/March 1917, probably long before, Nicholas and Alexandra, unbeknownst to themselves, were cast adrift in a sea of public indifference, at best, and outright hostility, at worst. It's my opinion that they made a political miscalculation in not getting their children out of the country as soon as possible. Perhaps if NII had not suffered some kind of nervous collapse at Mogilev (probably before) he could have made his family's emigration to a neutral country a condition of his abdication. At any rate, I've always thought it strange that Nicholas doesn't seem to have demanded any kind of terms at all, he doesn't seem to have negotiated with the rebels for a safe passage for his family and himself out of the country... He just, as it were, completely abdicated.

Thanks for your post, Alixz, I think it helps everybody to put things in context. The fact of the matter is, most Russians (not urban, not noble or middle class, but peasant, 80 percent of the total population) in 1917 did not see Nicholas and Alexandra and their children the way we, total outsiders from both the historical and the national standpoints, see them -- as a cozy Victorian/Edwardian-style family with beautiful daughters in white lace dresses and a frail but charming invalid son in a sailor suit. Most Russians actually didn't "see" the imperial family at all, except in the occasional postcard or some other item of official propaganda. To my mind Kalafrana was absolutely right to point out that fact. At this time Russian peasants typically lived without indoor plumbing and electricity, and there was nothing even vaguely approaching an entity like the modern mass media, infiltrating every corner of one's home with images of the national "leaders" we are all supposed to emulate and admire.

Maybe if there had been, Russian peasants would have been much like today's idiots as envisioned by the American mass media, sopping up every last detail of Kim Kardashian's (or Grand Duchess Olga or Tatiana's?) celebrity wedding. In the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, with Greece on the brink of defaulting on its debt, and Italy, Spain, and Portugal in line to follow... It's hard to argue that Russian peasants were stupid or blind in 1917 when we have ample evidence that the mass media thinks we as ordinary Americans are even more stupid and blind almost an entire century later, in 2011 (well, they keep blathering on about Herman Cain, who will never be president one way or another, even while they limit their coverage of the latest economic nastiness now brewing in the heart of Western Europe itself).

Quote from Kalafrana :"we might note that the eyewitness reports of the massacre make it clear that the firing squad all wanted to shoot Nicholas."
Do you mean that they all wanted to shoot Nicholas or that they all DID shoot him? Except for the author Edvard Radzinsky speculating that they all shot Nicholas I'm not aware of any reports saying that they did. Yurovsky's report(s) seem most authoritative and he claims Nicholas was shot in the head and fell and died immediately. His skull and skeleton don't indicate how many bullets struck him but it seems unlikely that it was eleven or more. Moreover, all the other killers had an individual designated target, and though obviously not all of them were hit, we don't know that they went against Yurovsky's orders and shot at Nicholas. In fact, however ineptly, they DID aim at their respective targets.

Kalafrana, if your quote is meant perfectly literally, I don't think it says all that much in terms of the topic here. The killers were a bolshevik execution squad, chosen for their presumed reliability and commitment to bolshevism. The latter meant a hatred of the monarchy and in particular this (ex)- monarch. So I don't doubt that they all would have wanted the"honor" of killing Nicholas. This motivation doesn't necessarily reflect the feelings of the vast mass of Russians, of whom we can say that at a minimum, they didn't all want Nicholas deposed , much less murdered. As for desire to kill his children , there was virtually none, for obvious reasons.

As for the average Russian blaming Nicholas and Alexandra for the disasters that had hit them (average Russians in 1918), that might well be true for the war and its devastation, but those responsible for the bolsheviks seizing power  in October, 1917, were obviously the Petrograd bolsheviks themselves. They directly provoked a civil war and all the misery that entailed, though as of mid July- 1918, the worst was yet to come.

As for a generally prevalent indifference to Nicholas and Alexandra's fate among the Russian populace : I'd say most Russians weren't literally thinking of them in mid July , 1918, but it doesn't mean their murders were either approved of or met with indifference. The  vast majority of Russians were  still peasants, among whom support, and to a lesser extent , love, still remained for their Tsar. They may not have been the childlike and wayward subjects of Alexandra's imagination, but neither were they the cynical , irreligious , opinionmakers of Petrograd.

Of course, the whole black-white/evil-good interpretation of the Russian peasantry during the revolutions of 1917 has long since fallen by the wayside. Rodney is correct, the peasantry was not "childlike," however they were, after centuries of oppression, demonstrably self-interested and extremely suspicious of higher authorities (if you want to call that "cynical," fine, I personally would term it "adaptive"). Therefore, in my opinion, Kalafrana is also correct, there's no historical evidence extant that the peasantry as a social group was greatly or even mildly preoccupied with, much less worried about, the imperial family during the revolutionary months of 1917 (or for that matter, at any time thereafter). Let's be frank, the peasantry were were too busy seizing the land to care about the fate of tsardom, much less the fate of the tsar himself. As Orlando Figes writes, in "A People's Tragedy" (Viking Penguin, 1997), "the village commune was greatly strengthened as a result of the revolution. It revived it from its prerevolutionary state of torpor and decay to become the main organizing force of the peasant revolution on the land. All the main political organs of the revolution in the countryside--the village committees, the peasant unions and the Soviets--were really no more than the peasant commune in a more revolutionary form. The village commune stood for the ideals of land and freedom which had always inspired the peasants to revolt" (363). It used to be quite fashionable to claim that the Russian peasantry were ignorant and apolitical -- but there is ample evidence from late 19th-/early 20th-century records that they cannot and should not be written off so lightly, and that furthermore, their sons and daughters who migrated to the urban factories for seasonal work, brought back with them every harvest time plenty of seditious ideas for future reference.

To summarize, because obviously it needs some elucidation: Nicholas and Alexandra regarded themselves as serious political players, real contenders for power, until the very last instant they drew breath in Ekaterinburg. Because of this very fact, I am asking, whether in this forum, are we supposed to regard N&A merely as innocent victims and potential martyrs from the first days of the 1917 Revolutions of February and October or are we allowed to view them them the way they viewed themselves, as politicians contending for real power over the Russian nation and people?

These are actually some of the same questions that are posed about Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the French Revolution. And probably for the very same reason that these questions can be posed, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (unlike Nicholas and Alexandra in their own Russian Orthodox Church) have never been made saints of the Catholic Church, despite their innocence of the charges leveled against them and their horrific deaths.

Dear FA, I would so appreciate it, if you truly do regard all this stuff as "personal," if you would address your issues and admonishments to me via PM, as opposed to publicly -- and this was actually what I requested of Lisa days ago, when she first raised this issue with me (publicly, again). Interesting that you bring it up now, when I thought it was entirely settled or at least already being arbitrated to everybody's satisfaction.

In response to the other issue you bring up, the fact of the matter is that in the chaos of World War I and the ensuing February/March and October Revolutions of 1917, most Russians honestly did not care one fig about the Romanovs, or what fate awaited them. Why? Because life was utter hell for most Russians during this historical period, and most Russians -- at the time -- blamed their terrible hardships on the previous rulers, Nicholas and Alexandra. I am not saying that this attitude was right or correct. I am NOT saying, nor did I ever say previously, either, that most Russians thirsted for the Romanovs' blood as a result. On the contrary, all I am saying, and all that I said, is that most Russians didn't care one way or another about what happened to the IF, because most Russians were completely preoccupied with their own daily problems. Survival, in short.

In my opinion, the secrecy surrounding the Ekaterinburg killings was not so much a result of fear of Russian public opinion on the part of the Bolsheviks, as it was a result of their fear of foreign public opinion. Lenin and his cohorts tried to keep the murders secret from the royal families and governments of Western and Central Europe, who would obviously have responded with outrage, or worse, outright aggression, to hearing that their near relations had been murdered in cold blood. Again, the French Revolution was a precedent, of which the Bolsheviks were well aware (and indeed, why weren't my points about the French Revolution taken for what they were, serious points?).

This forum tends to view historical events in very black and white terms -- there are no grey areas discernible in many posts, so probably that explains the general inability to understand my overall argument.

Petr, my point in bringing up the Iraq War was to highlight our stupidity in waging a preemptive strike against a country, Iraq, and a dictator, Saddam Hussein, who had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the tragedy that supposedly prompted us to go to war in the first place, i.e., the terrorist actions of 9/11. (If we had really been serious in our purpose to punish the "evil-doers" who financed the 9/11 terrorists, we would have attacked Saudi Arabia, the source of most of the terrorists and much of the terrorist funding -- but that would have been even more stupid and absurd of us, in geopolitical terms, so of course we didn't, we looked for a scapegoat for our aggression -- i.e., Iraq.)

I don't believe in the Christian precept that one should turn the other cheek against violence. No, a more appropriate action, to my mind, is to defend one's self and those dear to one. Therefore I have no problem with preventive police or intelligence actions against terrorism -- but that's precisely my point, most of these actions are police or intelligence actions and shouldn't have anything to do with a special, pumped-up, newly invented and very expensive governmental department called "Homeland Security," much less a full-scale war against a non-offending foreign country like Saddam's Iraq. As a result of Bush-Cheney-Halliburton's war, what is Iraq today? A hotbed of Al-Qaeda and terrorism. We've created our own worst nightmare, a veritable Chechnia in the Middle East, and at the cost of trillions to our national budget!

Please don't get me started about Chechnia, either, because Russia has more than enough blood on its hands in this country. I don't see Russia as anything near an innocent victim in the current conflict with Chechen insurgents, because throughout the 1990s Russian mercenaries committed innumerable atrocities against civilians in Chechnia, in an overall campaign which amounted to state-sanctioned terror, -- although granted the terrorism of Chechen Muslim extremists cannot and should not be sanctioned or condoned either.

Stolypin's reforms were a failure because most Russian peasants opposed them and worse yet, actively obstructed them. As a result the land reforms had reached an impasse well before Stolypin was assassinated in 1911. The idea that imperial Russia could have been saved if Stolypin had lived is just that, an idea, an ideal, which was in any event smashed by the unprecedented destructive impact of World War I on the Russian government, society, economy, and infrastructure.

Dear Elizabeth; Not to disagree with your points (and I always seem to come off as an apologist for Imperial Russia which is not my intention) but I would just like to draw one of many modern parallels to the reaction of societies of various types (including what we would call liberal democracies) when they feel threatened. As you know starting in the 1860's (I'm discounting the Decembrists, who after all were well meaning dilettantes) through the Revolution Imperial Russia could have justifiably characterized itself as being engaged in a "war on terror" (familiar?).  As you also stated the level of political violence was quite extreme and growing. While not necessarily excusing extra-judicial punishment, under the circumstances it is perhaps understandable that the Government would react harshly (Guantanamo anyone?), particularly since there was a deliberate concerted targeting of high Government officials. I attended a breakfast with John Ashcroft when he was Attorney General and he made a cogent argument (with which I happen to disagree) that after 9/11 our traditional criminal justice model (i.e., catch the perpetrator after the crime is committed and punish him as an example and deterrent against future criminal acts) had to change to one where the crime is prevented before it occurs (in fairness -what do you do with a terrorist armed with a nuclear device, do you wait until the explosion occurs?) , which, of course, raises important questions of the effect of this approach on civil liberties (e.g., unrestricted wire-tapping, preventive detention, rendition and "enhanced interrogation techniques").

It's hard to know where to begin to respond, Petr, since you bring up so many interesting points. I guess first I would say, how strange and even unbelievable it is to read that John Ashcroft, our former Attorney General, was capable of putting forward a "cogent argument" -- I always thought that man was the biggest idiot ever to hold public office, short of George W. Bush himself.

To my mind the argument that one should be able to arrest a potential criminal before he even commits a crime and hold him in an extra-judicial place like Guantanamo is just another example of how the road to hell is paved with good intentions (much like the United States's invasion of Iraq, no?). The inroads on civil liberties are too great to be exaggerated, and don't ever imagine there won't be terrible, unforeseen consequences, not only in the immediate future but for generations to come.

The entire Homeland Security apparatus is absurdly overgrown and costly,-- not to mention the fact that probably 99 percent of it is completely unnecessary -- that it can't help but remind me of Eisenhower's dire warning about an over-mighty military-industrial complex continually expanding itself, to the ever-increasing detriment of American political institutions and civil society.  

I only say this to try and put in context the times and the reaction of those living through it all. It is hard to be magnanimous when ones Grandfather and Brother in Law were blown up and ones Father was nearly assassinated as well (not to mention various Government and Provincial officials -- BTW, as you may remember NII himself was nearly assassinated in Japan when he was the Tsarevich). I agree with Tim and you that the ordinary Russian had more pressing things to worry about in 1917 -19 than the fate of the Romanoff family, although the way the Bolsheviks dealt with the murders proved that they were still worried about public reaction (it's interesting that today the RF is enjoying great public interest verging on veneration, which, in fact, the ROC has formalized declaring them "Holy Martyrs"). Russian history was so tied up with the Romanoff dynasty (300 years) that when it disappeared overnight it could not have helped having a disorienting effect on the masses (imagine the effect if one day the US Constitution was unilaterally declared null and void).  I say all this because I am always uncomfortable judging and ascribing thoughts, motives and feelings to historical figures, not only because they can't respond but also because it is being done through the prism of our current notions of morality and - dare I say it-- political correctness (although actions speak louder than words and to that extent judging political figures is fair game -- no way Hitler or Stalin could ever be judged as anything but monstrous sociopaths even if they were raised in disfunctional families).  While NII and AF had many faults I personally think the sobriquet "Bloody Nicholas" is unfair propaganda (viz., he wasn't at the Winter Palace in 1905 and what happened at his Coronation really wasn't his fault). When compared to his Great Grandfather NI, or even his Father,  NII was a pussy cat, and perhaps that was his problem.

The basic moral standards are universal and immutable, however. All the major, ancient religions share them. Put it this way, I seriously doubt that historians of the future will give George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their ilk, not to mention the American Congress, an easy pass for invading Iraq in the wake of 9/11, no matter how terrible the tragedy was that befell the United States on that date. Just because some bad, immoral action is carried out in the heat of the moment, in the wake of a tragedy, does not make that action any less bad and immoral. To say otherwise is to resort to the playground rules of our childhood, "he pushed me first" as an excuse for aggressive behavior. If we followed this particular logic it would make the behavior of Germans who followed Hitler no matter what somehow all right because, well, they suffered so much during the Great Inflation of the 1920s and the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Everything is forgiven because we suffer?

But maybe what you are saying is only that our suffering makes our actions more understandable with hindsight, and that is certainly true. Still, I don't think that makes them excusable, or less reprehensible in the case of political atrocities like "Stolypin's neckties" or Guantanamo (or for that matter, the murder of the imperial family and their entourage).

Finally, there is a school of thought that had Stolypin not been assassinated (and had NII fully supported him) the Revolution could have been avoided (perhaps his neckties would have had their intended salutary effect).

As you are no doubt well aware, there's another school of thought that posits the opposite, that Stolypin's reforms were a failure even before he was assassinated. I tend to agree with this school (oh, big surprise you say!). At any rate, I don't think the "neckties" -- let's be blunt, the hangmen -- contributed in any way to the peace in late imperial Russia -- they were merely part and parcel of the ever-growing political violence in that country, on both extremes of the political spectrum (imperial and revolutionary). That was the "danse macabre" of politics and government in early 20th-century tsarist Russia, or the vicious circle, however you want to put it...

Elizabeth - sorry to not have quoted your post. But, a few points:

I never said that Nicholas did not (should have, etc) foresee the probability his own murder at the hands of revolutionaries. I believe he and everyone around him saw this and did what they could to keep him safe for the year and a half of his captivity.

I guess my point was not so much that NII wasn't aware of the danger he himself was in, as that he doesn't seem to have associated that danger with the very real danger to his family as well.

I think the couple felt that since Alexandra had been cleared by the Provisional Government of any wrong doing that she was in much less danger than her husband.

Marie Antoinette, anyone? Can anyone else here think of another queen consort who was as hated and reviled as Alexandra Feodorovna? And what was her ultimate fate, for all that she was initially protected by the revolutionary government in France? And who was more aware of Marie Antoinette's biography than Alexandra Feodorovna herself?

As I said, the murder of royal children WAS an anomaly then and now, so I disagree with you that the parents should have been able to foresee the danger to their children - I'm not sure at what point they should have been able to do this?

I don't think the murder of Aleksei Nikolaevich was an anomaly at all. Look at the horrific physical and emotional (and probably sexual) abuse and starvation that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's only surviving son, the second dauphin (Louis XVII) endured before his death. So horrific in fact was his treatment at the hands of the Jacobins that his death, when it finally came, was no doubt a release.

As for the daughter of Louis and Marie Antoinette, Marie Therese, she was permanently traumatized by the conditions of her own incarceration and the murders of her entire immediate family -- father, mother, aunt, and brother.

Again, Alexandra was certainly well aware of all these facts, she was an admirer of Marie Antoinette.

But, I do reject the notion of blaming the victim. Under this kind of logic, was JFK responsible for his own murder instead of Oswald? Shouldn't he have foreseen that every president elected in a year ending in zero for over 100 years had died in office? and therefore he was a goner for being elected in 1960? At some point, we must make the perpetrators of murder responsible. So, yes, Nicholas was responsible for all the executions while he was emperor but the Bolsheviks were the ones responsible for the murder of his children.

Oh, please, Lisa, give me a break. I don't think that pointing out that Nicholas and Alexandra were delusional is quite the same thing as blaming them for their own murders. What you're saying is basically that we're not allowed to criticize the last tsar and tsarina in these areas (e.g., the safety of their children, the topic of political violence in Russia in general) because to do so somehow implicates them in their own murders and the murders of their children.... Blaming the victim, Kennedy, Oswald? What, are you serious? Forgive me for saying so, but you are really insulting not only my intelligence but also my integrity here!

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