By John Varoli
On July 17, Russia took the first major step, one of yet many that it needs to take, towards coming to terms with its bloody and turbulent 20th century history.
By burying Nikolai II and his family in St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Cathedral, the final resting place of nearly every Russian emperor and empress since Peter the Great, Russia made a official close to its Tsarist era.
Government officials and Russian TV rightly labeled the burial one of the “greatest events in Russian history.” Except for a lame attempt in the early 1990s to put the Communist Party on trial for its past crimes, modern-day Russia has done very little to come to terms with its bloody history, both Tsarist and Communist.
With the nation watching, the president proclaimed that Russia had finally repented for one of its “most shameful episodes in history.”
Yeltsin’s speech might go down as an important event in Russian history and as one of his finest. It was well spoken and with great strength and vigor that he has not shown in years. Most significant, however, Yeltsin’s message was one of tolerance and reason, something in short supply in Russia today.
Also, never before had a Russian leader spoken before the nation and made an expression of his, and the country’s guilt, for past sins. “Burying the victims of the Yekaterinburg tragedy is an act of human justice, a symbol of unification in Russia, and repentance of our guilt,” Yeltsin said.
This emphasis on “our guilt” was not hollow rhetoric. As the head of the Sverdlovsk Oblast Communist Party in 1977, he followed orders from Moscow to demolish the Ipatiev house where the Romanovs were executed.
And while Yeltsin has already for several years now been calling for repentance and reconciliation, he could easily have turned the Tsar’s burial into an anti-Communist event, disparaging the brutal murderers of the innocent family.
He did not, but the opposition, which is becoming increasingly belligerent, is unlikely to be impressed and heed the president’s call.
Yeltsin clearly anticipated this. In a veiled reference to the possible current threat of a violent seizure of power in Russia, the president said that the execution of the Romanovs “is tied to one of the most bitter lessons — that any attempt to change life with violence is doomed to failure.”
SYMBOLIC AND PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT