Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs

Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs, by Matthew Dal Santo. Stalin-mania is resurfacing, driven from below:

Russia, we are told, is in the grip of Stalin-mania. … A survey… earlier this year showed a significant rise during Putin’s presidency in the number of Russians who believe Stalin’s time in power ‘brought with it more good than bad’, from 26% in 1999 to 40% in 2016.

‘It is absolutely not the case’, says Remizov [director of the National Strategy Institute], ‘that there’s any official programme for rehabilitating the Stalin cult from above. It’s a popular movement, driven from below, propelled by a sense of anger towards what is perceived to be a vast “trahison des élites” [betrayal of a country by its elites].

Motivated by a desire to cut the country’s oligarchs down to size, popular nostalgia for Stalin offers an implicit challenge to what has from the start been a central element of Putin’s legitimacy: his claim to have ‘tamed the oligarchs’.

Despite his public image, says Remizov, Putin isn’t a Vozhd (‘Leader’, a popular name for Stalin) before whom Russia’s ruling elite trembles; he’s an (imperfect) moderator of their squabbles.

There is a wider shift going on in Russia’s view of its history:

Particularly striking has been the rehabilitation of the pre-revolutionary regime. The same survey that showed an increase in favourable perceptions of Stalin also revealed that since 1999 the number of Russians believing the reign of Nicholas II (1894-1917), Russia’s last tsar, ‘brought more good than bad’ had risen from 18% to 30%. Also, the number believing the 1917 Revolution to have been a good thing fell from 27% in 1999 to 19% in 2016, while those believing it to have been for the worse rose from 38% to 48%.

The shift is reflected in Russian public space. With communism having withered, the contours of an older Russia have re-emerged. …

Unthinkable 25 years before, in 2013 an obelisk originally erected in 1914 outside the Kremlin walls was cleansed of its Soviet-era transformation into a monument to the workers’ struggle, and rededicated to its original commemoration of the Romanov tercentenary (1613-1913), Imperial Russia’s last great national celebration. …

If there’s a Russian leader whose reputation has been unequivocally rehabilitated during the Putin era, it’s Nicholas II. Known during communist days as ‘the Bloody’, Nicholas is now more commonly known to Russians as the ‘Tsar-Martyr’. …

Could Putin really be planning a restoration of the Romanovs? …

Between 1613 and 1917 the Romanovs transformed a remote and backward principality on Europe’s periphery into a leading power not in opposition to, but within the European state system. There’s a good argument that what Moscow wants today is not a return to the superpower confrontation of 1947 to 1989, but a version of the ‘European concert’ of 1815 to 1914.

The Coronation of the Emperor Nicholas II: the newly-crowned Emperor passing the Great Bell in Moscow, 26 May 1896

The Coronation of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II, a Romanov, in 1896

Putin’s presidency finishes in 2018. The Romanovs were all murdered by the Communists after the Revolution in 1917.

But absent a single legitimate heir, Russian monarchists are remarkably fond of observing that … nobody says Russia’s next tsar must be a Romanov.

hat-tip Stephen Neil