Yet the 100th anniversary of Romanovs’ deaths is passing with little notice from the government. Outside Yekaterinburg, there are few events to mark the centennial. Prominent venues expected to host such events, like the Historical Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, currently hold no exhibitions to mark the anniversary. In the capital, events are limited to a one-off requiem concert at the Tchaikovsky Hall and a multimedia presentation “Nicholas II,” screened once every few days in a small Sokolniki Park pavilion. In St. Petersburg, the Rosfoto Center is holding a photo exhibition. In these few events, the discourse of the Romanovs’ deaths is almost dissolved in the stories of their lives, their glamour and “greatness.” Otherwise, the dearth of events and their relatively modest locations speak volumes of the current state of historical memory.
The death of Nicholas II and the Romanov family remains a controversial moment in Russia’s history. Tsarism and Bolshevism are — for the most part — not presented as conflicting forces in a battle in which one order defeated another. Rather, tsars, Bolsheviks and later communists, are seen as a succession of “greats.” In Moscow, visitors can admire the glamour and grandeur of the tsars at the Historical Museum in the Red Square before lining up for the Lenin Mausoleum only a few steps away.
Today, Russia is facing a rise in the popularity of pre-Revolutionary culture alongside an enduring Soviet legacy. According to recent polls by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), the popularity of Nicholas II, as well as Lenin and Stalin, has increased considerably since 2008. President Vladimir Putin, who embraces one-man “greats’” from all Russian eras, embodies this unusual combination.
The narratives of conflict and violence have been subsumed by narratives of “great” leaders. This cult of greatness celebrates impact over ethos. It nurtures a vacuous understanding of Russia’s political traditions and legacies at a time when Russia’s fledgling civic values require a recognition of the past. By denouncing Bolshevik tactics in his funeral address of 1998, Yeltsin tried to set some of these new values. He ended his speech with the lesson learned from Russia’s 20th century: “Any attempts to change life with violence are condemned to fail,” he said, as “[one] cannot justify senseless cruelty by political goals.”