Russian court ruling paves way for rehabilitation of murdered Tsar

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The Independent Online

The Russian state has been ordered to consider declaring the murder in 1918 of the country's last tsar a "political crime", a move that paves the way for the rehabilitation of Nicholas II.

The Tsar, his wife, and their children were shot dead by Bolsheviks on 17 July 1918, after the Russian Revolution had redrawn the political map the previous year. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the revolution, reportedly told fellow Bolsheviks that he didn't want to leave the royal family as "a living banner in such hard times".

Until now Russia's prosecutor general, currently Yuri Chaika, has refused to class the murders as a political crime, arguing that no evidence has been found of an explicit political order to kill the Romanovs.

Instead he has suggested that the matter is akin to an ordinary criminal murder case and since the killers have died there is nothing to be done. But one wing of the Romanov dynasty has insisted that its ancestors deserve to be "rehabilitated" in the name of historical justice.

After a long struggle and many rebuffs, a Moscow court has ordered the prosecutor general to reconsider the case, ruling a previous refusal to do so "illegal". German Lukyanov, a lawyer representing the Romanovs, called the ruling "a step towards justice".

The rehabilitation campaign is being driven by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia, 52, a resident of Spain who is the most proactive (but not the only) pretender to the Romanov mantle. She claims that her struggle is about setting the record straight and helping Russia confront its bloody past.

Critics say the real aim of her lawsuit is to establish a legal basis to lay claim to the confiscated property of the Romanovs, a collection of palaces, country estates, and fine art worth hundreds of millions of pounds. There are also fears that the lawsuit is part of a campaign to spark a monarchist revival and reclaim political influence.

In the eyes of the Russian Orthodox Church, Tsar Nicholas II is a saint (he has been officially canonised) whose reputation has already been restored.

"Saints need no rehabilitation," said the Bishop of Yegoryevsk Mark, a senior official in the Moscow Patriarchate. "It is strange that only certain representatives of the Romanov dynasty are speaking about the need to rehabilitate the Tsar's family. Everyone understands that it is a narrow-minded approach."

Alexander Zakatov, a senior aide to Maria Vladimirovna, has dismissed suggestions that the Romanovs want to reclaim their pre-revolutionary property as "insulting and unfounded". In an interview with The Independent he said: "If Maria Vladimirovna had wanted to do so she could have started proceedings long ago but she hasn't and she doesn't intend to. For us this is just a matter of historical justice."

He also alleges that the Romanovs' legal team has unearthed documentary proof that the Tsar was murdered on the explicit orders of the Bolshevik government and he says this will help them win the case.

The papers include a telegram from a regional Bolshevik committee confirming it had carried out the execution, minutes of a meeting of the Bolshevik government showing that it discussed the matter on the day of the murder in the presence of Vladimir Lenin, and an extract from Leon Trotsky's memoirs.

Though Mr Zakatov is adamant that the lawsuit is not about restitution, he does concede that Maria Vladimirovna would love to return to Russia to play a part in public life and he said it would be a nice gesture if the government gave her a building in Moscow "as a sign of respect for a dynasty that ruled Russia for 300 years". It would house a museum, an archive and a chancery.