Glasnost Spawns Renewed Interest in Czar Nicholas II and Monarchy : Russia: The circumstances of the violent demise of the country's last monarch are being questioned more intensely.


A planned movie chronicles his tragic reign, a hit play depicts his brutal death at the hands of the Bolsheviks, and black marketeers hawk his portrait all over Moscow.

Seventy-three years after he abdicated, Czar Nicholas II is back in vogue.

On May Day, monarchist backers even paraded a portrait of Nicholas II through Red Square in front of the disbelieving eyes of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Later in May, monarchist advocates sat beneath a portrait of the czar to officially found a Monarchist Party to compete in the country's new multiparty system.

Nelli Milovanova, 30, a programmer and member of a club to perpetuate the memory of the czar, is helping prepare the platform of a Monarchist Party in an Orthodox Christian Russia.

"The Russians are real Christians, believers in the Orthodox religion, they have the idea of monarchy in their souls," said Milovanova.

"Russians are waiting for freedom," she said. "The party program is aimed at restoration of the monarchy by peaceful means, through achieving a majority in the Parliament and transition of the power to an Assembly of the Land, which is the only legal institution that can call the czar to the throne."

There are 16 male descendants of the imperial Romanov dynasty scattered around the world. At present the monarchists' leading contender to the throne is Grand Duke Vladimir Kirolovich, great grandson of Alexander II, who lives in France.

This year, Ogonek magazine, always on the cutting edge of the latest rage, carried an interview with the grand duke.

One royal descendant has already visited Russia, with the gossipy yellow-press Trud newspaper supplying the details and even a picture of the blue-blooded personage.

The visit this spring was by David Chevchavardze, a great grandson of Emperor Nicholas I, but now an American citizen who fought in the U.S. Army in World War II. The magazine Literaturnaya Gazeta said he then went to work for the CIA, enjoying a 25-year distinguished career there.

The recent curiosity about Russia's last czar emerged when Gorbachev in 1985 urged an end to all "blank spots" in the country's history that it had been forbidden to explore or write about.

"It was like reading a detective story, and you never get to the end because there is always something unsaid--like why was the czar killed, who ordered it," said Yuri, a young foreign ministry official.

Zhenya, his friend, traces the intense interest and rediscovery to glasnost through Russian eyes.

"You have to understand our history was ripped out," he said. "People want to know who ordered this crime--and it was a crime--of murdering innocents. People are also rediscovering their past--flags, symbols and the czar."

Interest in the violent demise of Russia's last monarch surged after last April's sensational revelation in the Moscow News that his skull had been found in a pit near a swamp in Sverdlovsk in the Urals.

That same pit yielded the bones of his wife, Czarina Alexandra, Crown Prince Czarevich Alexis and their four daughters. Nicholas II and his family were shot by Bolshevik gunmen in a basement of a merchant's house in Ekaterinenburg, now Sverdlovsk.

The discovery was made by former policeman-turned-crime writer, Geli Ryabel, who said he found the gruesome remains 10 years earlier but was forbidden to publish the result of his find.

"The times were different then and nobody would undertake to identify the skulls and bones," Ryabov said.

Today, interest abounds.

One of the country's most famous movie directors, Gleb Panfilov, is planning a film on Czar Nicholas Romanov's last days.

On Moscow street corners, the czar's picture is sold along with copies of the new independent newspapers--no more than leaflets in some cases--that are popping up all over the country as part of Russia's political reawakening.

A new play, "I Will Repay," re-creating the murder of the czar, is playing to full houses nightly in the Maly theater.

Written by an obscure author Sergei Kuznetsov, the play is hardly a classical drama and features some wooden acting.

"Nevertheless," said the Moscow News, "for 2 1/2 hours, the audience follows the action with bated breath. The subject is really fascinating."

Little wonder. It addresses such questions as whether the czar was killed because White Russian forces fighting the Bolsheviks were about to capture him and use him as a counterrevolutionary symbol to rally forces and bring down the communists.

Even more volatile, it explores the question of whether local Jewish commissars carried out the killings without the knowledge of Soviet leader V. I. Lenin. The anti-Semitic Pamyat organization blames Jews for the czar's death and demands retribution. Soviet history books make no mention of a role by Lenin.

Yuri Mitunov, a Moscow political activist who works for Radio Liberty, says interest in the czar and his death stems from growing anti-communist sentiment.

"It is because it was the very first crime of the Bolsheviks and then the hypocrisy about it," he said. "That is why we are returning to the study of it."

A picture published in Moscow News of the skull of imperial Russia's last monarch spawned a host of monarchist clubs and informal nationalist organizations, dedicated to finding the truth about how the czar and his family were killed.

"The aim of our society is to commemorate the memory of Nicholas II to clean his name of all the dirt which has been poured on it by Bolsheviks," said Milovanova, the Monarchist Party worker also active in a nationwide commission on the czar.

The more rabidly nationalistic groups are demanding that the czar be given a decent burial in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Leningrad, which was formerly the imperial capital of St. Petersburg.

They also seek to build a cathedral on the site of the house where the imperial family was slaughtered. The house was ordered razed during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev. Boris Yeltsin, now a populist hero, was made to carry out the destruction when he was the Communist Party first secretary in Sverdlovsk.

Nicholas himself was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church because of his martyr's death, and Russian religious tradition calls for such a "cathedral in blood" at the site of martyrdom.

Meanwhile, the more politically minded monarchist groups, claiming the support of as many as 22 million Russians, are gearing up to test the waters of the new multiparty pond.

"Only the monarchy can make make Russia a great power," Milovanova said. "Ten percent of the population support us."

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