Monday, April 09, 2007


Χριστός Ανέστη. I have to admit that the Romanovs, (Романов) one of the world’s longest ruling dynasties have exercised a great fascination over me. They presided over a period, which saw Russia transform itself from a petty Asiatic backwater into an Empire and World Power. During that period, the Romanovs extended their protection to multitudes of Christians fleeing the discriminatory policies of Persia and the Ottoman Empire and it is thus no mean coincidence that hundreds of thousands of Pontians flocked to the coast of the Ukraine and the Kuban during their rule, there to thrive until relatively recently. Nor is it a coincidence that the Filiki Etaireia, the society whose aim it was to liberate Greece from the Ottomans was formed in Romanov Russia. Indeed, Romanov Russia loomed large in the irredentist fantasies of the enslaved Greek people. According the prophecy of Agathangelos, the «ξανθόν γένος» interpreted as being the Russians, would liberate Greece and indeed, many of the Romanovs, notable Catherine the Great did toy with re-establishing the Byzantine Empire, ordering her lover Count Orlov to attempt to incite a revolution in Greece and occupying several Aegean islands. This is unsurprising given that the Romanovs claimed their ancestry at least in part. It says much for the pluralistic and multicultural fabric of the Romanov court that many of its nobles, including Count Ioannis Kapodistrias and Prince Ypsilantis were Greek and were permitted to descend to Greece and assist in her struggle for self-determination. Romanov Russia was also a protector of Orthodoxy. With the treaty of Kucuk Kainarca, the Russians obtained the right from the Ottomans to intervene on behalf of the rights of Christians in that Empire. Romanov gold was also responsible for the renovation and restoration of Mount Athos and many of the Orthodox holy sites in Jerusalem.
The above notwithstanding, Romanov Russia, spanning the period between 1613 to 1917, was the place where ethnic minorities were often mistreated. It was the home of the Pale of Settlement, restricting the free habitation of Jews, the home of the pogroms, the “Prison of the Peoples” and the country where, especially under the reactionary Alexander III, freedom of expression did not exist, the poor and dispossessed were forcibly compelled to remain so and the lower classes were exploited. In its twilight, in the reign of the kindly but inept Nicholas II, the Romanov dynasty ruled Russia as if it was a type of vast family business. However so ingrained within the Russian psyche was the Romanov tradition of despotism that upon the Romanovs' removal in the 1917 Revolution, they were replaced by an equally despotic regime that assumed for itself, all the trappings of Tsardom. Interestingly enough, a significant portion of twentieth century Greeks looked to the new Red Tsar’s as fervently for ‘liberation’ as the enslaved Greeks looked to the Romanovs, some hundred years previously. The legacy of the Romanovs is one of romance and mystery. The myth that some of the Romanovs managed to escape their murder in Yekaterinburg in 1918 inspired the imagination of those who sought to assume the identity of the Princess Anastasia, sparking numerous telemovies with a good sprinkling or Romanov Faberge eggs to boot.
It is this lasting legacy, the myths and romance of the Romanovs that have captivated Historia Events, which is organizing: “The Romanovs,” a powerful live performance using original letters, memoirs and images to reveal the dramatic story of the last imperial family of Russia. Historia Events, formed in 2003, concerns itself with commemorating and bringing to life, elements of history that have fallen into relative obscurity. Their track record for professionalism is a proven one; they were the organizers of the successful multicommunal Project 1453 event, which commemorated the Fall of Constantinople. Two of the faces behind Historia Events, Terry Papadis and actor Philip Constan are Greek and passionate about history and the legacy it can leave in all spheres of life. Terry Papadis in particular, has very strong views as to the relevance of the Romanovs to Australia, 90 years after their demise. Quoth he:
“The fall of the Romanov dynasty 90 years ago cannot be seen outside the broader historical, political and social context of the Russian Revolution, the series of political events that caused the downfall of Imperial Russia. The year 1917 as it turned out, was an incredibly important year, not only for Russia and Europe but also for the whole world at large. Marxism, widely debated in the mid 19th century as a political theory became a political reality. Of course, many would argue that the implementation of Marxism in Russia was not what the original founder intended but nevertheless it was the first systematic and comprehensive attempt in world history to impose what became to be known as the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' that is the control of power by a political intellectual class in the name of Russia's workers and peasants.
Communism, the political system that evolved in Russia after the fall of the Romanovs, was to play a pivotal role in the history of the 20th century, influencing political and social movements in nearly every part of the globe. Even Australia saw the foundation of a Communist Party in the early 1920s. Similar political systems, modelled on revolutionary Russia took power in China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam, just to name a few. Most people reading this article were born at a time where the world was effectively dominated by two rival political ideologies: liberal capitalism and communism. The relationship between these ideologies vacillated from cautious alliance during the Second World War to the verge of nuclear conflict at the height of the Cold War with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, an event that many Australians still remember as a political thriller. Perhaps the world would be a different place today, if in 1917 the Romanov dynasty had not collapsed, bringing communism into political existence.”
When asked whether the Romanovs have largely been overshadowed by the Red Tsars, Lenin, Stalin and the like, he is quick to respond:
“To an extent, one could argue that Lenin, his Bolshevik Party and the Revolution have overtaken the legacy of the Romanovs because of the ideological, political and social influence that Soviet Russia exerted throughout the world in the 20th century, a century where most of us have spent most of our lives. However, we tend to forget that Imperial Russia during the 300-year reign of the Romanov dynasty was a formidable global power and an empire of astonishing wealth, often deciding the fate of European history and beyond. Two of its leading monarchs are now called Great, Peter I and Catherine II. Alexander I defeated Napoleon's legendary invasion of Russia in 1812, a turning point in Europe's history. Throughout the 19th century, Imperial Russia was engaged in an expansionist policy, especially in Central Asia and the Far East. Visitors to Queenscliff and Fort Nepean in Victoria are often surprised to discover that one reason for the fortification of Port Phillip Bay was the fear of a Russian invasion, as part of its imperial ambitions in the Asia Pacific region.
The last Romanov Tsar, Nicholas II was a complex personality, often misunderstood and misrepresented… Nicholas was brought up to be an autocrat, an absolute ruler with absolute political power; any diversion from that principle was seen by him, his family, the social elite and many others as betrayal of the very essence of what it was to be an Orthodox Russian. Vast sections of the Russian people revered him as the nation's Father and Protector. Examining the original sources of the era, one detects however that his own family identified some limitations in the personality of Nicholas II as an absolute monarch. In letters and memoirs from his wife, the Empress Alexandra, his mother the Dowager Empress Marie and others, the Tsar is perceived as vulnerable, easily influenced and vacillating. On the other hand, revolutionary intellectuals and left wing activists demonised him as a stubborn and recalcitrant tyrant. Moderate democrats were often frustrated by Nicholas' failure to emulate well-established Western European models of constitutional monarchy in Russia.
On a personal level, one thing is certain: Tsar Nicholas II was an attentive husband and a wonderful father. His devotion to his wife and children is one of the most moving aspects of this tragic family story. This is the story of a loving and extremely close knit family set against a background of upheaval where the traditions, values and beliefs of the past are being swept away by rapid and relentless change. In Russia today, the Tsar and his family are venerated as passion bearers and saints by the Orthodox Church, commemorated in cathedrals and icons while many statues and monuments of Lenin and the Bolshevik leadership are demolished or are dumped unceremoniously in dark and inaccessible sections of public parklands.”
Finally, asked, how he perceives the Romanovs to pertain to his own sense of Greek identity, the irrepressible Terry Papadis postulates:
“The emergence of communism as a political reality in 1917 was also a key factor in the genesis of Communist Party in Greece and all that followed after WWII with the Civil War right up to the legalisation of that party with the 1974 Karamanlis government.One could argue that none of the above would have occurred if it wasn't for the emergence of the socialist international movement so definitive in the core values of the Soviet Union. 'Workers of the World Unite' was a fundamental principle of Marxism and Leninism. As you know, the Bolsheviks during WWI viewed the Great War as a conflict between the imperialist bourgeoisie while in their stated rhetoric the real battle should have been at a class level of the workers / peasants / intelligentsia against the ruling class and its client urban bourgeois and land owning rural classes. As we know all too well, Greece sadly got caught up in all of this, at a great cost to the nation, its people and its economy. The fall of the Romanovs opened up the way for all of this to occur! How many of us are here as immigrants (or descendants of) as a direct result of this transplanted socio-political struggle in Greece?”
All in all “The Romanovs” promises to be as captivating and moving an event as all those we have come to expect from Historia Events. “The Romanovs” will take place on 7 pm Saturday 14 April and 2pm Sunday 15 April 2007 at Primelife Lexington Gardens, 114 Westall Road, Springvale. Bookings: 9547 2700 Tickets: $20 including refreshments at interval and post performance. Definitely a historic event not to be missed.

First published in NKEE on 9 April 2007