On 28 September, 2006, in scenes recalling the splendour of Imperial Russia, the Danish born mother of the last Tsar of Russia was buried, or rather reburied, in the sombre Fortress of St Peter and St .Paul of the great imperial city of Peter the Great, St. Petersburg. And just as they did when she first came to Russia one hundred and forty years before, cannon boomed out in a solemn imperial salute to Her Imperial Highness, The Tsaritsa Maria Feodorovna, who at last, had returned to her beloved Russia.
Taken by sea and by land from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg, honoured by the Danish and Russian Royal Families, governments and people, and escorted by a Danish and Russian honour guard as she progressed through the imperial city, the Empress was finally laid to rest in the Cathedral of the fortresss. His Holiness , the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexei II presided over the ceremony in the presence of the Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, President Putin, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent representing Queen Elizabeth II, members of Russia’s Imperial Romanov dynasty, including Prince Michael Romanov of Sydney, who was interviewed on the ABC on 29 September, 2006, and royalty from across Europe.
And as she had wished, The Empress now lies at peace with her husband Tsar Alexander III, and among her family, her son Tsar Nicholas II and her grandchildren who were canonized as martyrs in 2000. The Empress was born a princess into the Danish Royal Family, and baptized Dagmar. Her sister, Princess Alexandra, was also to become an empress as the Queen of Edward VII, King and Emperor of India.
The saddest event of the life of the Empress was the savage murder of her son,Tsar Nicholas II, along with his wife and their infant children at Yekaterinburg in 1918 by communists acting under the direct instructions of the Bolshevik dictator, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The massacre was so brutal and so disgusting, and created such abhorrence across the civilized world, that the official line was that this was a mere local intitative of which Lenin was unaware.
The contrition of the president and the people
The reburial was not only a moving ceremony. It was also an attempt to close the page over the stories of the unimaginable horror in the life of the Russian nation that was the result of the accession to power of Lenin and then Stalin. The scene had been set eight years before, on 17 July, 1998, and in the very same Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul. In an act of great courage and deep personal and national contrition, the then Russian President Boris Yeltsin had bowed his head before the coffin of the son of the Empress, the soon to be canonized Tsar Nicholas II.
The President had solemnly declared before Russia and the world that all the Russian people must atone for this "monstrous crime" .Russia, he said, had to end its "century of blood and lawlessness" with repentance and reconciliation. "We all bear responsibility for the historical memory of the nation. That is why I could not fail to come here. I had to be here as both an individual and the president."
Condemning himself , as Communist Party chief at Yekaterinburg, where on direct orders from Moscow, he had supervised the destruction of the house where the imperial family was executed to prevent it becoming a monarchist shrine – he declared:
"Guilty are those who committed this heinous crime and those who have been justifying it for decades – all of us. We must not lie to ourselves, explaining this senseless cruelty with political goals."
"This is our historic chance, “ he said. “On the eve of the third millennium we must do it for the sake of our generation and those to come. Let us remember those innocent victims who have fallen to hatred and violence. May they rest in peace….”
The Bolsheik coup was a disaster not only for Russia and the enslaved nations, but also for the whole world. In this column of 9 June, 2006, we reiterated the sometimes forgotten but irrefutable fact that prior to the First World War, economic development was well advanced in Russia, and the country was moving towards becoming a full constitutional monarchy. The First World War intervened, and in the course of it Lenin had been sent in a sealed train by the German High Command to foment unrest in the Russian Empire and thus disrupt the war effort. The war did not go well for Russia, so badly that the imperial government collapsed. Unable to win a majority in the parliament, the Bolsheviks waited until a crucial time and seized power, dispersing the democratic assembly. They proceeded to install one of the most brutal and absolute dictatorships known in modern history.
To those who would say it was worth it, Oleg Gordievsky, a former Colonel of the KGB, writes:
“Russia under Nicholas II, with all the survivals of feudalism, had opposition political parties, independent trade unions and newspapers, a rather radical parliament and a modern legal system. Its agriculture was on the level of the USA, with industry rapidly approaching the Western European level.
[In contrast] in the USSR there was total tyranny, no political liberties and practically no human rights. Its economy was not viable; agriculture was destroyed. The terror against the population reached a scope unprecedented in [human] history.
No wonder many Russians look back at Tsarist Russia as a paradise lost.”
Even after the massacre of the Tsar and the Imperial Family, the Empress was still reluctant to leave her beloved Russia, but was finally persuaded to leave a year later on HMS Marlborough, which had ben sent by King GeorgeV. She went first to the United Kingdom and then to Denmark, where she died in 1928. The Empress had always wished to be buried alongside her husband, Tsar Alexander III, when the situation in Russia permitted. The return of the remains was a personal initiative of President Putin, who contacted Queen Margrethe II of Denmark to secure support for the reburial.
The ceremonies were to begin on 23 September 2006 in Copenhagen in the Royal Cathedral, Roskilde, where the Empress had been buried in 1928. In the presence of The Queen of Denmark and of members of the Danish Royal Family, representatives of the Danish and the Russian governments, the City of St. Petersburg, and members of the Romanov family, the coffin of the Empress was taken from the Cathedral in a funeral motorcade to Christiansborg Castle. From there, it was escorted in a solemn procession by the Guard Hussar Regiment to Copenhagen Harbour, and then transferred to the Danish navy vessel Esbern Snare which was to take the Empress across the Baltic to St. Petersburg.
On 26 September, 2006, as the Esbern Snare passed Kronstadt at the entrance to St. Petersburg, where the Empress was saluted by cannon just as she was when she first arrived in Russia. At Vasilevsky Island, the coffin of the Empress Maria Fedorovna was transferred to a Russian vessel, and then carried to the Peterhof Castle. There, a Danish-Russian Honour Guard, resplendent in traditional uniforms, brought the coffin ashore, to be taken to the Alexander Nevsky Chapel where the coffin would lie in state for two days.
In the morning of Thursday, 28 September,2006, the coffin of Empress Maria Fedorovna was carried out of the Alexander Nevsky Chapel by the Danish-Russian Honour Guard., and taken by motorcade to the Catherine Palace for a ceremony on the Palace parade-ground. The motorcade then moved to St. Isaac´s Cathedral. There , in the presence Danish, Russian and foreign royalty and government representatives, His Holiness Patriarch of the Russian Othodox Church, Alexey II, led prayers, with more than 50 priests in gold and white robes forming two lines either side of the coffin.
At the end of the service the coffin was taken in a slow progress under escort by motorcade through the streets of the city, watched in respectful silence by vast crowds of Russians, through to the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress. Entering by the Petrovsky Gates the coffin of Empress Maria Fedorovna was carried in a funeral procession to the St.Peter and St.Paul Cathedral, under escort and with funereal music played by the Band of the Royal Danish Life Guards and the Russian Admiral Orchestra.
To the mournful tolling of a single church bell, the chanting of a Russian Orthodox choir, and a cannon firing a 31-shot salute, the coffin of The Empress, now sealed in a white marble sarcophagus beneath a gold Orthodox cross, and draped in the yellow Imperial standard, was lowered into the ground by the honour guard of Danish and Russian soldiers. Led by the President and members of the Danish Royal Family and the Russians Imperial Family, the descendants of the Romanovs and representatives of other Royal Families, including Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, filed past to pay their respects.
The Russian people react
According to media reports, feeling among Russians for the Imperial Family continues to run deep. According to Radio Free Europe ( “Monarchist Nostalgia Remains Powerful”, 2 October 2006 ), there has been a boom in the number of Russian monarchist organizations, with the release of hundreds of books and films about the monarchy. Over the last decade, the number of Russians supporting monarchist ideas has risen threefold. A September poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) indicated that 19 percent of Russians agreed with restoring the monarchy, but only if an acceptable candidate can be found. Given that monarchy has been absent from Russia for almost a century, and the constant virulaent propaganda against it for most of this period , this is extraordinary.
The report says that two of Russia's most popular filmmakers, Nikita Mikhalkov and Stanislav Govorukhin, have “paraded” their monarchist colors. Stanislav Belkovsky, the founder of the National Strategy Institute, said in 2005: "I believe that the restoration of the monarchy, either formally or informally, is the only choice for Russia, since it is the only way to restore the sanctity of the supreme power."
In any event, immediately after the reburial, a group of elderly Russians were quick to kiss the sarcophagus and to pray. Nina Suyetina, 68, said: “We have waited such a long time for this day. I thank God that He has brought Empress Maria Feodorovna back.”
For Prince Dimitry Romanov, a descendent of Maria Fyodorovna who lives in Denmark, it was an emotional moment. He said : "This was the most important moment in my life. It is very important that Maria Fyodorovna has returned here. It is the most important thing. That is what she wanted, and thank God it has finally happened." Ivan Artsishevsky, the head of the Romanov Family Association in Russia, told Radio Free Europe’s Russian Service the ceremony was a fitting tribute. "Russia is paying homage to the empress, to the Danish girl who came to Russia and became Russian empress in the full sense of this word, because Maria Fyodorovna loved Russia. She passed away loving Russia. She loved our people, she loved our land. This is why I think that it is necessary to pay homage to this woman." Lyudmila, a pensioner, this week visited one such exhibit, a selection of drawings by Maria Fyodorovna and her children at the Kremlin. Nodding approvingly, she said it was "a very good thing" the former Tsarina was being reburied in Russia. "This is partly an attempt [by the Russian authorities] to present themselves as the successors of historical figures. She was a Russian empress and therefore she needs to be buried at home, in her motherland.”
Another visitor, Yelena, also expressed support for the initiative. "She said she wanted to be buried with her husband," Yelena said. "Also, one needs to remember that in Russia, she was the Russian empress and that she ended her life like an ordinary elderly woman in Copenhagen. I think she wanted to return to the country where she had been an empress. This is a perfectly natural wish." "This ceremony is a symbol of life in a new Russia," said Valentina Matviyenko, governor of St Petersburg. "It is also a very significant act of restoring our historical memory."
The Empress is finally home in Russia, and with the Russian people, lying beside her husband and among the martyred Imperial Family.
The symbolism of her return has not been lost on the Russian people.