Nemtsov To Attend Funeral, Not Yeltsin

By Alice Lagnado
St. Petersburg Times, 16 June 1998

In an atmosphere of increasing political wrangling and hapless disorganization, the Russian government has finally confirmed that Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, and not the president, will attend the burial of Tsar Nicholas II this July.

"Most probably, yes," Nemtsov advisor Alexander Shchubin said Monday when asked whether the minister would attend.

"The participation of Yeltsin was not something that was planned," Shchubin added.

Nemtsov is the natural choice to represent Moscow, since he is the unofficial head of the government's burial commission.

The conspicuous absences of both President Yeltsin and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II are likely to demonstrate how the event has divided, rather than united, Russian society.

Both the church and the government left their decisions to the last minute, amid mounting media speculation. Now, without a high-profile member of the Orthodox church willing to officiate at the ceremony, the church in St. Petersburg must appoint a local priest to conduct the memorial service, something it has yet to do, according to its spokesman Andrei Chizhov.

The church's chronic reluctance to participate stems from its fundamental doubts about the authenticity of the bones, a question likely to threaten proceedings to canonize Nicholas II in the year 2000. Such skepticism defies repeated conclusions drawn by top Russian, British and American scientists, who all showed close matches between the genetic material of the tsar and tsarina and surviving relatives.

According to Robert Service, a professor at the University of London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, this doubt was one of the main reasons for the church's and Yeltsin's decision to distance themselves from the burial.

"The scientific basis for DNA testing is now no longer thought to be 100 percent reliable, and this is something that has only been apparent in the last year or so," Service said Monday from his London home. "So that doubts about the identity of the discovered bones - if the authorities want to be absolutely sure that they are burying the right bones - are not outlandish."

Service said the other reason for the stances taken by both Yeltsin and the church was that the president was taking heed of the mood of the electorate.

"Especially in the 1996 elections, [Yeltsin] discovered that quite a large section of the voting public did not want to see the Communist period entirely rubbished by the authorities. Since 1996, Boris Yeltsin has grown significantly cooler towards the whole concept of restoring the Romanov family to public esteem," he said.

The delayed decisions of both the Russian government and Orthodox Church over who to send to the burial have worsened the general obfuscation that has surrounded the event since its inception.

The Peter and Paul Fortress, site of the funeral ceremony, has yet to receive any money for the construction of the burial vault for Nicholas II and his family. Boris Arakcheyev, director of the fortress, where hundreds of royals, Romanov relatives and international journalists will congregate in just over a month's time, recently told journalists that he needed 7.5 million rubles, or $1.2 million, for repair work on the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, the building in the fortress where the tsar will be buried.

When Moscow denied this request, Arakcheyev slashed the sum to 2.5 million rubles ($400,000) - enough to cover the costs of the burial vault itself, including coffins and marble plaques. Despite his urgent need for 900,000 rubles to pay for work already done by craftsman, however, Arakcheyev seemed surprisingly unconcerned by the current lack of funds.

"It will probably come," Arakcheyev said Monday. "Why not? We always work like this: First of all we work, then we receive the money."

He had not even been given any indication of when the money might come from the federal and regional governments. "Maybe we will even receive the money in August," he said with an amused look.

The funeral's dearth of financial support has extended to other aspects of the ceremony as well. Name plaques meant to be added to the walls of the St. Catherine side chapel, for example, are being crafted out of wood - a stop-gap measure to be used until the fortress can afford to make the marble slabs traditionally used for chapel plaques. The wooden plaques will probably be replaced by marble ones only sometime over the course of next year, Arakcheyev calmly explained.

Nemtsov advisor Shchubin sounded equally unconcerned about the funding questions.

"Right now, the issue is being discussed, and when it has been decided upon the government will make decisions on funding," he said. He said the questions of when that happens "depends on the bureaucrats."

copyright The St. Petersburg Times 1998

(courtesy Rev. Victor Sokolov)

Russia Vows Pomp for Czar's Funeral

By Maura Reynolds
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, June 17, 1998; 5:42 p.m. EDT

MOSCOW (AP) -- The government insisted Wednesday that the remains of the country's last czar will be buried with pomp and circumstance despite funding woes and a refusal by the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox church to attend.

``The funeral of the murdered czar -- Nicholas II -- and his family is in every aspect a grand act,'' said Viktor Aksyuchits, an aide to Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who is in charge of the July 17 funeral.

Nicholas II, his family and four servants were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918.

In 1991, nine skeletons were recovered and batteries of forensic tests in Russia and abroad have identified the remains as belonging to the royal entourage.

But plans for the state funeral in St. Petersburg have drawn criticism in recent weeks.

The Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy has decided not to attend the event, citing doubts over the identities of the remains. However, the church has said it will permit local priests to conduct the funeral services.

Because the patriarch will not attend, President Boris Yeltsin has also said he won't go to the funeral. The highest-ranking government representative is expected to be Nemtsov.

Three days of burial services will begin July 15 with a ceremony in Yekaterinburg. The following day, the remains will be sent to St. Petersburg, where a funeral procession will proceed to the Romanov family crypt. An official state funeral will be held the next morning at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Aksyuchits said the government is still working out how to pay for the ceremony and restoration work on the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

He denied Russian media reports the government is so short of cash that it can't afford a marble memorial plaque and planned to install a wooden one instead.

Hundreds of relatives of the deposed czar have been invited to the funeral,including many representatives of Europe's current monarchs.

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

(courtesy Rev. Victor Sokolov)

British Royal Likely To Attend Tsar Burial

By Alice Lagnado and Andrei Zolotov Jr. STAFF WRITERS
St. Petersburg Times, 16 June 1998

According to Buckingham Palace, it is almost certain that Prince Michael of Kent - a cousin of Nicholas II as well as his look-alike - will be on hand in July for the funeral.

A Palace spokeswoman said the prince is "ninety-nine" percent likely to make an appearance at the ceremony on July 17. He is one of the first members of a foreign royal family to publicly announce his intention to be present at what may prove a sparsely attended event.

"It is almost definite," the spokeswoman said Thursday. No other members of the British royal family will accompany the prince.

The prince's grandmother, Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna, was the first cousin of Nicholas II, making the prince and the last tsar distant cousins.

The Palace announcement did not come as a complete surprise. The prince's brother, the Duke of Kent, let the cat out of the bag during a visit to the city Monday, when he said he thought his brother would come to the funeral.

The choice is a natural one considering that the prince, who learned Russian during a spell with the Royal Hussars, has always expressed a deep interest in the fate of the Romanovs, culminating in a 1996 visit to St. Petersburg to pay homage to his relatives.

Not only that, but with his beard and neat whiskers, the prince bears an uncanny resemblance to the late tsar, and in 1997 starred in a British television documentary titled "Nicholas and Alexandra."

According to Buckingham Palace, the Russian Foreign Ministry will not be sending out any invitations to the burial, but instead is notifying possible guests and consulates, who will decide themselves who to send.

In Russia on Tuesday, church officials announced - as was expected - that the head of the church, Patriarch Alexy II, will not be presiding over the service for the last tsar on July 17.

The church wants the bones to be buried in a symbolic grave until it is satisfied that they are genuine, officials said after a meeting of the Holy Synod.

Leading figures in the church on Thursday defended the church's decision to stay away from the funeral, saying that they did so to preserve civil accord.

The Orthodox Church hierarchy has come under pressure from groups within its own ranks who doubt that the remains of the nine bodies to be buriednext month are actually those of the royal family and their servants.

"Opinions in the church and worldly public have turned out to be divided, and these divisions have an evidently confrontational, painful character" said a message from the Holy Synod, distributed at a press conference Thursday.

"In this situation, the hierarchy, whose duty is to care about civil peace and accord, are called by the very logic of this conflict to abstain from supporting one or another point of view," continued the message, which will also be read out at churches across Russia on July 17.

The church is not going as far as to protest the burial: Although no members of the church hierarchy will attend, clergy in St. Petersburg will be allowed to conduct the service. The date will also be will be marked throughout the Russian Orthodox Church by fasting and prayers for the memory of the tsar, his family and servants "and all those martyred and murdered in the time of severe persecution for the Christian faith, whose names are known only to God Himself," the message said.

However, using a formula which allows it to mark the event without compromising its stance on the authenticity of the remains, the church has stressed that it will be commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Romanovs' murder - which also falls on July 17 - and not the burial of their remains.

The prayer will not be for these bones, but for the souls of the deceased," Metropolitan Yuvenali of Krutitskoye and Kolomna, a permanent member of the Holy Synod, told the press conference Thursday.

Metropolitan Yuvenali hailed the government's decision to keep samples of the remains for further tests and said that if their authenticity was proven to the church's satisfaction, it will reconsider its attitude to the remains. "As long as there are doubts, whether the remains found were royal, the subject is very important for us," said the metropolitan.

Government officials have already said that President Boris Yeltsin is unlikely to attend, and the Russian media claim that Yeltsin will not attend if the patriarch does not.

The government has been rallying round to try to persuade the leadership of the Orthodox Church to take part in the ceremony, but to no avail.

Leading up to the Holy Synod's decision, Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko sent a letter to the patriarch urging the church to decide on how it would participate in the burial, Interfax reported Monday.

Dropping a strong hint that the government very much wanted the patriarch to attend, Kiriyenko said that the event would be an important national reconciliation, Interfax reported.

Earlier the Prosecutor General also sent a letter to the patriarch, Interfax reported June 3, stressing that the remains were authentic.

In perhaps a last-ditch attempt to enable Yeltsin to attend the burial, Boris Nemtsov, a first deputy prime minister, said Wednesday that he regretted that the patriarch will not come to the funeral. He said he did not know whether Yeltsin would also miss the ceremony.

The authenticity of the bones, which recently has come into question, is vital if they are to be declared holy relics, as the church intends.

"If there is a mistake, we will be venerating false relics," Metropolitan Yuvenali said at Thursday's press conference. "That is a great sacrilege ... a mistake the church cannot afford to make."

Grand Duke Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov, a great-great grandson of Nicholas II, denounced the fuss over the burial. He told Russian journalists in Paris on Wednesday that the burial had become an "advertising and tourist campaign," a local newspaper, Sankt-Peterburgskiye Vedemosti, reported Thursday.

Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who believes her teenage son, Georgy, is the heir to the Romanov throne, has announced that she is stalling her decision until the end of June, Alexander Zakatov, a spokesman for her branch of the Romanov relatives, told Interfax on Wednesday.

"The Royal House treated the Holy Synod's decision with great respect because it shares the patriarch's doubts about the authenticity of the remains," he said.

copyright The St. Petersburg Times 1998

(courtesy Rev. Victor Sokolov)

Tsar burial controversy blamed on Russia's past By Philippa Fletcher

MOSCOW, June 17 (Reuters) - Russia will grant a ``reverential'' funeral for its last tsar next month despite fierce controversy that reflects the country's totalitarian past, an official said on Wednesday.

The planned burial of the remains of Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and three of their five children on July 17 has been embroiled in problems since its inception, and arrangements have been scaled down significantly.

Viktor Aksyuchits, an aide to Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov who heads the government commission organising the funeral, expressed regret over the difficulties, which include a public row among surviving relatives of the imperial family.

``Of course it would be desirable that this event was on as big a scale as possible but the way it will be reflects the state of our society, the country, the moral and spiritual state of its citizens,'' he said.

``It's clear we haven't completely cured ourselves of many decades of totalitarianism, but the act of the funeral itself is more important than what form it takes. The main thing is that the funeral is not so pompous but reverential and pious.''

Nicholas II, his wife, children and family servants were shot by the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg in the Urals in July 1918, the year after the tsar was toppled in the Russian Revolution.

Their bones, discovered in 1991, have been subjected to exhaustive tests to prove their authenticity. But Patriarch Alexiy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has refused to officiate at the funeral because of doubts about whether they really belonged to the imperial family.

President Boris Yeltsin, who initially took charge of the funeral arrangements in a bid to present himself as a force for reconciliation, will also not attend, say officials.

The arrangements have since been scaled back, partly over the political sensitivity of the event and partly because of the economic crisis which has cut available funds.

Aksyuchits said the government did not regret its decision to bury the remains on the 80th anniversary of the imperial family's murder.

``This event allows all the country's citizens to remember their history and their civic, moral and religious duty,'' he said.

Popular Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets called it ``the 20th century's strangest funeral,'' citing the absence of president and patriarch and rows between the relatives over who will attend.

It also noted that a shortage of funds meant the coffins had not been paid for and memorial plaques had to be made of wood rather than marble.

``The likelihood is that Russia will never again bury a tsar. It's the last burial of the last emperor, even if he had abdicated. But we were unable to bury even the last one on the appropriate level,'' the paper said.

(from Johnson's Russia List)