Rasputin: The Last Word

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Acclaimed author Edvard Radzinsky was relaxing in the Langham Hilton Hotel in London. We were greeted by the lively and humorous Russian who joked that he did not mind us interrupting his afternoon as he offered us some “very English tea and buns”. Radzinsky’s latest book, ‘Rasputin The Last Word’, is causing quite a stir through its new documentation and intimate revelations about the last Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna’s relations with the “mad monk” Grigory Rasputin. Internationally recognised for his Romanov titles such as The Last Tsar, in his native country the author is equally well known through his career as a playwright and more recently as a TV presenter. Although he has now given up the theatre his fascination with history and the last Russian ruler has been a constant theme in his life and work.

“I stopped writing plays because I am too involved in writing books and I am so busy with the historical television show that I present. It was a big shock, to all the actors because they knew that every year I wrote a play. My last play ‘The Last Night of the Last Tsar’ was produced in Moscow. It was quite interesting because three years ago, 1998, it was the jubilee of the October revolution and I wrote a play about the Romanovs when they were in Manyesh. It was about a young man falling in love with one of the Tsar’s daughters. The performance took place in a small theatre and we decided to show this play during the burial of the Romanovs in the Hermitage Theatre. I arranged to use this theatre with the Superintendent of the Hermitage because during the Tsar’s time, the famous poet and writer Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich wrote a play about Jesus Christ‘s Crucifixion and the play was forbidden by the Orthodox Church – you see you could not represent Christ as a person. Tsar Nicholas II allowed Konstantin Konstantinovitch to produce the play only in this small theatre. We had the finest Russian artists playing the various roles and we invited all the members of the Romanov family to see the play. The second act was about the execution of the Romanovs, the terrible story of their last night.

“Unfortunately, the Orthodox Church refused to take part in the burial of the Romanovs – they believed that there was not enough evidence that they were the bodies of the Romanovs. I think that was political and I think they should just represent the Church. It was a terrible time when the Russians wanted to bury the Romanovs, but there was no announcement from the Orthodox Church. You know Rostislav Rostrapovitch and his wife were on their knees all the time during the burial ceremony and when the priest said that he was blessing the burial of “unknown persons that only God knew” Rostrapovitch’s wife, Galina, stood up and loudly said the names of the Romanov family, one by one.

“You see Boris Yeltsin was in a very strange position – how could he come to the ceremony when the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church refused to come? Furthermore the members of our Parliament decided they did not want to take part – they said they were too busy with more important things than to attend the burial. For Yelstin it was the feeling that he had to redeem his sins – remember, he had had the Ipatiev House destroyed to remove any trace of the tragedy that took place there. Nobody knew until a few hours before the ceremony that he would come. But he did – he came, he attended the ceremony and returned to Moscow immediately. It was unique, showmanship, typical Yeltsin. You see, in 1991 the return of the monarchy in Russia was absolutely realistic, regret about the terrible things that the Bolsheviks had done and a kind of feeling that the monarchy could be re-instated. This lasted until 1993 and then it disappeared – now it is not conceivable. There was not a strong enough movement among the elite of our politicians to pick up the thread and the feeling in the country at the time.”

Although that moment has passed, Radzinsky’s TV show – amongst the most popular in the country – continues to discuss the historical issues which many politicians may prefer to avoid but which fascinate the Russian people: “I have done eight parts on Stalin, and for Rasputin I have already shown four parts and that was just the introduction. We shall have another eight parts. We shall distribute 500,000 copies of the book in Russia – that is how eager are our people to read about what happened over eight decades ago. ” The story of how these new documents, which offer new evidence on Rasputin’s relations with the Tsarina, came to light is an intriguing one. Radzinsky’s friend, the world famous cellist Rostislav Rostrapovitch, was the link and facilitator for his latest project: “He was a real friend, to have given me these papers I call ‘The File’. He bought them from the auctioneers, Sotheby’s, and probably nobody there had realised the historical importance of these papers. They are a testimonial of the interrogations, at the time when the Revolution took place, of all the people who knew Rasputin and the Tsarina. To see the signatures at the end of the deposition of all these people is incredible.

“How did these papers appear in the West? I think there are two possibilities. Firstly, somebody who emigrated rescued these files before they could fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks. They kept them safe in the family but his descendants, perhaps not being able to speak Russian, sold or gave them away. Another version could be that, under Stalin, they sold so many treasures, paintings, important papers. Of course, it was done very secretively and these kind of documents were considered garbage. You see, the Bolsheviks needed money for their industrialisation plans. It was extraordinary when I started reading these papers – it was like hearing the people talking during the interrogation. People who belonged and took part in the history of our country over eighty years ago. Incredible!

“Nevertheless, concerning the Tsarina, I do not think she ever had any sexual relation with Rasputin. Even some of the telegrams she purportedly sent, I have my doubts that they were all written by the Tsarina. Another factor is that the ordinary people were easily led by propaganda and misread the words she was writing to Rasputin. To her, he was like a father and when he was carrying her from room to room it was because she had this terrible pain and she suffered with continuous migraines. She was a very nervous person and she had all these feelings about future catastrophes – and he made her feel better. Remember that he could hypnotise people.

“I feel I do understand their characters and their relationships. I have researched and studied the Romanovs for twenty five years. I have read so many words and looked at so many papers trying to find out the truth. You must understand that in her letters the Tsarina mentions Rasputin ‘Our Friend’ so many times and some of the time he was not even there and he could not have advised her or given his premonitions. What is very ironic, even funny, is that the Tsarina and the political opposition both used Rasputin. The opposition used to say that Rasputin was the man who ruled the country and the Tsarina used him to influence the Tsar. The Tsarina and the opposition – who hated each other – were using the man for their own ends. So, Tsar Nicholas was accused of being weak but at the same time he was an incredible man. When he wanted one of the Ministers to follow his way of thinking, if the man did not agree, he stayed silent and the poor fellow went out thinking that the Tsar had agreed with him, when Nicholas had already taken a decision. He was a gentleman, he did not want to argue. The apparent weakness was that he was a charming man who did not come across as an autocrat. He did not have the tall, imposing figure of his father. Think about all the Grand Dukes – they all towered over him – some were two metres tall. Even his moustache was gentle – nothing compared to, for example, Kaiser Wilhelm, who was not very tall . . . but he was a tyrant. So, you see, for the Russian people at that time only the words and the strength of an autocrat could have saved the crown. And, unfortunately, there was the Tsarevich Alexei, who was the permanent worry with his illness. Maybe Alexei did not have haemophilia. At the time, medicine was not so advanced and they knew that in the Tsarina’s family, through Queen Victoria, there were cases of haemophilia and therefore it was easy to reach the same conclusion for Alexei. There are still so many chapters to write about that incredibly tragic family.

His hectic promotional schedule, three days to cover the UK, brought our conversation to an end, and we could only agree that there was still so much to say about the last Tsar and his family. Few, if any, know more or say it better than Edvard Radzinsky. (© Royalty Magazine 2000)