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This week in history: Nicholas II's coronation celebrations took a tragic turn

By Cody K. Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, May 28 2014 4:48 p.m. MDT

In his book “A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924,” historian Orlando Figes wrote: “The crowd surged forward. People tripped and stumbled into the military ditches, where they were suffocated and crushed to death. Within minutes 1,400 people had been killed and 600 wounded. Yet the tsar was persuaded to continue with the celebrations.”

Nicholas attended a ball that evening at the French embassy, and the week's festivities continued as planned. To most Russians, the czar's apparent lack of concern and sympathy was outrageous, and it significantly damaged his reputation with his subjects. It was a breach that never fully healed.

Sensing his people's outrage, Nicholas commissioned an investigation into the episode. The investigation singled out Grand Duke Sergius, Moscow's governor-general and the czar's brother-in-law, as the chief culprit in failing to adequately prepare for the crowds. When Nicholas considered punishing the duke, other nobles stepped forward to protest the punishment.

Figes wrote: “(The nobles) said it would undermine the principles of autocracy to admit in public the fault of a member of the imperial family. The affair was closed. But it was seen as a bad omen for the new reign and deepened the growing divide between the court and society. Nicholas, who increasingly believed himself to be ill-fated, would later look back at this incident as the start of all his troubles.”

As he predicted at the death of his father, Nicholas was not up to the role that fate had cast him. Lacking political subtlety and underestimating the forces of democracy, liberalism, nationalism and revolutionary socialism, Nicholas doggedly insisted upon retaining all of the traditional powers of his station, determined to hand them over to his son and heir intact when the time came. To this end, he repeatedly stifled attempts to create a Russian parliament until it was too late. By the time Russia did create a parliament, the Duma, in 1906, Nicholas had so estranged himself from the people that revolution was inevitable.

After the popular revolution of February 1917, in the midst of World War I, Nicholas was compelled to abdicate and the liberal-led provisional government announced its intention to create a republic. Workers councils, the Soviets, began to appear at the same time, calling for a more radical form of government. In October, Vladimir Lenin led a Bolshevik coup, dubbed it a revolution, and soon controlled the government. Nicholas and his family were soon arrested.

In July 1918, 22 years after his coronation, the Bolsheviks murdered Nicholas along with his wife and children. The Romanov line, which had produced Russia's czars since 1613, came to an end.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's in history from the University of Utah and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. An avid player of board games, he blogs at thediscriminatinggamer.com. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com

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