Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

100 Years Later, Pining for a Dead Tsar

So the roof leaked, and water dripped from the ceiling with a steady pulse.


But the All-Russian Monarchist Center's "council of nobles" -- never ones to let precipitation interfere with empire -- just put down buckets and got down to the business of mourning. The crowd was studded with Russia's most glorious names, the banquet table bowed under bottles of champagne, and a life-size portrait of Alexander III glared down from the wall.


On the 100th anniversary of the death of Tsar Alexander III on Tuesday, 40 members of the council of nobles paid elaborate homage to a man who, all agreed, would be a stabilizing influence on modern Russia. During his 13-year reign, Alexander III stifled reform, granted more power to the gentry, and established a currency that promised great things: the gold-backed ruble. He liquidated the budget deficit and taught the world that -- in the words of monarchist historian Pavel Florensky -- "Great Russia has no friends."


"Russia achieved this much in just 13 years under the management of an intelligent man," said Alexander Krylov, a member of the Monarchist Center and the author of a biography of Alexander III.


Alexander was an autocratic reactionary who fought revolutionary movements and allotted great power to the Orthodox church. Monarchists said these skills would be particularly useful in contemporary Russia.


"We find ourselves in a similar crisis, and he was a man who knew how to respond," Krylov said. "If we had a figure like this today, whether he were president or emperor, it would represent a great hope for Russia."


The All-Russian Monarchist Center existed for years as an illegal organization and has been meeting openly since 1992, said member Gennady Alexeyev. About 200 members meet regularly in Moscow, and more convene in Armenia, Georgia and East Prussia, Alexeyev said. Unlike the Party of the Majority, which claims the throne for Grand Duke Georgy Romanov, the All-Russian Monarchist Center backs Maria Romanova, the grand duke's mother.


In the meantime, the group meets socially, feasting on grapes and salmon and listening to ballads that, according to their singer, "were more popular at the beginning of this century."


Between rousing toasts, the crowd gathered around luminaries like Prince Vadim Miloslavsky and Princess Irina Trubetskaya. Trubetskaya, 72, was the only member of her immediate family to survive World War II, and communicates sporadically with relatives who have emigrated to America and Canada. She lives alone in Moscow on a government pension. That night, anyway, Trubetskaya walked with an air of celebrity.


"Let all of Russia know that we are gathering here, that we have wine on our table, that we even have caviar," said Trubetskaya, drawing deeply on a Belomorkanal cigarette.


"Let them know that we still live," she said.


Not everyone saw a future court in the assembled crowd, which ran from threadbare pensioners to prosperous businessmen.


Yury DeWitte, 73, who traces his own lineage to Dutch-Russian aristocracy, sat skeptically at the back of the room. He said that the group lacked the religious training of a genuine court.


"A tsar can't do anything without the right people surrounding him," said DeWitte, who is a mechanic. "If this group of people were gathered around the table of the tsar, and he had any sense, he would be the most miserable person in the world."