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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Decision on Tsar's Burial Right One




The topic remains a mass of controversy but the government has taken a courageous decision in opting to press ahead and bury the remains of the last tsar and his family in the traditional resting place of the Romanov dynasty in St. Petersburg.


Burying the remains, which were uncovered near Yekaterinburg in 1991 and have lain in a forensic laboratory for the past seven years, will be not only an act of basic human decency, but also a valuable step in coming to terms with Russia's ghastly history this century.


But the event itself may have a few uncomfortable pauses.


Despite exhaustive scientific evidence based on DNA testing that has confirmed the remains are those of Nicholas II and his family, shot by Bolsheviks in 1918, the Russian Orthodox Church this week ruled that it cannot yet accept that the remains are authentic.


Instead, the church has agreed that the remains be buried. But it will consider them only as those of victims of Bolshevik religious repression. Since the church will officiate at the burial, this could raise some problems of protocol.


The church's compromise position is the result of pressure from archconservatives who already regard Nicholas II as a saint and somehow consider it profane to apply DNA testing to his remains. If it turns out the remains are fake, these people say, then anyone who prays to them will be committing the grievous sin of praying to a false relic.


Rationalists may counter that there is a lot more proof of the authenticity of these remains than there is of all the bits of medieval bone and hair that are revered as holy relics in Orthodox churches all over Russia.


Moreover, if the bones are not the tsar's, there is no reason for the church to claim that they belong to Christian martyrs.


But in the end, the church's decision, while logically inconsistent, may be a clever political compromise.


It will not really matter exactly what is said at the funeral or what inscription is carved into the gravestone. The important thing is that the bones will be buried in the old imperial capital. For the majority of rational Russians, the event and the tomb will be a symbol of national repentance for the horrors of the Bolshevik period.


The church's sophistry will hopefully allay some of the anger from archconservatives who may yet regard as sacrilege the government's decision to press ahead with a burial in the Romanov chapel. But the government deserves praise for taking a tough decision.