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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Yeltsin Made Wise Choice On Funeral




Both politics and principle clearly played a role in President Boris Yeltsin's dramatic decision to attend the laying to rest of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.


The burial comes at time when Yeltsin is growing increasingly isolated and vulnerable. He has lost the support of key sections of the financial oligarchy. Regional elites are ructious. And members of his own entourage are abandoning ship fearing Yeltsin's days are numbered.


Under these circumstances, Yeltsin had a lot of political points to gain by preventing the burial of the tsar from turning into a farce.


It was Yeltsin, after all, who first proposed burying the tsar as an act of national repentance. But after Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II decided to boycott the ceremony, Yeltsin got cold feet and said he would not go. The rest of Russia's political elite saw this as a sign of Yeltsin's weakness and rubbed the point in by publicly ridiculing the whole burial as another of Yeltsin's political intrigues.


It looked like Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, Yeltsin's most loyal follower, and Krasnoyarsk governor Alexander Lebed, Yeltsin's most bitter rival, would be the only two high-ranking figures present at the event.


This would have been doubly galling to Yeltsin. The poor turnout would have been an admission of his own failure to convince the political elite to give their backing to the burial. And Lebed would have had the chance to claim the high moral ground that Yeltsin had marked out for himself when he proposed an act of national repentance.


But politics aside, Yeltsin was also motivated by moral principles. If Yeltsin's checkered career has stood for one thing, it is an attempt to break with the evils of the Communist era.


Yeltsin believes that burying the tsar is a moment when Russia can atone for those evils. The murder of Nicholas II has become a symbol for all the tens of millions of murders subsequently carried out by the Soviet regime. The tsar himself has become a symbol, however undeserved, of the innocence and spirituality that Russia feels it has lost.


Moreover, Yeltsin felt that Nicholas II deserved a proper burial and not in the anonymous, bureaucratically censored "generic" tomb that the church was proposing. This is only human.


The Patriarch has already conceded that it has no objections to Yeltsin's making a personal statement by attending the burial. Other lesser politicians will probably regret that they, too, are not represented on the podium at Friday's great national event. Occasionally, Yeltsin's instincts are still accurate.