The Man Who Maybe Sparked a Rev­o­lu­tion

Duma speaker Mikhail Rodzianko is cred­ited as the man who per­suaded Ni­cholas II to ab­di­cate. Four gen­er­a­tions later, his descen­dants strug­gle with his legacy

The Moscow Times - - LIVING HERE - By Howard Amos news­re­porter@ime­dia.ru | Il­lus­tra­tion by Yevgeny Tonkon­ogy

Rus­sia’s last tsar, Ni­cholas II, sent a tele­gram on March 15, 1917 an­nounc­ing his ab­di­ca­tion in an at­tempt to calm spread­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary tur­moil. It was ad­dressed to Mikhail Rodzianko, a se­nior courtier, speaker of the im­pe­rial parliament, the Duma, and a prom­i­nent ad­vo­cate of con­sti­tu­tional re­form.

“There is no sac­ri­fice I would not make for the sake of the true well-be­ing and sal­va­tion of our Mother Rus­sia. For that rea­son, I am pre­pared to re­nounce the throne,” Ni­cholas II wrote.

Weeks be­fore the de­ci­sion, it was Rodzianko who had warned Ni­cholas II that the sit­u­a­tion in Pet­ro­grad, the wartime name for im­pe­rial cap­i­tal St. Peters­burg, was spi­ral­ing out of con­trol amid mass demon­stra­tions, strikes and mutiny in the armed forces.

A hun­dred years later, as Rus­sia marks the cen­te­nary of the tsar’s ab­di­ca­tion, Rodzianko’s great-grand­son, Alexis Rodzianko, still lives with the ac­tions of his fa­mous an­ces­tor.

Mod­ern-day con­ser­va­tives and na­tion­al­ists blame “traitors” for the events of 1917 that led to the de­struc­tion of the Rus­sian Em­pire — and Rodzianko is one of their tar­gets.

“It’s al­most like the man is still alive and they are still ar­gu­ing with him,” says Alexis Rodzianko, now head of the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in Moscow. “There are peo­ple who con­sider our fam­ily to be be­yond the pale to this day. That’s why it’s so am­bigu­ous. Peo­ple are still liv­ing it.”

Alexis Rodzianko says that he of­ten reads on­line at­tacks on his fam­ily. So­cial snubs are also com­mon: he was not in­vited to a re­cent high-profile con­fer­ence on the Fe­bru­ary Rev­o­lu­tion or­ga­nized by the Ortho­dox Church in Moscow’s Christ the Sav­ior Cathe­dral.

The ab­di­ca­tion of Ni­cholas II was the cul­mi­na­tion of the 1917 Fe­bru­ary Rev­o­lu­tion (although it now falls in March since the tsarist-era cal­en­dar was aban­doned). Af­ter the ab­di­ca­tion, a pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment emerged, only to be swept away in Novem­ber when Vladimir Lenin’s Bol­she­viks seized power and be­gan to carve out a Com­mu­nist state.

Alexis Rodzianko, who was brought up in the United States af­ter his par­ents em­i­grated there fol­low­ing World War II, said there was al­ways lots of talk in the fam­ily home, par­tic­u­larly be­tween his grand­par­ents, about the rev­o­lu­tion and its con­se­quences.

“It was a hot topic for them,” he says. “One of the very first things I re­mem­ber were some of the animated dis­cus­sions about the rev­o­lu­tion and events in Rus­sia.”

Mikhail Rodzianko, known for his ro­tund physique and deep bass voice, was from an old Rus­sian aris­to­cratic fam­ily and owned large es­tates near Poltava in mod­ern-day Ukraine. He was ap­pointed speaker of the Duma in 1911. Though a loyal monar­chist, he had a dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with Ni­cholas II and he took a lead­ing role in crit­i­ciz­ing the im­pe­rial fam­ily over the in­flu­ence of the scan­dalous holy man Rasputin, who Ni­cholas II’s wife be­lieved could man­age her son’s he­mo­philia.

But the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two men took on an im­mense sig­nif­i­cance for Rus­sia’s fu­ture dur­ing the events of the Fe­bru­ary Rev­o­lu­tion.

Rodzianko was one of the few peo­ple close to the tsar to re­peat­edly warn him that the sit­u­a­tion in Pet­ro­grad was reach­ing cri­sis point. On Fe­bru­ary 28, a week be­fore the demon­stra­tions that would lead to the rev­o­lu­tion started to es­ca­late, Rodzianko wrote: “We are ap­proach­ing the twelfth hour and we are too close to the mo­ment when ap­peals to the peo­ple’s rea­son will be late and use­less,” ac­cord­ing to the 1917.ru, a web­site that is mark­ing the rev­o­lu­tion’s cen­te­nary by re-telling events in real time on so­cial net­works us­ing ex­cerpts from di­aries, let­ters and mem­oirs.

On March 12, three days be­fore the tsar would re­sign, Rodzianko wrote: “Anar­chy in the cap­i­tal. Gov­ern­ment par­a­lyzed. Trans­port of food and fuel com­pletely dis­or­ga­nized. Pub­lic dis­af­fec­tion grow­ing. Chaotic shoot­ing on the streets. Army units fire at each other,” ac­cord­ing to an ac­count in the book “The Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion” by U.S. his­to­rian Richard Pipes.

Ni­cholas II, who was away from the cap­i­tal, re­peat­edly dis­re­garded Rodzianko.

Pipes re­counts how on March 13, in re­sponse to another mes­sage, Ni­cholas II re­marked: “That fat fel­low Rodzianko has again writ­ten me all kinds of non­sense which I shan’t even bother to an­swer.”

But just two days later, with his train stranded in the city of Pskov be­cause of strikes, Ni­cholas II was per­suaded to step aside by his gen­er­als, who had also been briefed by Rodzianko on the sit­u­a­tion.

Alexis Rodzianko says that, ac­cord­ing to fam­ily leg­end, shortly af­ter his ab­di­ca­tion, Ni­cholas II ac­knowl­edged he should have heeded the warn­ings and said: “At the end of the day the only per­son who told me the truth was Rodzianko.”

The cen­te­nary of the rev­o­lu­tion and the fall of Ni­cholas II, who was mur­dered by the Bol­she­viks with his fam­ily the fol­low­ing year, is an un­com­fort­able event for the Krem­lin, which prefers to em­pha­size more tri­umphant episodes in Rus­sian history. There are few official events planned to mark the an­niver­sary.

“It’s a con­fus­ing event for Rus­sia and the Rus­sian pop­u­la­tion,” says Alexis Rodzianko. “There are still a lot of dif­fer­ent view­points: Was it a step for­ward? A na­tional tragedy? The end of Rus­sian history? It’s not clear.”

For Mikhail Rodzianko — who al­ways main­tained he wanted to see Rus­sia evolve into a con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy like Bri­tain — the col­lapse of tsarism was a tragedy.

“His re­ac­tion [to the ab­di­ca­tion] was that it was the end. And it was, for him. His ac­tual in­flu­ence and abil­ity to do any­thing was elim­i­nated,” says Alexis Rodzianko of his great-grand­fa­ther. “He also un­der­stood that the minute the ab­di­ca­tion hap­pened and the pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment was set up, he would be cursed for­ever. He had that very clearly in his mind and he was right.”

As the cause of the con­ser­va­tive Whites in the Civil War col­lapsed and the Com­mu­nists con­sol­i­dated con­trol, Mikhail Rodzianko left Rus­sia with his fam­ily in 1920. One of his sons was shot by the Bol­she­viks in Kiev in 1918, another em­i­grated to Paris. A third son, Alexis Rodzianko’s grand­fa­ther, lived in Ser­bia un­til the ar­rival of the Red Army at the end of World War II when, fear­ing for his life, he fled with his fam­ily first to Ger­many, and then to the U.S.

The states­man him­self died in Ser­bia in 1924, ap­par­ently in poverty. Ac­cord­ing to great-grand­son Alexis, he re­mained tor­mented by his role dur­ing those de­ci­sive 1917 days: “His great pain was: did I do ev­ery­thing I could to pre­vent this rev­o­lu­tion?”

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