Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nicolas II: The Tragedy of a Good Father

8:59 PM

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A passenger must observe the diligence of a good father of a family to avoid injury to himself.”

Some time back, a guest was interviewed on t.v. about issues on public transport, and this was his response. The discussion sounded like heavy stuff, especially when the parties quoted provisions of the civil code, but one thing he said there really intrigued me:

A good father of a family?” That was new to me – but I later came to understand that he possibly meant that being a good father may imply being a good leader. But what’s the connection? Does the quality of being a good father at home automatically lead to being a good father figure in an extended organization, such as a company or a country?
Maybe we’ll get an answer when we remember the story of a well-known father in history: Tsar Nicholas II, said to be the last in the long line of tsars in Russia.

Tsar” was the title given to the head of the monarchy in Russia and other Slavic monarchies in Europe. The word was derived from the Roman “Caesar” and was the Russian equivalent of “emperor.” Europeans matched it to a rank between king and emperor, although in modern times it has been regarded as closer to that of a king. Beyond the title, though, Nicholas II was perhaps one of the biggest ironies among the good fathers of his time.

During his reign, some infamous events took place that changed the history of Russia. These included the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, the withdrawal of the Russian army during World War I due to the disintegration of the government, and the so-called Bloody Sunday of 1905, in which hundreds of citizens rallying peacefully were shot and wounded. These events earned Nicholas immense criticisms and distrust from the Russian people.

The irony arises in his personal life – which started out as ideal. Nicholas II was the kind of father that children would likely be proud of. As a husband, he was family-oriented and much loved and trusted by his wife, Tsarina Alexandra. Their story began when they were just teenagers – when Nicholas was 16 and Alexandra was 12. They were thought of as the perfect couple despite possessing many opposite qualities. Nicholas was weaker in character compared to Alexandra; he disliked confronting other people while Alexandra was more outspoken. Happily, these opposites levelled what the other lacked, making them even stronger as individuals. As historical accounts said, every year during Easter, Nicholas gave Alexandra expensive Easter eggs created by Peter Carl Fabergé, a renowned master crafter.

In the same way he was a loving husband, Nicholas II was considered a very affectionate father by his children. As a father of five – Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia, and Alexei – he brought them to trips and cruises on the Russian Imperial yacht Standart and played tennis with them as if he had all the time in the world. As a good father of his family, he taught his kids about the value of wealth: unlike other monarchs of his time, he chose to raise his children in simplicity and humility. He also tried to train his son, Alexei, about statecraft, or the management of the state, at an early age. That was something his late father, Tsar Alexander III, failed to do for him.

As a young man, Nicholas himself was not trained soon enough on how to run the country because his father was confident that he would be able to rule for a long time. As such, he planned to introduce Nicholas to national administration at a later time, when he was more mature. Unfortunately for Tsar Alexander, his time came sooner than he expected. When he died unexpectedly, Nicholas was only 26 and totally unprepared to rule a vast empire. This is the reason why when he became tsar, Nicholas wanted to prepare his only son early on the matter of statecraft to avoid the mistakes that his father committed.

But their future was to be very different. Nicholas’ son Alexei suffered from hemophilia, which the boy inherited from his mother’s family. Hemophilia, also known as the “royal disease” was common in the ruling houses of Britain, Spain and Russia at that time. Curiously, this medical disorder struck only the male members of a particular family, while the female members were the carriers of this disease. It is a disease where blood cannot clot properly, causing the patient to bleed to death if he ever suffered an external wound.

Doctors at that time did not yet have a cure for the disease – and in desperation, Tsar Nicholas and his wife turned to spirituality and mysticism. This was how the royal family was led to a peasant named Grigori Rasputin, who was believed to possess some “blessed and extraordinary” healing powers. For some reason, Rasputin was said to have “cured” the boy Alexei. In return, the tsar granted special regard for Rasputin and brought him into his inner circle.

And so began the new twist in the lives of the Russian people – both the elites and the peasants. The cause was Nicholas’ biased priority of his family over his country. Yes, he was a good father of a family, but being the good father of his country was something he was not. Rasputin saw the weakness of the royal family, so as he came closer to the inner circle, manipulation became easy. He became so trusted as to be consulted by the family about any issue. And as the royals would one day learn the hard way, it was this irrational dependence on Rasputin that led to many blunders in national governance which eventually angered the Russian people. Those blunders were characterized by endless excesses and oppressions which the people opposed, particularly on how the government fell apart because of Rasputin’s influence on Alexandra. Without the good government officials who could guide the people and to maintain order, everyone suffered and fell into poverty.

All of this triggered a national uprising known as the Bolshevik Revolution, which eventually ended the monarchy.

There are many speculations about how the Tsar’s family line ended, just as there are many lessons to learn from their story. Maybe the fault lies first in Nicholas’ lack of preparation to manage a huge empire. Secondly, because Nicholas did not have the good insight and adequate preparation to rule properly, he totally depended on someone else for guidance. He trusted and depended on his wife Alexandra, who in turn depended on Rasputin, who abused his new privileges. Choosing Rasputin as a source of guidance showed bad judgment of character. In the many stories prior to the Russian revolution, Rasputin was behind all the evil that rocked the monarchy and the appointment of officials incapable of running the government. As it turned out, he also dismissed all of the officials who disagreed with him, and replaced them with incompetent officials who were on his side.

The ultimate result of these was the outbreak of the Russian revolution, the abolition of the monarchy and the rise of the Communist government in Russia. The Russian people, desperately wanting for change, launched a series of revolutions. Based on Nicholas II’s actions, it is clear that a simple mistake can result to large-scale trouble.

It has been a hundred years since this family’s story ended. But it is fresh in our memory when we think of the impact of that change to the life of many people in the world today. Had the good father of a family been a good father to the people of Russia, tragedy might not have struck that country. And we, who now read their story from a distance, might be living in a completely different world altogether.

Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra. New York: Dell Publishing, 1985. Print.

Civil Code of the Philippines. Chan Robles Virtual Law Library, n.d. Web. 28 May 2014.

Article by Venice
Art by Tim
Venice has been an ardent lover of anything connected to history since childhood, may these be novels, movies, or songs.


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