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Wednesday, November 26, 1997 Published at 14:58 GMT


The battle is on to bury the Tsar's bones
image: [ The bones were dug up in 1991 for DNA testing ]
The bones were dug up in 1991 for DNA testing

A Russian court has ruled that the remains of the last tsar, Nicholas the Second, and those of his family cannot be moved from the city where they are being kept in a local morgue. The Russian government had said it hopes to bury the remains on March 1st 1998. Three different Russian cities are vying for the privilege - and the Orthodox Church has yet to be convinced that the bones identified by scientists as the Tsar's are genuine. BBC regional analyst, Stephen Mulvey, looks at the complexities of the case:

It is beginning to look likely that in 1998, 80 years after the imperial family was shot, and 20 years after their remains were located, they will finally receive a Christian burial.

It was in July 1918 that the Tsar, his family and servants were shot, in the basement of the Ipatiev House in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. Their bodies were thrown into a pit in a forest outside the city, and covered with acid. But the bones were dug up in 1991, and three years of scientific tests established eyond reasonable doubt that they were genuine. The tests involved comparison of DNA samples taken from the bones, with those of relatives, including the British Queen's husband, Prince Phillip, and also the Tsar's brother, whose body was exhumed in 1994.

[ image: Tsar Nicholas II reigned over Russia for 23 years]
Tsar Nicholas II reigned over Russia for 23 years
Earlier this month the head of a government commission considering how and when to bury the remains, first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, said he was 99.999% sure they were genuine, but that one final test would be carried out. This will take two months, after which the commission will make its recommendation to the president. Mr Nemtsov revealed that the commission thought March 1 was the best day for the burial - it's the Sunday before Lent, a Russian Orthodox holiday known as Forgiveness Sunday, when believers repent their sins.

It's not clear whether the results of this test will convince the Orthodox Church. But one other demand made by the head of the church, Patriarch Alexy II, may soon be fufilled. He has insisted that discrepancies between the account of the killings in Soviet archives and the account given by a contemporary investigator, Nikolai Sokolov, should be reconciled. The Sokolov archives were handed over to the Russian authorities by Prince Hans Adam of Liechtenstein in September, allowing a detailed comparison to be made.

Sokolov was a member of the White Guard forces which captured Yekaterinburg from the Bolsheviks shortly after the imperial family was assassinated. Prince Hans Adam bought the archives at auction in London in 1990, and has exchanged them for his own family archives which were seized by Soviet troops from a castle near Vienna in the Second World War.

[ image: Anastasia's remains were not among those of her family]
Anastasia's remains were not among those of her family
One puzzle that remains to be solved, is why the pit where most of the imperial family's remains were found did not contain the bones of the Tsar's son, Alexei, nor those of one of the family's four daughters - probably Maria, experts say. These have never been located.

The only development that might prevent the burial of the remains next year would be a decision by the Orthodox Church to declare the last Tsar a saint. According to church tradition, the remains of a saint must be put on display. A final decision on canonisation, however, is not expected until the end of the century.

[ image: Nor were those of heir to the throne Alexei]
Nor were those of heir to the throne Alexei
The family's bones are currently held behind an unmarked and locked door in the Yekaterinburg city morgue. A decision to transport them by rail to Moscow for the final scientific tests was protested by the regional governor Eduard Rossel who argued that there was a risk of them being substitued for fakes. Last week the Russian prosecutor general responded by agreeing to send investigators to Yekaterinburg, rather than taking the bones to Moscow.

The Yekaterinburg authorities are fighting a battle to have the bones buried in their city, in a church built on the site of the murder. But Moscow and the imperial capital, St Petersburg, have also put in a bid for the relics. All former Romanov tsars were buried in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg - however Tsar Nicholas could be argued to have forfeited this right when he abdicated in 1917.

Moscow's claim to the remains is connected to the reconstruction of the country's largest cathedral, Christ the Saviour, which has recently been completed. President Yeltsin will have to decide one way or the other in the new year, taking into account the advice of historians, and the wishes of the Church, and surviving members of the Romanov family.

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