Russia Exonerates Nicholas II

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The Russian supreme court has ruled that the country's last tsar and his family must be recognised as victims of Soviet repression 90 years after they were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad.

In an unexpected ruling, the court in Moscow declared that Nicholas II and the royal family had been killed illegally and are entitled to legal rehabilitation by the state.

The decision brings to a close a decade-long campaign by the tsar's descendants to force the state to admit culpability for what many Russians regard as the single most horrific political crime of the 20th century.

It also represents a symbolic end to Russia's often tortured process of addressing the repressions of the Soviet era.

Since the collapse of Communism, over four million Russians who were executed or jailed in gulags for political reasons have been formally exonerated and declared victims of repression, a process known in Russia as rehabilitation.

But state prosecutors, judges and even the supreme court itself, in an earlier ruling, refused to make the same gesture to the tsar and his family.

Saying that no official death warrants had ever been found, they claimed it was possible that the deaths were unilaterally carried out by the Ural regional soviet without reference to the Bolshevik high command. Their deaths were therefore characterized as murder rather than state-sanctioned executions.

Nicholas, his wife and five children, along with four servants, were shot by a firing squad in Yekaterinburg in July 1918 as the White Army advanced towards the city at the height of the Russian civil war.

Most historians say there is enough evidence to show that the executions were carried out on the orders of Lenin, who is still widely revered in Russia.

Since 2006, a series of courts have ruled against petitions filed by Grand Princess Maria Vladimirovna, one of several claimants to the Russian throne. Given the previous rebuffs, few members of the Romanov family expected a positive ruling today. In July, Prince Dmitry, one of the family's most senior members, predicted that Russia's last tsar was as likely to be rehabilitated as the apostle Peter, who is traditionally believed to have been crucified upside down by the Romans.

Yesterday, however, the Romanovs were rejoicing.

"The protracted rehabilitation process has come to a successful end," said German Lukyanov, the lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of Grand Princess Maria, who lives in Spain.

"Justice has triumphed. It has proved that all victims of the repressions should be rehabilitated."

But he said that the ruling would not lead to any claims for either the restitution of the monarchy in Russia or the restoration of royal properties seized by the Bolsheviks.

by Adrian Blomfield

1 October, 2008