Who Killed Pyotr Stolypin?

Portrait of Pyotr Stolypin. Artist: Ilya Repin (1900)

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Pyotr Stolypin's personality attracts attention not only of historians, but of a much broader audience. It is related to his life and also to the tragic circumstances of his death.

On the first monument to Stolypin that was opened in Kiev shortly before World War I it was written that he was born in 1862 in Moscow. The stated place of his birth was wrong – in truth the future reformer was born on April 14, 1862 in Dresden. It is unclear whether it was a mistake or the authors of the monument in Kiev replaced the Saxon city with the capital of the Moscow principality, which would be even more symbolic given his death in the capital of Kiev Russia.

This story of the birth place is illustrative in several aspects. First of all, the notion of Stolypin's birth in Moscow might be related to his noble heritage – his family was known as early as the XVI century that had a homestead near Moscow. Young Pyotr spent his childhood in the family estate in Serednikovo which during the Soviet times was a lot more known as being tied to Mikhail Lermontov's life.

Former owner of the estate, Stolypin's grandfather was a brother of the famous poet's grandmother, thus making Lermontov a second cousin of the future prime minister.

Secondly, it is symbolic that in the story of Moscow and Kiev there is no mention of the city where most of Stolypin's activity took place, i.e. St. Petersburg. In tsarist Russia that place was linked with the ruling bureaucrats, with all their positive and negative connotations (the negative was perceived with a lot more emotion). Prior to his joining the government Stolypin's career was mostly non-bureaucratic.

After graduating from the St. Petersburg University with a degree in natural sciences, a discipline «atypical» for a future government official (famous Dmitry Mendeleyev gave him an excellent grade at the exam) he soon departed for his Lithuanian estate in Kalnaberzes which he turned into a model avant garde farm with multiple crop rotation.

For a long time he was a district then a regional leader of the local nobility, where he received experience of administrative work as well as interaction with the public. Only at the age of 40 he finally joins the executive branch of power when he became the governor of Grodno, and later of Saratov.

He returned to St. Petersburg after his appointment to the Cabinet of ministers. And right away he almost died at the hands of terrorists who blew up his dacha. Stolypin himself avoided wounds by mere luck, but the daughter and son of the prime minister were hurt. His daughter Natalia was seriously wounded; doctors were discussing amputation of both legs, but fortunately managed to do without that. St. Petersburg was not a lucky place for Stolypin – he loved to escape from it to his favourite Kalnaberzes.

Thirdly, it is no accident that Stolypin was born in Dresden where his mother had come to visit her relatives. Belonging to the Russian nobility, Stolypin like most other representatives of the Russian elite never separated himself from the European culture. He visited Germany and Switzerland. One of his employees and close allies in introducing the agrarian reform was Andrey Koefoed an émigré from Denmark. After the revolution he worked in the Danish Embassy in the USSR and at the request of the Soviet authorities was sent back home during the collectivization period. In his speech in the Duma and the State Council Stolypin would constantly refer to the contemporary experience of such European countries as Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

On September 14 [O.S. September 1] 1911, while he was attending a performance at the Kiev Opera House in the presence of the Tsar and his two eldest daughters,
the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, Pyotr Stolypin was shot twice, by Dmitri Bogrov (born Mordekhai Gershkovich), a Jewish leftist radical.

The circumstances of Stolypin's death at the hands of terrorists still cause suspicion that the reformer prime minister fell victim of a reactionary plot, especially given that his relationship with the most conservative political groups aggravated shortly before his death. Stolypin's murderer Dmitry Bogrov was a secret police agent, which is another proof of the conspiracy theory.

It was the police that gave a ticket to Bogrov for entering the theater where the assassination took place. A few years ago there was a series showing on Russian TV called «Stolypin. Lessons not Learned» that was based on the conspiracy theory according to which the hunt for Stolypin united such irreconcilable enemies as the aristocracy and the revolutionaries.

In truth there is no proof of the police's involvement (or the involvement of the aristocrats) in the murder of Stolypin. And it is not just the results of the official investigation that pointed out the poor professional qualities of the police, but did not find any malicious intent on the part of the government officials.

Simply it would be impossible to organize such a secret plot with the participation of a large number of people without somebody not letting out the secret – if not before the revolution, then after it happened. One of the key suspects, General Pavel Kurlov who was Stolypin's deputy, was questioned not only by the investigators of the tsarist Russia, but also under the Temporary Government (as a prisoner). After he emigrated he even wrote memoirs.

Russian aristocrats if killed their opponents, never used hired killers, they did it personally at a duel. Stolypin's elder brother died in a duel, and there were reports that Stolypin himself had a duel with his brother's killer and was shot in the art. Later Stolypin married his deceased brother's fiancée.

When during a Duma session an opposition deputy Fedor Rodichev called gallows «Stolypin's tie», Stolypin challenged him. But the duel never took place as the politician apologized to Stolypin. In other matters that were not that extreme political intrigue was chosen, which was a more effective method of removing one's competitors, than bloody plots.

At the same time Bogrov's ill fated appearance in the theater is explained. As a police agent he agreed to identify dangerous terrorists who supposedly were plotting to kill the tsar who was also present in the theater that day. In his biography and life style Bogrov did not correspond to the image of a reckless criminal who was ready to commit a crime without any hope of a safe escape.

A young man with social manners from a wealthy family, an attorney's assistant with a university education, he did not look like a professional killer. The police turned out to be bad psychologists who failed to see in Bogrov «the Herostratus complex», i.e. desire to become famous, become a hero for the revolutionaries, overcome the image of himself as a weak and worthless person.

However, all rational arguments can hardly convince those who stick to the «conspiracy theory» as with other famous crimes (for example, John Kennedy assassination). People want to see mystery and sensations even where there aren't any – especially, it they concern the lives of bright historic figures to which Pyotr Stolypin belongs without doubt.

Source & Copyright: The Voice of Russia
13 April, 2012