Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
Arise St Nicholas the Good
So Tsar Nicholas II is to be canonised. Can you credit it? The last of the Romanovs, a petty-minded, uncaring, heedless autocrat who could send thousands to their deaths on the battlefield or condemn millions to poverty and ignorance without a qualm, is to be made a saint. A saint, for crying out loud. This saint is the same ruler who in 1909 had his troops fire on a procession of 140,000 workers and peasants who had marched to the Winter Palace, carrying portraits of the "father Tsar" and singing hymns, to petition Nicholas to relive their suffering. He relieved it, all right. Over a thousand were shot dead and twice that number wounded. It became known as Bloody Sunday. As Professor Pankratova's History of the USSR (Moscow, 1948) says: "On that day even the backward workers lost all faith in the Tsar. `We have no Tsar' said aged workers, destroying the portraits of the Tsar that hung in their homes." The overthrow of "Nikki" and the hoard of Grand Dukes and other "aristocrats" that lorded it over the people of Russia was not the result of some sinister clandestine plot by a handful of Bolsheviks. It was not a palace coup or a putsch. The whole system of Tsarism was in fact moribund. To quote Pankratova's History again: "The last years of Tsarism in Russia were the years of its utter decay and decomposition. "The ascendancy of Rasputin most vividly reflected the obscurantism, the superstition, the intellectual poverty and moral decay of the Tsarist regime." And no one personified those traits more vividly than Nicholas II himself. The elevation of Nicholas II to sainthood, however, has virtually nothing to do with his merits (or the lack of them). It is merely a further tactical move in the rewriting of Russian history, the hoped-for obliteration of the Soviet era from the Russian (and world) consciousness. It is part of the push to change the Revolution of 1917 from an expression of the will of the workers and peasants to "Lenin's bloody putsch". Lenin becomes the enemy of the people and the Tsar their martyred protector. The act of canonisation has one other, more specific purpose: it is part of the move by the Russian Orthodox Church to re-establish itself, as a spokesperson told reporters, as "the centre of Russian life". To this end, not only is Nikki being canonised but a cathedral (as if Russia doesn't have enough already) is going to be built on the site of his execution. Presumably the intention is that it become a place of pilgrimage, where teary-eyed people can come and rail against the evil Bolsheviks. No doubt the Russian woman who appeared in the ABC's television news coverage of the canonisation decision will be one of them. Although neither she nor even her parents had lived under the Tsar, she was overcome with sentiment and reverence when she spoke of him. Using words strikingly similar to those of the Tsarina talking about Rasputin, she told the TV reporter the Tsar had been "sent to us by God", demonstrating that despite the best education stressing a scientific outlook and breadth of culture, wilful ignorance, obscurantism and superstition can survive over generations if that is the home and family environment. Unfortunately for the Russian Orthodox Church, however, the mass of the people of Russia do not share this woman's views, despite the best efforts of the ideologues and propagandists of capitalism. The Church will not return to its desired position of "the centre of Russian life" any more than the Tsars will once again strut around the Kremlin knouting peasants who don't doff their caps fast enough. No, those days have gone for good.
* * *Olympic China bashing
The Australian last weekend indulged in a bout of China bashing for the Olympics in what is I fear going to be a very familiar scenario over the next several weeks. China, it was solemnly revealed, trains its athletes from a young age and even provides special schools for them. Oh, the horror of it. Australian athletes who attend the Australian Institute of Sport or train for four or even six hours a day while still at school are described as "dedicated". Their lack of special training facilities or coaches or the cost to their families of providing these is regarded as evidence of their "tenacity" and "willpower" and "the urge to succeed". The Chinese athletes, who are supported by their government with facilities, coaches and even special schools adapted to their requirements, are accorded no such accolades. Instead they are abused as the products of an inhuman system that "invests" in them and "expects to get its money back in medals". The Australian fails to acknowledge that it is the partial adoption by Australia of the scientific approach of the socialist countries, embodied in the creation of the Australian Institute of Sport, that is responsible for Australia's relatively high standing in medal tallies and records.