Russian court reverses previous ruling and rehabilitates the last czar and his family

Russia's Supreme Court ruled in favor of full rehabilitation for Russia's last czar and his family on Wednesday, officially recognizing the Romanovs as victims of “unfounded repression” 90 years after they were executed.

The ruling is the latest step in Russia's post-Soviet reinterpretation of history, which has seen a new embrace for a monarchy once castigated for brutality and backwardness, accompanied by both nostalgia for and damning reconsiderations of seven decades of Soviet rule.

Soviet historians constructed accounts that emphasized blaming Nicholas II, or “Bloody Nicholas,” for famines, wars and social collapse. But as Russian nationalism strengthened after the fall of the Soviet Union, he has increasingly been depicted as a thwarted visionary and a beacon of the Russian Orthodox faith.

The church, which canonized the Romanovs as martyrs in 2000 and was itself persecuted in the Soviet era, welcomed the court's decision. “It is an important step to remove from our history the heavy burden of this crime against the czar's family,” said the Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman.

“In one way or another the perceptions of society toward Nicholas II and his family are changing,” he said. “More and more people are becoming free of the sharp cliches that were imposed in the recent past.”

In its decision on Wednesday, the court reversed a ruling of last November, when it decided that the Romanovs were not eligible for rehabilitation because their execution was a criminal act, not one of political repression.

The new ruling “recognizes their unfounded repression and rehabilitates the members of the royal family,” a spokesman for the court, Pavel Odintsov, said. “This is a final decision,” he said.

In July 1918, under Lenin's orders, the czar, his wife, Aleksandra, and their children, Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia and the 13-year-old heir to the throne, Aleksei, were shot to death in the basement of a house in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Ural Mountains in central Russia. Several members of the family's staff were also killed.

The killings by the fledgling Bolshevik government were meant to solidify its hold on power in the midst of an intensifying civil war.

Last July, thousands of Russians took part in events to mark the 90th anniversary of the family's execution, and calls for the restoration of the monarchy can be heard despite today's Kremlin-managed political landscape.

“This decision shows the supremacy of law and the victory of justice over evil and tyranny,” said German Lukyanov, the lawyer for Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, a Romanov descendant, who first filed a suit for the rehabilitation of her family three years ago.

Lukyanov said he will file suits on behalf of other Romanovs yet to be rehabilitated, including the czar's brother, Mikhail, and several other members of the royal dynasty.