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The Khodynka Incident

 

A dark shadow over Nicholas’ reign was also cast by the tragic event that marred his coronation celebrations in the spring of 1896. The festivities, which were to be accompanied by the distribution of commemorative gift packages and a program of popular entertainment, brought huge masses of people to Khodynka Field in Moscow. The field had not been properly leveled out for the occasion,  and the kiosks with gifts were put too close to one another.  According to one witness:  

Khodynka Field in Moscow on 18 May 1896 

 
 

... a mass of people half-a-million strong, pressed together as tightly as possible, staggered with all its unimaginable weight in the direction of the kiosks.  People by the thousand fell into a ditch and ended standing literally on their hands at the bottom. Other fell straight after them, and more, and more, until the ditch was filled to the brim with bodies.  And people walked on them. They could not help walking on them, they were unable to stop...

 
 

According to the official statistics, 2,690 people suffered in the crush, 1,389 of whom died. The incident produced an unpleasant impression on the tsar, but the festivities continued as planned. On the night of that very day Nicholas and his wife Alexandra attended a ball in the Kremlin and danced. Next day they went to dinner at the German ambassador’s.

Nicholas and his government would never be able to erase a negative impression that the Moscow festivities made on the public opinion. One of the émigré pamphlets published in Geneva the same year accused the Tsar of being incapable of observing even the outward forms of decency. From this time on, in wide sections of the populace Nicholas II came to be known as ‘the Bloody’.

The Khodynka incident had clearly revealed, at the very outset of Nicholas’s reign, his inability  to react adequately and sensitively to changes in  the situation and to make suitable adjustments in response to popular feelings and public opinion. As one writer notes: ‘In all probability he simply had not been endowed with the proper capacity to respond to the living, changing course of public life.  But, if this is of little significance in the fate of a private individual, for the head of such an authoritarian state as the Russian Empire, it was a shortcoming fraught with the most serious consequences’. Some analysts attribute a truly symbolical significance to the tragic episode during the coronation festivities, seeing it as a projection in concentrated form of  Nicholas II’s entire reign.

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