Rasputin and the image of fear

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In the beginning of the 20th century an ordinary and uneducated Siberian peasant became the closest person to the ruler of one sixth of the world, Nicholas the II of Russia, and his family. He was more influential than aristocratic elite, more fascinating than wars or visits of foreign royals and social events. A simple moujik became an object of attraction to the most important figures of that time. In some mysterious way he predicted the death of the royal family and the fall of the Russian empire. Not long before his death, he told empress Alexandra Fedorovna: “Soon after my death, you will be gone too’’.  Oleg Mitrofanov talks to historian Mikhail Dvortsov  about the art of living of Russia’s most famous peasant, whose body and image was desired by the royals and aristocracy of the twilight years of the Russian Empire.

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Oleg Mitrofanov: There was something is Rasputin’s appearance that is almost terrifying…

Mikhail Dvortsov: Rasputin looked like an ordinary Russian peasant. In his young days, when he still lived in Siberia his manner of dress was more than moderate. Having become somewhat famous in Saint Petersburg, he started to receive substantial financial support from his rich followers, and thus began to dress better. Yet in no way his image was aristocratic. He wore a long beard and parted his sleek hair in the middle. Anyone who looks at his pictures will probably take note of his eyes. Those magical eyes that gaze at you through time and space from the past. Eyes of a hypnotist, a magician. A heavy, scathing glare. The eyes are the mirrors of the soul, and Rasputin’s eyes mirrored hell

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How could a simple peasant not only be introduced to the Royal family but become their adviser and a close friend? 

Thanks to his extraordinary abilities, Rasputin was rather popular even when he was living in Siberia. By extraordinary abilities I mean his ‘magical powers’ – which contradicts the belief that he considered himself to be a deeply religious Orthodox Christian. Rasputin was demonstratively acting as a holy unmercenary, not taking any interest in any of the worldly matters and leading an ascetic life. He healed people through a practice of prayer and ascetic struggle. In Russia such people are still commonly known as “starets”.

His fame attracted many influential people of the epoch. Among them were princesses Milicia and Stana (Anastasia) of Montenegro, who were interested in occultism and had psychic abilities themselves. They were very close to the empress Alexandra Fedorovna and knew that she was a woman of faith. It was them who one day introduced Rasputin to the tsarina at the royal picnic.

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The reason Rasputin was presented to the Emperor and his family is because he was their last hope to cure Haemophilia of the young Prince Alexey.

Haemophilia, inability of blood to coagulate, was a curse for many aristocratic families in Europe.  The haemophilia gene emerged in aristocratic families in the Middle Ages and from then on was ‘roaming‘ from one monarchy to another. Members of ruling houses of Europe constantly were marrying each other. Those unions dictated the political map of Europe and shaped international relationships.  In 1894 princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine married the heir to the Russian throne – Nicolas. Alix was a granddaughter of the great Queen Victoria. She knew that her grandmother suffered from Haemophilia and was terrified that this disease would spread to her children. Her fears came true when her last child and heir to the Russian Throne, prince Alexey, was born with haemophilia.

Alexandra Fedorovna and Prince Alexei
Alexandra Fedorovna and Prince Alexei

Why did Alexandra Fedorovna decide to turn to alternative medicine? 

At the time traditional medicine had no cure for haemophilia. Rasputin was introduced to Alexandra Fedorovna as a holy man.  She didn’t think of him as a psychic, who he primarily was, but in him she saw a saint who could save her child with simply a prayer. That was the image that Rasputin strived to create and succeeded. Rasputin hypnotized the young prince, turning his dark thoughts away and making him forget about the pain. He didn’t, however, possess any medical knowledge at all.

Many belive that Rasputin had a love affair with the Empress… 

I have to say that he did have a huge libido and is notable for having intimate relationships with numerous women, but I don’t think that he ever had an affair with the empress.  He was satisfied enough with manipulating her.  Having said that, it is true that during the final years of Russian Empire, there was a widespread rumour that it was the bed that united the Empress and the moujik. Newspapers published vulgar caricatures on the topic. Such disdain and disrespect towards the member of the Royal Family was one of the signs of the upcoming fall of Russian Empire.

Do you mean that all those stories about orgies at Rasputin’s flat on Gorohovaya street were true ? 

Yes, there were regular meetings of his female followers. Chiefly, they were young or middle-aged, wealthy women. The evenings usually commenced with conversations, Rasputin answered intimate questions and gave advice. When mujik energized and electrified his audience to a certain level, they proceeded to the next part of the evening – sexual one. It is most certain that Grigory Rasputin had sexual relationships with his fans, both individually and in groups. He loved humiliating them – for example, he made them lick jam off his peasant boots. He also enjoyed groping women, sitting them on his laps and making boast of his genitalia. All of these facts are recollections of eyewitnesses of such meetings.Rasputin and his followers - 2 Rasputin and his followers - 1

Surely, someone who had so much influence on the Emperor and who lead such a life style had enemies… 

Naturally, the court nobility had very little fondness for Rasputin. In fact, they loathed him.  Given that the Royal family started to spend more time with him, ignoring people from their own circle and deferring to Rasputin’s opinion more often. Even though he was a man of humble origin, the countryman quickly understood the rules of the game and mastered his social skills. During the First World War, Rasputin convinced the empress to talk Nicholas into replacing his uncle and becoming the Commander in Chief. He also suggested to sign the separate peace agreement with Germany. This kind of influence that he had on the royal family couldn’t have gone unnoticed.

And what about the Church, what was their reaction on Rasputin?

At first, he didn’t have any problems with the church officials. It was only a matter of time until he was announced a heretic, and a member of Khlysty underground sect. Part of their dogma was the ritual of flagellation, which basically meant beating themselves with whips. Because of this indictment his relationship with the church was antagonistic. Russian Orthodox church still holds a negative attitude towards Rasputin.

Most likely the church’s indictment was a political tool in the war against Rasputin. Mujik’s enemies tried everything in order to remove him from the postion of power.

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Do you think that Rasputin’s phenomenon could appear anywhere else or is it something very Russian? 

The entire image of Rasputin as a moujik, a peasant from the Russian country, who arrived from Siberia to the capital of the Russian Empire, who was charming aristocracy and royal family, who was leading a dissolute way life, accompanied by vodka, gypsies and dancing, certainly is very Russian. But history knows many examples of similar cases. For example Jose Lopez Rega, who was a close friend of Argentine president’s wife, Isabel Peron. Just like Rasputin, this man had magical talents and knew how to bring people under his control, he influenced the president, through his wife.

To be able to cope with all those enemies, one need to have a reason, a motivation. What was Rasputin’s motivation, what did he want to achieve ?

Rasputin’s interest in wealth was feeble. His primary source of pleasure was power. Being able to control and manipulate the most affluent and powerful family of the empire brought him the highest form of enjoyment. A once starving and uneducated moujik domineered a group of people that his ancestors would never even dream of approaching.

But it didn’t last long …

Yes, the mujik was killed in the Yusupov palace, he was invited there by the prince himself, who considered Rasputin a threat to the Russian Empire. When Grigory arrived to the palace, there was a ball taking place, so the prince and the peasant waited for it to finish in the basement. There Felix treated Rasputin to a poisoned cake that didn’t work on starets. One very remarkable assumption says that Yusupov lulled the vigilance of Rasputin in a very peculiar manner – he seduced him. Regardless of his marital status, a young and feminine man, that Yusupov was, frequented private gay parties of Saint Petersburg’s aristocracy. Together with his friends, youthful and rich gentlemen, he loved to put on women’s dress, wear wigs and make-up. Once Felix Yusupov was enjoying a theatrical performance when he noticed some older man staring at him through a lorgnette from a loge. When the lights were turned on, the young prince saw that the interested gentleman was King Edward VII. The monarch mistook him for an attractive young woman.

Portrait of Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov, Count Sumarokov-Elston 1903 by Valentin Serov
Portrait of Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov, Count Sumarokov-Elston 1903 by Valentin Serov

Was Rasputin noted to have homosexual relations ? 

Well, Yusupov might have offered Rasputin to have sex with him. Although Rasputin had never been noted in homosexual relationships, it’s not senseless to assume knowing he was no stranger to lust, that he agreed to the proposition. But there is certainly some ambiguity in the situation: how could a prince, a sophisticated and refined young man, have a sexual affair with an ungroomed peasant? Possibly his desire to free the royal family and Russia of this man was greater than his disgust, so he sacrificed his body to this act of liberation. At the most unexpected moment Yusupov reached for the gun and shot Rasputin. The last words of the mujik were: “What?! What?!”. As a mystical coincidence those precise words were the last words of the emperor, Nicholas II, before the execution by a firing squad.

Recently a new theory appeared in the British press,  suggesting that British secrect service was involved in the Rasputin’s murder 

You see, Rasputin did not die from Yusupov’s shot. He ran out on a street, Felix and his accomplices started fire. It was a headshot that made him finally collapse and die. Supposedly a British agent of MI6 fired this shot. He participated in a plan to eliminate Rasputin, who actually supported the early termination of the World War by signing a separate peace with Germany. And that course of events was extremely unbeneficial for England at the time. I think that the Englishman’s shot being the deadly one was accidental. Everyone who was in the Yusupov Palace that night was shooting at Grigory. When Rasputin’s body was found in Neva River, his hands were tied, but one hand was freed from the ropes, and his lungs were full of water. It appears that this man had a fantastic force and will to live, he continued to fight for his life after he was thrown into the icy water …

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Interview by Oleg Mitrofanov – Translation by Yulia Rudenko


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