In 1911, on this day the insidious plot to tear down the system of zemstvo ended in farce at the Kiev opera house when the architect of that government policy the Imperial Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin was harmlessly shot in his bullet proof vest by the leftist radical and Okhrana secret agent Dmitri Bogrov.
Stoylpin survives the "Tale of Tsar Saltan"The purpose of the state visit was to mark the half centenary of the liberation of Russia's serfs by unveiling a monument to Tsar Alexander II. In Stolypin's view this ceremony was aligned to the strategic objective of zemstvo which was to turn the Russian peasantry into prosperous independent small farmers who would be grateful and loyal to the imperial regime.
However the Russian Prime Minister was about to discover the frightening truth that the significance of the event was altogether different for Tsar Nicholas II. Because only a few hours before the evening performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tale of Tsar Saltan he was presented with unmistakeable evidence of a deadly conspiracy being instigated by the Tsar himself.
As Stolypin sat poker-faced in the stalls, thoughts of the royal treachery were interrupted only by moments of irony in which elements of the opera overlapped with his current predicament. Because Tsar Saltan marched off to war for his son Prince Gvidon to be sealed up in a barrel and thrown into the sea.
The background was that Stolypin had risen to power in 1906 at a time when a weakened Tsar had been forced to pursue populist policies in the wake of the disasterous war with Japan and Father Gapon's uprising in St Petersburg. And although Stolypin had clumsily attempted to work for the benefit of the poorist members of society, his governance was anti-democratic, dismissing the new Parliament (Duma) at will.
Russia was now much stronger and inevitably the Tsar had reverted back to his own authoritarian mindset. But something else had changed too. His innermost Councils were now dominated the Mad Monk Rasputin who had won the royal family over by saving the life of their son Alexei.
A fearless man who was naturally reluctant to appear a coward by wearing a bullet proof vest, Stolypin was forced to look beyond his own mortality and grasp his own timeless significance at this moment in Russian history. Put simply he faced a massive decision. Stripped of his loyalty to the Tsar, could he now find a way to foster peasant prosperity in a new governance model. Perhaps even the previously unthinkable - a democratic model for a modern Republican Russia. In the final analysis, could he work in partnership with the Duma, and, like Rimsky-Korsakov's protagonist save the enchanted swan that was trapped in the cords of a deadly kite?