This old Cockney gasp of amazement applies both figuratively and literally to the excerpts from Nicholas II’s diary posted by a friend.
Russians like to argue in the past subjunctive mood about the course Russian history would have taken had a stronger leader than Nicholas been at the helm in 1917.
Now, I like to say that a country doesn’t need a strong leader. It needs a strong society. However, like many aphoristic statements, this one is correct only up to a point.
True, the leader’s personality doesn’t matter very much when a country sails on an even keel. In fact, a weak leader minding his own business may be even preferable when a society is strong enough and balanced enough to run itself.
A strong, energetic leader may well upset that balance by his meddling. Ignoring folk wisdom, he may try to fix what isn’t broken and break it as a result.
But when a storm is brewing or already raging, a strong hand on the tiller is essential – provided that limb is wired to a wise head and a noble heart. When a country needs a Churchill, a Chamberlain won’t do (and, incidentally, vice versa).
The excerpts my friend posted date back to 1904-1905, when Russia was, not to cut too fine a point, falling apart. A disastrous war against Japan was followed by a revolution. The government managed to survive, but only just. Wise heads knew the writing was on the wall, and it spelled E-N-D.
It’s in this context that one can fully appreciate the concerns preoccupying the Tsar of all Russias at the time.
“I had a good walk with Misha, killed a crow.” (7 April, 1904)
“Walking for a long time, killed a crow.” (19 April, 1904)
“He killed the crow.” (29 April, 1904)
“I walked, killed a crow and went kayaking.” (17 May, 1904)
“I walked for a long time and killed 2 crows.” (25 May, 1904)
“Went for a long walk and killed 2 crows.” (27 May, 1904)
“Killed 2 crows. Went for a ride in a kayak.” (June 2, 1904)
“I have read a lot. I rode a bicycle and killed 2 crows; one yesterday.” (4 June, 1904)
“It was a wonderful day. Rode a bike and killed 2 crows.” (5 June, 1904)
“Walking for a long time, killed three crows.” (6 October, 1904)
“We walked together, then Alix came home, and I continued walking and killed five crows.” (10 October, 1904)
“Went out and killed a crow.” (8 November, 1904)
“I went for a walk and killed three crows.” (25 January, 1905)
“Went out and killed a crow.” (27 January, 1905)
“Went out and killed 4 crows.” (19 February, 1905)
“Walked around, killed two crows.” (17 March, 1905)
“He killed the cat.” (8 May, 1905)
“Rode a bike and killed 2 crows.” (28 May, 1905)
“I have read a lot. He killed a crow.” (29 May, 1905)
“He killed a woodpecker.” (10 September, 1905)
When Russia was going to the dogs, her absolute ruler was waging war on crows (and the odd cat and woodpecker). Really, he – though not his family – deserved ending up in that satanic cellar filled with gushing blood.
Russian nationalists like to say that Russia is there to teach the world a lesson. I agree: a lesson in how not to do things.
Now, as the world is balancing on a knife’s edge, take a roll call of Western leaders, to find which of them has the strength of mind and character to be up to a salvation job. Biden? Johnson? Macron? Scholz?
Then remember that worthy heirs to the ghouls who filled that cellar with blood now have their fingers on the red button. And Russia is just 1,000 miles from London – as the crow (or the missile) flies.