1911: Dmitry Bogrov, Stolypin’s assassin

2 comments September 25th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1911,* Dmitry Bogrov was hanged in Kiev for assassinating Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin.

Many could diagnose the long-advancing rot of the Russian state, but few had the physic to abate it. Stolypin, a resolute conservative landowner, might have been tsarism’s last, best hope.

During the cataclysmic 1905 revolution, Stolypin was governor of Saratov and kept his province notably free from disturbances.

That earned him a kick upstairs in 1906 in hopes that he could work the same magic on the turbulent country. To a greater extent than most, he did: Stolypin was tsarist Russia’s last great statesman, notably introducing capitalistic land reforms in an effort to germinate a new rural middle class of small, freeholding landowners with skin in the Romanov dynasty. To break liberal obstruction, he also mounted a coup to weight the Duma in favor of propertied classes. “Give me 20 years of peace,” he vowed, “and you won’t recognize Russia.”

It’s left to the speculation of posterity whether he could have pulled the trick: in the event, Stolypin did not get 20 years and Russia did not get peace.

For some, like Solzhenitsyn, Stolypin is the lost chance for a Russia without either despotism or revolution: “He brought light to the world and the world rejected him.” For many others, that Great Man theory is a bit much. Russia’s issues with class and governance were a pretty long-term concern.

One of its long-term products was Russia’s energetic radical underground, and this Stolypin harried Russia’s revolutionaries from pillar to post, greatly intensifying police surveillance and infiltration of agitators’ circles to prevent a repeat of 1905. His secret courts meted out punishment with a greater regard for swiftness than certainty; a staggering 3,000 radicals were hanged for alleged involvement in terrorism from 1906 to 1909, generating worldwide condemnation and causing the phrase “Stolypin’s necktie” to enter the lexicon as a synonym for the noose.

Of course, there was plenty of real terrorism, no small part of it directed at Stolypin himself. He survived or avoided several assassination attempts, including a bomb that took the life of his daughter. In turn-of-the-century Russia, though, there was always a next man or woman up when it came to the propaganda of the deed.

In September 1911, at festivities marking the quinquagenary of the liberation of the serfs, Stolypin attended the Kiev opera’s performance of The Tale of Tsar Saltan.


The (obviously non-operatic) cartoon adaptation of The Tale of Tsar Saltan; the source material for both opera and cartoon is a Pushkin poem.

As the third intermission drew to a close, a young bourgeois approached Stolypin, drew a Browning pistol, and shot the Prime Minister. Legend has it that Stolypin opened his bloodied waistcoat and addressed the close-enough-to-witness-it sovereign with the words, “I am happy to die for the tsar.” The prime minister would linger on and die a few days later; his murderer did not long outlive him.

Despite Stolypin’s reputation as public enemy no. 1 for revolutionaries, the reason for Dmitry Bogrov to commit this particular murder has long remained murky. (pdf)

Bogrov (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) was a revolutionary, but he was also an informer for the Okhrana, the tsarist secret police whose augmentation had been a key Stolypin priority. Just where Bogrov stood at any given time in the vast foggy marches between compromised true believer and agent provocateur is difficult to pinpoint.

The Kiev opera on the night Bogrov shot Stolypin was thick with military personnel, but nobody at all stood watch on the oft-targeted politician — even though there was specific intelligence of a possible threat, issued in his capacity as an informer by the Janus-faced Bogrov himself. The eventual assassin was admitted to the theater that night on a ticket provided by his police handlers.

Considering Bogrov’s very swift execution, and the fact that the tsar suspiciously shut down the investigation (Russian link), many believe that elements of the state security apparatus were the true authors of Stolypin’s death, whether or not Bogrov himself realized it. Russia’s great landholders, never noted for farsightedness, widely opposed the reductions of their estates demanded by Stolypin’s agricultural reforms and rightly saw him as about the only man with the clout to move policy against their considerable opposition. They weren’t sorry to see him go.

As for Bogrov, his departure was a mere footnote. He asked for a rabbi before his hanging, but when he found out that this presumably confessional meeting would be monitored by the public prosecutor, he withdrew the request. (London Times, September 26, 1911) He reportedly died almost indifferently, his last words a disarmingly casual inquiry to the executioner about how best to position his head within his Stolypin’s necktie.

* September 12 by the local Julian calendar; September 25 by the Gregorian calendar.

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1907: Evstolia Ragozinnikova

Add comment October 31st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1907* an audacious would-be suicide bomber was executed by tsarist Russia.

Thousands of Russians immersed themselves in the late 1900s in revolutionary struggle after the Romanovs bloodily stopped the 1905 revolution. So many of them were executed that the gallows became known as “Stolypin’s Necktie”, after the sitting Prime Minister.

Twenty-one-year-old conservatory pianist and singer Evstolia Ragozinnikova got involved in a plot to assassinate the said Stolypin. (It was only one among several such plots, one of which finally succeeded in 1911.)

But “Tolia” feigned madness and then escaped the psychiatric hospital where she’d been confined. She rejoined her Socialist-Revolutionary conspirators, some of whom tried to get her to flee to Milan to further her musical studies.

Instead of concert houses, Ragozinnikova raised the curtain on her magnum opus on October 28* with a bid to land a Guy Fawkes-like blow against the autocracy.

Communist-turned-anticommunist Whittaker Chambers would, much later, remember in his correspondence with William F. Buckley the power that deeds like Ragozinnikova’s had to inspire, notwithstanding Lenin’s eventually-orthodox disavowal of terrorism. For Chambers, it was not material immiseration but spiritual disinheritance, existential despair — the sort that made artists into suicide bombers — that was the true midwife of Communism.

I may presume in supposing that the name of Ragozinikova is unknown to you. But the facts are these. In 1907, the Russian government instituted a policy of systematically beating its political prisoners. One night, a fashionably dressed young woman called at the Central Prison in Petersburg and asked to speak with the commandant, Maximovsky. This was Ragozinikova, who had come to protest the government’s policy. Inside the bodice of her dress were sewed thirteen pounds of dynamite and a detonator. When Maximovsky appeared, she shot him with her revolver and killed him. The dynamite was for another purpose. After the murder of Maximovsky, Ragozinikova asked the police to interrogate her at the headquarters of the Okhrana. She meant to blow it up together with herself; she had not known any other way to penetrate it. But she was searched and the dynamite discovered. She was sentenced to be hanged.

Awaiting execution., she wrote her family: ‘Death itself is nothing, … Frightful only is the thought of dying without having achieved what I could have done How good it is to love people. How much strength one gains from such love.’

Chambers aside, she’s not so well attested on the English-lanuage Internet; there’s a bit about her in Russian here and here, as well as some references to both Ragozinnikova and her peers in an academic pdf, “Women in the World of Gender Stereotypes: The Case of the Russian Female Terrorists at the Beginning of the 20th Century” by Nadezda Petrusenko in International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, April 2011.

* Gregorian dates. By the local Julian calendar in Russia, she committed her murder on October 15, and was hanged on October 18.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Russia,Terrorists,Women

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