MOSCOW - Russia's last czar and his murdered family were victims of political repression, the country's Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a decision that will help Russia move toward closing a chapter in its tortured history.
The decision by the court's appeals panel is a victory for Czar Nicholas II's descendants, who have tried for years to get officials to acknowledge the family was executed for political reasons.
Nicholas abdicated in 1917 as revolutionary fervor swept Russia, and he and his family were detained. The czar; his wife, Alexandra; and their son and four daughters were fatally shot by a Bolshevik firing squad July 17, 1918.
Yesterday's decision to "rehabilitate" the czar's family won't change many minds among Russians today: True Russian Orthodox believers share the church's veneration of the family as saints, while die-hard communists see them as criminals, and millions of other Russians place them somewhere in between.
But it is a step in the direction of condemnation of the Bolsheviks who killed the family and, by extension, of the entire Soviet era. Critics say the Kremlin has glossed over the Soviet government's crimes to justify its own retreat from democracy.
The ruling is likely to put the Romanov family in a more positive light for coming generations of Russians, part of a trend in which the Kremlin has evoked Russia's czarist-era majesty to encourage patriotism.
German Lukyanov, a lawyer for the Romanovs, said, "In the end, this will help the country, this will help Russia understand its history, help the world to see that Russia observed its own laws, help Russia in its development to become a civilized country."
The ruling is unlikely to have major legal ramifications because there is no significant move to restore Russia's monarchy or compensate the royal family for its losses.
Some historians had speculated that the government was reluctant to reclassify the czar's killing out of fear that descendants would claim state property, such as the State Hermitage Museum, as compensation. The museum is housed in what used to be the royal Winter Palace.
Prosecutors, lower courts, and even the Supreme Court's main body had repeatedly rejected appeals, saying the Romanov family had not been executed for political reasons. Yesterday, Pavel Odintsov, a spokesman for the court, said the judges accepted the appeals to "rehabilitate" the royal family, declaring them victims of "groundless repression."
The remains of Nicholas and Alexandra and three siblings were unearthed in 1991. Nicholas' heir, Alexei, and his daughter Maria remained missing for decades until bone shards were unearthed in 2007.