“Now, Rasputin – as you may know – was a rather enigmatic figure about whom there is still a lot of uncertainty. He was never a monk and had no religious training, but he became known as a mystic, a prophet, a spiritual healer and received (according to him) the gift of clairvoyance.” Gertruida is in full cry – it’s been a long night but the group in the little bar just can’t settle down. The cabinet reshuffle has caused a lot of debate, with the consensus that the country is in for a stormy future. As usual, Gertruida wants the last word. “But…he had an eye for a shapely figure, especially if the lady was well-connected or rich.”
“Gee Gertruida, do we really have to listen to a history lesson? Pravin Gordhan just got axed – as did that nice man, Jonas – and we’ve been trying to make sense of it all. And still you insist on telling us about some crazy Russian?” Servaas shakes his head – what is the world coming to?
“Listen, that man, Gigaba? I’m not so sure. He really sent tourism into a tailspin with all the new regulations. If he doesn’t understand the economy of tourism, how can he handle the whole country’s finances?”
“Wrong idea, Vetfaan.” Servaas wags a finger at his bleary-eyed friend. “You have to think big. He has to do much more than just balance the country’s books – he has to handle our president’s affairs.” He waits for a moment to allow the sentence to sink in before adding: “Which includes much more than mere money, I might add.”
“Rasputin never had any formal education and was illiterate until well into his adulthood. Despite this, Rasputin met the Tzar in 1905, bedazzled the ladies of the court and caused the Tzar to fall under his spell. Man, he really got under people’s skin, but the Tzar protected him at all costs.” Gertruida manages to ignore the other two. “But, ironically, it was his interpretation of sin that led to his fall from grace. You see, he believed that repentance was necessary for salvation. But…how can you repent if you have no sin? So his theory was simple: to prove he was not suffering from the sin of vanity, he…er…forced himself to be a fragile human creature and took to sex and booze to create the sins he had to plead forgiveness for.” She smiles at the incredulous looks she gets. “Yep. And you know what? Some of the most powerful people in Russia actually fell for that ruse.”
Vetfaan pokes a finger in the air. “I think I get what you’re getting at.”
“Good. And it was this spiral of increasing drunkenness and sexual exploits that caused his downfall, together with his complete inability to refuse bribes.”
“But they got rid of him in the end, didn’t they?”
“They did, Servaas, but it wasn’t easy. On November 19, 1916, Purishkevich – an important chap in government – made a rousing speech in which he stated: “The … ministers … have been turned into marionettes, marionettes whose threads have been taken firmly in hand by Rasputin.” It was the speech that started the plot to murder Rasputin.”
“Probably the only thing to do under the circumstances and at that time in history in Russia.”
“Yes, Vetfaan. Of course. Things were so much simpler then.These days even presidents have rights. But, to get back to Rasputin: first a lady attacked him and stabbed him in the stomach, causing severe injuries.”
“So he died?”
“No Servaas, he didn’t. A surgeon operated on him – in his home – and he recovered. Then a group of conspirators invited him to supper. They gave him some cake, laced with enough cyanide to kill five men. Rasputin didn’t bat an eye. So they shot him, and he fell down. Still he didn’t die. They shot him again, several times. Still Rasputin lived. So they rolled him in a rug and threw him in a river, where he drowned. At last Russia was free of Rasputin, but not of his legacy. He was the reason Russia doesn’t have a Tzar any more.”
A heavy silence hangs in Boggel’s Place when Gertruida finishes her tale.
“One man, delusional and somewhat charasmatic, with a love for women and money. And he, singlehandedly, caused the collapse of an empire?”
“True, Vetfaan. History is a strange animal, you know. It keeps on repeating itself.”