Russian Orthodox nationalists hope for tsar's return

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Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers
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Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers
Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich, the head of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, returns home after meeting other members of the union in Moscow, Russia, December 24, 2017. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. "We are striving for the restoration of an autocratic monarchy. Like the one we had under our tsars," Simonovich-Nikshich said. "It is only possible through the church. In no way is this possible in a political secular way because that would be a dictator." REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich, the head of Orthodox Banner Bearers, works on an article in his office at his home in Moscow, Russia, July 19, 2018. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. "We are striving for the restoration of an autocratic monarchy. Like the one we had under our tsars," Simonovich-Nikshich said. "It is only possible through the church. In no way is this possible in a political secular way because that would be a dictator." REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Members of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers prepare for an award ceremony at their headquarter in Moscow, Russia, July 12, 2018. Military Orthodox Mission, a group that espouses socially conservative Orthodox values, awarded some union members for their work to commemorate Tsar Nicholas II. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. REUTERS/ Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Icons of Tsar Nicholas II are seen at the art studio of Igor Miroshnichenko, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, during a meeting of the members in Moscow, Russia, July 12, 2018. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Members of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers prepare for an informal award ceremony at their headquarter in Moscow, Russia, December 24, 2017. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Igor Miroshnichenko, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, works at his art studio in Moscow, Russia, July 14, 2018. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. REUTERS/ Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
The art studio of a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, Igor Miroshnichenko, where he teaches art and where the union members gather, is seen in Moscow, Russia, July 12, 2018. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Igor Miroshnichenko, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, stands inside his studio in Moscow, Russia, July 12, 2018. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
A cat walks in the living room of a house belonging to the head of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich in Moscow, Russia, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Pawel, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, sits in his bedroom where he keeps a collection of icons from the monasteries he has visited, in Solnechnogorsk, Russia, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Pawel, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, is seen at his house in Solnechnogorsk, Russia, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Denis, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, visits the church inside TV and Radio Broadcasting Centre Ostankino where he works, during a break, in Moscow, Russia, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/ Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Denis, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, sits in his office at TV and Radio Broadcasting Centre Ostankino in Moscow, Russia, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/ Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Pawel, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, holds bottles of holy oil and holy water that he has collected from different churches he has visited, in Solnechnogorsk, Russia, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Local churchgoers attend a procession organised by the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers to commemorate 100 years since the killing of Tsar Nicholas II, in Spaso-Andronikov Monastery in Moscow, Russia, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Members of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers take metro after a procession in Spaso-Andronikov Monastery to commemorate 100 years since the killing of Tsar Nicholas II, in Moscow, Russia, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Nikolai, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, marches at a procession to commemorate 100 years since the killing of Tsar Nicholas II, in Spaso-Andronikov Monastery, in Moscow, Russia, July 17, 2018. The writing on the t-shirt reads: "Glory to Russia". REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Alexey Manuchin, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, is seen after an interview in Moscow, Russia, November 15, 2017. REUTERS/ Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Pawel, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, walks towards the Senezh lake, in his hometown of Solnechnogorsk, Russia, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
A flag belonging to the members of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers is seen at Spaso-Andronikov Monastery during the preparation for a procession to commemorate 100 years since the killing of Tsar Nicholas II, in Moscow, Russia, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya
Denis, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, marches with a banner to commemorate 100 years since the killing of Tsar Nicholas II, in Spaso-Andronikov Monastery in Moscow, Russia, July 17, 2018. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Local churchgoers attend a procession organised by the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers to commemorate 100 years since the killing of Tsar Nicholas II, in Spaso-Andronikov Monastery in Moscow, Russia, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Valeriy, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, collects banners at a church before a procession to commemorate 100 years since the killing of Tsar Nicholas II, organised by the union in Moscow, Russia, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Valeriy, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, prepares a banner for a morning procession to commemorate 100 years since the killing of Tsar Nicholas II, in Spaso-Andronikov Monastery, in Moscow, Russia, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich (R), head of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers and Igor Miroshnichenko, his deputy, prepare for award ceremony at their headquarter in Moscow, Russia, July 12, 2018. Military Orthodox Mission, a group that espouses socially conservative Orthodox values, awarded some union members for their work to commemorate Tsar Nicholas II. "We are striving for the restoration of an autocratic monarchy. Like the one we had under our tsars," Simonovich-Nikshich said. "It is only possible through the church. In no way is this possible in a political secular way because that would be a dictator." REUTERS/ Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
A woman with an image of Virgin Mary on her back attends a march of the Unity of Nation in Oktyabrskoye Polye in Moscow, Russia, November 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich, the head of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, poses for a photograph at his home in Moscow, Russia, July 19, 2018. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. "We are striving for the restoration of an autocratic monarchy. Like the one we had under our tsars," Simonovich-Nikshich said. "It is only possible through the church. In no way is this possible in a political secular way because that would be a dictator." REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Woman marches with a banner to support the Tsar family on the Unity of Nation day in Oktyabrskoye Polye in Moscow, Russia, November 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Members of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers attend a march of the Unity of Nation in Oktyabrskoye Polye, Moscow, Russia, November 4, 2017. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
Igor Miroshnichenko, a member of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, holds his cross at his studio in Moscow, Russia, July 12, 2018. The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that is convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. REUTERS/ Ekaterina Anchevskaya 
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MOSCOW, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Their slogan is Orthodoxy or Death. They are convinced Russia should be ruled by an autocratic monarch. They believe the coming of a new tsar may be imminent.

The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that stages processions, rallies and even burns books to promote their views.

Clad in all-black and marching with their Orthodox banners, the group pairs a biker club's esthetic with the gold of religious icons.

"We are striving for the restoration of an autocratic monarchy. Like the one we had under our tsars," Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich, the group's white-bearded leader, said.

"It is only possible through the church. In no way is this possible in a political secular way because that would be a dictator," he said.

Its leaders say they are unsure how a shift to a monarchy might come about, with some members seeing the change emerging from a bloody social convulsion and others simply praying for it to happen.

Ultra nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky has referred to Putin as a modern-day tsar, but the Orthodox group's political allegiances are unclear and it is not suggesting that the Russian president head an autocratic monarchy.

The group held a religious procession at a monastery in Moscow last month to mark one of the most important recent dates in their calendar: the 100-year anniversary of the murder by the Bolsheviks of Russia's last monarch, Tsar Nicholas II.

The tsar, his wife and five children were shot on the night of July 16-17, 1918, in the basement of a merchant's house in the city of Yekaterinburg, 1,450 km (900 miles) east of Moscow.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the state atheism it espoused, the church canonized the tsar and his family, and his popularity as a historical figure has grown amid a Russian Orthodox Church resurgence under President Vladimir Putin.

Russian religious conservatives last year waged a campaign to block the release of Matilda, a Russian movie the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers described as blasphemous for its depiction of a romance between the tsar and a young ballerina.

The group did not attend the main memorial event in Yekaterinburg to mark the centenary of his murder however.

It was told it would not be allowed to raise its standards - some of which feature skulls and radical slogans like Orthodoxy or Death - at the event, Igor Miroshnichenko, a member of the group, said.

Instead, the group gathered at the Andronikov Monastery of the Saviour in Moscow on July 17 where they marched with tall crosses and standards depicting Russia's last tsar.

(Reporting by Ekaterina Anchevskaya Writing by Tom Balmforth Editing by Andrew Osborn and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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