ONLY in Russia could the first monarchist congress since the Bolsheviks killed the Czar attract the head of the Communist Party.
But Gennady Zyuganov was merely the least likely of the odd bedfellows who gathered here late last week at a meeting to promote the restoration of the Russian imperial throne.
Fur-hatted Cossacks, their green tunics draped with bandoliers; bearded Russian Orthodox priests hung about with heavy silver crosses; black-shirted youths belonging to the anti-Semitic ``Pamyat'' movement; and the occasional businessman in designer suit and floral tie mingled as speakers called for national salvation.
Whether such renewal requires the presence of a Romanov on the throne was a matter of dispute even among the outright monarchists who attended the two-day gathering at the House of Unions, formerly the Moscow Nobility Assembly Hall.
Many of the participants favor nationwide elections to choose a new Czar, arguing that Romanov blood is immaterial. Others, however, such as the many exiled pretenders to the throne who claim descent from the Romanovs, insist that royal heritage is paramount.
They do not impress Dmitry Vasiliev, the head of Pamyat, however. ``The sovereign has to emerge from Russian soil,'' he said on Thursday. ``That is divine providence. People who have lived away from their motherland for a long time have lost the right to the throne, according to the law of the Russian empire. A new czar will be born here.''
Mr. Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation - whose ideological forebears murdered the royal Romanovs and their attendants in a cellar in 1918 - would not come right out and say that he favored the restoration of the monarchy.
But ``we want people to get together in the spirit of togetherness and to work out a form of government characteristic of Russian traditions,'' he said. ``Today's Communists want peace in this country, for its natural borders to be restored, and for our compatriots to live in peace and friendship.''
The idea of a renewed Russian monarchy appeals to a broad range of nationalist and right-wing opinion, and to a fair number of figures on the political margins. Thus former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who led a parliamentary revolt against President Boris Yeltsin a year ago, was in the crowd, as were two young men wearing the uniform of the White Army, which fought unsuccessfully against the Reds in 1917.
``We want a constitutional monarchy, like in England,'' said Mikhail Vinogradov one of the would-be White Guards. ``The czar was a symbol of Russia that was destroyed by the Bolsheviks, and we want it to be returned.''
Czar Nicholas II may never return, but one of his distant relatives, Queen Elizabeth II, is due to visit Russia next week, in the first trip ever by a reigning British monarch.
She and her husband, Prince Philip, who is a blood relation of the last czar, had been expected to come here only when the Romanov remains were ready for reburial. But the lengthy process of positively identifying their bones - found in a pit outside the Urals city of Yekaterinburg in 1991 - has delayed the reinterment.
British and Russian scientists have concluded that the eight skeletons discovered belonged to Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, three of their five children, three servants, and the family doctor.
But nobody knows the fate of another daughter, Maria, and their only son Alexei.
This has provoked a storm of rumor and extravagant claims over the past 70 years from more than a score of pretenders to the imperial throne, most of whose wealth is in inverse proportion to the grandeur of their supposed titles.
The most widely accepted heir is a 14-year-old named Georgy Mikhailovich, Grand Duke Georgy Hohenzollern, a grandson of Vladimir Romanov, who was related both to Czar Nicholas and to the family that ruled Brandenburg-Prussia from 1415 to 1918. Georgy plans to leave his home of exile in Spain to study at a military academy in St. Petersburg.
Prince Dmitry Romanov, a great-grandson of Czar Nicholas I, is also in the running. But the most vocal candidate, armed with his personal communications director and a busy fax machine, is His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Alexis d'Anjou de Bourbon-Conde Romanov-Dolgoruky.
The prince from Madrid claims to be the great-grandson of Czarina Maria - whose remains have never been found - and is planning to have his DNA tested against Prince Philip's and thus prove his ancestry, according to Frank Peters, his Irish public relations chief.
``Georgy hasn't got a hope in hell,'' Mr. Peters boasted earlier last week.