30 May 2013

This era of globalization is also an era of monarchs as symbols”: An Interview with the Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House, A. N. Zakatov on the website “Russia for Everyone

The Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House, Alexander Nikolaevich Zakatov, discusses monarchy in the modern world, the descendants of the House of Romanoff, and the role of monarchy in history. Zakatov, a trained historian, tells correspondents of the website “Russia for Everyone” how the murder of Nicholas II affected the surviving members of the Romanoff family, and why a pision developed inside the House of Romanoff.

Александр Закатов

- Alexander Nikolaevich, how did you come to meet the members of the Romanoff family?

- At first, our acquaintance was, naturally enough, through correspondence. My grandmother, the daughter of a priest, and my father, told me stories from earliest childhood about the martyred family of Emperor Nicholas II. I treasure like a family heirloom a small soldier’s calendar booklet we have which was distributed during the First World War at the front as a gift from Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. It was in this small booklet that I first laid eyes on photos of the Emperor, the Empress, the Tsesarevich Aleksei, and the Grand Duchesses. When my father then told me that they were all executed together, it made a lasting impression upon me.

A little later, when I was a teenager, I learned that not all the Imperial dynasty had been murdered in the cellar of the Ipatiev House, that there were still heirs. This information was contained in a few scornful references in Soviet publication about the life of the Imperial family in exile. These publications sought to mock and humiliate the Romanoffs, but Soviet readers were already quite good at reading between the lines, and often the authors of propagandistic materials like this produced the opposite effect than they had originally intended.

The first place I saw information of any kind about the lives of Imperial family in exile was in a detective novel by M. Baryshev entitled Operation “Riviera,” about the activities of the Cheka in the Russian community abroad, which was published in a collection called “Duel” [Poedinok] in 1978. I read it when I was about 8 years old. The story painted a rather detailed picture of the heir to Nicholas II—Emperor-in-Exile Kirill Vladimirovich. That picture was, of course, a caricature and quite far from reality, but for me what was most important and enormously interesting was the very idea there was an heir to Russia’s Imperial rulers. Baryshev’s book quoted almost in its entirety the Manifesto in which Kirill Vladimirovich assumed the Imperial title. The text even mentioned the name of his son, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich. And so I came to understand that there were still two more generations of the Romanoff dynasty.

Later I found additional information, catch-as-catch-can, in footnotes or in satirical stories and publications. From 1986 on, during Perestroika, I and a number of friends who shared my interests began to search through publications in the Russian emigration which had in one way or another made it through the borders to us in Russia. In 1989, the sensational article about Geli Ryabov’s discovery of the “Ekaterinburg remains” appeared. Quickly afterward, the first independent civic commission was formed to investigate these remains. It was led by Hierodeacon Dionisii (Makarov). Then I learned from the BBC that on July 17, 1989, in my beloved Donskoi Monastery in Moscow, a moleben was to be served for the royal martyrs, who had already been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1981. I went to the service and got to know members of Fr. Dionisii’s group. I received Xeroxed copies of materials published by the Chancellery of the Imperial House in exile, and I began to read literature produced in the Russian émigré community, as well as materials produced in Russia by those who sought to discredit Russia’s rulers. I compared it all carefully, setting each’s claims and accounts side by side; and from that time on I became a committed legitimist. I even then understood that if Russia were someday to decide to return to monarchy, there could be no other alternative than to bring back the legal, hereditary Head of the House of Romanoff. And if I were to be Orthodox and a true supporter of monarchy, then I was obliged to offer my oath of loyalty to that cause and to serve it in any way I could.

In November 1991, I had the good fortune to meet the Head of the dynasty, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich. He had returned to Russia for the first time since the 1917 Revolution, along with wife Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna. They flew into Leningrad for the ceremony of the renaming of the city St. Petersburg. I went to the airport for their arrival. I attended the Patriarchal service in St. Isaac’s Cathedral, tagged along as they visited Tsarskoe Selo, and attended the pine Liturgy with them at Valaam Chapter House. I was not formally introduced to the Grand Duke at that time, but I was able to stand very close to him. I could see the look in his eyes and hear how his voice quivered with emotion at all that was happening.

Unfortunately, the Grand Duke died before his next planned visit to Russia, scheduled for May 1992. He died unexpectedly on April 21. I attended his funeral, which was served by Patriarch Aleksei II in St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and I attended the burial service in the Imperial Mausoleum in the Ss. Peter and Paul Fortress. The remaining members of the Imperial family then traveled to Moscow, and it was there, on June 1, 1992, again at the Donskoi Monastery, that I was officially introduced to the new Head of the dynasty, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia.

After that, I occasionally did a few things for the Grand Duchess and her mother: writing brief historical overviews, writing draft correspondence, and so on. In 1995, I graduated from the Historical-Archival Institute and entered graduate school; and as a topic for my dissertation I chose to write about the history of the archives of the Russian Imperial House after the Revolution. In 1997, the Grand Duchess allowed me to work in her personal archive in exile, which was then located in the villa “Ker Argonid” in St.-Briac. I presented my completed dissertation to the Grand Duchess, and she saw fit to offer me the position of her official secretary, coordinating the activities of the Chancellery and to continue my description of the archive. I considered this an enormous honor and I then withdrew from all the social and political organizations to which I belonged at the time and began to serve the Russian Imperial House exclusively.

- What happened to the members of the Imperial Family in exile during the time of the USSR?

The surviving members of the House of Romanoff were scattered across the world. After the executions of the entire male line descending from Emperor Alexander III—Emperor Nicholas II, his son Tsesarevich Aleksei, and his brother Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich—the succession to the throne transferred by the normal operation of the law of succession to the family of the next son of Alexander II, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich. The Grand Duke had died before the outbreak of the Revolution, and so the Head of the Imperial House after the death of Nicholas II became Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich’s eldest son, Grand Duke Kirill. During the February Revolution, he and his uncle, Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich, had tried to save the monarchy and preserve the throne of his first cousin. But Nicholas II abdicated and the forces of Revolution won the day. Kirill Vladimirovich resigned from his posts and in June he and his pregnant wife Victoria Feodorovna and their daughters Maria and Kira went to Finland, where their friend and supporter General Johan Emil von Etter, was living at the time. Finland was then still part of the Russian Empire. They hoped to live there in peace after the birth of their child, and then later return to St. Petersburg. But fate had other plans. On August 17/30, 1917, Kirill’s son, Wladimir, was born. Two weeks later, on September 1/14, Alexander Kerensky declared Russia a republic, preempting any decision that might be made on this question by the Constituent Assembly. On October 25/November 7, the Provisional Government was overthrown by still more radical revolutionaries: the Bolsheviks. Finland then declared its independence, which the Bolsheviks recognized. And so it happened that Kirill Vladimirovich’s family were the only surviving members of the Romanoff house who did not flee Russia, but ended up outside its borders by the circumstances of the breakup of the Russian empire following the Revolution. In a way, their experiences mirror those of our countrymen who suddenly found themselves citizens of foreign countries after the fall and dissolution of the USSR, having never actually moved from their homes.   

In 1922, still unsure about the fates of those ahead of him in the line of succession to the throne, Kirill Vladimirovich, who had by then moved to France, adopted the title of Curator of the Russian Throne, because he was the most senior member of the Imperial House whose whereabouts was known. By 1924, there were no longer any reasonable doubts that Nicholas II, his son, and his brother had been shot and killed, and so Kirill Vladimirovich adopted the title of

Emperor-in-Exile, which belonged to him according to the law of succession. This title was recognized by all members of the House of Romanoff except for three: Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, his brother Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich, and Peter’s son, Prince Roman Petrovich. This group believed that the laws of the Imperial House should no longer be observed after the Revolution. As for the Dowager Empress, Maria Feodorovna, she could never reconcile herself to the notion that her sons and grandson had been murdered and continued to hold out hope for their miraculous escape from death. She therefore considered the actions of Kirill Vladimirovich to be premature, though she never questioned his dynastic rights to the succession.

Kirill Vladimirovich lived for a time in Coburg, but in 1928 he settled in the French seaside village of St.-Briac in Brittany, where he and his wife, Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, bought a small estate they called “Ker Argonid” with money they inherited from his mother, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, and his mother-in-law, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, the widow of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Emperor de jure was active in unifying the Russian emigration on traditional foundations and in this way became a patron of a new social and political trend. He understood that the dream of returning to Russia on a white horse and restoring things to the way they were in pre-Revolutionary times was a harmful and hopeless illusion. He understood that it was necessary to take into account the changes that had taken place in Russia after the Revolution, and liberate both the state and society from Marxism and militant atheism, and to direct the policies that had arisen in Soviet Russia into a more genuine national mainstream movement. He therefore supported the Mladorossi Party, which sought a synthesis of legitimate monarchy with Soviet reality. One of their main ideas was: “Don’t destroy any institutions that life itself has brought into existence, but reject those that destroy the human spirit.” And so he proposed that, were the monarchy to be restored, the Soviets as bodies of popular self-government should be retained. The motto “Tsar and the Soviets” shocked a segment of the émigré community, but it reflected a deep understanding of the historical processes playing out at the time.

Emperor Kirill Vladimirovich died in 1938. His son, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, continued his father’s policies upon becoming Head of the Imperial House. After the Second World War, he lived in France and Spain, spending part of the year in one country and the other part in the other. In 1948, he contracted an equal marriage with the daughter of the Head of the Georgian Royal House, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, and in doing so he assured the continuation of the line of succession in his own family. Wladimir Kirillovich preserved the monarchical idea and tradition at the darkest time for such ideas, and he lived to see members of the dynasty be able to visit their homeland again. Unfortunately, he passed away far too soon, but his daughter, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, has taken up the baton with great dignity and continues to serve in her capacity as Head of the Imperial House for now more than 20 years. Over these years, the Imperial House has become an integral part of the modern social and cultural life of Russia and of its civil society.

Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich’s sisters married the Heads of two European Royal Houses. Maria Kirillovna married the Prince Karl of Leiningen, and Kira Kirillovna married the Head of the German Imperial and Prussian Royal House, Prince Louis Ferdinand. They both have descendants who, in accordance with the laws of Emperor Paul I, have hypothetical rights of

succession to the Russian throne through the female line. Of course, the succession can pass to them only if the senior line of the House of Romanoff, which issues from Wladimir Kirillovich, should become extinct.

The remaining members of the House of Romanoff in emigration all entered into unequal (morganatic) marriages. Several of them sought the permission of the Head of the dynasty in doing so, as the law requires, and so received aristocratic titles for their wives and issue. Others did not seek permission and so their issue is simply “Messrs. Romanoff.” Some of these lines of descendants—both titled and non-titled—have already become extinct. Some of these lines ended because the last males in them either had no issue at all or had only daughters. In any case, these descendants of the Romanoffs, highly respected though they may be, were not legally members of the Russian Imperial House. They were merely blood relatives of it.

- Who among the Romanoffs and their relatives most often comes to Russia to visit?

Grand Duchess Maria of Russia and Tsesarevich George of Russia regularly visit Russia. They have traveled across many of the country’s regions and they know their country from end to end: from Smolensk to Vlapostok. They have also traveled to many presently independent states which were once part of the Russian Empire and USSR: Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Armenia, and Transniestria. Each year, the Grand Duchess and the Grand Duke make no less than five trips, either together or separately. This year, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia visited the Kostroma, Ivanovo, Vladimir, Omsk, and Ekaterinburg districts, besides, of course, Moscow and the Moscow district. Coming up, she will visit St. Petersburg, Novgorod, and then Ukraine, Germany, Monaco and, in November, Nizhnii Novgorod and other cities and towns along the Volga, as well as Tatarstan. In December, she plans to visit the Russian communities abroad in London, where she will attend a charity event in honor of the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanoff. She has also been invited by the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Metropolitan Hilarion, to come to New York.

As for the morganatic descendants of the Russian Imperial House, Prince George Alexandrovich Yurievsky (a descendant of Alexander II and his second, morganatic wife, Princess Catherine Dolgorukova), Prince M. P. Romanovsky-Ilinsky (the grandson of Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich, who had received permission from Emperor Kirill to contract a morganatic marriage with Miss Audrey Emery from the United States), and D. R. Romanoff (the son of Prince Roman Petrovich from his morganatic marriage) have all made visits to Russia. Paul Kulikovsky (the grandson of the younger son of Olga Alexandrovna, Gurii Kulikovsky), who is a great-grandson of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna by her second, morganatic marriage with Colonel N. A. Kulikovsky, lives and works in Moscow. Important cultural contributions are being made by the third wife of the eldest son of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Tikhon Kulikovsky: O. N. Kulikovskaia. After her husband’s death, she inherited a large collection of family artifacts, pictures, and drawings from the estate of Olga Alexandrovna. Some of this material O. N. Kulikovskaia has transferred to Russia, and she has organized a number of fabulous exhibits of the artwork of the mother of her deceased husband.

- You wrote a doctoral dissertation on the composition and fate of the Romanoff archives. On the basis of that work, what seems to you to be most important for your countrymen to understand? What about the history of Russia in the 20-th century might we be missing?

History is so multifaceted a thing that one can never really ever say that research into a certain topic has been fully exhausted. Even in well-worn subjects, there are still discoveries to be made, new insights to be offered, and original conceptions to be put forward.

The highest priority of the historian’s craft is objectivity and honesty, the reliance on the entire corpus of available historical sources, and the principle of historicism: recognition of the need to examine any and all events, happenings, and personalities in their own historical context, and not to judge and evaluate them according to the values of our own times or of some other period. The historian has the right to analyze, to draw conclusions, and to evaluate in relation to his or her own political views and other convictions, but not to ignore or distort the objective facts and evidence. Otherwise, we are not really doing history; we are engaging in polemics or commerce in pseudo-scholarly guise.

Concerning those questions that most interest me, I think it very important to restore the truth about the role of the Russian Imperial House in the pre-Revolutionary period, and the role of its spiritual, legal, social, and cultural foundations and activities in the historical development of Russia. There was a time once when such questions were strictly taboo. Now, thank God, we enjoy complete freedom; but many historians (some who remain beholden to old stereotypes, and others who are deliberately falsifying reality) continue to spread inaccurate information or ignore the facts of the history of the House of Romanoff. For example, not long ago I came across a rather thick monograph on the history of the Russian diaspora, the author of which devoted a great many pages to the history of the Mladorossi Party yet managed to write not one single word about the fact that the members of this party were all legitimists and were staunch supporters of Emperor Kirill. Legitimism lay at the very foundations of the Mladorossi ideology, and so we have in this book an example of a clear distortion of history, which is the result either of the author’s incompetence or extreme political bias. Book after book mindlessly repeats the slanderous claims made against Emperor Kirill—that he pinned a red ribbon to his uniform during the February Revolution, even though these claims appear only in the most dubious of sources and even though eyewitnesses to these events all deny that it ever happened. One also encounters falsehoods and slander about the position of Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich during the Second World War. I could cite other similar examples, as well.

These biased and unprofessional claims can only be corrected by the publication of sources on the history of the Imperial House, observing all the academic conventions of source editing and producing commentaries and analyses of these sources in their entirety, not picking out from them only the parts that prove a preconceived point you want to make, but examining all the available evidence objectively and systematically.

- When political scientists, historians, and journalists discuss democracy, they often say that the definition of it necessarily changes over time and that what was understood by the term “democracy” 30 years ago is not at all what was meant by the term two thousand years ago. As a result, the term “democracy” in our day requires a measure of

reconceptualization. Couldn’t you say the same thing about monarchy? Hasn’t the definition of “monarchy” similarly evolved over time?

The meaning of a phenomenon does not change. What changes is its form and appearance, but its essence and foundations always remained unchanged. The thing you are asking about is not about meaning, but precisely about how people think about the phenomenon and how that thinking can be manipulated. In that regard, of course, politicians, political scientists, historians, and journalists have been quite successful. Society lies captive to the false representations that have been imposed upon it. We could talk for hours about the degree to which almost all the terms of the political lexicon have been distorted. In order to return to the original sense of these terms one must begin with etymology, then follow up by studying the phenomena in historical perspective. If we do that, we will find that monarchy is not some old man or old woman with a crown on their head sitting on the throne and capriciously ordering about all the people to do this or that on their personal whim, but a system of spiritual and cultural values, a way of life, and a set of institutions and public bodies, in which there is a place for monarchy (rule of one person), aristocracy (a role for the elite), and democracy (popular sovereignty).

Dyed-in-the wool “democrats” love to quote Winston Churchill, who said that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” However, they forget to note that these words belong to the Prime Minister of Her Britannic Majesty, who was a convinced monarchist and conservative. Democracy is in no way at odds with monarchy. None of the political systems described by Aristotle (monarchy, aristocracy, and polity, which is nowadays called democracy) exist in an unadulterated form. Genuine democracy, as opposed to demagogic democracy, is possible only in a state in which the people feel themselves to be part of a single family. This feeling cannot be created by an inpidualistic liberal democratic model nor by collectivist totalitarian regimes. Such liberal systems produce nothing more than an atomized and artificially leveled society, and totalitarianism only produces a state machine that is lubricated not by grease but by human blood. And we bounce between these two concocted extremes, all the while ignoring the measured and balanced principles that underlie hereditary monarchy—principles that have proven their worth over many centuries of history.

Monarchy is a living organism. As such it is hardly immune from diseases—sometimes quite serious and dangerous diseases—but it nonetheless lives and grows organically, naturally; and therefore in it are dialectically joined in the best way possible the most vitally important aspirations of the people—aspirations for freedom and stability, for prosperity and tranquility, for the highest moral values (for which one is willing to sacrifice much, even one’s own life), and, finally, for tradition and renewal.

Monarchists stand for honesty. They believe that the source of all authority is God—the Creator of all that exists. The supreme authority always takes the form of a person, and it is always embodied in a single person and can never belong to everyone. But when things are done correctly, each component and each group in the State structure enjoys real, inviolable, and substantive power in its own area of responsibility, and hereditary monarchy functions as the stable core of the entire governmental system, which serves to limit the power of all these components and groups and, in turn, is itself limited by them.

Of course, one could point to many instances when mistakes were made, or when there were abuses of power, or when the monarch was not equal to the task before him. But what form of government does not have these shortcomings? Does the fact there are can be bad mothers and fathers somehow invalidate the concept of the family or of the bond of love that links parents and their children? To deal with common human vices or the failings of any earthly government or socio-economic system by liquidating traditional institutions, such as the family, the Church, or the monarchy, would be like treating a headache by cutting off one’s head.

- What is monarchy is this era of globalization?

There was a time of general-kings, philosopher-kings, diplomat-kings, and royal reformers. By the way, if we review human history carefully we will quickly discover that most successful reforms were carried out by monarchs, not republican leaders.

This era of globalization is also an era of monarchs as symbols. Whether a monarch today rules in his or her own name or is entirely a figurehead, all heads of historical dynasties are without exception symbols and preservers of historical continuity, living connections with the past, and guarantors of an unbroken evolution of the nation’s history and civilization. Compared to the roles they played in previous periods, monarchs today play a much less prominent role. Studying the history of the former rulers and comparing their power in past epochs with what they have today, we might be tempted to conclude that monarchs today play no useful part in their nation’s political life, but this would be a superficial and ultimately mistaken conclusion. As a professional historian myself, I have no doubt whatsoever that one day perhaps not long from now, future generations of historians will study this era of globalization as a thing of the past and be genuinely surprised by many of its absurdities and its harshness. It is not impossible to imagine that some of these historians will in the future dedicate their scholarly lives to the study of the reigns of monarchs who have been returned to their ancestral thrones. Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but it seems to me that sooner or later the majority of the world’s nations will reject the grayness, the mediocrity, and the banality of globalization and will begin to search for, and will find, unity not in the diminution of identity, but in celebrating the variety of forms that tradition takes, and in learning to respect the ways of others without having to renounce the ways of one’s own fathers and mothers.

For the original text of this interview: see:


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