01 June 2010

1 June 2010: Transcript of the interview of the Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House, A. N. Zakatov, with a correspondent of the radio station “Echo of Petersburg”, L. Gol’dshtein, on the burial of the Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievn

1 June 2010: Transcript of the interview of the Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House, A. N. Zakatov, with a correspondent of the radio station “Echo of Petersburg”, L. Gol’dshtein, on the burial of the Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna

1 June 2010, 2:35pm

This is Lev Gol’dshtein. We have as our guest today Alexander Zakatov, the director of the Chancellery of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, a Ph.D. in History, and a professor. Good Afternoon, Alexander Nikolaevich.

A.N. Zakatov: Hello.

“Echo of Petersburg”: We are speaking today about a sad topic: the funeral of Princess Leonida Georgievna, her burial in the coming days. And so my first question: how will the funeral and burial services be organized?

A.N. Zakatov: According to the wishes of the deceased grand duchess and in accordance with the Federal law “On Burial and Funerary Matters,” she will be laid next to her husband in the burial crypt in that part of the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg where grand dukes and grand duchesses of the House of Romanoff have been buried since the time of Peter the Great.

Tomorrow the coffin will be transferred from Madrid to St. Petersburg. The coffin will be accompanied by the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, and by the deceased’s grandson, H.I.H. Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich. The coffin will be taken to the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral and will remain there for the funeral services. At 3:00, the first panikhida will be served in the presence of the members of the Imperial House.

On the next day, at 10:00 in the morning, a Divine Liturgy for the Dead will be served, then immediately will follow the funeral and burial of Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna in the tomb next to her husband.

We are very grateful to the government, to the municipal authorities of St. Petersburg, and, of course, to Metropolitan Vladimir for their expressions of sympathy, for their assistance with these funeral arrangements, and for their general moral support. This is not a state funeral, but rather a family funeral of a member of the House of Romanoff. In our country now, according to the law, it must be so, but nevertheless, the outpouring of sympathy from so many has been an enormous source of comfort for the Head of the House of Romanoff and for her son.

“Echo of Petersburg”: This ceremony, this ritual—will it resemble the rituals that took place in the past?

A.N. Zakatov: Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna herself (after all, she was 95 years old and, of course, it should come as no surprise that she should have made arrangements for her own burial), wanted her funeral to be simple. And in accordance with her wishes, we have arranged it so that all who want to pay their respects can do so without any undo encumbrances. And we hope that things will happen exactly that way. But most importantly, it is vital that the funeral follow the rubrics of the Russian Orthodox Church and the traditions of the Russian Imperial House—not in the sense that this be a gaudy or ostentatious event, but in the spiritual sense. And that is what will be done. She will be buried in the family crypt, alongside her august husband, with no special or grand ceremonies, because that’s how she wanted it to be. And that’s a change we’ve seen elsewhere. Even the royal houses of Europe, even those that are on their thrones today, have significantly simplified their ceremonies. All the more so should a dynasty which does not enjoy any political functions, but simply is a leader in social and civil activities, and is a historical institution. So to perform this funeral ostentatiously would simply be inappropriate and, moreover, against the expressed wishes of Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna herself.

“Echo of Petersburg”: So, when can ordinary people—at what hour, on what day—when can they pay their respects?

A.N. Zakatov: Those who wish to come and pay their respects can do so on 2 June from 3:00pm until 6:00pm. Because the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral is still not actually a working church, there are restricted hours of access, but we have arranged for the longest possible hours for it to be open for mourners. At 6:30pm, the cathedral will be closed to visitors, but at the tomb, clergy, with the blessing of Metropolitan Vladimir, will read the Psalter. On the next day, at the service for the dead, any who want to attend the service and pay their respects to the grand duchess may do so. It may happen that there will be some restricted access to the site of the tomb because of the limited space available, but this will not be our decision to make. But in any case, we will—all of us—at that moment be united; and for the Imperial Family, the prayers of all persons, regardless of their religious convictions or the various differences between and among them, have been very comforting. We are all countrymen, all citizens, and the prayers and sympathy of so many people have been, of course, very dear to the Imperial Family.

The divine services will begin at 10:00am. Of course, those who want to attend should arrive a bit earlier than that. The Imperial Family itself will arrive early, about a half an hour or twenty minutes before, and the coffin will already have been moved to the tomb. Entry to the cathedral at that time will be open.

The liturgy will take about two hours at least, then the funeral service will begin and take about an hour (generally speaking), and then the burial. That is, the entire service should take about four hours.

“Echo of Petersburg”: Who is expected to attend the funeral?

A.N. Zakatov: The funeral will be served by Metropolitan Vladimir of St. Petersburg and Ladoga. Representatives of the city government of St. Petersburg will also of course be there, as will some figures from other parts of Russia and from states that once belonged to the single cultural space of the former Russian Empire. A delegation from the Transnistria Moldovan Republic, headed by the vice-president Aleksandr Korolev, has confirmed its intention to attend the funeral. It is possible also that some relatives of the dynasty may attend. Several have expressed their condolences already to the grand duchess, but cannot attend for a variety of reasons, and that’s understandable. The grand duchess [Maria Wladimirovna] knows that prayers are heard no matter where they are uttered. There will also be in attendance representatives of the public, the clergy, and of various regions of Russia that have been visited by the grand duchess.

The first expressions of sympathy to Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna came from His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, and from a number of hierarchs, including the chair of the Department of External Church Affairs, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. Also, Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has sent his condolences.

A number of government officials have also expressed their condolences: the chairman of the All-Russian Central Elections Commission, Vladimir Churov; the vice-chair of the State Duma, Liubov Sliska; the governor of the Tula District, Viacheslav Dudka; and a number of other regional leaders who either met or corresponded with the grand duchess. As well as civic and cultural figures. Zurab Tsereteli, for example.

And the condolences continue to come in. In Madrid, King Juan Carlos expressed his sympathy, as have Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria, and Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, who is now living in Belgrade. The condolences stream in. One doesn’t really ever invite people to a funeral, nor ever get offended, if one cannot attend.

“Echo of Petersburg”: We have learned that, according to the official spokesman of the Romanoff Family Association, Ivan Artsishevskii, that neither Prince Nikolai Romanovich nor his brother Prince Dmitrii Romanovich will attend the funeral. (We remind our listeners that the Romanoff Family Association does not recognize the Imperial House.) Pavel Kulikovskii, a great-grandson of the daughter of Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna, will be the only one from the organization attending. Moreover, Ivan Artsishevskii added that the Association does not plan to express official condolences to the House of Romanoff.

A.N. Zakatov: It is very sad that some people are in such a spiritual state that, at the time of a funeral, they should issue political statements, or begin arguing about titles, or refuse even to express their condolences, even while other persons with a wide range of views and convictions have taken the time, out of their respect for the Imperial House as an historical institution, to express their sincere condolences to the members of the Imperial House. This includes condolences received even from Left-wing politicians. The grand duchess, besides being the legitimate empress, was also a genuine and good person, and so the sorrow felt by many of her countrymen is wholly understandable. Even if they did not always or fully agree with all her views or beliefs.

Speaking honestly, it is not quite well understood to us what this Romanoff Family Association actually is. We do not know where this organization is registered, or on what legal basis it exists. The Imperial House is based on the historical family law. Membership in the Imperial House, and the position of Head of the House, is determined entirely by the law of Emperor Paul I. According to that law, the persons you just mentioned are actually not legally members of the Imperial House, but inasmuch as they are descendants of our illustrious emperors, we show them enormous respect. The grand duchess always believed that, even if they should say something unpleasant, nothing untoward or even remotely negative should be said in response. People, of course, can make mistakes. We pray for them, so that their spiteful attitude will change, because we all will one day stand before God and, surely, will be required to give an accounting for our actions. As far as the Romanoff Family Association is concerned, we absolutely do not need condolences from any Association whose origins are as cloudy as this one. As for the condolences from individuals, a number of relatives, including Paul Kulikovskii, who right now is on a business trip abroad (Mr. Artsishevskii appears to be unaware of this) and therefore cannot attend the funeral, expressed his most sincere condolences; and his wife personally called and expressed her sorrow and sympathy. But the issue here is not who will come to the funeral and who won’t, but rather the spiritual and moral side of matter. It is very sad, indeed, that Nikolai Romanovich and Dmitrii Romanovich chose this moment to make a political statement. May God grant them good health and many years, and may He also help them come to see how very much in error they are.

“Echo of Petersburg”: You mentioned a certainly animosity, but I simply want to say that, as for me, I have several times had them as guests in my studio for informational programs, and I did not note any sort of animosity from them. There was a certain critical view and disagreement, but no animosity. But then, that’s how I saw it.

A.N. Zakatov: Well, you say you did not notice it, and we unfortunately did, but I repeat that this is not the time for this kind of discussion. The question of the membership in the Imperial House is a separate historical topic, and one that requires its own radio program. We are prepared, and would be delighted, to have an open and honest discussion with anyone—with, for example, Ivan Sergeevich Artsishevskii—but it would have to be honest, not an opportunity to spread false information, which is something that has happened in the past. Sometimes it happens that people do not directly express their animosity, but do so indirectly, but believe me: this can be worse. We know that one man gave a kiss to another Man in the Garden of Gethsemane. And this was a “friendly” act…. Let’s be honest with each other, and if we have a disagreement, we can discuss it. But not during a funeral.

“Echo of Petersburg”: Agreed. Can you say a few words about the biography of Leonida Georgievna?

A.N. Zakatov: Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna belonged by birth to the Georgian Royal House. She was born during the Russian Empire, and was the last member of the House of Romanoff to be born before the Revolution. She was born in Tiflis, and her father was Prince Georgii Aleksandrovich Bagration of Mukhrani. Her grandfather, Prince Alexander Iraklievich, was shot by the Bolsheviks in Piatigorsk, and the family left for a short time the war-torn Russian Empire. Then, beset with homesickness, they returned to Tiflis and lived in the Soviet Union until 1931. Therefore, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna was an adult (she was 17 years old) when she left, and so knows full-well the sufferings that her countrymen of all classes and convictions—including even the makers of the revolution—had to endure at that time. We all know that many of the victors eventually became victims of the Revolution. The Bagration family escaped thanks to the intervention of Maksim Gorkii. We may know him for the quote “if our enemies will not surrender, they will be destroyed,” and so on; but it turns out that he could also have moments of charity and kindness, and he helped to save many people. Including Prince Georgii Alexandrovich, who knew Gorkii before the Revolution. And so, the grand duchess ended up abroad.

In 1934, she married for the first time to an American citizen of Scottish aristocratic ancestry. The marriage did not last long, and they were divorced, but, contrary to some claims, her dynastic status was in no way affected by these events. She remained a member of the Royal House of Georgia, which, according to legend, descended from the biblical family of King David the Psalmist. In any event, this is the most ancient royal dynasty in Europe. After the war, it turned out that both the Romanoffs, who had been deprived of their throne (as prior to this the Bagrations had been, so they were in the same situation), and the Bagrations found themselves in Spain at the same time. And then Fernando Prince of Bavaria Infante of Spain, in connection with the proposed marriage between his daughter and the brother of Leonida Georgievna (Irakly Georgievich, the prince of Bagration of Mukhrani), asked the Head of the House of Romanoff, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, if he thought that the proposed marriage would be legally “equal.” In the Russian Empire, after the annexation of the Kingdom of Georgia, there were many opinions about the status of the Georgian Royal House. This was the politics of that time, but Grand Duke Wladimir, who consulted with lawyers and historians, came to the conclusion that the Georgian Royal Family truly was a royal house, and that it should be considered equal to other royal families. This was not some kind of award given the Georgian Royal House, as some have claimed. This was simply the recognition of a fact, an acknowledgement of a past injustice done to the royal house. Perhaps this injustice had been due to the politics of the time, but politics change and eternal things remain; and a dynasty, even one that has been deprived of its throne, retains it status. This foreshadowed the acquaintance of the future Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna. At that time, they still were not acquainted, but around a year later, they met and immediately fell in love with each other. The Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna liked to tell the story that she and her husband never once wrote a letter to each other because they were never apart. She was her husband’s faithful supporter, and very much assisted him in fulfilling his dynastic duties. When he died, it was for her a tremendous loss, but she pressed on and helped as much as she could her daughter, Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, in her adaptation to, and entry into, Russian life.

From the time of their first visit to Russia, which, by the way, took place here in St. Petersburg, Wladimir Kirillovich and Leonida Georgievna began the long process of the reintegration of the Imperial House into the social life of their country. This was not a political move, or some pretension for power, and in no way was it a grab for lost properties. This was a simple and pure desire to serve their country. But one can only truly serve if one does not reject one’s values. And, of course, the Imperial House continues to keep inviolate its Orthodox faith, and continues to believe that the monarchy as an institution can be of great use to their countrymen. Monarchy is a living idea, one that has not definitively died off. This does not mean that they want to impose it on their country. They simply want to serve their homeland, since civil society is impossible without traditional institutions. Because this is our thread to, our link with, the past. Besides the Church and the Imperial House, we do not have many other institutions left that enjoy unquestioned continuity with the past. In general, very few institutions enjoy the same legitimacy and antiquity. Of course, we cannot compare the influence of the Church with that of the Imperial House. These, of course, constitute completely different forms of service; but all the same, the Imperial House offers a certain sacral, a certain spiritual service. And the Church and the Imperial House are linked. It is not for nothing that the relationship of the deceased patriarch with the deceased grand duchess and with her husband, and with their daughter—the current Head of the House—and to her Heir, was and is very positive. The same good relationship exists with other traditional confessions—with all faiths in Russia. They respect the Imperial House, understanding that this is an important family, a very significant family for our country. But how things will evolve in the future, time will tell. In any case, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna was always a mainstay, a backbone to the dynasty, and she preserved very many of its traditions that are still today of enormous significance and use for Russia.

“Echo of Petersburg”: We have a question from Timofei Leksperov: “What is the attitude of the Imperial House about the construction of a parking lot on the site of the mass executions and mass burials of victims of the Red Terror, including four Romanoff grand dukes? Many memoirs, including those written by Princess Paley, indicate that it was precisely on the spot of the Golovkin Bastion that the grand dukes were shot, and that their bodies were tossed into a mass grave where the bodies of thirteen others had already by placed. “In October of last year, archeologists found this pit with the remains of seventeen individuals in it. In February, the construction work was halted, but by spring there was already built an access road to the parking lot through this section of ground that had been identified as the mass grave by archeological investigations.”

A. N. Zakatov: Thank you for this question. It is truly touching that people show such concern and respect for those members of the Imperial House who suffered a martyr’s death. But I would caution against hasty statements and against the dissemination of information that hasn’t always been fully confirmed. Because when we speak of the four grand dukes shot in the Ss. Peter and Paul Fortress—Pavel Aleksandrovich, Dmitrii Konstantinovich, Nikolai Mikhailovich, and Georgii Mikhailovich—we should remember that the first steps taken to perpetuate their memory were taken as early as the 1990s.

It was none other than the deceased Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna who worked for their rehabilitation. First, death certificates, indicating the fact of their deaths and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, were issued. Then the lawyer for the Imperial Family, Herman Luk’ianov, received a ruling from the courts, addressed to the grand duchess, declaring their official rehabilitation. In other words, the state officially recognized the grand dukes as victims of political repression and restored their good name, as citizens of Russia, regardless of how one might feel about monarchy. On the urging of both governmental and civic authorities, a commemorative plaque in their honor was then unveiled in the Ss. Peter and Paul Fortress.

If their remains have actually been found, and we understand that the remains have been removed from the ground and are being examined right now, then, of course, the scientific investigation must be conducted as openly as possible, reliably, and honestly, in order to avoid the sad situation that developed with the remains found in Ekaterinburg, which even now the Russian Orthodox Church has not official declared to be authentic. It has not been definitively established that these remains belong to the Royal Family. This is a very sad situation for everyone, one that should not be repeated. As for this location, you know that at one or another time in our history, almost the entire territory of Russia has been a kind of gigantic cemetery. If we now put up plaques or construct churches or build other commemorative structures in every location where remains have been found, we will turn our country into a cemetery. We have to learn how to forgive. Emperor Nicholas II himself said that he had forgiven everyone who had done him injury, and he asked that no one take any revenge for events on his account, and asked even that his countrymen not overly mourn the sad events that had befallen him and his family.

We have to act judiciously, trying not to create some kind of scandal around this or undermine the authority of the present municipal government or the administration of the Museum of the Ss. Peter and Paul Fortress. Of course, this place, very likely, should be marked by some kind of commemorative plaque. But this does not mean, and I doubt that those who were executed there would want, that commemorative plaques should be placed in each and every location that a happy or tragic event took place in their lives. We should carefully examine this matter in light of present circumstances, and with respect to the memory of those who died. We are certain that the municipal authorities of St. Petersburg respect history, as does the administration of the Museum. But in the future…if some issue should raise a problem among the public, of course, the municipal authorities (we are sure) should decide the matter by consensus. But this does not mean that we should establish pre-conditions. All sides must simply listen to each other, hear each other, and meet each other half way, and then many of the misunderstanding that might stood in the way of consensus will, I’m sure, fall to the wayside.

“Echo of Petersburg”: In your opinion, who should pay for all this excavation work and for the costs entailed in these extensive scientific studies?

A.N. Zakatov: This is always a complicated question because nothing, in fact, can be done without resources to pay for it. But, certainly, a contribution from the state is fully legal and justified. Nowhere is it written that the state is forbidden from commemorating the lives and deaths of our ancestors. And even our Constitution begins with the Preamble stating that we enact this Constitution “honoring the memory of our ancestors who conveyed to us a love and respect for the Fatherland.” Therefore the state has the right to help, and in some cases, must help, in these endeavors. But one must not pin all our hopes on the state alone. If we only expect the state to provide and do everything, and if the state should make a mistake or do something the public doesn’t agree with and we begin to get angry and complain—this would also not be good. That is, there should be a public initiative. Moreover, this initiative can be one where the rich and the not so rich can contribute their efforts, in the form of their attention, their historical knowledge, their physical labor—all to help in this endeavor. And we can (rightly) expect the state to organize and facilitate these private and individual efforts. That is the main role that a state can play in these kinds of projects.

Certainly, the government should concern itself first and foremost with social policy and with the care of the living. But if we forget our ancestors, if we say that this is all unimportant and we focus only on the welfare of the living, then the future of our country will come to nothing.

“Echo of Petersburg”: We have literally only fifteen seconds left, can you say a few more words about the funeral.

A.N. Zakatov: Thank you. On behalf of the Head of the House of Romanoff, Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, and her son, Grand Duke Georgii, I would like to express their profound thanks to all their countrymen who have expressed their condolences and have offered their prayers. Thank you very much, indeed.

An audio recording of this interview is available at:

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