09 March 2011

INTERFAX Interviews A. N. Zakatov, Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House: “It is too early to say that all the questions surrounding the murder of Nicholas II have been answered.”

INTERFAX Interviews A. N. Zakatov, Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House: “It is too early to say that all the questions surrounding the murder of Nicholas II have been answered.”

The Director of the Chancellery of the House of Romanoff, Alexander Zakatov, discusses in an interview with “Interfax” his views on the question of the authenticity of the royal remains and his doubts about the changes for settling these questions.

Moscow. March 9, 2011. INTERFAX.RU. The Director of the Chancellery of the House of Romanoff, Alexander Zakatov, said in an interview with columnist Pavel Koriashkin that only the next generation of Russians may be able to answer all the questions about the authenticity of the royal remains.

In its recent decision to halt the criminal investigation into the murders of the royal family, the Investigating Commission took into consideration the decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Court that Nicholas II and his family had been deprived of their lives by the state. It was precisely this decision that the House of Romanoff had been seeking. Does this bring the matter to a close?

Unfortunately, it is too early to say that the matter is closed. First, because of the high public profile of the case of the murder of the royal family, the ruling of the Investigative Commission should be made public. Right now, all we have on the decision of the Investigative Commission is fragmentary bits and pieces from the media. Second, the question of the authenticity of the “Ekaterinburg remains” has yet to be established. As we all know, the Russian Orthodox Church does not believe there is sufficient evidence to recognize these remains as being the relics of the holy royal passion-bearers; and the Head of the House of Romanoff, Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, is wholly and completely in agreement with the opinion of the Church. Third, the researchers themselves recognize that the investigations into the role that the leaders of the Bolshevik regime, Lenin and Sverdlov, played in the executions of the royal family and their loyal servants have not been satisfactorily completed.

How much more time is necessary to arrive at a consensus view on the question of the authenticity of the royal remains? Are any additional tests needed to make a final determination?

When the first debates began over the authenticity of the “Ekaterinburg remains,” the then head of the House of Romanoff, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, suggested that they be temporarily buried in a church or chapel, that the usual funerary rites be performed over them, and that, in the meantime, a thorough, transparent and unhurried investigation into their authenticity be conducted by the best experts. This is exactly how, thank God, the investigations are currently being conducted into the “Kholmogor’e remains” which may belong to Emperor Ivan VI, who was killed in 1764. But back in the 1990s, the Grand Duke’s opinion was ignored, and many wanted instead to put on a political show by a certain set date. The result was disastrous. Everything the investigators and government officials did only served to plant the seeds of doubt among the faithful and in society at large. The state commission ignored the positions of both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Imperial House. And now these people accuse the Church and the dynasty of meddling and engaging in obscurantism! Make no mistake about the fact that there is no one in this world who is more interested in determining the authenticity of the “Ekaterinburg remains” than the Church and the Russian Imperial House. For the Church, doing so would give us all holy relics for veneration; and for the Imperial Family, the identification of these remains would mean the return of their relatives to them. But if there is any measure of legitimate doubt, then neither the Church nor the House of Romanoff can assume the responsibility for the sin of leading people astray. Those who try to pressure the Church with scandalous publications only serve to muddle the question. It may very well be that only the next generation of Russian citizens will be able to examine the matter with calm and objectivity.

Is it possible that the remains buried in the crypts of the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg are not the Romanoffs?

Yes, of course, that possibility exists. We might remember that on July 17, 1998, the priests serving the funerary office for the “Ekaterinburg remains” never mentioned the names of those being interred, but instead used the common Church formula “those whose names are known only to God.” But, whoever’s bones these are, they were certainly victims of terror who suffered a horrible death. No one believes that these remains should be disturbed again, even if it should later be shown that they do not belong to the Romanoffs. What is done, is done. Let them rest in peace. But we must in any case establish what the truth is.

Is there any direct proof showing that Nicholas II was murdered on Lenin’s orders?

The Bolsheviks had decided on the execution of the emperor as early as 1903, at their Brussels-London Congress. There is a clear statement to this effect in Lenin’s own article entitled “How the Bourgeoisie Utilizes Renegades.” Leo Trotskii, who in 1918 occupied the second most important position in the Communist regime, provided evidence that the question of the execution of the emperor and his family was decided by “Sverdlov along with Ilich [trans.—Lenin].” It is true that there are no direct orders among the extant written sources from Lenin or Sverdlov about the execution of their royal prisoners. But the absence of such orders in the surviving records today does not mean it was not so. A vast number of people were victims of extrajudicial, undocumented killings, and these deaths were not for criminal offenses, but rather were acts of political repression. As concerns the emperor and his relatives, the Bolsheviks consciously created an atmosphere of extreme secrecy around the entire affair. In any event, the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the decision to execute the royal passion-bearers should be continued.

Are there other descendants of the Romanoffs, besides Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, who lives in Spain, who might have pretensions to the headship of the Imperial House?

The legal basis for the Russian Imperial House is the law of Emperor Paul I, which was enacted in 1797. This law functions for the Imperial House the same way canons function for the Church. Therefore, there really cannot be “pretenders” as far as this law is concerned. The law provides for and identifies always the one and only person who is the legitimate head of the House of Romanoff. At the present time, the House of Romanoff is comprised of Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna and her heir—her son Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich. There are out there other descendants of members of the Imperial House, whose marriages did not correspond with the law and traditions of the family. They do not belong to the Imperial House and, consequently, do not have the right to be its head. There is a private association of morganatic descendants of the dynasty—the “Romanoff Family Association.” The position of the chairman of the Association is an elected office. This fact alone shows that the legal status of this Association has nothing at all to do with the status of the historical institution, the Russian Imperial House, the headship of which is hereditary and governed by the provisions in the law of Paul I.

What is the financial situation in the House of Romanoff? If it is not confidential, are there bank accounts from tsarist times to which the family has access, and does the family own property in Russia or abroad?

The Imperial Family lives quite modestly. After the Revolution, all movable and immovable property of the House of Romanoff was nationalized. By God’s grace, and with the help of loyal supporters, the Imperial Family has managed to maintain a modest but comfortable life, but not much more than that. There are absolutely no “royal accounts” about which so many sensationalist writers like to talk about. As for property, Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna has only an apartment in Madrid, where she lives at the present time. As for the house in St.-Briac in France, which was purchased by her grandfather, Emperor Kirill Wladimirovich, the Grand Duchess was forced to sell it some time ago because she lacked the funds for its upkeep and repair. On this topic, the Head of the House of Romanoff has consistently stated, and has officially affirmed at a recent visit to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, that she is against any sort of restitution and will never request or require that the former properties of the Imperial House be returned to her.

What special status does Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna require before she will return to live permanently in Russia?

Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna requires nothing and strives only to be useful to her country without any preconditions. But she believes that it would be appropriate for the current government to normalize its relationship with the Imperial House, recognizing it as a unique historical institution and one of the symbols of Russia. There is nothing unusual about this. In many countries with democratic forms of government, the state has found legal formulas which allow the former Imperial or Royal dynasties to occupy a clearly delineated place in the life of the people, and even the opportunity to have and play a social role in society. That is the situation that one finds, for example, in France, Portugal, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Albania, and Italy. The dynasty is a living link with history. Therefore it is a very important component of a genuine civil society. In practice, many elements of the status of the Imperial House of Russia as a unique historical institution are already in place, but these elements need to be firmly established in the law. There is nothing anti-constitutional in doing so. After all, in the preamble of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, it states that the people enact this Constitution, “revering the memory of ancestors who have conveyed to us the love for the Fatherland, belief in the good, and justice.” This wording in the Constitution indicates the need for respect for all historical institutions, which preserve traditional values and provide a link with the past. Our government is secular, but shows respect for the Orthodox Church and other traditional confessions. In precisely the same way, our government is a democracy, but it can also show respect for the dynasty. This is not in principle a political or financial question, but rather a moral question. And being a moral question makes it in a way more important than many other political questions.

Does Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich hope soon to start a family? If it is not a secret, can you tell us how the search a wife is going? He cannot, after all, marry someone from a commoner family, isn’t that right?

Right now, the question of the Heir’s marriage has not been raised. In the modern world, the old traditions of royal matchmaking no longer exist. One hopes that the Grand Duke will meet a life partner whom he can love and respect, someone who will understand his duties and help him fulfill them. There are rules governing royal marriage that were inserted in Paul I’s law of succession by his son, Alexander I. According to the current form of the laws of the Russian dynasty, the marriage of the Tsetsarevich should be equal. That is, he should marry someone who, like him, is from a royal or ruling house. Were he not to do so, any children issuing from the marriage would lose their rights of succession, though the Grand Duke himself would not. True, the general tendency in the majority of royal houses today, including those still reigning, is to move away from these kinds of restrictions on marriage. Therefore these rules have increasingly lost their meaning in modern times. It is not impossible that sooner or later the Russian Imperial House will return to the law as formulated originally by Paul I, and repeal the later additions to it on royal marriage. In that event, marriages of members of the House of Romanoff with commoners would again become possible and absolutely legal, and the descendants of such unions would inherit the dynastic right of succession. Many prominent Church figures, including St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, have advocated this change in the laws. But that change would require the approval of the Head of the Imperial House and the blessing of the Orthodox Church. For now, the law on this matter remains unchanged.

Many figures in the Russian government and military have been awarded medals and Romanoff Imperial Orders. What is the status of these awards and medals?

Imperial Orders are not simply a medal to wear, but a membership in an honorary association. Being awarded one of them constitutes not just a kind of general encouragement to rise up to and follow a prescribed code of honor; it conveys a moral obligation to do so, and to engage in charitable activities. In the Russian Empire, Imperial Orders enjoyed official State status. After the Revolution, they lost this official status, of course, but were retained as a historical community with and among the members of the Imperial House. This is, again, a general tendency across the world. Almost all of the royal houses of Europe and Asia that lost their political power, nonetheless preserved the right to award family Orders. And across the civilized world, such awards are recognized, even by democratic governments. The tradition of awarding Imperial Orders therefore did not stop after the Revolution, although, of course, the number of knights was significantly reduced. As the process of reintegrating the Romanoff dynasty into the social life of modern Russia has progressed, so too has the awarding of dynastic Orders. Granting these awards and the right to wear the devices of these Orders has become a way for the Imperial House to express its respect and gratitude to its compatriots who have offered service to their country. Among the knights to have received Imperial Orders are many state, Church, and figures in civil society who are known around the world, but also ordinary citizens who are not at all famous: officers, teachers, scholars, and leaders in a range of professions. If one were to draw an analogy, one might say that dynastic Orders occupy the same place in the law as do Orders given by the Church. They have no official state status, but they are higher than social recognition one might get because they originate with historical institutions with long and recognized histories.

Some puzzlement over the fact that the House of Romanoff frequently bestows noble status to high-ranking government officials who, in principle, are from worker and peasant backgrounds. Is this some kind of new trend?

Granting noble status is neither a trend nor anything new. Peter the Great created in 1722 the Table of Ranks, which opened the pathway to noble status to anyone from any social class—to any person who distinguished himself in military or civil service. Before the Revolution, being awarded noble status conveyed with it certain privileges. But after the abolition of serfdom in 1861, these privileges began to decrease or become entirely fictional. If the monarchy had not fallen in 1917, all of the privileges enjoyed by the nobility would likely have gone away. This can be seen in the monarchies that survive today. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna has repeatedly said that there can be no question about the revival of these privileges, even if someday the monarchy in Russia should be restored. In the modern world, the nobility is not a privileged class, but rather a state of mind. The nobility remains a living corporate entity and includes some of the best representatives of society. The only historically valid source for awarding noble status is the legitimate head of a historic Imperial or Royal dynasty. In Russia, there are very few instances of awarding noble status at the present time—literally, just a handful of instances. But according to the historical statutes of the several Imperial Orders of knighthood, knights of the fourth, third, and second classes automatically receive personal noble status, which is extended also to the knights’ spouses; and knights of the first class receive hereditary noble status, which extends also to their children. As I already said, knights of the Imperial Orders are not only high-ranking persons, but also ordinary people. That is also the way it was in the Russian Empire, only then the number of awardees was far greater than now. Of course, one can as a rule bestow noble status only to people of commoner status, to people of worker or peasant backgrounds, because nobles already have noble status. One must understand, however, that noble status is not some pretty game but is, before anything else, a responsibility to the state and to society. And if someone offers to sell you a patent of nobility, a title, or the right to wear a medal—well, you should know that there are crooks everywhere. A bogus noble patent brings no one any honor. Just shame and ridicule.

For online versions of this interview, see http://www.interfax.ru/politics/txt.asp?id=180402 and http://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=434660.


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