04 March 2011

Greetings from the Head of the House of Romanoff on the Occasion of the Celebration of the 150-th Anniversary of the Emancipation of the Russian Serfs by Alexander II, Tsar-Liberator

Greetings from the Head of the House of Romanoff on the Occasion of the Celebration of the 150-th Anniversary of the Emancipation of the Russian Serfs by Alexander II, Tsar-Liberator

On March 4 (February 19 according to the Julian Calendar), 2011, the anniversary of Emperor Alexander II’s signing of the manifesto ending serfdom in Russia, a ceremonial unveiling of a statue of the Tsar-Liberator took place on the campus of the Russian State Trade and Economic University (Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi torgovo-ekonomicheskii universitet, or RGTEU), an institution which enjoys the patronage of the Head of the Russian Imperial house, Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna. The statue is the design of Artist Laureate of Russia A. A. Apollonov, and was cast by the construction and architectural firm “SMiK” as part of a larger project called “The Avenue of Russian Glory.” The event was sponsored by the Russian social and civic group “For Faith and Fatherland,” and by the international charity “Center for the Social Support of our Countrymen,” and was arranged by the Academic Council of the RGTEU, with the full support of the Grand Duchess, as part of the celebrations of the 150-th anniversary of the Great Reform of 1861.

On the same day, at the College of Industry and Economics of the RGTEU, a conference was held entitled “The Monarchical Idea in the Twenty-First Century: The Russian Experience of Reform. On the 150-th Anniversary of Alexander II’s Manifesto Emancipating Russia’s Serfs,” which was organized by RGTEU, by the Russian Nobility Association, and by the civic group “For Faith and Fatherland.”

At the conference, a message from the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, was publically read for all the participants. In her remarks, the Grand Duchess touched on the anniversary being celebrated and on the academic work of the university, but also provided her own general assessment of the reforms introduced by her great Ancestor. Here is the text of her message:

Greetings from Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, to those taking part in the unveiling ceremony of the statue to Emperor Alexander II, Tsar-Liberator, and to the participants of the Conference “The Monarchical Idea in the Twenty-First Century: The Russian Experience of Reform. On the 150-th Anniversary of the Manifesto of Alexander II Emancipating Russia’s Serfs” at the Russian State Trade and Economic University

I send my warmest greetings to all those gathered to honor the memory of my great ancestor, Emperor Alexander II. There was once a time when monuments such as this one, raised in honor of this emperor by his grateful countrymen, were systematically and ruthlessly torn down. Now, however, we see everywhere the erection of new monuments to the Tsar-Liberator. This is yet more proof that the triumph of evil and falsehood over truth and love can only at best be temporary.

I wish to express my deepest gratitude to the sculptor who designed this statue, Artist Laureate of Russia A. A. Apollonov, to the administration, the Academic Council, to the professors and students of RGTEU, and to all the organizations and civic groups which made today’s ceremony possible.

The erecting of statues and other monuments will mean very little to the hearts and minds of people today and to future generations if we forget the ideals and actions of our ancestors memorialized in them. Therefore I believe that a lively discussion of the reform experience of the Russian Empire, and of the opportunities to utilize that experience today, is just as significant a contribution to honoring their memory as is erecting statues and monuments.

The Reforms of Alexander II were effectuated without destabilizing the state largely because of the accomplishments of his royal predecessors over the course of the previous century. The abolition of serfdom could not have taken place as peacefully as it did without first the declarations of Peter III and Catherine II, the manifesto by Paul limiting corvée to three days, the decree on freeholders by Alexander I, and the work of the privy committees established by Nicholas I. Even some half-measures and previous failed experiments, like the “military settlements,” produced some benefits, since these helped identify and eliminate mistakes that might have crept into the final legislation. The system of legitimate, inherited monarchy created the optimal conditions for the running the country with a long-term view toward the future, and provided a solid foundation for the modernization of Russia in the 1860s and 1870s. At the same time, however, one must also credit Alexander II personally for his enormous personal courage and strength of will, placing on himself the full and ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of these reforms.

One can, of course, find both strengths and weaknesses, and both accomplishments and failures in the ideas underlying this reform; and, perhaps even more, in the means by which the Emancipation and other far-reaching reforms were implemented during the reign of Alexander II. This is inevitable whenever large changes are made, changes that can be viewed and criticized from many different perspectives.

But the most important and enduring historical significance of the era of the Great Reforms is not in the details, but in the principles that underlie this course of this reform, or any course of reform that seeks to achieve effective and sweeping modernization.

Taking into account the fact that these fundamental reforms of the social and economic system, of the legal system, of the armed forces, of local self-government, of education, and of other aspects of the life of our people during the reign of Alexander II all took place without upheaval or bloodshed; and comparing this process of reform with far more difficult and tragic examples of modernization that one might point to elsewhere or at other times, we can proposed the following general conclusions:

The constant betterment of the conditions of life is a good and necessary thing, and the striving of people for it is an entirely natural thing for people to want to do. But abruptly exchanging the outdated and the obsolete with the new and improved can produce good results in the end only if these changes are fundamentally linked to an ancient and living tradition. Attempts to build a “new world” on the shattered rubble of what had come before is as absurd as a man who prunes the dead branches from the top of a tree while he pulls up all its roots. Modernization occurs only when it is consistent with and grows out of the unique national characteristics of a country, which are rooted in its geography and history. Foreign models of reform are acceptable and useful only as a general guide for a reform plan, a plan which should always be rooted in the culture and history of the country. Robotically copying foreign methods and standards, no matter how successful they proved to be in other countries, is bound to produce unviable and unenduring reforms in the long term.

The most modern and advanced technology in the arena of politics and economy will prove fruitless in the future if we believe that Faith, Conscience, and Honor are only pretty words, or, what is worse, are regarded as obstacles on the path to achieving competitiveness and success. A souless materialistic or purely technocratic approach to modernization will squelch any reform initiative, no matter how well thought out it may be. So that moral principles should not be forfeited, the main spiritual and moral orientation of Russia—the Orthodox Church, other confessional groups, and other historical institutions, who are the preservers of traditional values and ideals—should be afforded the right and opportunity to participate fully and actively in the discussion of questions vitally important to both the state and society.

Change is meaningless if it is enacted for the sake of some abstract ideas or party doctrines, rather than for the benefit of the people.

Disregard for human life, for freedom, and for the rights of the individual cannot in any way be justified by achievements, and even the most powerful states that have built their greatness on the sufferings and oppression of its citizens prove in the end to have feet of clay. The first and foremost goal of modernization must always be the preservation and prosperity of the people. If circumstances develop such that, at some point in the future, unavoidable hardships and privations strike the nation, then the leaders of the government and the most affluent members of society should be the first to offer an example of self-restraint and sacrifice.

The fundamental goals and objectives of reform should always be made known to all segments of the population. One can never satisfy all the hopes and aspirations of all the people. But to achieve lofty goals, each and every one of us must make concessions and sacrifices. And in order for people to be willing to make compromises, in order for people to know that their sacrifices will not be exploited by the powers that be, there must be in society a high level of mutual trust and respect for the government.

On the other hand, all governments are powerless without the cooperation of the institutions of civil society. We must all realize that for us just to sit and wait for the government to resolve our problems is utterly futile. This key phrase from the Emperor Alexander II’s Manifesto of February 19, 1861, should forever and everywhere be inscribed in letters of gold: “However beneficial a law may be, it cannot make people happy if they do not themselves organize their happiness under the protection of the law. Prosperity is acquired only through vigorous hard work, the wise use of strength and resources, strict economy, and above all, through an honest God-fearing life.” The State is entitled to expect a dynamic, creative energy from its citizens, and citizens are entitled to expect and demand from their government conditions for the creation of real mechanisms for realizing the will of the people—not only from one election to the next, but always and permanently.

With all my heart, I hope that your conference will generate a range of opinions, but also, and more generally, it will serve as an example of open discourse and mutual respect, and will make a significant intellectual contribution to the question of modernization in Russia that is rooted in and builds upon traditional values. My son and heir, Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich, joins me in sending these greetings and in expressing to you all our sincere appreciation.

May God bless you!

[The original is signed by Her Imperial Highness:]


H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna

Madrid, February 19/March 4, 2011

A.N. Zakatov
Director, H.I.H.’s Chancellery

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