10 October 2011

2011-10-10 HIH Interview with Moskovskie Novosti

Interview of the Head of the House of Romanoff with O. E. Chernitskii, Published in the Newspaper Moskovskie novosti [Moscow News]. Official Text.

1. Your Imperial Highness, what do you feel when you think about Russia?

My parents raised me to think of Russia as the best country in the world. It seemed to me at that time that this conviction of theirs contradicted the reality on the ground: our countrymen in the USSR lived in oppressive circumstances, and we had to live in exile without any real chance of returning home. But we understood that Russia was like a suffering mother who had fallen into captivity.

As I got older, I understood that we are all without exception—not only the revolutionaries, but also the Imperial House, the aristocracy, a significant part of the Church hierarchy, the intelligentsia, and other classes and institutions of pre-Revolutionary Russia—in some ways guilty and certainly all victims of the catastrophe that had taken place in Russia. If we want to pull ourselves out of this catastrophe, we must not romanticize the past, or hunt down the guilty, but each of us must ask of the other our forgiveness and strive to find common ground with each other for the sake of our country, for the sake of future generations.

But Russia has through it all always remained our true Mother. You will agree that any normal person loves his mother no matter what, even if in some ways she is not perfect. Because she gave birth to us, we honor our mothers always. And in the same way, we cannot reject our Motherland, we cannot resent her, we cannot impose our expectations on her. We cannot cease loving her with all our hearts, or striving to serve her, or putting service to her above all other things.

2. What lessons has Russia failed to learn from its history?

Perhaps our most serious and repeated mistake is that Russia has been far too trusting. We very easily accept on faith other peoples’ ideas, which turn out to be false or incongruent with our history and culture. For this we have had to pay dearly more than once—with the lives of thousands, and in the recent past, millions of lives. And yet Russia has enough spiritual strength to overcome any adversity. And that means that we have learned the most important lessons of our history quite well.

3. Is Russia a typical county?

There really are no “typical” countries. Each nation has its own unique qualities and historical path, which should be respected, and each has a right to its own path of development: either as a fully independent country, or as a member of a larger state or commonwealth of states. The differences lie only in the different roles countries play in the world. Some countries are more influential in the social, political, economic, or cultural spheres, and others are less influential.

Russia, of course, stands out among the great nations of the world. Even today, after all that has been lost, it remains the largest country in the world territorially. Building a state such as ours is extraordinarily difficult, and to preserve its territorial integrity over many centuries is even harder. Nevertheless, it has been preserved. The Russian experience of preserving over many centuries its unity despite its diversity—the existence of many peoples of various confessions, traditions, and cultures living together without threat of the destruction or artificial mixing of their identities: this has been achieved by no one else.

4. Is Russia suffering? If so, who can help it, and how?

Russia is a living organism composed of millions of people who each feel they are a part of the larger whole. Some were scattered across the world by the violent cataclysms of the twentieth century, others struggled for survival in their Fatherland. If one part of the body is suffering, the entire body suffers, too. Even if the majority of the people were prospering (and this is, alas, far from the truth today), it would still be impossible to ignore the suffering of the minority, because it will sooner or later affect the entire organism. If we understood this point, the next one would naturally follow: wait on no one for help, only God. Here it is useful to recall the Russian proverb: “God helps those who help themselves.” The French have an analogous saying, perhaps even more precisely phrased: “Aide-toi, et le Ciel t’aidera” – “Help yourself, and God will help you.” If we affirmed the idea that no one can do for us unless we do for ourselves, each in his own way, then the suffering in Russia would be vastly decreased.

5. Can Russia survive without a tsar (or a tsaritsa)?

I think it is possible to be without a tsar for a time, perhaps even an extended period, but it is not possible to survive without the idea of the tsar.

From its very founding as a state in 862, Russia over the course of more than a thousand years has evolved as a familial model of the state, a Family-State, that took the form of a monarchy. I think that happened for a reason—the result of normal historical processes and events, which shaped the mentalité of the state, which took shape around the Great-Russian people and all the peoples who formed an integral part of the All-Russian cultural world. The legitimate, hereditary monarch is the natural Father of the nation. It is not for nothing that the tsar’s subjects refer to him as “Little Father,” or Batiushka, and the tsaritsa as “Little Mother,” or Matushka.

In the last century, after a short period of revolutionary chaos and confusion, an imperfect yet dynamic and organic Family-State was replaced by an oppressively bureaucratic and totalitarian State-as-Concentration Camp. Now, a new period of liberal democratic and republican State-as-Business has arrived, which is more humane but no less materialist and bureaucratic. However, the genetic code, so to speak, can be neither deleted nor wiped clean from the people’s memory. But a person can hardly willfully and consciously exchange his family for his business, even if his family is dysfunctional and the business is thriving. And that means that the monarchist idea of a Family-State will never die, regardless of the success or failure of the republican experiment. People will return to it time and again, as history has well shown. Especially in difficult times—both totalitarian dictators and democratic rulers appeal to the principles inherent in monarchy, trying with varying degrees of success to assume the role of “tsar” and thereby garner popular support. These imitations cannot, however, ever replace the real thing.

I believe that the idea of a historically-rooted, Orthodox, legitimate, hereditary monarchy is useful to Russia, even in the context of its present republican structure, as a kind of permanent spiritual and moral alternative, which prevents the rending of the fabric linking the present to the past.

Throughout human history, no matter what variants of governmental or social structures are conjured up or tried, we always return to the models that are tried and true. From the smallest village to the largest nation, when a decision has to be made, requiring experience and executive authority, the people turn to the priests and to their elders, to the bearers of their common spiritual and historical legacy. But the job of enacting these decisions and defending one’s countrymen fall necessarily upon the young—the strong and energetic. In the monarchist ideal, there is an inherent and harmonious unity between both ideals.

I am convinced of what the future holds for Russia: a system that will unite the millennium-long tradition of Russian statehood, with new institutions, with laws, and with freedom.

6. What is democracy? Is democracy possible in Russia?

The primary and classic definition of democracy, which is imbedded in the constitutions of the majority of modern-day governments, is the supreme, unrestricted power of the people, who are the source of all legitimate authority. If we begin to append to this basic definition additional formulations and refinements, if next to the word “democracy” we see in some political systems qualifying adjectives—then democracy has become a kind of farce. If the power of the people is in some way limited (if, for example, the resolution of a question of broad public interest would not be allowed to be resolved by a referendum), then we cannot really say that the supreme power belongs any longer to the people, and we have to go looking for that supreme power in other places.

As a rule, in modern-day republics that declare themselves to be democracies, the supreme power belongs, in point of fact, to one or another oligarchy (to a party, to the finance sector, to business interests, to the military, and so on). This is an objective fact, regardless of what we think of democracy as a form of government, positive or negative.

At the same time, hardly anyone would deny that in the modern world, even in small countries, true democracy really can never exist. Direct democracy is impossible because of the size of the population, and so representative bodies take on the supreme sovereign power. In the worst case scenarios, they create an outright fictional democracy with rigged elections and 100-percent turn-out rates. Russia, thank God, has left that behind once and for all. Be that as it may, we still have a “managed democracy.” And that means we do not have democracy in the highest form it could take, because the supreme power is not, according to the definition of democracy, supposed to be managed by any one person or group.

We all strive for a real, genuine, effective democracy that is rooted in each individual citizen. For a democracy in the second sense of the word: popular self-determination. For a broad democratic principle that is guaranteed in the law and reflected in the political system, and which lives and breathes in various social groupings and in the individual initiative of every citizen. For a broad democratic principle that is on an equal footing with aristocratic principles, which are embodied in noble associations, and with monarchical principles, where power is necessarily arranged vertically.

And so the question arises: Why was the monarchy overthrown? Is it ever really the case that there never existed or developed in any given monarchy, including pre-revolutionary Russia, any democratic institutions? Can it really be so that St. Grand Prince Andrei Bogoliubskii and his successors did not rely on the middle and lower classes when they assembled the centralized Russian state? Didn’t Ivan the Terrible establish the Assembly of the Land, which included all classes of people and which exerted enormous influence on the course of politics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? Is it really the case that the social classes—from the nobility down to the peasants in the peasant communes—were voiceless and devoid of rights in the period of absolutism and the epoch of serfdom and bureaucratic government in the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries? Did not the Zemstvos [locally elected assemblies—trans.] thrive after the Great Reforms, which were instituted by my great-great-grandfather, Alexander II the Tsar Liberator? And, finally, is it not so that every initiative of the people was strangled and suppressed after the 1917 revolution, an event that had the ostensible goal of transferring the governmental power to the people?

Instead of becoming the “bearers of the supreme power,” the people were transformed into “the masses”—the favorite expression of various “populist leaders.” The government did, to be sure, resolve a number of social ills, in some cases defending the interests of selected peoples or groups, and so on. Without such successes, no government could last very long. But the people were systematically taught that government itself knows what each person needs and provides only that which it deems necessary to provide, and nothing else. And so it was just like in slave-owning societies, when slave owners took care of their slaves, fed them well, and kept them in decent conditions, even to the point that some slaves lived better off than even the poor people who had their freedom. But slaves are deprived of the most important things: freedom, dignity, and honor.

The attempt to transform our people into “the masses” did not succeed, and I am convinced, it never will. But genuine democracy will be achieved only when we begin to ground it in our traditional spiritual values and our historical experience, and not by parroting foreign models.

7. Is Russia a European or Asiatic country?

It’s both. I am utterly convinced that our homeland is a unique civilization. It unites in itself many of the outcomes of both European and Asian history. It is not on the fringe of the West or on the periphery of the East, nor a mechanical mixing of the two. Russia is Russia.

8. Have you ever met Boris Yeltsyn, Vladimir Putin, or Dmitrii Medvedev? What impressions do you have of the leaders of the Russian government?

I corresponded with B. N. Yeltsyn, and later spoke with him during a meeting between him and my father, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich. I was with the president during several Church and governmental events, but we never met one-on-one. I communicated with both V. V. Putin and D. A. Medvedev when they occupied leadership positions in the city government of St. Petersburg and in advance of my first few trips to Russia. We subsequently met at various functions. For example, we met in 2003, when then President Putin and I attended the celebrations of the 100-th anniversary of the canonization of St. Seraphim of Sarov. In 2008, when Patriarch Alexis II died, whom I deeply respected, I was together with President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin at the patriarch’s grave. And we met again at the enthronement of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill. We have always greeted each other quite warmly on these occasions.

I feel sure that, with time, the occasion will present itself when there can be an official meeting between the Head of the Imperial House and the leader of the present government. I fully understand that this is a complex question. In several countries, it took many decades for that kind of meeting to be arranged. For example, in France there was for 60 years a law that forbade the head of the royal family or his successors from entering the French Republic. But, in the end, the ban against the royal family was lifted, at first informally, then eventually officially, legally, and a little later President Charles de Gaulle quietly met with the head of the dynasty, Henri, Count of Paris. The royal family fills in France a fully official social role. And this in no way disturbs the constitutional foundations of the French Republic.

I genuinely respect President D. A. Medvedev and Prime Minister V. V. Putin. I understand how difficult things are for them. And I say this entirely unofficially and with no desire to curry favor with them.

I understand very well that no words or assurances of mine could change government policy. If contact with the historical dynasty is deemed to be premature, then no amount of praise from the Head of the Imperial House could changes things. At the same time, if the government finds it useful and necessary to initiate a dialogue with the dynasty, this dialogue would begin even if the Head of the dynasty were opposed to it. That’s the way things worked in Spain, where fate had it that I should be born and where I should live today. Generalissimo Francisco Franco and Don Juan, the father of he present king, Juan-Carlos, did not like each other. Each held very different political ideas and they did not shy away from sharply criticizing each other. But there came a day when they met, discussed a series of questions, and together agreed on several important proposals that were later enacted and validated by the Spanish people.

It would be easy and, in several instances, even convenient to criticize the present government, since I, after all, live abroad. Everyone knows that I do not shy away from criticizing the very idea of a republic, and the very system of the current government. Sadly, some concrete governmental actions and reforms have elicited criticism from me. For example, it was with enormous sadness that I observed how the wonderful educational system in Russia, which was preserved through the Soviet period, has been destroyed, how the nation’s problems have piled up high and torn apart society, how the reforms implemented in the Armed Forces have been so self-contradictory, how corruption has reached such high levels, how difficult it has been for the formation of a middle class, how persistent legal nihilism has remained, and so on.

But I believe that it is my duty to strive to see and support the positive, and to the extent that I see and perceive the negative, to speak about it without anger or passion, and certainly not with the voice of the political opposition. As our great, genius Russian poet Pushkin wrote, “there is no convincing with curses, and no truth where there is no love.”

9. Should the Russian Empire be reestablished within its former boundaries?

I have never hidden the fact that I am in favor of the integration of the peoples who once belonged to the cultural world that once was the Russian Empire. But I also understand perfectly well that there can never be any refounding of the former Russian Empire or the USSR. Too many things in this world have changed for that ever to happen.

A good model of how this integration could happen is the British Commonwealth of Nations. Of course, one could not simply copy this model as-is. One has to take into account our historical and national distinctiveness. But the British experience could be instructive.

The boundaries of our All-Russian Commonwealth, if it should ever be realized, would depend on a number of factors that are very difficult to imagine. But I am convinced that what is important is not the size of the Commonwealth, but the quality of the internal connections between and among its constituent parts, and the indisputable authority of the center to coordinate the entire whole, which will permit the creation of a powerful and enduring union, spiritually strong and internationally competitive.

10. What would you say to those Russians who now praise Stalin?

The simplest way to answer that would be to give a blanket negative evaluation of Stalin’s personality and to point out that his admirers today would not want to be alive in his era.

What else would one expect the Head of the Romanoff Dynasty to say, when our worldview is so diametrically opposed to godless totalitarianism? But you are asking a deep and important question, requiring serious reflection. I will try to share a few of my thoughts on it.

The fact that admiration for Stalin’s rule has increased in some ways in the public consciousness shows in some measure the people’s disillusionment with the soulless liberal materialist model of democracy. It is not the real Stalin that elicits this admiration, of course—the infamous, yet terrible, cynical, and ruthless politician of the twentieth century—but the mythical form as the father of his people, the strong leader, the wise commander. This search for a father of the peoples, peoples who had been deprived of their public and social identity and of a sense of their own historical experience, has survived well past the end of the Soviet epoch.

The memory of the people’s thousand-year-long Imperial history was seared out of their consciousness with a hot iron. The Soviet regime was, in this regard, somewhat more “lucky.”

When I watch Russian television programs about the Soviet period, I see how elderly people—the children and grandchildren of Party officials—are nostalgic about the years of the Communist regime, even when they had themselves endured political repression during that regime. On a purely human level, I can understand this. These were the years of their youth, and people when they are older tend only to remember the bright, the heroic, or the romantic moments of their youth.

These television shows are broadcast to millions, including today’s young people, who never lived during Soviet power, it now being 20 years after the fall of the Communist regime in 1991. If 20 years after the 1917 revolution, during the Communist regime, it had been permitted to portray a favorable view of the monarchy, of the Church, of Emperor Nicholas II and his ministers and servants, of the faithful service of soldiers and officers of the Imperial army and navy, of the reforms of the Imperial government, of the activities of the police and the Okhrana—then there would also have been a great many people, living witnesses of these times, not just historians, who could have conveyed to the next generation a positive, perhaps even a bit idealized, representation of pre-revolutionary Russia. It is difficult to know how, in those circumstances, things would have turned out for the Bolsheviks.

So, you can judge for yourself whether it is possible even to conceive of something like that happening in 1937. The very idea elicits a bitter smile. And when in the 1980s there was a real opportunity to reconsider the history of Imperial Russia, which had been so thoroughly besmirched and trampled in Soviet times, the people who remembered pre-revolutionary Russia were too few in number and were of that age that they could not exert any influence on public opinion.

So the link to Russia’s Imperial past was in part severed. More than ten centuries of pre-revolutionary history was deliberately cut off and was represented as something utterly distant, while the more comprehendible and proximate image of Russian power instead became Stalin. I do not think that this was a good thing. But I do want to say that it is very symptomatic. It is proof of an enduring paternalism in the mentalité of our people.

I therefore cannot express my solidarity with those who simply try to vilify Stalin and offer programs for “destalinization,” aimed not so much at a fair and honest assessment of Stalin’s policies, as an extirpation from the people’s consciousness of a centuries-old notion of political power.

Stalin surely was a great politician. Even his enemies understood that, among whom were many astute observers (such as Winston Churchill). If he had not become enamored with revolutionary ideologies during his youth, it is easy to imagine how he might have become a prominent hierarch of the Church or government minister in the Russian Empire, who might have even outshined the likes of Speranskii, Witte, or Stolypin. Unfortunately, he used his God-given talents for evil, not for good. Stalin was an important part—but only a part, not the originator—of a ruthless totalitarian machine, which strove to eradicate the image of God from humanity.

It has been said that at a certain point, he seems to have recognized the ills of atheistic and anti-nationalist Bolshevism and that he had begun to reestablish Russian national values and governmental values, and that he even wanted to abolish the atheistic character of the regime. Alas, even if we were to grant that he was considering doing this, he never went through with it. His regime was built on constant terror, which resumed after a short lull. The Church and other religions were merely exploited by him, and not even for a single minute did the Communist Party ever abandon its militant atheism, and the persecution of believers continued even when the Party was at its weakest moments. His policies gave rise to the dreadful fruits that we now are reaping today. The economic model of centrally planned economies, which may have been effective in times of extreme crisis, proved to be utterly unviable during peacetime.

All the basic structures of the Stalinist system could not and did not survive the death of its creator, most being soon abolished by the Communist regime itself. But the Communist regime itself cannot escape the condemnation of history, even after abandoning the bloodiest methods employed by Stalin and assigning most of the blame for these systemic crimes on him personally. The Communist regime never could—not until 1991—free itself of its underlying atheistic and utopian Marxist-Leninist dogma.

Stalin bears the responsibility for many great evils: a monstrous attempt to eradicate faith in God, the organization of mass repressions and terror, forced collectivization and “de-Kulakization” of the most industrious portion of the peasantry, and the destruction of a large part of the nation’s cultural legacy. But the system of fear and destruction was not a creation of Stalin alone, but of Stalin and his henchmen, his opponents, and even some of those he later turned against and victimized.

On the other hand, his name is connected with the victory in the Great Patriotic War, with the creation of the nation’s military might, which defends our country regardless of who is in power, with the experience of the mobilization of human resources not only by force, but also voluntarily. These circumstances and facts cannot be denied and must be objectively assessed.

Any program of “destalinization” that is politically motivated will be never be able to formulate a true patriotic, socially oriented, strong and traditional alternative, and will therefore result in practice in even a stronger Stalinization of social consciousness.

11. When will you return to live in Russia?

If I were a private person, I would have returned already. But as the Head of the Russian Imperial House, I cannot permit the loss or diminution of this historical institution, for which I am responsible before God.

Strictly speaking, our exile ended in 1991, when my parents visited Russia for the first time. In 1992, our Russian citizenship was restored. Since then, I have visited Russia and other countries that once were part of the former Russian Empire more than 60 times. I have maintained a close relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church and have developed and maintain contacts with other traditional religions in Russia. In Moscow, my Chancellery has been very active and is a formally registered organization. I maintain an official website for our House. The activities of the Imperial Orders of St. Anna and St. Nicholas have been rejuvenated. I am active in a number of charitable programs in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. On an international level, I and my son strive, as much as we can, to enhance the positive image of our country abroad. We have achieved a great legal victory in obtaining the rehabilitation of Emperor Nicholas II, his family, and other members of our dynasty and their servants, who were executed by the Bolsheviks. So, much has been achieved, and the process of reintegrating the dynasty into the social life of the nation has been steadily increasing. We will return to Russia to live when the question of the legal status of the Imperial House as a historical institution has been resolved. The kind of legal status we seek has already been attained in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Albania, Italy, France, Portugal, and in many other republics. I do not see any reason why Russia should be any different.

12. What is your life like in Madrid?

My everyday life is much like that for most people. All household issues at home I deal with myself. This is in accord with the traditions of my family, and I consider it best to do things for myself, both domestically at home but also in most any situation.

The rhythm of daily life in Spain begins and ends later than in Russia or in most other countries, which must be taken into account when planning one’s work, or meetings, or overseas trips.

In recent years, many traditions of Spanish society have, unfortunately, been disappearing. But, if you want, you can still find stores, shops, and small restaurants that preserve the typical Spanish way of doing things.

Besides the usual worries everyone has, I have many other things to occupy my time: my work in charitable, cultural, and other social organizations, meetings with my countrymen from Russia, and trips to various countries where there are communities of Russian expatriates.

13. Is there in Russia today a nobility in spirit, not just in name? Can you describe that spirit?

Noble status is, first and foremost, a special obligation to serve your country. It would be a mistake to think that the nobility is linked with arrogance, with unearned privileges, or with parasitism. At perhaps one point in Russian history, it may have seemed that the rights of the nobility were far too expansive. The imbalance in the social sphere clearly was one of the reasons for the revolution. But now, having been able to look at the lessons of history from some distance, we can see that the nobility has contributed enormously to Russia. It would be wrong to judge the role and worth of the entire nobility based on isolated bad examples. As one wise foreign author noted, to assess the Russian nobility by the likes of Saltychikha [and excessively cruel eighteenth-century Russian serf owner—trans.] would be like judging the British aristocracy by the likes of Jack the Ripper.

All of the political, social, and economic privileges formerly enjoyed by the Russian nobility are forever part of the past. These privileges will never be restored, even if there is a restoration of Russia’s legitimate monarchy. But the nobility, as a historical institution, still has its obligation to preserve the traditions and ideals of honor, fidelity, and self-sacrifice.

The process of the rebirth of the nobility in Russia is complex. There have been many impostors and charlatans. Not all members of ancient noble families (both in Russia or abroad) have preserved the spirit, consciousness, or upbringing that characterized their ancestors. This is hardly surprising given all the effort that was directed at discrediting and destroying all that was best in the nobility. But there can be no doubt that the spirit and foundations of the nobility have nonetheless been preserved. This spirit and foundations live in the activities and intentions of the descendants of many ancient families that have survived down to our day, and are evident in the noble families that have retaken their place in public life.

I don’t think very much of aristocratic titles, but I do believe that the preservation of traditions is vitally important for modern Russia, because central to the spirit of the nobility is the respect for human dignity, something that is so necessary in today’s world. And respect for yourself is not possible without respect for others, regardless of one’s origins. This is why snobbery is the most disgusting quality, a quality that deprives one of all nobility of spirit, even if one is of the most ancient family.

14. You come to Russia often. What do you see when you come here, prosperity or decline?

We have a long way to go before we can speak of prosperity, but neither is it possible to speak of decline. Russia continues to stand at the crossroads, like an ancient warrior. So long as the people are not united in a common and clear goal and in the ideals of living in the context of the nation-st te, there will remain ucertaint"

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