30 April 2014

Interview of the Head of the House of Romanoff in the journal Theatrical World

Interview of the Head of the House of Romanoff in the journal Theatrical World

Classical literature and literary culture generally have been perceived by generations of our ancestors as the guardians of the moral essence of Christian civilization. What do you think: are these principles preserved in today’s literature?

Life in exile compels one to cherish especially all those things that allow one to feel a sense of connection with the homeland. From my youth, I have been raised in the traditions of Russian culture, in the Orthodox faith, and in an enduring sense of love for Russia. I was raised on the books of classical Russian literature, a literature which strives always to awaken what is good in the heart of every person.

You are absolutely right when you say that the cornerstone of all Russian culture was precisely Russian classical literature. It became the main spiritual treasure of the nation. It is not for nothing that it is written in the Bible that “In the beginning was the Word.” You will no doubt agree that the spiritual health of any nation depends on the moral principles it espouses. In Russia, the measuring stick of its spirituality has always been the works of Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. No atheist could deny the words of Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky: “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” The time has come to grasp the meaning of these words, to repent of past mistakes, and to begin to build a society founded on Christian, authentically humanistic principles, on the recognition of the special place Russia occupies in this world.

I think that these questions cannot help but also be a concern for today’s writers, so we can rest assured that we will see new and remarkable works of literature being produced in Russia, and these new works will stand on the bookshelves next to works like War and Peace and Brothers Karamazov.

Unfortunately, for the past few decades, the Nobel Prize for literature has not been awarded to any Russian-language authors. Most writers today are not so much concerned in their works with the search for truth, but with acquiring fame and wealth. Thereisevennowtheterm “televisionwriters” to describe some of today’s writers.What in your view has caused this decline in Russian literature?

Ithinktheanswer is right there in your question.Even if a person makes his living not with a shovel or pickaxe, but by writing movie blockbusters, this does not mean that he is a writer. It is hardly likely that one can reconcile a drive to get rich quickly with a desire to find the answers to the most important questions of modern life. If a writer only wants the big payoff, then he writes detective novels or dime-store romances. He does not spend his time writing about the meaning of life.

Today political scientists and journalists are telling the Russian public that Russia is heading for a total cultural crisis. Do you agree with that prognosis?

I am an optimist and I believe in our people. Russia is like a great river that carries in its currents all manner of debris, last year’s fallen leaves, branches, and driftwood. But the river twists and turns and then, suddenly, you see that the water has become clean and clear and that fish are thriving and leaping in it. How much tragedy and turmoil have there been in our history, but the Russian people have good common sense, which keeps them even-keeled so that the country always finds their way through seemingly dire situations.

Modern writers, philosophers, and politicians often complain that society has lost interest in reading, that the computer has replaced the book, and that bloggers have replaced the writers and thinkers in Russian society. Do you think that literature has given way to electronic media?

Without a doubt, in the last several decades, we have witnessed a great cultural revolution, which had transformed the field of information technology. Now, instead of reading the latest newspaper or book, people just turn on their computers, electronic tablets, or notebooks. But it should be noted that this is not the first time such a thing has happened in the history of civilization. The way we think about things constantly changes, and as new communications technologies appear, some things necessarily get left in the past. Take the example of the ancient Romans, who abandoned the use of lead plates as writing surfaces and instead began using wooden boards covered in wax—the prototype of the future book. They could hardly imagine that these awkward wooden boards would evolve into parchment manuscripts in the Middle Ages, and then into printed books, which would transform the world, becoming the bearer and preserver of the Word of God. The telephone eclipsed the telegraph, taking over some of the work done by the world’s postal carriers, and so on. Probably, we are right now witnessing the gradual replacement of the book with the computer and the electronic book. However, in my view, no computer can provide the same joy that comes from holding in one’s own hands a good book, or the smell of the ink on the page.

The novel was the traditional genre of Russian literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. In your opinion, has the novel today remained as important a genre?

I think that the epic scale of a work like War and Peace is unlikely to appear again anytime soon, mostly because to create a masterpiece like that requires a personality of the scale of Leo Tolstoy. Also, to write a novel like that requires years, and our lives today operate at a different pace, a different tempo altogether, both for writers and for readers. Nonetheless, the novel as a genre remains, I think, completely compatible with the 21st century.

You have more than once in this interview mentioned the name of Leo Tolstoy. But he had been excommunicated from the Church, his works in no small way contributed to the rending of Russian society, and he often criticized Russia’s emperors.

Indeed, Count Leo Tolstoy in his religious quest unfortunately fell away from the Orthodox Church. He became interested in politics and criticized the government and even the Emperor himself. But who could deny the great talent that Tolstoy was blessed with. Inpre- RevolutionaryRussia, his works were republished many times, and he was one of the favorite writers of Alexander III and Nicholas II. Upon hearing of Tolstoy’s death, Emperor Nicholas II immediately wrote his widow, expressing his sincere condolences, and Grand Duke Konstantine Konstantinovich petitioned that Tolstoy’s memory be forever honored. Tolstoy’s writings have for many generations in my family been one of our most beloved works of literature. We are filled with anguish over his religious errors, but his literary creations are an integral part of Russian culture.

Who among today’s figures in culturedo you think best continues Russia’s classical traditions?

Russian culture is extremely rich. It is very original yet at the same time not closed in on itself. It is not by some accident that the works by Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and the music of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff are admired by peoples of all nationalities and cultures the world over. Anyone who comes to know and appreciate their creative works can no longer be cynical or contemptuous about the world around them.

Russian literature of the 19th century is still, in my opinion, unmatched in all the world. However, in Soviet times, and even now, there are many talented writers who are continuing the classical traditions. Vladimir Soloukhin, Valentin Rasputin, Valerii Ganichev, Viktor Astafiev, Chingiz Aimatov, Daniil Granin—these were writers and poets who were able to convey the depths of the Russian soul and depict the beauty of our nature. And when it comes to Russian national culture, one cannot forget our outstanding musicians, singers, and performing artists. We can recall the names of Valerii Gergiev, Vladimir Spivakov, Mstislav Rostopovich, Sviatoslav Rikhter, Nikolai Petrov, and Galina Vishnevskaya, who together have maintained the school of Russian music at a very high level. Russian ballet, cinema, and theater all remain our national pride and are internationally esteemed. It would be a great shame if we were thoughtlessly to copy the mass culture of someone else at the expense of our own achievements.

Recently, the divide between the generations on moral questions and attitudes toward art and culture has become more pronounced. What do you think about this modern-day version of the conflict between “fathers and sons”?

I think this sort of conflict between “fathers and sons” to one degree or another exists everywhere, in all countries. Those of the older generation complain about the behavior of young people, but in the majority of cases they are themselves to blame for this behavior. If a child does not get enough love, attention, and care when they are growing up, then there surely will be these kinds of outcomes later on.

Conflict between the generations most often arises from the older generation’s words not matching their deeds, and attempts to resolve these conflicts through coercion or pressure never work. We should understand that the younger generation will never hold dear our ideals and values if we do not set a proper example in our own behavior. Faith in God, a sense of connection with others, and patriotism are all born first and foremost in the home, where the memory of our ancestors and their traditions are honored, where children and adults together go to church, where they speak proper Russian, and where an atmosphere of respect and kindness prevails.

I always strive to preserve a level of mutual understanding with my son and his friends, and I think that I have mostly succeeded. In any case, relationships in our family are based on love, mutual respect, and patience with each other.

Generations of Russians were raised outside the Christian religion. What, in your view, can be done to try to correct that situation?

It is hard to have a definitive answer to such a complex question as this. We recall that Russia twice in less than a century suffered a complete collapse of its underlying values—first, its Orthodox monarchist values, then its Communist values. Nevertheless, even during the years of militant atheism, the Russian people never lost its Christian worldview, and it preserved its strong feelings of patriotism, compassion, and willingness to help those in need. Despite severe persecution, our people held on to their faith more even than those living in many European countries, which never had Communism. I believe that, to a large extent, this was due to the strength of our traditional culture, and to role in society of our leading cultural luminaries.

Unfortunately, in some regions of Russia there has appeared an increasingly strong nationalist mood. And at the same time, many who want to play the “nationalist card” are demanding special advantages for the Russian populations. What do you think about the nationalist question?

Nationalist and religious extremism is a kind of fanaticism that has nothing whatsoever to do either with religion or with a nation’s traditions. At the same time, one cannot forget that nationalism in the good sense of the word, like a healthy sense of patriotism, is an absolutely normal and positive thing. It is human nature to love the members of one’s own family more than one loves strangers, and to love one’s own people more than the people of other nations. However, love for one’s own must never be transformed into hatred for others.

The Russian Empire had a great deal of experience solving international problems. The state was and remains, of course, the creation of the Russian people. This is a historical fact, and it would be pointless to try to dispute it. Even so, before the 1917 Revolution all the people of the Russian Empire, not just the Russian majority, considered themselves to be Russians. By the way, that notion has remained to this day all around the world. When foreigners use the word “Russians,” they often mean Ukrainians, Tatars, Uzbeks, Jews, and Moldavians—all natives of the USSR or descendants of immigrants. And here the word “Russian” has an entirely positive connotation. After all, “Russian” is not only an ethnicity, it is a spiritual and cultural identity, just as in antiquity the word “Roman” did not denote an ethnicity, but rather membership in a civilization. If a person feels himself to be Russian, then that’s what he is, regardless of his nationality. Besides, the fundamental principle of a multi-ethnic state is the interplay of the interests held in common by all the people, with the particular interests of the variety of ethnic and religious groups that make up the population of the state. Government must defend and encourage this principle, acting with wisdom and the greatest tact.

Political mistakes and miscalculations when dealing with nationality policy are sure to be fraught with dire consequences. In Europe we hear voices clamoring louder and louder about the mistake of following a course of open borders, which has led to a mass influx of immigrants, some of whom do not want to adapt to their new surroundings and to some of whom the entire system of European values—including toleration itself—is unfamiliar and incomprehensible.

We have a wonderful saying that applies perfectly to the problem of immigration: “Don’t bring your own rule book into a new monastery.” Everyone without exception—the majority, minorities, and immigrants—should be respected by, and enjoy the protection of, the law. But it is not good or fair if the laws of the indigenous population are flouted, or if the many individual privileges received by resident aliens are not counterbalanced by a commitment to fulfill their community obligations to their new homeland, or if they act with disdain toward that new homeland.

Conflicts between ethnic groups often have less to do with real problems than with prejudices, ignorance, and a poor understanding of history and culture—not only of other people’s history and culture, but of one’s own. It is good that the leaders of modern-day Russia are finally talking about the nationalities question more clearly and specifically. May God grant that we are guided in this not by political sloganeering, but by words of substance.

In recent years, you have visited many nations that make up our “near abroad” and have been to various regions of Russia. How do you feel about the fact that these now sovereign and independent countries were once an integral part of the Russian Empire?

The Imperial House has never played any role in the processes the led to the dismemberment of the country or to the civil war that pitted brother against brother. We always feel that we are in our homeland, no matter where we are—not only in the Russian Federation, of which we are citizens, but also in the other countries which appeared after December 1991 in the historical territory of the former Russian Empire. I believe that sooner or later, a common unifying outlook of all the people of the former Russian Empire will be reestablished. By this I do not mean the reestablishment of the Russian Empire in the same form in which it existed before 1917, and, of course, not the USSR. But I do believe it possible to establish at this stage of historical development a kind of Commonwealth, which will reflect the current realities and, at the same time, be built upon tradition, on the centuries-long experience of our ancestors, who together created one of the greatest states in the history of the world.

Russia simply cannot leave to the mercy of fate the Russian people who, at the moment when the USSR fell, suddenly found themselves to be unwelcome residents of a foreign land. All these people trust in Russia and expect its advocacy on their behalf. I am firmly convinced that this is one of the most important historical missions of the Russian Federation today. It is necessary in these cases to show firm resolve and great diplomacy; but in any event it is vital never to apply double standards either in dealing with ourselves or with those who expect Russia’s help and support.

A person’s character, personality, and outlook on life are all formed in the home. Your Imperial Highness’s family is directly descended from Russia’s Emperors. What sort of familial and personal traditions have become a part of your family life?

I believe that the most important value that we have managed to preserve through all our travails has been our close and loving family life. The things we learn and are exposed to early on stay with us our whole lives. I was lucky to have wonderful parents who gave me a wonderful childhood, who instilled in me a sense of my position and my duties before God and my fellow man, and, at the same time, who modeled for me a spirit of freedom and openness to others. Many other royal families have not been so fortunate.

My father, the Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, was in his character, beliefs, and manner, a man of a former time and sensibility. When you met him for the first time, it became immediately clear that this was a man of enormous kindness, extraordinary dignity, and high culture. But he was never pedantic, and he had the ability to converse with everyone and anyone, regardless of their position in society. He always respected the person.

My father was a man of enormous faith. He was a devoutly Orthodox man, and he held dear the foundations of our Church and cared deeply about its unity. While my father observed the ancient traditions in his life, he was at the same time a very modern and well-rounded man. His range of interests was very broad: archaeology, automobiles, model airplanes, and so on.

I might add that this openness toward others, which my father and mother nurtured in me, has encouraged the people I meet, ever since my childhood, to share with me their sorrows and joys and to recount for me their life stories. More than anything else, that quality of my parents is the most memorable, and I cherish it very much.

What personal qualities, in your opinion, should absolutely be present in an intellectual?

He should be an intelligent, kind, and decent person who, most importantly, lives in accord with his own conscience. A conscience has always been the mark of a person of faith. I know that more and more people are getting involved in charitable activities and other good works. Doing so forces one to see the good; it gives hope that in our people there still remains a fundamental moral core, which allows them to endure hardship.

You mentioned just now charitable activities. It is well known that members of the Imperial Family were always very active in philanthropy. Have these traditions been lost after the Revolution, in emigration?

The best way to begin to answer this question is to remind you of the famous expression in the Dictionary of Contemporary Russian: “Charity is love in action.” It was precisely this principle that lies behind the philanthropic activities of all members of the Imperial dynasty. Of course, after the Revolution, members of the Imperial House could not continue their charitable activities on the same scale as they could before the Revolution. Our family—almost all members of the Dynasty who had managed to save themselves—could barely make ends meet. Some were reduced to outright poverty. When from time to time the press plays up the rumors of some mythical “Imperial cache of wealth” abroad, it only conjures up in us the bitterest of smiles.

But even in these difficult circumstances, the Imperial House tried in various ways to assist their countrymen in need. My grandmother, Empress Victoria Feodorovna, who during the First World War was awarded the St. George Medal Fourth Class for her work evacuating the wounded from the front lines, worked tirelessly to raise funds for charitable causes. InNovember 1924, shetraveled to the US and successfully raised funds which were then donated in full to the Red Cross. There were many other similar activities. My aunt, Grand Duchess KiraKirillovna, became the patron of the Committee for Assistance to Refugees from the Soviet Union.

My father, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, during the Second World War organized and paid for the delivery of food and children’s clothes to the prisoners-of-war camps holding Soviet soldiers in Saint-Malo and on the island of Jersey.

My mother, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, was always heavily involved in charitable work. In addition to the large charity projects, whose success in significant ways largely depended on her personal involvement, my parents would sometimes receive requests from individuals, and they would often give money out of their own personal funds to help them, no matter how difficult it was for them financially to do so. One time, my parents were very short of cash, and my mother had to pawn a bracelet from a small collection of heirlooms that her family had managed to take with them abroad. She gave all the money she got from the sale to my father to pay a bill. But on his way to pay it he bumped into someone he knew who was in utter despair because of his poverty, and my father gave him all the money he had. He never told anyone about episodes like this, following the teaching of Christ that “when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing.”

In what charitable activities do you personally participate?

One project I work with every year is the annual charity flea market “Rastrillo.” Each year, there is a Russian stand, which I help to organize, and so I am able to make a significant contribution to the raising of funds for good causes. Half of the funds raised at the stand are given to me to use for charitable purposes in Russia. In recent years, the money I’ve raised at the flea market has gone to support an orphanage at a women’s prison near Moscow, shelters for children with neurological disorders in Moscow and Transdnistria, other similar institutions in other parts of Russia where I have visited, as well as several individuals with special needs.

I support charity balls in Great Britain and in Belgium, and I try as best I can to attend these events myself. In Belgium, I became the patron of the Society for Assistance to Russian Children.

Last year, my son, Grand Duke George, registered in London the Imperial Foundation for Cancer Research, and he is right now working to set up a similar foundation in Russia. Grand Duke George is assisted in St. Petersburg by Archpriest Alexander Tkachenko, who is a good friend of ours among the clergy and very experienced in the kind of philanthropic work we are engaged in.

What works of art and literature do you especially like?

My favorite writer is Nikolai Gogol. My favorite composer is Giuseppe Verdi. And my favorite artists are the great painters of the Italian and Spanish schools, especially Diego Velázquez. I have also always been fascinated by ancient Egyptian art and by the culture of Easter Island. These majestic and mysterious works bear witness to the extraordinary gifts that God has given to Man. In Russia, I have always been struck by the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl—the clearest symbol of the harmony between faith, Divine creation, and Man’s own creative works of art.

Which is your favorite museum?

My own memory is my favorite museum.

How do you feel about today’s fashion?

It is never for me so much a question of what is in or out of fashion just now as much as it is a question of taste and a sense of proportion. It’s foolish to wear clothes that don’t suit you just because someone has declared them to be in style. There should always be a sense of the appropriate. One should always dress in ways that are appropriate to our times and the setting, and that are comfortable. To go visiting friends dressed in black tie would be as inappropriate as going to a banquet in a jogging suit.

Unfortunately, fashion in the last thirty years or so has come to be dominated by a certain aggressiveness in style, which is reflected in the attitudes of young people today. Youth itself, of course, is beautiful, but if in your younger years you destroy the notion of beauty, then what will happen in your old age? And how do we preserve beauty and transfer it to the next generation if we now are deliberately disfiguring ourselves? This applies to everything around us—from clothes to even children’s video games.

What’s your favorite thing to do around the home?

I very much love to work in my garden, and I myself pick the flowers and plants that I grow in it. I prefer to do the planting myself and not rely on the advice of professional gardeners. Working in the soil cleanses a person and frees him of his cares. In my home, I like interior decorating and from time to time I like rearranging my furniture.

Published as: A. N. Krylov-Tolstikovich, “Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna: “I was raised on the books of classical Russian literature…,” in Teatral’nyimir, April 2014, pp. 20- 40.

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