15 May 2014

The Head of the House of Romanoff sends her greetings on the 80th anniversary of the restoration of the study and teaching of history in the USSR and the 210th anniversary of the signing of the “Confirmation Charter” of the University of Moscow.

The Head of the House of Romanoff sends her greetings on the 80th anniversary of the restoration of the study and teaching of history in the USSR and the 210th anniversary of the signing of the “Confirmation Charter” of the University of Moscow.


From the Head of the Russian Imperial House

H.I.H. the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia

Sent on the 80th anniversary of the restoration of the teaching and studying of the history of Russia and the restoration of the History Department of Moscow State University, and of the 210th anniversary of the signing of the Confirmation Charter of the Imperial University of Moscow and the founding of the Imperial Society of Russian History and Antiquities.

I send my heartfelt greetings to participants in the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the restoration of the teaching and study of Russian history and the reestablishment of the Department of History at Moscow State University, and the 210th anniversary of the signing of the Confirmation Charter of the Imperial University of Moscow and founding of the Society of Russian History and Antiquities.

At the beginning of the 20th century, our country endured a severe and all-encompassing crisis, which culminated in the Revolution of 1917 and subsequent Civil War. The government that came to power as a result of these tragic events established a political regime that openly and frankly proclaimed its atheistic ideology and its totalitarian form of government. Guided by a utopian desire to remake human nature and build a fundamentally new and Communistic society, the Bolsheviks treated the historical heritage of pre-Revolutionary Russia with deliberate disdain, and sought to destroy it. This policy could not help but have a devastating impact on the field of History and on history education in the country.

For the first decade or more of Communist rule, there was, in effect, a targeted attack on the Russian historical profession, which had developed over many centuries. There was an effort to replace the teaching of History with shortened courses on politicized sociology or short units in other courses on economic development, the class struggle, and revolutionary movements.

But the harm of this approach, not only for the academic field of history, but also for the civic life and society of the country in general, had, by the beginning of 1930, become plain for all to see. Finally, in 1934, it was decided to return to the formal study and teaching of history and also to establish again dedicated academic departments of history in the institutions of higher education.

Even so, with the totalitarian regime then in power, the study and teaching of history was still entirely subject to the party’s rigid ideological dogmas and schemas.

However, even with all the deeply insurmountable contradictions between the Marxist-Leninist ideology espoused by the ruling party and the spiritual and conceptual values that had defined the development of Russia over the course of more than 1000 years, the restoration of the teaching of History played a beneficial role.

The regime’s extreme cosmopolitanism and its underlying contempt for all of Russia’s national and governmental heritage gradually gave way to patriotic feelings and to the recognition of the role in the formation of the State of the Russian majority, who, working together collaboratively and in friendship with other nationalities, had built a great nation—great not in that it was the first to ignite the fires of what the regime thought would become a global revolution, but great for its own intrinsic values.

As the depersonalized approach to History began to fade away, albeit surreptitiously, slowly, and with many setbacks, the discipline began to be liberated from ideological control from above. In the popular consciousness of the people there occurred a kind of rehabilitation of some previously maligned national heroes of pre-Revolutionary Russia, including saints, rulers, hierarchs and other Church leaders, military commanders, and statesmen.

By learning the facts of their history, people had the opportunity to make up their own minds about these figures, despite the Party’s official interpretation of them. This expanded their horizons, enriched their perspectives, and strengthened their spirit.

The change in the attitude of the Communist regime to the discipline of History necessarily entailed at least a partial restoration of the traditions of the pre-Revolutionary educational system. Thanks to this, continuity was not broken and the Soviet historical profession did not lose its connection with the valuable experience of the historical profession of the Russian Empire either in research or pedagogy.

Both before and after 1934, many Russian historians, including some of the most eminent of them, had become victims of political repression, and a large number of them perished. We must honor their memory, publish their research, and study their works. And, of course, we must honor and remember not only the most persecuted of the scholars and teachers of the Old School, but also Marxist historians—all those who displayed courage and integrity in defending their views and concepts. Differences in beliefs must not distract from our duty to respect the work of our finest professional historians. Moreover, it is never acceptable anywhere to persecute those engaged in research and teaching because of their convictions, theories, or pedagogical methods.

Freedom of conscience and speech, in conjunction with a responsibility to one’s ancestors and descendants, is what allows us to sense the grandeur of History and the vital importance of the goal that all citizens without exception—not just specialists—acquire a solid grasp of our nation’s past.

In the broadest sense of the word, history is not only the past; it is the present and the future. We live in History, and each of us in our own way participate in the making of history.

History is a tremendous reservoir of experience; and without some understanding of it, we will not be able fully to improve the present or lay the foundations of the future.

History cannot and must not in any way be the servant of any party or private interests, nor a toy in the hands of simple-minded demagogues, or a tool for material gain. Its purpose is to be a guide for life, a means for fostering love for one’s country, a method for understanding global processes, and an example for the resolutions of today’s problems.

There cannot be a “single correct” view on the past. Each historian has the right to his own interpretation. But a true historian is an honest and objective researcher who is seeking the truth without passion or bias, relying on original and authentic historical sources, and able to penetrate the spirit of the era he or she is studying.

By God’s grace, we now in our country accept that no period of the past can be ignored, denigrated, or derided. We find heroic role models—as well as sad moments that call us to repentance—in all periods of the past. We must strive to see the good things in our past, but we must never forget the sins, crimes, and mistakes, either. And it would be the most dangerous possible approach were we to attempt to exonerate the evil and filth in some of the darkest chapters of our past under the guise of offering equal respect for all periods of history. If we do, we risk repeating the lawlessness and madness of the past, in perhaps an even more terrifying and cruel form than before. We can see firsthand what comes of forgetting or distorting the historical record as we observe with sorrow and pain the events unfolding now in Ukraine.

Preserving the heritage of our homeland and memory of our ancestors is the duty of all citizens and all society. But a special responsibility is placed upon professional historians, who are charged with presenting the historical truth to their countrymen. This duty was performed particularly well by the Department of History of the Moscow State University. It is no accident that the restoration of historical studies in higher education began in 1934 with the reestablishment of its History Department.

Along with commemorating that happy anniversary during the Soviet period, our thoughts today go back also to the beginning of the 19th century, when Emperor Alexander I the Blessed signed on November 5/18, 1804, the “Confirmation Charter” of the Imperial University of Moscow on the eve of the 50th anniversary of its founding by Empress Elizabeth I.

Noting the enormous contribution of the University over the previous 50 years “in producing educated people who are prepared to enter state service, in disseminating knowledge and, still more, in refining the national language,” the Emperor presented to this leading institution of higher education in the Russian Empire a charter, which recognized the honored place of “the estate of learned men” in Russian society and which regulated the conditions in which these men would undertake their academic work at the university. The “Confirmation Charter” of the Imperial University of Moscow is rightly considered one of the most advanced university charters of its time—not only in Russia, but in the entire world.

The royal lawgiver never doubted that among the subjects taught at the university, History was vital “both generally for each person, but also particularly in preparing citizens for various kinds of state service.” Knowledge of the history of one’s own country and of the history of the world is important for any educated and cultured person, but it is even more important for those who bear responsibility for others.

In line with this thinking, the Imperial University of Moscow formed several faculty departments in History and related disciplines. In 1850, during the reign of Alexander I’s successor, his brother Nicholas I, the Department of Historical Philology was created. The History Department at Moscow State University in the 19th to 21st centuries has built its success upon tradition and innovation in the areas of teaching and research, and its academic achievements have garnered many accolades in the profession worldwide.

Respect for, and interest in, the uses of History are also seen in the founding in 1804—the same year the Confirmation Charter was signed—of the Moscow Society of Russian History and Antiquities. This is the first ever academic society of historians, archivists, and publishers in Russia, and it existed and thrived for more than a century. Its founders were luminaries of Russian historical scholarship: August Ludwig von Schl?zer, Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin, Nikolai Nikolaevich Bantysh-Kamensky, Count Aleksei Ivanovich Musin-Pushkin, and other faculty at the Imperial University of Moscow. In 1837, Emperor Nicholas I recognized the many achievements of the Society, granting it the status of an Imperial Society. The Society was led by some of the greatest figures in the field of Russian history: Mikhail Petrovich Pogodin, Sergei Mikhailovich Soloviev, Ivan Egorovich Zabelin, Vasilii Osipovich Kliuchevsky, and other outstanding and brilliant scholars, most of whom were also affiliated with the Imperial University of Moscow.

Unfortunately, after the Revolution of 1917, the Imperial Society of Russian History and Antiquities declined and was finally abolished in 1929, at the height of the attack against the historical profession and inpidual historians. Particularly tragic is the case of the Society’s last chairman, the Academician Matvei Kuzmich Liubavsky, the former chancellor and long-time professor of the Imperial University of Moscow, who, with others, helped to establish archival studies as a formal discipline in the Soviet Union. The elderly scholar was convicted on false charges during the so-called “Academic Affair” (or Platonov-Tarle Affair). Hediedinexileandhissonwasexecuted. Stripped of his title of Academician, destitute, half blind, and grieving the loss of his son, Liubavsky still continued to produce important works of scholarship in exile until his death.

The anniversaries we celebrate awaken in us a duty to remember with gratitude all the great historians of our homeland, to pay tribute to their talents and to learn from their love for their subject, their professionalism, their integrity, and their dedication.

I am pleased that the current celebrations call on us to remember both pre-Revolutionary and Soviet-era history, and that all the participants in these celebrations are united in the goal of analyzing the activities of their forebears on a genuinely scholarly basis and take from this analysis useful lessons for teaching history in our schools.

I wish you every success in your academic endeavors for the good of our homeland.

My son and heir, the Grand Duke George of Russia, likewise sends his greetings to you all.

May the Lord bless you all!

Signed by Her Imperial Highness:



May 2/15, 2014

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