01 December 2014

Interview of Grand Duke George of Russia.

Interview of Grand Duke George of Russia.

“Grand Duke George of Russia: Ukraine was and remains for me a part of the Fatherland”

Grand Duke George Mikhailovich Romanoff is the direct descendant, in the fifth generation, of Alexander II, the Tsar-Liberator. Among his ancestors are Patriarch Filaret, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, Charlemagne, the prophet Mohammed, and, according to legend, the biblical King David. Grand Duke George was born in Madrid on March 13, 1981. His baptism was attended by King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia of Spain, and his godfather is King Constantine II of Greece. The Grand Duke has studied at Oxford University.

Our reporter for Rossiiskie vesti decided to find out more about the heir to the ancient Imperial dynasty, what ideals this descendant of the Romanoffs professes, and what he thinks about events today in Russia and in the territories of the former Russian Empire.

—Your Imperial Highness, today the situation in Ukraine is of enormous concern to us all. A civil war is raging there; and women, children, and the elderly are losing their lives. You have been several times to that country and know personally many Ukrainians. What in your view can Russia do to help put an end to this military and political stalemate?

—Ukraine, no matter what, was and remains for me a part of the Fatherland in the best sense of the word.

We first of all fully recognize the independence of those states that formed after the fall of the USSR, and we support the preservation of their sovereignty, stability, and territorial integrity.

But these states together constitute a civilizational and culturally unified whole. Some external political powers are attempting to disrupt that unified whole, powers that are equally indifferent to the wellbeing of Russia and Ukraine and which see our two countries as merely a playground for their expansionism.

And, secondly, no slogans can in any way justify the military operations against a peaceful population, the shelling of residential areas, the rehabilitation and lauding of pro-Nazi criminals, the calls for ethnic cleansing, the desecrations of places of worship, the anti-Semitic démarches, and so on.

The heart bleeds when you see unprincipled politicians in Ukraine plunging their countrymen into these fratricidal conflicts, bringing nothing but grief to everyone. The role of Russia must be to help bring about peace, to broker an end to the violence, and help all parties arrive at a resolution of the issues through peaceful negotiations and agreements.

—In other words, you think that Russia, as the older brother, should apply some pressure on its younger brother, Ukraine?

—It isn’t at all a question of who is the older and who is the younger, or who has more or less territory or the larger population.

The resolution of any question must be based first and foremost on a correct analysis of the situation and, secondly, on an understanding of previous historical processes. Without these, you cannot arrive at the correct solution to the issues. If we appeal only to the past, we will not find the answers to the new challenges of our own time. But neither is it possible to look at the concrete, short-term situation and not take into account how the situation came to be as it is now, what factors were involved in the origins of the issue, and how analogous problems were resolved in the past.

Three hundred sixty years ago, in 1654, Orthodox Ukraine liberated itself from a long and brutal national and religious domination by the Rzeczpospolita—the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—and united itself of its own free will to Russia. The pedestal of the statue to Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky in Kiev was until recently carved with the words “Forever with Russia.” Now, these words have been chiseled away. But you cannot chisel away the idea of unity that is imbedded in the people’s consciousness. And these words are quite relevant for the current situation, since Ukraine became a sovereign state. And were we to compare Russia and Ukraine with a family, as we could, we might liken them to brothers who, having reached their adulthood, have gone their own ways and forged their own independent lives, but cannot and must not ever forget their common origins, their common interests, and the love they have for one another.

—What do you think are the roots of modern Ukrainian nationalism, which sometimes verges on extremism?

—Nationalism is a perfectly fine thing, so long as you mean by it a healthy love for one’s own national traditions and a proper respect for those of other nations and peoples. Nationalism takes on an ugly form when love for one’s own people turns into hatred for others around us. And what is more, those kind of “nationalists” as a rule know nothing about the actual history of their own nation or its political traditions. Thus their activities in fact are deeply destructive and unpatriotic.

Patriotism is a very lofty and noble feeling, common to all countries, great and small. All countries value the idea of the dignity of the nation, love of country, and the ability to make a good and healthy life for all the people

At the very core of patriotism lies a profound respect for those who lived before us and were able to create great monuments of culture, to build cities, and to assert their independence from foreign invaders. It is precisely these things that have united the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. In the decades since the fall of the USSR, certain political forces both in Ukraine and in other countries have deemed it necessary to break these ties.

Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities. It was there that our common statehood was formed, and there that our choice of religion was made, a choice that has determined the future path of our Russian Orthodox civilization and culture. Later, our territory expanded, the political center shifted to other regions, large tracts of our territory were seized by geopolitical rivals, and then these losses were regained… But never did anyone ever forget that Ukraine, regardless of its changing political status, is the cradle of our common civilization. And therein lies the true grandeur of the present independent Ukraine—not in the false and fantastic theories that have been conjured not by patriots with a broad perspective on their history, but by small-minded and fanatical separatists, who are more than capable of bringing destruction on themselves, but are powerless to create anything good.

 —What are the main trends of Russian life today that can be identified above all others? What do you think about Russia’s position in the international arena?

Despite decades of rule by a totalitarian and atheistic regime, the people in Russia have preserved their faith and their traditional values, and they desire to live lives of truth and conscience, not just for personal profit. Beginning in the 1980s, Russia was transformed from a state that persecuted religion, that destroyed its own historical legacies and oppressed all those with views that were different from those held by the ruling party, into a quite free country, which many in the world today consider to be a defender of Christian values and of traditional values of human society—religion, the family, national identity, and national sovereignty.

This pleases some and it vexes others. I am convinced that Russia can be strong only if it proceeds along its own historical path, relying on its own historical traditions. Of course, Russia must always strive to pursue that which is good in its own particular historical path, and avoid what is bad—and there has been a lot of bad to avoid. This is a very complex and endless search, and along the way there will certainly be victories and defeats. But there is no other road left to us. To attempt to remake life in Russia according to foreign models and prescriptions—this is like trying to heal an ailing man by giving him a transfusion of blood with the wrong blood type. It’s a path to disaster.

One can and should look closely at the historical experiences of others. But we must make our own decisions, and these must be based on our own goals and objectives. When your rivals come to you and begin to tell you how to live and what to do, you are allowed to doubt the sincerity of their intentions. And when they praise your weakness and passivity, and then begin to condemn you and push you into a corner at the first sign that you are regaining your strength, then that is hardly a genuine friend.

—Some experts say that the foreign sanctions that have been imposed on Russia could actually help the domestic economy, providing an incentive for the development both of high-tech industries and traditional agricultural products. What is your opinion on this issue?

—Of course, sanctions are a double-edged sword and can harm those who impose them as a means to achieve their political goals as much as they harm those who are the target of them. This is playing out right now in Europe, where one already senses growing pessimism about the deterioration of economic and political relations with Russia.

For Russia, economic sanctions and attempts by foreign interests to impose economic policies on the country are not anything new… We can recall the example of Emperor Alexander III, who in only 13 years and amidst conditions of severe economic isolation, managed to bring Russia out of a deep economic crisis and transform it into one of the five most developed countries in the world. Restrictions that had been placed on Russian trade only had the effect of growing the manufacturing sectors of the Russian economy and protecting national industries from stiff foreign competition. As a result, foreign firms experienced decreasing profits, while Russia’s budget over the next two years doubled because of the improved balance of trade between imports and exports. Strict controls on national expenditures and the lowering of inflation produced a level of financial stability that helped generate a balanced national budget for perhaps the first time in our country’s history.

One of the most important measures taken then was to restore the balance of trade with Germany. In response to the high tariffs which were being imposed by Germany on Russian grain exports, Emperor Alexander III signed a law that established minimum tariff rates for states that were trading fairly with Russia. Since Germany did not qualify as one of these states, tariffs on German exports to Russia rose sharply. The German government responded by raising tariffs on Russian grain and other agricultural products, and by lowering tariffs on these goods from other countries.

As a result, Russia was effectively excluded from the German market. After a few unsuccessful attempts at a diplomatic resolution to this dispute, Alexander III placed a 25% increase in the tariffs on all goods coming to Russia from Germany.

In those days, that kind of a tariff war was highly unusual. But the Emperor was not afraid of the pressure being applied on Russia by Europe. Feeling the impact of Russian sanctions, Germany was forced to make concessions. In 1894, the two countries signed a trade treaty that was very advantageous for Russia. Alexander III’s measured but firm policy led to an increase by almost nine times in Russian national revenues. Stocks of Russian industries grew sharply on the world’s markets, especially in the mining and metallurgical sectors of the economy.

This example is quite timely just now, as serious statesmen and politicians in Russia justifiably speak of the need to reindustrialize the Russian economy, to free itself from its reliance on the production and export of natural resources, and to assure the security of the nation’s food supply.

—A century ago, a Grand Duke was more likely to be found wearing a military uniform than a suit. You dress like a businessman. We know from press reports that you worked in various positions for the European Union, then for a large Russian business. What can you tell us about your career in business? What do you do for a living now?

—After Oxford, I wanted to gain a better understanding of European business structures in order to understand the trends that would determine the long-term development of Europe. First I worked for the European Parliament, then I became the assistant to the Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Transport and Energy, Loyola de Palacio, in Brussels. I also spent time working on issues related to atomic energy and security in the European Commission in Luxembourg.

But I always wanted my work to relate more closely to Russia. So I didn’t hesitate in the slightest to accept an employment offer from the company “Norilsk Nickel” and, over the course of the next years, I worked as an advisor to its General Director and later as the manager of one of its daughter companies in Europe. My main responsibility was to advocate for Russian industries in the European market. I gained a tremendous amount of useful experience while at “Norilsk Nickel.” Recently, I formed a separate company “Romanoff and Partners,” which facilitates the development of international economic relationships between Russia and the other countries of the former Russian Empire and USSR, on the one hand, and the countries of the European Union, on the other. And I currently serve as the honorary Chair of the Russian-Belgian Chamber of Commerce.

In the present international situation, a whole new set of problems have appeared. But I am certain that the interests of the people and common sense will win out over politics, and that our work will be fruitful.

—You are a modern young man and at the same time the heir to an ancient ruling dynasty. In which of these two roles do you feel most comfortable?

—My title neither weighs me down nor props me up. Everyone has his or her own set of advantages and disadvantages in life. I see my title first and foremost as an inheritance and as a vocation. Therefore, my position is more than anything else a duty, not a privilege. Sometimes my duties are quite burdensome and place enormous limits on my personal life. Of course, a private person can to a large extend have control over his or her own life, more so than one who had been given public and historic responsibilities which cannot be set aside or forgotten lest you betray yourself and your ancestors. But God never sends anyone burdens that are beyond his or her ability to bear.

—How much time do you spend working on the public duties associated with your position as heir of the dynasty?

—I don’t really have a set work schedule. When required, I immerse myself fully in my work, but I can also set it aside if I think that things are going well. Matters related to my duties for the Imperial House are at the center of my life. They do not encroach upon my life; they are the core of it. If my travels, my charity work, my meetings and events with various groups and individuals—if these things bring joy and some benefit to people, then I am happy. Then it’s not so much work as something as natural as breathing. My dream is that the Imperial Foundation for Cancer Research that I created will one day stand firmly on its own feet. I would like to have more opportunities to help people in new and different ways.

—The history of the Romanoff dynasty is replete with dramatic events, as illustrated by the fact that five of its fourteen rulers were murdered. Which of your ancestors do you admire most?

Indeed, the history of our dynasty, like that of many other European dynasties, is far from straightforward. But each of its members was in his or her own way worthy of their royal calling. Of course, some achieved more than others. Some seemed marked for a tragic end from the very beginning. For example, Ivan VI, who was deposed as a child, spent his entire life imprisoned and was murdered during an attempt to free him. Or there’s Peter III, who, for all his good intentions, never succeeded in fully integrating himself into Russian life and was deposed six months after his accession to the throne. But there is a kind of purpose in even these tragic examples—a lesson of the burden and danger that power brings with it. To me, Peter the Great and Alexander III are role models. In Peter I, I admire how he demanded as much from himself as he did from others, that he did not consider any task as being beneath him, and that he sought to understand and master everything himself. And I admire Alexander III for his calm and confident style of rule, for his ability to assemble a good team to govern with, and for his ability to defend the interests of the country by peaceful means.

—Nicholas II once called himself the “Landlord [khoziain] of Russia.” Some believe that this is evidence of his “feudal” outlook, which was incompatible with real-world realities.

—Many people misunderstand the statements made by the Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Nicholas II. They think that he was guided by an outdated mentality and saw himself as some kind of eastern despot. But this is absolutely untrue. In this word “landlord” [khoziain], the emperor meant not “feudal landlord” [gospodin] or “overlord” [povelitel’], but the “diligent and responsible organizer of the economy” of the country he was given to rule. And he did a great deal to further the development of Russia as a whole, to strengthen its economy, and to assure its power and international competitiveness.

I believe that everyone, regardless of their rank or profession, should feel as though they are a lord in that place to which God has called them. Only then can one honorably, productively, and with a good conscience live one’s life.

As for Russia, we first and foremost are all its sons and daughters. To fulfill our duty to the nation, each of us is obliged to make our own individual households, our lordships, prosper.

—What do you think of the discussion in Russia today of the role of the Orthodox Church in modern Russian society? In particular, what is your opinion about the increasing clericalization of the State and of social life?

—I am an Orthodox Christian and I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and in all its dogmas, teachings, customs, and ecclesiological and administrative structures.

Our Russian Orthodox Church is the strongest and largest of the local Orthodox Churches in the world today. It is a Church of martyrs, which has endured terrible suffering at the hands of an atheistic regime but which preserved all the foundations of universal Orthodoxy and its own unique historical qualities.

I deeply respect His Holiness Patriarch Kirill. I think that he is one of the best First Hierarchs of the Russian Church, not only in our own time but in the entire history of the Church since the Baptism of Rus’. He is a hierarch of deep faith, a brilliant preacher, and an experienced shepherd. In conversations with him, he shows himself to be a very kind and humble man. It pains me greatly to see and hear the unjust attacks made against him and against the Church. Of course, there are many different kinds of people in the earthly Church, including among the clergy. Criticisms of some personalities and individual aspects of Church life are not only welcomed, they are necessary for the healing and correction of sins and mistakes. But if your read and think carefully about the criticisms we are witnessing now, you will see that most of the critics of the Patriarch or the Church are complaining not about genuine flaws or shortcomings, but about those very qualities that make them—the Church and its First Hierarch—strong.

Some people want to exile the Church to a kind of ghetto, to deprive it of the ability to participate in the life of the government and society. This of course has nothing whatsoever to do with the principles of secular government. The Church in our time is separated from the State. But this legal separation does not abolish the profoundly religious role of the Church in society, nor its social and cultural role. And so the rise in the influence of the Patriarch and of Church leaders does not constitute a “clericalization,” but is rather a natural process that is useful to the spiritual health of the nation and to the strengthening of the State and civil society.

If bishops or priests were being appointed to positions of power and authority in the government, then that would certainly be clericalization. But to be given the opportunity to preach on moral values, to participate in the education of young people, to provide for the spiritual needs of military service men and women, to work with the state and obtain from it assistance in restoring and preserving the historical and cultural monuments of our country—this hardly qualifies as clericalization. These are entirely traditional and universal practices.

Other traditional religious denominations should also of course receive support from the government, which no one should find objectionable. But the predominant religion in Russia is nonetheless Orthodoxy, and this is accepted and respected by all the religious leaders of the other religions confessions in the country. There must never be any sort of religious discrimination in Russia. However, to deny the historical role that Orthodoxy has played or the fact that most of the citizens of Russia are Orthodox Christians is similarly impossible.

—One often hears calls for the modernization of Orthodoxy, for reforms to make it more compatible with the needs of our own times. What do you think about these calls for reform?

—The Church is a living organism and it naturally undergoes constant transformation. Life itself dictates what needs to be done to unite and increase the flock. But it is vital to preserve inviolable the Orthodox faith and to be very cautious as regards changes in the use of Church Slavonic and other particular traditions of Russian Orthodoxy that have been hallowed by time.

But one cannot write off all the supporters of modernization of the Divine services and other reforms as so many heretics or apostates. Fanaticism on either side of the questions cannot lead to anything good. The Church is able to unite in one spirit people of widely divergent views—both those who are jealous to defend time-honored customs, and those who are seeking something new. The Church moderates those on either extreme and teaches love and respect for others. But it is necessary to remember the lesson of the Russian Church schism of the 17th century, and to analyze what led to the modernizing reforms in the 1960s in the Catholic Church. When you do, it becomes clear that religious practices and Church traditions are very delicate matters, which very deeply affect the souls and hearts of the people, even when the issue in question is not directly related to dogma or doctrine. Thus, a healthy conservatism is preferable here to a rash rush to innovate.

—Why do you think the Whites during the Civil War did not advocate the restoration of the monarchy?

—Not only the Reds, but the Whites were born of revolution. The Whites’ leaders and ideologists overwhelmingly welcomed the February revolution and the ouster of Emperor Nicholas II. They disdained the Bolshevik coup in October and the beginning of the Communist experiment, but they nonetheless did not understand or appreciate the centuries-old foundations of Russia. A hereditary, legitimate monarchy was an obstacle to their own boundless political ambitions. They considered themselves to be progressives, but in fact they understood the people and their expectations even less than the most conservative bureaucrats of the Old Regime. They therefore lost out to those who had a simpler and more effectively-deployed propaganda machine. Many of the White leaders changed their minds in emigration. But, unfortunately, it was by then too late.

Among the common people, monarchist sentiments were much stronger than they are often portrayed. But during the Civil War, there were no leaders who could take command and unite the supporters of monarchy. That indicates that the crisis ran very deep and was not only about the monarchy, but about the entire system of traditional values.

However, there was a silver lining. Thanks to the fact that the Whites were also revolutionaries of sorts, our dynasty, unlike the dynasties of other countries that experienced revolution, avoided involvement in either side of the fratricidal Civil War that erupted between Whites and Reds. As a result, the status of the Imperial House as the father of the nation and its neutrality with respect to both sides, were for the most part preserved.

The monarchy in Russia has in the 20th century given way a republic. But the monarchical idea—the idea of a Family-State—will never die. We are the preservers and symbols of that idea. Time will tell if that idea will ever be called upon to assume a public place in the government. But whatever the case may be, the Lord has saved the House of Romanoff from the terrible fate of having to take sides in the Civil War—of shedding the blood of one group of our countrymen in order to support another group of our countrymen. We can today look with confidence in the eyes of the people and affirm that the dynasty honorably served and serves the cause of national unity and civil harmony no matter what the structure of the government or the nature of the political regime has been.

—You frequently visit the palaces that once belonged to your ancestors. Do you ever compare the opulence they had with the way you live today? Which do you find more appealing: an enfilade of state rooms or the cozy office of the modern-day private person?

—I can certainly sense the spirit of the age when I am in the palaces of my ancestors. But I cannot say that I ever really feel “at home” there. Russian monarchs before the revolution also were not especially fond of luxury in their private lives. They adorned their palaces lavishly for formal state occasions, but they themselves preferred to live in rather Spartan conditions. And over the years of exile, we have become all the more used to austere surroundings. I find it more comfortable and convenient not to be in palaces, but in a simple, functional living space. Of course, there should be places of beauty and elegance. But without pomposity. Luxury and comfort do not always go together. Life in Europe is in some ways more comfortable today than in Russia, but I cannot say that it is more pleasant there. Every place has its pluses and minuses. Before anything else, I am concerned about where I can do my work most effectively. Right now, I live in Brussels and I find that rather convenient for my work. But if I felt that I could do more if I lived elsewhere, especially in Russia, then I would move, even if the new place was in some other ways less comfortable than Brussels.

—You have received an excellent college education and you speak several European languages. Which of these languages do you think in, and which do you use when speaking with your family?

—I can switch back and forth, and I try to think in the language I am speaking at that moment. At the same time, it happens often that in one sentence, an idea might be expressed better in one language, and another idea in that same sentence in another language. So when we in our family speak, we often move between languages, one to another. I will begin a sentence in French and finish it in Russian, sometimes inserting some English words in between. When I am out in public, I sometimes get asked: what is that language you are speaking? Probably that happens to a lot to people who frequently speak several languages.

—You enjoy watching Russian films. What do you think of Pavel Lungin’s film Tsar?

—I very much enjoyed Lungin’s move The Island. It is a parable with a profoundly Christian understanding of life, relating the closeness of, and struggle between, sin and grace, the path of spiritual triumphs and failures, and the dialectical connection between humility and misery, on the one hand, and dignity and holiness, on the other. It is based on real events, although some of the incidents and themes are of course fictional. But that is how good cinema ought to be.

But the film Tsar was not a historical tale or a parable, but rather a caricature—despite having many talented actors in it. The picture of Tsar Ivan the Terrible and of his era generally was painted with too broad and too black a brush, and not very accurately. In point of fact, Ivan the Terrible was a great and tragic figure. He committed many grave sins, for which he felt enormous contrition. But he was not a barbaric sadist or pervert, who killed people for his own amusement. This kind of falsification of history clearly lends itself to certain ideologies that do damage to any healthy notion of patriotism. The movie was not a condemnation of tyranny, which is what the director probably meant the movie to be, but rather a crude, superficial, and propagandistic attack on an entire era, an era that gave us not only torture and executions, but also the Assembly of the Land, the development of local self-government, an incredible expansion of territory, and vitally important developments in spiritual life and in the formation of the idea of the nation-state of Russia.

—How do you spend your free time?

—I like to spend time with my friends. What things do I like to do? This always depends on my mood. I do not have an “ideal set” of things I like to do with friends. I enjoy spending my free time diving, shooting, and horseback riding.

—Journalists here in Russia are like bees to honey, hungry to cover the marriages of Europe’s princes and princesses. What is your ideal of the perfect wife? Do you have a girlfriend and when can we begin writing about the upcoming wedding of the heir of Russia’s emperors?

—I think the most important thing in the relationship between a man and a woman is the love and mutual respect they have for each other. Inner beauty is much more important than good looks, although, of course, external features sometimes reflect the inner person. When I meet a woman who combines together these qualities and who understands and has the same inner person as me, then I will be able to say that I have found the one I will marry.

Published: A. Tolstikovich, “The Grand Duke George of Russia: Ukraine was and remains for me a part of the Fatherland…,” Rossiiskie vesti, December 4, 2014, № 21 (2151).

See: http://rosvesty.ru/2151/first/9763-velikiy-knyaz-georgiy-mihaylovich-ukraina-dlya-menya-byla-i-ostaetsya-chastyu-otechestva/

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