08 April 2003

Interview of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, with the newspaper Russian News

Interview of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, with the newspaper Russian News

1. Your Imperial Highness, how do you see the role of monarchy in modern society? Is it possible to have the executive power of the government be hereditary in a civilized democratic society?

I think it is wrong to think of monarchy and democracy as being fundamentally opposed to each other. In the modern world, hereditary monarchy is not beholden to anybody, except God, and therefore is independent of all party politics and able to guarantee more fully the rights and freedom both of the entire nation, and of individual citizens.

2. In other words, then, you believe that monarchy is better able to secure genuine democracy?

One must remember that neither a monarchy nor a republic can in and of itself guarantee the well-being of the country, like some magician using a magic wand. What is needed are the common efforts of the entire nation, and the will of the authorities to regard the common good of the citizens as their principal goal, and to respect the citizenry.

Monarchy, like any human system, has its shortcomings. But, unlike republics, monarchy historically is a structure that originates not on the planning board, but originates in the family, through to the people of the nation. Therefore, the nation that organizes its society around the monarchical principle lives as a single organism. It can suffer illnesses, but in it is always preserved the unbroken relationship between the hereditary head of state and the people, as the head is connected to the rest of the body. They cannot exist apart from each other, but rather share the same joys and sufferings. Without this sense of connection, an unavoidable break will occur between the monarch and society. And when such a break occurs, there quickly arises the notion that democracy is some kind of Utopia.

The difference between monarchical democracy and a republic is that the president represents the interests only of a part of the electorate, while the monarch represents the interests of all the people as a single family.

If we were to draw analogies, then a monarchy is comparable to a family, and a republic is comparable to a business in which people hold stock. Of course, there are some extremely good working companies, and there are some quite dysfunctional families. But any normal person would value more his own family than his financial interests in a company.

I am convinced that the best system of government links hereditary monarchy with democratic government. Such a system would unite in itself the best qualities of government: family and a democracy of enfranchised citizens.

3. Some of your relatives, who also consider themselves to be Members of the Imperial House, have republican sympathies. What do you think are the chances of reestablishing the monarchy in Russia to be?

Let me start by saying that, in principle, any “Imperial House” that upholds republican sympathies is like a Church that preaches atheism. The renunciation of monarchism would signal the death of the Imperial House as an historical institution.

We note with sadness how certain of our relatives have embraced strange and nonsensical political ideas, claiming membership in the Imperial House—which the family laws and historical tradition both deny them—and at the same time rejecting ideas that were embraced by their ancestors. They do not understand that one does not “consider oneself” to be a Member of the Imperial House. One either is or is not, according to what the law of succession says.

It is very sad, indeed, that such relatives fail to appreciate the effectiveness of the democratic monarchies in Europe. In their advocacy of republicanism for Russia, they are advocating what is in fact only the second-best option for their Motherland.

Personally for me, being Head of the Imperial House is before all else a duty, not a right. This responsibility is given me from above: one cannot confer it upon oneself, nor can one reject it. Like my predecessors, I consider it today to be my main duty “not to let the candle go out.” Without reservation, I believe in the future of monarchy in Russia. Or, better put, I want to believe that the value of the monarchical form of government will again be understood and dear to the Russian people. But I would be the first to reject an offer to reestablish the monarchy against the wishes of my countrymen. Even the most virtuous endeavors come to nothing if they are forced on people too strongly. Right now, we can plainly see the consequences of nearly a century of anti-monarchist propaganda. Some amount of time is required before the people will see that monarchy is a progressive and modern structure of government, which best links the centuries-long history of Russia with the realities of the twenty-first century.

The Imperial House should preserve the traditions of the monarchy, openly speak of their ideas, and be always ready to answer a call from the people. And this is not to say that the Imperial House is somehow excluded from any active participation in the life of Russia at present, but implies rather the opposite. It does not matter how many years go by before the monarchy is reestablished—ten, fifteen, or one hundred. The Imperial House has existed, exists now, and will continue to exist on the basis of its historical foundations and does not think of itself as outside of Russia. We are striving—and as citizens of Russia and as heirs of the Romanov Dynasty, which ruled for more than 300 years, we have the undeniable right—to live amongst our people, irrespective of the nuances and changes in the prevailing political order.

I would like everyone to be perfectly clear on my position. In Russia right now, thank God, there is no more Communism and there is freedom of conscience. I, like all citizens, have the opportunity now to express my views, my opinions about the present and about the future. But today, I and the Members of the Imperial House of which I am legal head, are in accord with the president and government, and are not in any way their opposition. And we are determined not to participate in any political struggles, but we only want to be useful to our country and to help facilitate healthy changes in it.

4. Opponents of monarchy have suggested that a transformation to this form of government is not possible because it would require a revision of the present Constitution and of all the laws that have been written under it.

Listen, this is just plain nonsense. How many constitutions were there after 1917? By what legal procedure was the monarchy itself abolished? By what procedure was the Constitution of 1993 introduced? At the end of the day, one cannot make the law into some kind of idol.

No one would deny that governments should be founded on the basis of law. The current Constitution should be respected and strictly observed. By the way, the very existence of the Imperial House in exile could only be accomplished thanks to the operation of a familial “constitution”—the law of succession. But times are changing and so is the law. Law is not some kind of infernal machine, and it should not work against the interests of the people who established it.

Some legislators become like the unfortunate character in the story who let the genie out of a bottle—they write laws but cannot foresee nor control the eventual consequences of their actions.

Laws are created for the people; people do not exist for the sake of the laws. Laws that are not linked with the real needs of life become a kind of guillotine. If the country decides to restore the monarchy, then a new Constitution will be adopted. It will keep unchanged all that is useful in the current Constitution, but also include new provisions according to the developing needs of the state and society.

5. What do you think about the idea of creating a monarchist party in Russia?

I think that the creation of a monarchist party would be contradictory to the entire notion of monarchy. On the one hand, a monarchist party without a monarch is completely absurd; and, on the other hand, a monarch cannot be either the actual or symbolic leader of a party. The monarchy should be a force for unity, not division. All parties represent merely part of the nation that in one way or another comes into conflict with other parts of the nation. A referee (which is what the monarch should be) cannot play for one of the teams on the field, and a judge cannot also be the plaintiff or the defendant in a trial.

If some monarch or a head of a dynasty should decide to lead a political party, thinking that, by doing so, he is serving the best interests of his country, then that’s his decision. But such a monarch should be aware that in the future there will always linger doubt as to whether he is the monarch of all the people, or if he represents the interests of only a part of society. And this doubt will erode the moral foundations of monarchy.

So, a “monarchist party” is, to me, nonsense. It is, however, another thing altogether if several parties make the restoration of the monarchy one of the elements of their platform for the future development of the country. The efforts of several parties working in concert together would have a nonpartisan effect, as, for example, the way musicians in an orchestra are led by a conductor. The conductor himself does not play any of the instruments, but without him the music deteriorates into cacophony. The monarch, by not taking any active role in practical politics, is then able to eliminate the cacophony from the political concert. The monarch conducts the orchestra not in accordance with the musicians’ commands, not in accordance with their urgings, and not to the benefit of any one group of musicians—and please forgive my use of this metaphor—but rather precisely as is necessary for the harmonious operation of one and all parties.

6. In your view, can a Russian Orthodox monarch maintain a policy whereby he remains above party politics, above class politics, and above religious conflicts in society?

Monarchy is, in its nature, representative of the entire nation. Therefore, it is above party politics, above class politics, and above nationalist politics. For the monarch, all the citizens of the country are his sons and daughters. And so it has always been: It is not mere chance that the Russian people called the tsar “little father” [batiushka], and the tsaritsas, “little mother” [matushka]. The sovereign cannot turn his back on any of his countrymen regardless of their convictions, their social status, or the colour of their skin.

As regards being “above religious conflicts,” this is a problematical term. All monarchs are linked to religion. The Russian monarchy was directly linked with the Orthodox faith, was established on its spiritual foundations, and, indeed, makes little sense without it. However, this does not mean that the Orthodox monarch is not a unifying figure and a guarantor of the rights of his countrymen who are members of other traditional religions. And these [non-Orthodox] countrymen, in turn, were always a faithful buttress of the monarchy. We should not forget that at that tragic moment when Emperor Nicholas II had been betrayed by nearly all of the generals in the army—generals who confessed the Orthodox faith and who had sworn an oath to him on the Cross and on the Gospels—the only one who kept that oath to the Orthodox tsar was the Muslim khan of Nakhichevan.

7. In Russia, where more than 30 million Muslims alive today, there have in recent years appeared sharper nationalist and religious divisions between Christians and Muslims. What do you think are the best ways to address the conflict between them?

Yes, I do think that right now in Russia there does appear to be a separation of people along nationalist and religious lines. But I do not think that this really is a “division,” nor, moreover, would I say that there really is a “conflict” between Christians and Muslims.” In Russia, Christians and Muslims have lived beside each other in peace and harmony for centuries.

I cannot accept that terrorists and Islamist fighters represent Islam. I have many times heard and read the words of the leaders of the Russian Islamic community, expressing patriotism and tolerance. I am convinced that these views are shared by the majority of Muslims in Russia.

But it would likewise be wrong to close our eyes to the problem. International terrorism today certainly is shaded in Islamist colors. Great efforts and means are being directed at Muslim young people, who are constantly filling up the ranks of the terrorist fighters. Chechnya has become a blood-letting wound in Russia for many years now. In many parts of the country, or, indeed, of the world, one can expect to see tragedies—the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people.

In the address that I made about the hostage takeover of the theater in Moscow, I underscored the fact that terrorism should be opposed by all well-meaning people, regardless of their religion, nationality, or political views. Fanaticism is the product not of religion, but of dirty and brutal politics that blasphemously takes on the guise of faith. But genuine people of faith understand that we all are the children of one God, and that we are made in His image and likeness. Each one of us searches for his path to God, and in the end, He does not want from us those things that divides us, but that one thing that unites us all together: love. Love is at the foundation of all religion because they have a common source: that faith that Adam and Eve confessed. To return to these days when all were truly one may be impossible, but we must try to remember our common roots. If we do try, then Orthodox, and Catholics, and Protestants, and Muslims, and Buddhists, and Jews will understand that one cannot serve God by cursing others, killing others, and hating others, but only by expressing love for each other and for all of God’s creation.

8. What do you think about the war that is going on now in Iraq?

The consequences of this war cannot be predicted, but whatever they will be, they will be long-lasting and sorrowful for the entire world. We cannot forget that the two world wars of the twentieth century began as regional conflicts. May God grant that this military action will end as soon as possible, so that it will not descend into a civil war, and so that there will be an end to the suffering and death of civilian life.

9. In ten years, Russia will mark the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanov. Which of the Russian tsars and tsaritsas do You most admire?

The Emperor Alexander III. He is known to history by the epitaph Tsar-Peacemaker, since during his reign there were no significant wars, yet the authority of Russia in the entire world was at its greatest. He was able to assemble a remarkable collection of statesmen in his government who were able to implement his policies. He combined in himself great physical strength and great spiritual strength and determination. In my view, Alexander III symbolized in his person the greatness of Russia.

10. What do you think about the status of the nobility in Russia today?

The nobility is historically a service class. The nobility enjoyed numerous privileges, but these privileges were conditional upon its active civil and military service: the nobles were the first to shed their own blood for the Fatherland. In the 18th century, the nobility took advantage of a string of weak rulers to expand its privileges and to free itself from its obligations to serve the state. This was one of the reasons for the revolution of 1917.

If today the descendants of Russia’s noble families want to reconstitute the traditions of the nobility, they must understand that all their privileges have been irretrievably left in the past. Merely to boast of their origins, while not serving the Fatherland, does not honour the memory of their ancestors.

It has disturbed me greatly to see an unhealthy craving among some people for titles and decorations, many of these titles and medals, by the way, being completely fraudulently obtained. I am struck by how they do not understand that service to the Motherland does not require that one be dressed up like a Christmas tree. A person should be satisfied that they have done something useful, and that medals and titles and awards are nothing but mere decoration and do not compare with the good things they have done for the Motherland. For me personally, a conscientious worker or farmer is a thousand times better than some braggart who boasts over his title, whether a modern title or an ancient one. The English King Henry VIII once said to a certain earl who was about to challenge the artist Holbein to a duel: “I forbid you even to think about doing this. I could take ten ordinary men and make them earls, but I could not take ten earls and get even one Holbein.” I do not think it could be said any better than that.

11. The readers of our newspaper would find it important to know your views on modern culture and art in Russia. What artists do you think are best continuing the traditions of Russian classicism?

Russian classicism of the nineteenth century, in my opinion, remains unsurpassed in Russia, and, indeed, in the entire world. But, of course, both in Soviet times and now there have been and are many very talented writers who are continuing the classical traditions. V. Soloukhin, V. Rasputin, V. Astaf’ev, V. Ganichev, Ch. Aitmatov: these are writers who fully and truly convey the depth of the character of the Russian personality in their writings.

By the way, one cannot fail to recognize that the Soviet government—in all its repressiveness, and despite the absurdity of the Communist ideology that was thrust on society—was nonetheless able to maintain a high level of cultural and artistic achievement. The Russian ballet, cinema, theater, and art, were, during the Soviet era, our national pride and were internationally recognized. I worry that we are now loosing all this and in its place we are thoughtlessly following foreign tastes. Foreign customs perhaps have a certain appeal because of their newness, but they are not at all better than ours, and sometimes they are simply inconsistent with our culture.

12. I would like to ask Your Imperial Highness who your favorite writers, composers, and artists are.

Of writers, my favorite is N. V. Gogol’. My favorite composer is Guiseppe Verdi. And my favorite artists are from the Italian and Spanish schools, in particular Diego Vel?zquez.  

Interview with A. N. Krylov

Russian News [Rossiiskie vesti], 2003, 23–29 April (no. 15 [1675])

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