19 February 2007

Interview of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, in the journal Elite of Society, 25 December 2005

Interview of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, in the journal Elite of Society, 25 December 2005

(Published in abbreviated form as “Chronicles of the Turn of the 21-st Century,” in Elite of Society [February 2007]: 26-31.) 

For the edification of her grandchildren, (the future Emperor Alexander I and the Governor-General of Poland Constantine) Catherine II composed her “Grandmother’s Tales.” How did your parents raise you? What principles guided them in raising you? Were you raised as an ordinary person or as the Head of the House of Romanov?

I had a very happy childhood. There was such a harmony between my parents. They very much loved each other. They never quarreled or were separated. I was thus raised in an atmosphere of mutual love and respect. My parents strove hard to make me be very much a person of the modern world so that I would respect the personhood of everyone I should meet in the course of my life, and so that I would be self-reliant. Of course, they thought that someday it would fall upon me to be the Head of the House of Romanov was also very much part of my childhood. But this in no way disrupted nor does it now disrupt my ability to relate to other people. If one conceives of one’s position honestly, with dignity and humility, then one can always find a common language with other people. 

What does a typical day look like for the Head of the Russian Imperial House? What tasks does your position oblige you to do?

My typical day is not unlike a typical day for most people. I tidy up around the house, I go to the market, I meet with friends…. I love to work in my garden. When we lived in a house, I had my own small garden. Now I do my gardening in a small plot of ground next to my apartment building. In my daily schedule, I have no special obligations other than those most people have in their daily lives. I often have to attend to the business of being the Head of the Imperial House during official gatherings and meetings. But if some people think that I hold audience with visitors or sit on a throne wearing a crown and ermine robe, then they are very much mistaken. My position obligates me not to superficialities, but to the essence of a matter. When I choose to participate in one or another endeavor, I am obliged to do the job well. When I am speaking with someone, I am obliged to listen attentively, apprehend the true meaning of what someone is saying, and to speak frankly my own opinion. If someone asks me for help, I try always to give it. 

What projects are you engaged in now, what type and kind of basic activities do you do? How do you earn a living? How do Russian businessmen support the Imperial House?

I could allow myself to have a career when the Head of the Russian Imperial House was my father, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich. After his death, when I myself became the Head of the dynasty, I assumed altogether new responsibilities. I am involved in a lot of social work, in charitable activities in Russia and in other countries. We have some small financial resources, which allow us to live a comfortable life. But our own personal funds are inadequate to support the kind of bigger projects that are aimed at helping a large number of people. We are therefore very grateful to those who have the means and the desire to support and further our charitable and cultural endeavors, especially those in Russia. The number of persons willing to help in this way is constantly growing. In Russia, our Chancellery is registered as an organ to provide our countrymen with information and to coordinate collaborative activities of all those who want to work with us. Anyone who wants to contact my Chancellery and to find out more about our activities should go to the official site of the Imperial House on the Internet. 

What are your interests? How do you like to spend your free time?

I very much like to travel. To become familiar with other cultures is extremely enriching. I love the theatre, opera, and ballet. When I have a free minute or two, I very much like to go through and look at old photographs, calling back to mind events from the past. This forces one to think about the path one has taken, to analyze one’s past actions, and to better understand the workings of one’s own mind. 

Could you speak a bit about Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich: how you handled his upbringing, where he took his education, what he is doing now?

I have raised my son in the same traditions and in the same spirit in which my parents raised me. After he finished school, he entered Oxford University, and after that he worked at offices of the European Union. Presently, the Grand Duke is studying business. He has just turned 25 years old, and he has time to try out a variety of professions and to gain a variety of experience, which will serve him well when we return to Russia. 

What is more important for you: a holy duty or character? What guiding principles did you have when you go married, and what guides your thinking in your other affairs?

One cannot set duty and character in opposition to each other. Everyone has a duty, and if someone is unaware of their duty, then that, in a sense, is their character. I married for love. By the way, in our dynasty anyway, the requirement to marry someone of equal birth has not, as a rule, gotten in the way of feelings. One need only remember the love between Emperor Alexander III the Peace-Maker and Empress Maria Fedorovna, or Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, or Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich and Grand Duchess Elisabeth Fedorovna…. My grandfather, Kirill Vladimirovich and my grandmother Viktoriia Fedorovna overcame enormous hardships to be together. And I already spoke of the relationship between my parents. When I got married, my husband, Prince Franz-Wilhelm of Prussia, out of love, understanding, and respect for our traditions and for my future role, fulfilled every request made of him by the Law: he converted to Orthodoxy, took the Russian title of grand duke with the name Mikhail Pavlovich, and pledged to raise his children in the Orthodox faith. Unfortunately, after 9 years, the marriage ended in divorce. But then, such things happen not only in royal families, as you may have noted. 

What in a person’s character do you find most valuable? Should every member of an imperial, royal, or ducal house sacrifice his personal life to traditions, ritual, etiquette, duty; and if so, why?

Before all else, I value faithfulness: to God, to your people, to your country, family, friends, and to your own convictions.

One need not sacrifice one’s own life to rituals or to etiquette. One must think of these things appropriately. Etiquette and rituals enrich our lives, and sometimes they serve practical ends. In this sense, they are necessary, but not to such a point that one must lay down one’s life for them. Duty is quite another matter, as are patriotism and love—the higher, nobler feelings. Humanity distinguishes itself from other living things in that people can hold ideals to which they can sacrifice much, including even their own lives. And this is true not only for members of a dynasty, but for each and every one of us. It is up to each person to decide what his personal values are, but to live without values at all is impossible. Perhaps some might consider it paradoxical to say this, but life has meaning only if you are willing to sacrifice it for an ideal. 

You are related to most of the royal families of Europe. What is the nature of your relationship with them?

European dynasties are really one big family. I am related to practically all of the royal houses, and in some cases, in multiple ways. I enjoy especially warm relations with the Spanish Royal Family since I was born and raised in Spain and since we have lived there now for so many years. King Juan-Carlos and Queen Sophia attended my wedding. My godmother was the now deceased Tsaritsa Johanna of Bulgaria, and my son’s godfather is King Constantine of Greece. I also have very close ties with the Duke of Braganza, the Head of the Portuguese Royal House. With some other royal houses, my relationship is somewhat more formal. But in any case, I see my royal relatives at dynastic occasions: baptisms, weddings, funerals. I have very warm memories of my meeting with Crown Prince Frederick and Maria of Denmark at the time of the reburial of Empress Maria Fedorovna in St. Petersburg in September, 2006. Many representatives of royal families are interested in Russia, its history, and some even study the Russian language. I am very pleased about this since these kinds of dynastic connections have, since ancient times, been of enormous benefit to the peoples of Europe. 

What do you see as being the reason for all the divisions within the House of Romanov, how might these divisions be healed, and what are you personally doing about it?

At the present time, the Russian Imperial House consists of 4 persons. Besides me, there is my mother, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, my son, Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich, and Princess of the Imperial Blood Ekaterina Ivanovna, the daughter of one of the martyrs of Alapaevsk, Prince-Martyr Ivan Konstantinovich, who was thrown into a mineshaft along with St. Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fedorovna. Among the four of us, there are no divisions whatsoever. There are also many descendants of the Romanov Dynasty that issued from morganatic marriages. According to the Law of Succession, they do not belong to the Imperial House. Some of them engage in fantasies by which they have groundless pretensions and improperly use titles and so on. Political forces hostile to our goals sometimes take advantage of this and attempt to mislead the public and convince everyone that the Imperial House as such no longer exists, that the Romanovs are struggling for a throne that no longer exists, and so on. In fact, there is nothing of the sort going on. Our dynastic laws are extremely clear and to the point. They do not permit the possibility of pretenders to the throne. Their provisions always assure that there is one person who has the right to be the head of the dynasty. God saw fit to have that responsibility fall upon me. I get along quite well with all my relatives, regardless of their status with respect to the law of succession. When they do something in the service of Russia, I genuinely am happy for it. I am open to all manner of cooperation with them. But I cannot do anything for them that would violate our laws and traditions. 

What country do you feel is your native country? Why do you so infrequently visit Russia and what is your connection to Russia today? Do you have any concrete projects on which you are working here: business, social work, politics, charities?

It’s a strange question…. Of course, my native country is Russia. Our dream has always been and will remain to return to the Fatherland to live permanently. The process of reintegrating the Imperial House into the social fabric of our country began in 1991, when my parents came to St. Petersburg for the celebrations of the renaming of the city. Since then, there have been more than 50 visits to Russia. Recently, I have been in the Motherland anywhere from 2 to 4 times a year. While that’s not as often as I would like, it’s not exactly a rare thing, either. In any event, I am always following events in Russia and I have never lost my active connection to Russia.

I have on many occasions declared that the Imperial House will not engage in political activities. And this is not some temporary tactical ploy, but a principled and permanent decision. The main function of the Imperial House is to serve as a neutral arbiter. The dynasty must remain an all-national symbol. Therefore, participating in the political arena is not desirable.

We regard honest business activity with enormous respect, as we regard any endeavor that is good and useful for the state and society. But as Head of the Russian Imperial House, I must direct all my energies to social, charitable, and cultural activities. 

Where in Spain do you live? Do you have your own house? Do you host charitable or other sorts of balls and receptions? Who constitutes your inner circle and do you support ties with the descendants of the Whites who emigrated from Russia?

I have an apartment in a building in downtown Madrid. While it is not possible for me to organize balls and receptions myself, I frequently take part in charitable organizations that are effective and highly respected. Every year, I organize the Russian component of the charitable flea market “Rastrillo,” which is put together by the foundation “New Future” in Madrid. I have visited the fundraiser ball “War and Peace” in London. Among my friends and supporters around the world, there are both foreigners and descendants of Russian emigrants. The Russian emigrations of the first two waves have already largely assimilated. But there is another part of the Russian emigration that has renewed its ties with Russia, and some of them have actually returned to Russia to live. This certainly deserves our approval and support. 

Are you presently struggling to have Nicholas II rehabilitated? How do you feel about this idiosyncratic personality? Do you recognize his responsibility for bringing about the Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Civil War and the deaths of members of the Imperial Family?

If you are so inclined, there isn’t any historical personage that couldn’t be labeled idiosyncratic. In my opinion, Emperor Nicholas II was an extremely solid character. Of course, he, like any other government official of that high level, made mistakes, and sometimes quite serious mistakes. But without a doubt, he loved Russia, loved his people, and was a deeply religious man. Even to his political opponents it should be obvious that he paid for any mistakes with his horrible death. And such a notion was advanced by the Russian Orthodox Church, which, in 2000, added the Royal Family to the heavenly choir of New Martyrs.

It is rather pointless to attribute the revolution to one man personally. A revolution is a sickness of the nation. It is first and foremost a spiritual crisis that touches all layers of society. To continue the search for those responsible is to attract the kind of chaos of the Civil War. We need now not to search for those who are responsible, but to search for healing.

I am working for the rehabilitation of the Royal Passion-Bearers not as a kind of indictment of anyone. Those who passed sentence and perpetrated this execution have long ago stood before the dread judgment seat of God. The rehabilitation of the Royal Family is necessary for modern-day Russia, and for all of us, its citizens, for the reestablishment of justice, for our purification, and so that the horrors of the Revolution and the Civil War will never be repeated in our country. 

How do you feel about the reburial of the remains of Empress Maria Fedorovna? Do you think that it was premature? Why?

The reburial of her remains was the last wish of the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna. It is always the right time to do the right thing, such as this. To exploit this event for political goals and to wait for a perfect moment to do it would have been immoral. It was sad and unpleasant for me to hear the expressions of certain people who, with a kind of senseless ill will, commented on the preparations for the reburial. It seems to me that they did this not out of some principled stance, but just to draw attention to themselves. But this was not at all the proper moment for advertising oneself. Personally, I am very grateful to the president of Russia and to all who participated in the organizational work for the reburial for the enormous efforts they made to fulfill the last wishes of the empress. She loved her second Motherland with all her heart and did much for Russia, and her return to Russia was an act of great historic justice.

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