15 March 2007

A Royal Matter. The Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna: Is the Reestablishment of the Monarchy in Russia Possible?

A Royal Matter. The Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna: Is the Reestablishment of the Monarchy in Russia Possible?

Mikhail Bolotovskii 

“Russian News [Rossiiskaia gazeta]”: Your Imperial Highness, there has been in recent days a lively discussion on the pages of “Russian News” about the article by Alexander Solzhenitsyn entitled “Thoughts on the February Revolution.” Do you agree with the author when he says that the abdication of Nicholas II was a fatal mistake?

Grand Duchess: From where we sit today, with what we know and understand, it is all too easy to condemn Emperor Nicholas II. Of course, the abdication was a tremendous historical mistake. But let’s not forget the historical context in which this decision was made and what the emperor’s motives were. He was guided first and foremost by his love for Russia, by his desire not to see the war Russia was fighting turn into a civil war. All other considerations that have sometimes been attributed to him were secondary in his thinking. 

“Russian News”: During your last visit to Russia, you awarded a large group of generals and officers of the Russian army with the Military Order of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. What does the Russian Army mean to you, in light of the experience of your ancestors and of the monarchical tradition?

Grand Duchess: Even in the most difficult times, when the army bore the name “Red Army” and officially served the interests of a global revolution, my grandfather and father understood that nothing could change the essence of military service. Russian soldiers, officers, and generals have always understood themselves to be the defenders of their native soil. 

“Russian News”: You have more than once said that you feel more like a native than a guest in Russia. What prevents you and members of your family from returning to Russia to live permanently?

Grand Duchess: To return to Russia and to live there permanently has been and remains our greatest desire. And if I were an ordinary citizen, I could realize this desire at any moment. But as the head of the Russian Imperial House, I must uphold its honour and dignity. If these were lost, then the dynasty would be of no use at all to Russia.

In the majority of countries, both republics and former communist countries, the question of the status of the formerly ruling dynasties has long ago been decided for the benefit of all concerned. The state grants the royal or imperial house the status of a historical institution linking modern-day life with the past, with traditions, and with the ancient structures of society. I am certain that sooner or later the same will be true in Russia. Many important steps have already been taken in this direction, in fact. In any case, both I and all my family strive to be useful to Russia and to our people, to help as far as possible the president in his efforts to rebuild the country as a strong and stable state. 

“Russian News”: By “help,” do you mean “influence,” to “participate” in politics?

Grand Duchess: Of course, we have our own opinions on certain things. But as I have many times said, the Russian Imperial House does not involve itself in politics, does not participate in any party struggles, because such things contradict its very nature. The historical dynasty, regardless of whether it occupies the throne or not, should be a source of unity, not division. 

“Russian News”: Polls taken in Russia show the number of those favoring the restoration of the monarchy to be around 3 to 10 percent. The majority of the population simply does not know what would change—for themselves and for the country as a whole—if there were a restoration.

Grand Duchess: Naturally, many long decades of anti-monarchist propaganda have taken their toll. Many of our countrymen hold the view that monarchy is something that has become anachronistic, something that’s lived out its life, that opposes freedom, democracy and so on. But in fact, monarchy in the modern world has no less right to exist than a democracy does. The foundation of the monarchist idea is the recognition that the people of a nation constitute a single family, served by a monarch born to the throne, a symbolic father of the nation. A dynasty links the past, the present and the future, and guarantees an organic continuity and stability. The great advantage of monarchy is the independence of an inherited throne from all parties, money interests, and other sorts of personal interests. By virtue of this independence, the monarch is able to serve as a representative of the entire nation, to function as a genuinely independent arbiter, to extinguish conflicts, and to reconcile opposing sides. A monarch is like a conductor of an orchestra: he himself does not play an instrument, but without him the music turns into a jumbled mess.

A republic is a state structured on the model of a commercial society. In it, there is cool calculation, but no spirit. Even with all its flaws, which can be many, monarchy is nonetheless a more human form of government. 

“Russian News”: In the many interviews that you and your son, Grand Duke Georgij Mikhailovich, have given, you state repeatedly that you are not interested in the restoration of Romanov properties. Do you believe that restitution in Russia is not in principle needed at all?

Grand Duchess: I do not think that restitution in Russia is possible. Attempts to do so would require such a large-scale re-allocation of property in Russia that it would be quite dangerous to civil society even to try. Putting first what is in the national interest, I am in principle against restitution.

It is entirely another question as to whether to have a discussion about the symbolic compensation from the government to the descendants of those who in their time were robbed of their belongings. This would be in accord with the principle of justice and with respect for private property. Such compensation would not be burdensome for the government, but would play an invaluable role in establishing the authority of Russia.

We often accuse others of having a double standard toward Russia, and we are right to do so. But in this situation, we ourselves operate under a double standard. Why did our government partially compensate the losses of the descendants of French investors in Russian enterprises before the revolution, but the interests of millions of Russian property owners, the majority of which were not nobles or businessmen but rather peasants and townspeople, were never considered? I understand that this is a very delicate question. Giving justice to one ought never mean the trampling of the rights of another. But sooner or later the question will have to be raised and resolved. Otherwise, no one will be able to ensure that someone will decide next time to “expropriate from those who have expropriated,” and that the best and hardworking representatives of the nation will become the victims of the “expropriation.”

As for me, I do not request nor want any restitution. If the present government finds it useful to create conditions for our return to Russia to live permanently and to play a more active role in the social life of the nation, then the government will at that time decide how it will work together with us to make these things happen. 

“Russian News”: The Russian Imperial House insists on the rehabilitation of the last Russian emperor and members of his family. But, after all, they were shot in Ekaterinburg in what was, essentially, a criminal act, a murder. It is appropriate to rehabilitate the victim of a crime?

Grand Duchess: Emperor Nicholas II, his family and their faithful servants were held captive, were deprived of their political and civil rights, and underwent other repression on the direct orders of one of the leaders of the Soviet government, Yakov Sverdlov. They were shot in Ekaterinburg on 17 July 1918 on the orders of the Ural Soviet. On the next day, these orders were “recognized as correct” by the highest organ of power at the time, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. Thus, this is no ordinary crime or run of the mill murder.

This was an execution, carried out at the behest of the totalitarian Bolshevik government by its authorized local body, the Ural Soviet. Of course, this execution was without any sort of trial and was entirely illegal. And this is precisely the sort of case for which the law on rehabilitation of victims of political repression was created: to declare these acts illegal, and to obtain justice, even if only after the fact, for the persecuted and the martyred.

Critics of the idea of rehabilitation do not acknowledge the contradiction in their own position. If everything was done in accordance with the law, then persons shown to be guilty in a court of law that followed professional norms of justice could not be subject to rehabilitation. It is precisely the illegality of the repression that is the basis for rehabilitation.

Even to this very day, the verdict to shoot the royal family remains legally in force. Therefore, the present government officially validates the approval of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the actions of the Ural Soviet. I am convinced that the rehabilitation of the royal passion-bearers is something needed by, first and foremost, the modern Russian state in order to distance itself definitively from the bloody past.

My call for the rehabilitation of my relatives is not aimed at the condemnation of anyone. Those who carried out this verdict and executions have long ago stood before the dread judgment seat of God. But in order to prevent that this should ever again happen in our country, it is imperative that that government come to a legal determination as to the executions in Ekaterinburg. For me, it is very important that my stand on this question is supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has numbered the royal family among the choir of saints in heaven. Four year ago, Patriarch Aleksei II publicly declared that it was essential to complete the review of the case for rehabilitating the royal family as quickly as possible. And in December of last year, the Church’s position was again elaborated in a special declaration of the Office of Foreign Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. 

“Russian News”: Our readers know very little about your private life. What do each of you do in your private lives? What traditions of the House of Romanov, both ancient ones and those of more recent vintage, do you keep? How do you spend your free time?

Grand Duchess: Many of the external forms of life of the Imperial House have faded into history, never to return. That which constitutes the essence of our service remains. There has been no greater help to our efforts to preserve in exile our customs and consciousness of our duty than our Orthodox faith.

My father, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, received his education at home, in accordance with the pre-revolutionary traditions of our family. I, and now my son, Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich, went to school and then to Oxford University. But nonetheless, the most important parts of our education and upbringing we received in our family, at home.

As far as my favorite pastimes are concerned, I love to garden. It is such a joy to see the flowers and vegetables one planted and tended with one’s own hands grow, and working in the earth is such a good way of leaving the problems of daily life behind and of relieving stress.

One of my favorite hobbies is to look through and sort old photographs. This activity allows one to contemplate one’s one life and life-lessons, to recall pleasant memories and dear friends, many of whom have already, alas, passed away. I very much love to travel, though I do not get the opportunity as much as I would like.

Most important, for the past 15 years it has become my tradition to visit the Motherland. This is dearest to me of all. 

“Russian News’s” Biographical Profile:

Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna was born on 23 December 1953 in Madrid. She is the daughter of Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich; the granddaughter of Grand Duke Kirill Wladimirovich, who, in 1924, took the title of Emperor in exile; and the great-great-granddaugher of Alexander II. She attended Oxford University. Besides Russian, she also fluently speaks English, French, and Spanish, and can read and speak German, Italian, and Arabic.

After the death of Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, she became the Head of the Russian Imperial House.

She visited Russia for the first time in 1992, when she accompanied her father’s body for burial in St. Petersburg.

In her public statements, she constantly stressed that she is “ready to answer the call from her people, but will under no circumstances agree to the reestablishment of the monarchy except by the will of the people.” 

Published in “Russian News” (Federal Edition), no. 4315, 15 March 2007.

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