10 September 2007

Interview of the Head of the Russian Imperial Houe, H. I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, with the News Agency “Agence France Presse”

Interview of the Head of the Russian Imperial Houe, H. I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, with the News Agency “Agence France Presse”

On 10 September 2007, the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H. I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, gave an interview to a reporter from the news agency “Agence France Presse.” The interview was published by the news agency in a French translation with significant abbreviations and, as a result, with a number of distortions in the responses. Below is printed the entire text of the interview as it was given by the grand duchess in Russian.

Your Highness, what was your reaction to the discovery of the remains that appear to belong to Tsesarevich Aleksei and Grand Duchess Maria?

I would suggest that it is still far too early to draw any conclusions about the matter just yet. Remains belonging to someone have been found. Some researchers have suggested that there is reason to believe that they belong to Tsesarevich Aleksei Nikolaevich and the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna. On the other hand, there are many who doubt these assertions. What is needed is a professional, independent, and open investigation into the matter.

Do you yourself accept the identification of these remains and, for that matter, the remains of those who were reburied in St. Petersburg in 1998?

I would very much like to accept these identifications. Unfortunately, the story behind these remains, found earlier and attributed to the royal family, compel me to be very cautious when it comes to these identifications. In 1998, there was a certain political pressure to recognize these remains as genuine and to bury them in our family’s royal crypt. But the experts were not unanimous. There were many scholars, clergymen, and those in society who continued to have serious questions, to which the Government Commission did not at all give adequate answers. In the end, there was considerable doubt that the decision to recognize the remains as genuine was based on a full expert investigation. Whatever the goals were for those pushing the recognition, they made a huge mistake. Instead of a religious ceremony of all-national contrition and purification, there was a political show which only became the spur for new conflicts. I fully share the position taken by Patriarch Aleksei II, who, on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church, declared that he did not find sufficient evidence to recognize the remains in Ekaterinburg as the relics of the royal martyrs.

Do you feel that Russia has shown sufficient respect for the remains found in 1998 and those found recently in Ekaterinburg?

All remains, regardless of whether they are royal or not, are deserving of respect, even more so if we are speaking about the victims of the communist terror. It is not appropriate to exploit the remains of martyrs for political goals. This is so much dancing on bones.

Do you have much trust in the procedure for conducting this investigation?

The Government Commission which investigated the Ekaterinburg remains between 1993 and 1998 at first had our confidence and cooperation. Correspondence with the Commission is preserved in our personal archive and it shows the many ways in which we cooperated with it. For a long time, we believed that everything had been proven, that there were no lingering questions, that the Church was in agreement, and so on. We were very satisfied and believed that the only opponents to the identification of the remains were just a few groups and individuals on the fringes. But when in May 1998, my mother, Grand Duchess Leonida, met with Patriarch Aleksei, and His Holiness expressed to her the Church’s position, we understood then that the Commission had been misinforming us about the Church’s view and, in general, about the essence of the problem of identification. This troubled us greatly and our confidence in the Commission eroded, which we said at the time. By the way, it is amusing to note how the form of address and the tone in the correspondence changed after we expressed our solidarity with the Church on this matter. If earlier letters to me were addressed to the “Head of the Russian Imperial House” and to me as “Your Imperial Highness,” I now was addressed only as “Madam M. V. Romanov.” If earlier the Commission openly declared that “the Imperial House supports our view on the identification of the remains,” now the Commission declared that “there is no Imperial House.” Our position on the remains came to be in opposition to that taken by my morganatic relatives, who, according to our family laws, are not members of the dynasty. All this is secondary, but still rather telling. After all, double standards hardly ever engender trust. As a result, the burial of the remains in the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral took place, but not one bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, not one member of the Russian Imperial House, not one European monarch or head of dynasty was in attendance. Thus we were not the only ones to doubt the Commission. Time will tell how the government will now handle the newly found remains. If it handles things as before, then history will repeat itself as farce. If, however, the goal is to establish the truth and not to act out some pre-determined spectacle, then I am always ready to cooperate and I will strive to the best of my ability to be of assistance.

For those who are not familiar with your activities, can you briefly explain how you envision your role in Russia? Do you want a re-establishment of the monarchy in Russia? If so, why?

My main role as Head of the Russian Imperial House is to help the people of Russia in the rebirth of spiritual and moral values, of national character, in the construction of civil society on the basis of the ancient traditions which the revolution nearly destroyed. In practice, this means participation in charitable, cultural, legal, and other forms of civic activities. At the same time, I am categorically against the involvement of the Imperial House in politics. The dynasty, whether it rules or not, should be a source of unity, not dissension. Ideally, I want each citizen of Russia, regardless of his political convictions, social views, religious affiliation, or other characteristics, to know that the Imperial House of Romanov exists and belongs to them. That is, there are living symbols which, like a state coat-of-arms, flag, or national anthem, are not just an inanimate representation of the state, but something to which the people can turn for moral support and even sometimes for actual assistance. As far as re-establishing the monarchy is concerned, this is not my decision alone. Certainly, I believe that the monarchical system has a future. For the Imperial House to deny this would be as absurd as the Church denying the existence of God. The twentieth century has eloquently shown that the collapse of monarchies and the thriving of republics has not freed humanity from its problems, but has only increased them. Republican democracy is now in crisis, and the struggle to exit these troubles has more and more called to mind the model of monarchical forms of government. But why set up surrogates when one can have the original? Legitimate inherited monarchy as a national arbiter that stands above party politics, above class interests can in the modern world be the best guarantor of genuine democracy. That is, in short, my view on the matter. However, only the people can decide if a monarchy is needed or not. And the House of Romanoff will always serve Russia no matter what its form of government might be.

Could you say a few words about your relationship with the government of President Vladimir Putin and what you think about the approaching presidential elections?

We have known President V. Putin since 1992, since my first visit to Russia. At that time he was one of the chief assistants of the mayor of St. Petersburg and was in charge of the Committee for External Relations of the mayor’s office. We were very grateful to him for his help during these difficult days when we arrived, accompanying the body of my deceased father, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, for burial. When V. Putin became president, this was an injection of a fresh spirit in the governmental life of Russia. Of course, the Russian Imperial House cannot agree with certain matters in today’s political climate. On a whole row of questions we, like any citizen of Russia, have our own view. But on the whole, it seems to me that V. Putin has chosen a good path for national reform. Of course, we are still far from realizing these reforms, even those that have been well planned and executed. But one must take into account the horrible legacy bequeathed to Russia’s rulers by the post-revolutionary epoch. The Communist terror, which sapped the genetic pool of the nation, fear and lies, which were sown in the minds and hearts of people by the anti-religious and bloody regime, the economic ruin after the ineffective economic plans of the KPSS [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] and the unsuccessful reforms of the 1990s—these are only the things in plain view. What about the deeper problems? One must free oneself from the Communist legacy the way one removes shackles from one’s legs. But one shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. After all, even after the revolution the people continued their creative work and many useful things were invented and built. Before Russia stands a very complex task. One must not close one’s eyes to the inadequacies of the present government, but nor is it worth much to criticize it too sharply, either.

After the election of V. Putin as president there was little occasion to interact with us. There were short meetings when we greeted each other. For example, in 2003 at the celebration of the 100-th anniversary of the canonization of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Afterward, I wrote a letter suggesting that it was time that he and I meet and have a conversation. After a short while, I received word through the embassy in Madrid that the president had received my letter and agreed with my suggestion to meet. Unfortunately, a meeting has not up to now been arranged. I am not unaware of the fact that there are political forces around the president that relate to the Imperial House with suspicion and hinder any such meeting. In my view, this is pointless and shortsighted. People can have differing views but this should not impede their cooperating for the good of the country. Whether one likes it or not, the Russian Imperial House has become an integral part of Russian society. I am convinced that sooner or later all such questions will be resolved. The current government sees that the Imperial House is not any threat, but, on the contrary, an enormous help. Warm mutual relations already exist with central and local authorities. I have visited nearly every region of Russia, from Smolensk to Vladivostok on the invitation of governors and presidents of Russia’s national republics, I frequently meet with ministers, with deputies of the State Duma and the Federation Council, with diplomats and with other representatives of the government. These meetings are always constructive and friendly.

Concerning the elections, I want to say that in my opinion the constitutionally mandated limitation of a president to two terms is, especially at the given historical stage Russia finds itself in, a mistake. The political system is still young and several aspects of the system have only recently begun working as planned; therefore to change course midstream could lead to instability and a lack of accountability. Should a mistake be made, the former president could have an excuse for not accomplishing his goals, and a new president could find an excuse in claiming that the project was not his, but his predecessor’s. And so 4, or even 8 years fly by, a new president comes, and everything is repeated, and the country marks time. Of course, the current constitution should be strictly followed. But the law should not return us to the guillotine and act against the interests of those who enacted it. The constitution is not some “holy crown;” it is accepted by the will of the people. These are my general thoughts on the matter. In the situation at hand, as is well known, President V. Putin intends to work within the accepted legal norms and to exit office in 2008. Under these conditions, I wish with all my heart that he be replaced with a wise man who will not break with the accomplishments of his predecessors and will at the same time bring in new ideas and methods, as V. Putin in his own time did. May God grant that the people will elect a worthy person.

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