14 April 2018

Grand Duchess Maria of Russia: No One Has the Right to Sit in Judgment of Russia

The Head of the Imperial House of Russia discusses her views of the state of affairs in the Russian Federation.

Moscow.  April 14.  INTERFAX.RU – While on vacation in Madrid, I received an invitation from the Head of the Imperial House of Russia to come to tea, and while there she agreed to answer a few questions on topics of interest to me and our readers.  

To change the government just for the sake of change is absurd

— Presidential elections recently took place in Russia. How do you assess the results of these elections and their significance for the future of the country?

— The results of the elections show that the Russian people retain their inherent goodness and common sense. The people have the capacity, first of all, to see what is good. They are able to forgive mistakes and individual failures, something we all need to be able to do. The people understand that, after all the tragedies and sufferings of the twentieth century, it is impossible for anyone to solve all our problems as if with the wave of a magic wand.

Before the Russian people today and our descendants stretches a long and gradual path toward the restoration of the power and might of Russia. No single policy under any form of government can solve all problems. But the leader who is elected to the position of head of government must be given time to carry out what he has started. We often hear the refrain of the need to “change the government.” But to change the government just for the sake of change is absurd. In order to seek or demand a change in government, one must, first of all, show the clear and obvious mistakes of the leader’s policies and, secondly, have a reasonable and feasible alternative. I see neither of these at the present time.

The 2018 elections demonstrated that the majority of our countrymen have confidence in President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and have placed on him their hopes for a better future.

Our countrymen expect that, during the president’s next term in office, new and effective measures will be undertaken to lessen the hardships they presently endure and to improve their well-being; to curb the self-interest of the elites and achieve greater social justice; to reduce in real terms the level of corruption; to support the balance between personal freedom and law and order in the country; to introduce effective modernization even while maintaining traditional spiritual and moral values; and to provide peace and security for Russia.

I and my son, from the depths of our hearts, wish the president good health, wisdom, strength and perseverance in bearing the enormous burdens of power, in resolving all these urgent problems, and in meeting the needs and aspirations of the Russian people.

At the present time and for the foreseeable future, the conditions are not right in Russia for a restoration of the monarchy

— As the Head of the House of Romanoff, what kinds of public activities in Russia and elsewhere do you engage in? Do you have contacts with other Royal Houses in Europe?

— The Imperial House of Russia considers it its main goal to help preserve the historical and cultural continuity of our house and country, and to do all we can to strengthen the ethnic, religious, and civil peace and harmony of Russia. As a matter of principle, we do not engage in any form of politics whatsoever. We believe that the idea of a legitimate, hereditary monarchy, which preserves an unbroken, living connection with the centuries-long history of Russia and which conceives of society as a unified family, still has resonance today and remains a viable choice for our country and peoples. But we are hardly unaware that, at the present time and for the foreseeable future, the conditions are not right in Russia for a restoration of the monarchy. For now, the spheres of our activities are limited to promoting philanthropy; participating in social peace-making processes; reviving and maintaining traditions and preserving our country’s historical, cultural, and natural heritage; strengthening the spiritual and moral foundations of our nation; helping to foster patriotism; and advancing a positive image of Russia in the wider world.

Editor’s Note: On November 4, 2017, the Head of the House of Romanoff issued a formal statement to her countrymen in Russia on the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution. For that statement, see http://www.imperialhouse.ru/en/allnews-en/news/an-address-from-the-head-of-the-imperial-house-of-russia-h-i-h-the-grand-duchess-maria-of-russia-on-the-100th-anniversary-of-the-russian-revolution-of-1917.html.

One can think of the Royal Houses of Europe as one large extended family. We are all to one degree or another related to each other and we have many common ancestors. As in any family, some relatives you see and communicate with more often than others, and with some relatives you have only warm yet more distant relations. Of the European dynasties, we have the closest relationships with the Spanish, Belgian, Monégasque, Portuguese, German and Prussian, Leiningen, Italian, French, Romanian, Georgian, Albanian, and Bulgarian Houses. With communicate with the other dynasties too, of course, but somewhat more formally.

One must understand that the dynasties of countries that are still monarchies are much more closely connected to the politics of their respective governments. Unfortunately, we are just now experiencing a surge in anti-Russian sentiment, which is fueled by propaganda. This can’t help but affect the relationship between dynasties. We of course never forget the fact that we are related, and we continue to communicate and to carry on dialogue, to congratulate each other on happy occasions in our families and to express condolences at sorrowful times. But each Imperial and Royal Family naturally promotes and defends the position of its country. We try always to supply truthful information about Russia to our relatives. Of course, we have no illusions that we will convince anyone to reconsider their views entirely. But in any event, the exchange of opinions facilitates for us all a greater appreciation of all sides of a given question.

— Do you and your son and heir, Grand Duke George, sense a sharp decline in relations between Russia and western countries? Have members of western Royal Houses ever approached you to help influence in some way public opinion in Russia?

— One European diplomat I was talking to once said to me something like this: “We know your position, we don’t share it, but we understand that you cannot do otherwise but support your country.” I think he articulated there the opinion of the more reasonable public and political figures in Europe.

It would be strange indeed to expect foreigners to want a strong and powerful Russia. There is a fierce competition taking place today in international politics. Each country naturally defends its own interests and attempts to exploit advantages over its rivals. One’s relations with rivals can vary enormously. Sometimes, relations are restrained and respectful, and other times more aggressive and adversarial. But no one respects those who are duplicitous. And no normal person could possibly think that the House of Romanoff would be on the side of those who seek to weaken Russia. Foreigners therefore treat us as rivals who are worthy of respect.

Among the members of Europe’s royal families, it is considered tactless and simply impermissible to ask relatives to exert influence of any kind on public opinion in their respective countries. If my arguments have merit or, conversely, if I consider those of others persuasive, then we can ourselves decide if we want to share these views with the larger public of our countries. But this would not be because of someone’s request to do so, but rather because of our own conclusions and convictions, arrived at ourselves.

When I hear various opinions about Russia, including criticisms and allegations of various kinds, I try always to take this in and to reply as objectively as I can. Patriotism is not blindly singing the praises of your own side whilst equally blindly rejecting everything said by the other side. Sometimes criticism from the outside helps us to see our own faults and sins. And it is never shameful to admit a mistake, if someone has shown us that we are wrong. But in such conversations, I interrupt, if need be, immediately and expose any falsehoods that are being spread, and, I also insist on rejecting all double standards, when someone suggests for example that Russia cannot do something that other countries can. Or we talk about problems common to all countries, and we try to formulate ideas for their resolution everywhere in the world. Unless approached in this spirit, discussions of this kind are pointless. No one has the right to sit in judgment of Russia.

— Do you make official visits to various countries? If so, where are you going next?

— In terms of visits to other countries, I make official visits more than anywhere else to countries that once belonged to the former Russian Empire, and my itinerary is usually very full with stops at historic and cultural sites. I also visit countries where there are large Russian communities. Among those countries that are today independent but were once part of the USSR, I have visited Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Uzbekistan, and the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic. In 2000, my late mother, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, visited Latvia. Among those countries where there is a large Russian diaspora outside of Europe, I have visited both the USA and Australia. I have several times been on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. My son, Grand Duke George of Russia, in 2015 visited Mount Athos. This year, besides visits to Russia, I plan to visit the USA again, where I have been invited to speak at a charity event, and Portugal, where I have been invited to visit Cerdeira Village, an arts and crafts commune which was founded and organized by local Portuguese and expatriate Russians.

The faith of our forefathers and our native language are most important to us

— Having lived your entire life abroad, you nonetheless have retained your Russian identity. What helped you do that? What would help the Russian émigré community do likewise? Is it communication with each other, engagement in social activities, and assistance from state structures that help preserve one’s identity? Does the preservation of one’s Russian identity help or hurt the assimilation of the Russian community in those countries where they are found today?

— The main things that have allowed my family to preserve our Russian identity have been the Orthodox faith, our devotion to the ideals and principles of our dynasty, and the Russian language. And for all people who have lost their homeland, this has always been the case. Identity is bound up with the faith of your forefathers, family values, and one’s native language.

If we are speaking about the identity not just of my family, but of all those who have emigrated from Russia, then, probably, the Russian language occupies the first place in this triad, without which one loses sooner or later a connection with the culture of one’s native land. After all, it was not only Russians and the Orthodox who fled Russia after the Revolution. For most émigrés, of course, their points of reference were the Orthodox Church and the traditions of Russian culture. But the situation was complex. The Orthodox were divided into three Russian Church jurisdictions, which were in some ways at odds with each other. And there also were several Ukrainian and Belarusian jurisdictions, as well. On top of this there appeared a number of political divisions among émigrés, divisions both inherited from the pre-Revolutionary period and artificially created for the purpose of dividing and weakening the Russian diaspora. Along with Orthodox Slavs, there were numerous other ethnic and religious communities, which had emigrated from the former Russian Empire. These groups naturally had their own religious and ethnic traditions. Moreover, sometimes foreign political circles fomented separatist tendencies among the émigré communities. So there was no single religious or national basis of identity for émigrés from Russia. But there was and remains a cultural foundation, and its core is the Russian language and the common, rich culture that was created by the best elements of all the peoples of the Russian Empire.

In this era of globalization, it is difficult to preserve a traditional identity, even when living in one’s own native country. Perhaps paradoxically, in many instances living outside one’s native country awakens in us a more attentive and protective attitude toward one’s spiritual and historical heritage. In some instances, such a resolute and acknowledged separate identity hinders one’s integration and success in one’s new home, and in others it helps. But this isn’t something that can be measured by one’s material success or failure in one’s adopted homeland. To lose one’s identity is to lose oneself—it is a betrayal of one’s ancestors and descendants. Even a comparatively comfortable life void of one’s identity is akin to the comfort a hamster or guinea pig feels in its well-provisioned cage.

Do what you must do, come what may

— What must happen for the House of Romanoff, as a historical institution, to move back to Russia and reside there permanently?

— The constant and unalterable desire of our family is and has been to return to Russia to live there permanently. We live abroad not by choice, and we have never stopped thinking of Russia as our one true homeland.

Of course, we cannot live on the streets, and we’ll need some kind of roof over our heads. But the question of where we would live is a secondary concern and is, if I can put it this way, a purely technical matter.

I have many times stated officially that we are opposed to any restitution of weath and we do not request the return of any properties that once belonged to our ancestors. When the basic legal questions determining the place of the Imperial House of Russia in the life of modern Russia are finally resolved, I am certain that, with the help of our friends in Russia, we can build a new residence or renovate an abandoned and dilapidated architectural monument, and doing so in a way that does not violate in the slightest way anyone’s rights and interests or burdens the state budget.

Moreover, I envision this residence not as some pompous, old-regime palace, isolated from my countrymen by guards, by ostentatious court ceremonies, and other obstacles, but a modern social and cultural center, with only a part allocated for me as living space and an office, and where the main spaces would be open to the public and used for the charitable and educational projects of which I am patron.

But returning to the general question of the Imperial House living in Russia, I should say that you are quite right to note that the question is not about the return of a private citizen or family, but of the reintegration into Russian civic life of a historical institution.

As a private person, I could perhaps be guided by my own personal wishes. But as the Head of the Imperial House of Russia, I cannot allow the debasement and humiliation of the Imperial House. It has been the will of the Lord that I should inherit the rights and duties to preserve the values of the Romanoff dynasty. I am responsible for its fate before God, before my ancestors, and before my descendants. And therefore I must ensure that, as Grand Duke Simeon Ioannovich of Vladimir and Moscow once put it, “the candle” of continuity in history “is not extinguished.”

We don’t expect anything extraordinary or supernatural to make this come about. In most republics today that were once monarchies, the question of the role of the historical dynasties in modern society has been determined in a strictly legal fashion, without any challenge or threat to the constitutional order. The official status of the Imperial House of Russia has no political or financial dimensions and would not confer any privileges upon it, and nor would it involve any expenses whatsoever from the state budget. We are talking only about a show of respect by the current government for the nation’s historical heritage, assurances to defend our Imperial symbols from unscrupulous political or economic exploitation, and, perhaps, in some public settings, assigning to us the role of “good will ambassadors.”

There are already many precedents elsewhere of this kind of arrangement, which could be studied and adapted to the legal norms and structures in Russia. In fact, in the territory of the former Russian Empire there is already a place where such an arrangement has been put into place. The president of the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic issued a formal decree to that effect in 2011. One can readily find the text of that decree on the Internet, and anyone interested in this question can read it. Transnistria is an unrecognized state internationally, but even so it serves as an example of what the official status for the Imperial House might entail and how that status can be formulated without any contradictions with a republic’s constitution and other laws of a democratic country.

I believe that a similar appropriate and useful arrangement could just as easily take root in the Russian Federation. It could be an enormous help to us and our friends and supporters, and could open to us many new opportunities to serve our country.

But even in the current state of affairs, we strive to be useful to our homeland, never setting up any preconditions to our involvement in good causes, and always following the adage: “do what you must do, come what may.”

— Have there been any developments regarding the “Ekaterinburg remains”?

— The position of the Imperial House of Russia remains unchanged. We must wait patiently until the Church has found a basis to recognize them as authentic. There is no need to rush matters. The veneration of the Imperial Family does not depend on the presence or absence of their holy remains. Of course, if the authenticity of the “Ekaterinburg remains” is one day established, it will be a great joy for us. But we must not in a matter this important make any mistakes or permit any deception of the people. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and I keep each other informed of developments and we expect to receive the results of the complex investigation of this matter in due course.

Vyacheslav Terekhov

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