26 October 2017

Interview of H.I.H. the Heir, Tsesarevich, and Grand Duke George of Russia with Barbara Dietrich, CEO of the magazine Diplomatic World

— How do you compare the governmental and administrative institutions of Russia and the EU, knowing, as you do, that the EU has the European Parliament, the European Council, the European Commission, and the European Court of Justice? Could you explain how governmental and administrative institutions in Russia work ?

— The European Union is an association of sovereign states with diverse governmental structures. It includes monarchies and republics, as well as federal and highly centralized states. Russia, by contrast, is an integrated republic with a federated structure. Thus to compare the institutional systems of the European Union and the Russian Federation side by side would be rather difficult to do. About 18% of the population of the Russian Federation lives in the non-Russian republics, the borders of which are formed around the largest ethnic populations that reside in a given region. The other citizens of the Russian Federation live in administrative districts whose borders follow the contours of the land, or reflect the economic lives of the population, and so on. Despite this internal federal structure, all citizens of the Russian Federation are entirely equal no matter where they live in it, and none of the Russian Federation’s constituent parts have the right to secede from the Federation.

The legal system in Russia is based on common democratic principles that are shared by the majority of the nations of the world today. But even with these shared principles, the legal system of each nation nonetheless expresses its own national characteristics. Russia is obviously a large, complex, multi-ethnic country; thus in every aspect of its system of state and administrative institutions, including its legal system, there needs to be a strong central authority to unify and standardize institutional practices. Today, Russia is a presidential republic. And for the present moment in its history, that is the best system for it.

Of course, it is not an ideal system. But at least in today’s Russia, unlike during the period of the Communist totalitarian regime, one can at least discuss openly both the advantages and disadvantages of the present government, as well as possible alternatives to it. Article 13 of the Constitution prohibits the establishment of an official ideology in the state and guarantees freedom of expression and thought. This constitutional provision is a vitally important factor in maintaining the delicate balance between civil order and freedom of thought in our country.

The Imperial House does not involve itself in politics and is open to dialogue with all our countrymen, regardless of their political views. Nor do we take sides in any political conflicts. If any public figures or governmental officials were inclined to see their opponents as “enemies of the people,” we would certainly want to remind them that unanimity of thought truly doesn’t exist anywhere anyway, and that the so-called opponents of the government are not all foreign agents or irresponsible demagogues, but are mostly honest people who simply see their country’s future differently. And we would also want to remind the opposition who might be inclined to see all government power as tyrannical, that this is a deeply damaging and unnuanced approach that is unconstructive and unrealistic.

The institutional system in Russia today is, certainly, not without its problems. But it works. And the kind and scale of the problems in Russia are absolutely comparable to those in any country with a democratic and republican form of government. So when some start to criticize my country, I always answer: “Yes, we have our flaws, and we—the citizens of Russia—we know what they are because we’ve learned about them ‘the hard way.’ But we see that other countries all too often apply a double standard to us. You have your own internal problems, and believe me: they are no less serious than ours. And as for international affairs, no country is blameless in that arena. So when it comes to internal affairs, let’s agree to mind what’s going on in our own country, and in international affairs, let’s agree to resolve issues not sitting in judgment over others, but in a constructive dialogue among equals.”

— As Chairman of the Belgium-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Russia, how do you collaborate and build bridges with different chambers of commerce in the USA, China, India, and the EU, and also with countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East? Which regions should you prioritize in the coming years from a geo-economic point of view?

— The Belgium-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Russia and Belarus, as its name implies, is focused primarily on the development of economic relations between Russia and Belarus, which has joined with Russia in an economic union, and Belgium and Luxembourg.

At the same time, given the globalized economy we all live in today, we are naturally also open to working together with all countries that have economic and trade relations with Russia, Belarus, Belgium and Luxembourg.

As for the future development of global markets, many experts believe—and we have no reason to doubt them—that the coming decades will see a strengthening and expansion of markets of India, China, and the countries of Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific rim.

I believe in the economic potential of the Russian economy—not only because I love my country, but because I can objectively analyze the historical path of Russia. Russia has more than once risen from the ashes, like a phoenix, after what would have seemed to have been unrecoverable destruction and ruin. It seemed that way, for example, after the Mongol conquest in the 13th century, after the Time of Troubles ended at the turn of the 17th century, after Napoleon’s invasion in 1812, and after the Second World War. I have to admit, of course, that not all the trend lines today look positive. I speak with Russian economists of various stripes—liberals, leftists, conservatives. They all agree that the Russian economy needs serious, fundamental reforms, further investments in industry, and a transition away from energy production and export to high tech, and so on.

But most important, we must all understand that, neither in Russia nor in any country in the word today, can economic strength be built upon conditions that produce stark income inequality, social stratification, or the impoverishment of a large percentage of the population. The priority of all economic policies must be to raise the standard of living of everyone, to increase wages, and to make it possible for everyone to make the most of their knowledge, skills, and ambition to realize their full potential.

In Russian there is this word “dostatok,” which is close in meaning to the words “property,” or “economic well-being.” It’s very difficult to translate. “Dostatok” doesn’t only mean “property,” nor necessarily “prosperity,” “abundance,” or “well-being” (as many English, French, and other dictionaries often render it), but rather "that which is sufficient“—dostatochno: or, perhaps better, “that which is enough to get along,” enough for a person to live a full and meaningful life.

No government or state structure can satisfy all the needs of humanity. But those who manage the economy, both at the state and private levels, can and must provide those things that make for a stable, “sufficient” life.

And those nations that make the economic welfare of all their citizens a priority will be the ones that will in the end win the global economic competition.

— How can we improve the diplomatic and trade relations between Russia and the EU, knowing that business partnerships have already been established and are enjoying success based the promise of long-term relationships? These economic opportunities could be even better exploited if the diplomatic situation between the EU and Russia were to improve.

— Politics and economics are interrelated. But one can’t let politics influence economics to the point of absurdity.

Economic sanctions are a double-edged sword. The sanctions that have been introduced against Russia have not only hurt Russia, they have hurt the nations that have imposed them. At the same time, these same sanctions have stimulated the revival of industries that had previously suffered from the importing of cheap goods from abroad.

Using sanctions to punish this or that country or to destabilize its internal affairs rarely succeeds. It did not work with Iran, nor has it been much better with North Korea. To use sanctions for this purpose against a country as vast and wealthy as Russia is utterly pointless.

If I consider economic sanctions in the abstract as a means for achieving political goals, and not about the specific case of the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia, then I might agree that they serve a useful symbolic purpose. One might declare a boycott, say, on the importation of rice from China, sprats (canned fish) from Latvia, wine from Georgia, caviar from Russia, bacon from Ukraine, or malachite from Congo.... That is, you can definitely “put a dent” in the economy of your geo-political adversary and demonstrate to the entire world your dissatisfaction with some aspect of their politics. But to introduce an entire regime of sanctions and seriously think that this will prod them to do what you want them to do is, I repeat, utterly foolish.

Many in Europe are looking forward to diplomats finally working out a pathway for the restoration of mutual economic relations and mutual understanding between Europe and Russia, which will in turn lead to the quick restoration of economic relations at previous levels, if not, indeed, at still more expanded levels.

But if and when that day comes, European businessmen will need to be prepared to prevent a repetition of what happened in Russia in the 1990s, when the unstable economic situation encouraged their forebears to take advantage of the economic turmoil and to carve out for themselves whole markets in Russia. Russia today must defend its economic interests, and work to assure that the restoration of economic relations between Russia and Europe be based not only on economic opportunism, but on mutually beneficial trade agreements.

— As concerns cultural diplomacy: on June 22 of this year you were present at the unveiling of a new statue of Peter the Great in Liège, Belgium, which commemorates the visit of Peter the Great in Belgium 300 years ago. For two centuries cultural diplomacy and cultural exchange were integral parts of the vision of the Russian leaders. As a result, there has been a constant exchange between our cultures, which has worked both to inspire and create new interactions between our peoples. As a descendant of the Russian Imperial House, how do you perceive cultural diplomacy as a form of “soft power,” and how could you transform it into an active tool to help re-establish Russian and European political and economic partnerships?

— The Imperial House of Russia remains convinced of the utility of the monarchical system of government, and I believe that it has a place in the future. But at this historical stage, we understand perfectly well that the necessary conditions are not yet in place for a restoration of the monarchy in Russia. But that doesn’t prevent us heeding the mission to which God has called us, of doing everything we can to be useful to our country today. Our main and unchanging purpose was and remains to preserve the continuity of our country’s History—the connections that link today’s Russia with its centuries-long history, a country that, from its very foundation more than 1000 years ago, had been a hereditary monarchy.

This mission involves not only our efforts to restore and revive traditions in Russia itself, but also, as you correctly noted, to engage in cultural diplomacy on an international level. We strive to use the positive legacy that our Imperial ancestors left in other countries, as well as our family ties with European royal dynasties, to bear witness before the entire world that Russia is a great nation, that it has many illustrious pages in its history, and that we need focus not on the sorrowful, bloody, and terrible moments in that history, but on the bright and beautiful moments that fill the pages of our history, and on the many examples of collaboration, mutual assistance, and nobility.

If we do so, most of the current international conflicts can be resolved without making the same mistakes twice: by taking all the experience of the past into account, both the positive and the negative, but stressing always the positive.

For the published interview, see here.


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