02 March 2009

Interview of His Imperial Highness, the Heir, Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich, in the Magazine Norilsk Nickel [Noril’skii nikel’]

Interview of His Imperial Highness, the Heir, Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich, in the Magazine Norilsk Nickel [Noril’skii nikel’]

Editor’s note: The news that the heir to the Russian Imperial family, Georgii Romanoff, had in December become the assistant to the general director of GMK “Norilsk Nickel” attracted enormous public attention. The 28-year old Grand Duke is currently working to advocate the interests of the company NorNickel to the European Union. However, the interview in Norilsk Nickel Magazine went far beyond discussing the Grand Duke’s new job. Georgii Mikhailovich was willing to discuss openly practically any topic with our journalists.

“I owe all that is good in me to my family”

Georgii Mikhailovich, tell us about your parents, your family, your home, about where you were born and grew up.

I was born on 13 March 1981 in Madrid. I was born six years after my parents married—Grand Duchess Mariia Vladimirovna and Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich. My parents waited years for my birth, so I was showered with love and attention from the very beginning of my life. Unfortunately, in 1985 my parents divorced. I communicate often with my father, but he lives elsewhere and has his own life. My primary male influence was first and foremost my grandfather—the head of the dynasty, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich. My early childhood I spent in the Breton town of St.-Briac, in northwest France. We had our family' villa “Ker Argonid, ” which belonged to my great-grandfather, Kirill Wladimirovich. In St.-Briac, I attended St. Anne’s primary school. Then we moved to Paris, where I studied at St. Stanislaus College Prep School. I finished my secondary education at the English School in Madrid. I received a very good formal education, but I must say that I received my most valuable lessons in my family. I owe all that is good in me to my family. Harmony, respect, and love—this has given me in my life strength and sense of optimism.

What events in your childhood were for you the most significant?

Nothing can compare with the impressions left from the death of my grandfather and from our first visit to Russia. For me, the death of my grandfather was a tremendous personal loss. At the same time, a colossally positive impression on my consciousness as a child was the kaleidoscope of events that have transpired in Russia, about which my grandfather so many times spoke with me. I saw how in Russia the people respected my grandfather, how our countrymen valued their history, what love and understanding ordinary strangers showered upon us. It was very difficult for us when the authorities prevented ordinary people from approaching us and quite rudely shoved them away without any regard for our feelings about the matter. It was as if they behaved out of some kind of imagined fear of us. I said at that time to my mother, that if the day should come that I should play some kind of role in the life of my country, I will make it my first order of business to make sure that I have free access to all ordinary citizens.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

As it has always been customary in my family, I was raised from the earliest age with the notion that before me has been laid an enormous responsibility, the same responsibility that many generations of my ancestors also had laid before them. Of course, as a child, I imagined myself a soldier, a doctor, a pilot, an athlete, and still many other things. But in my subconscious it always remained that I had a special profession, bestowed upon my family by God and by history.

What were your hobbies as a child?

I liked to build model airplanes, I liked marksmanship, judo, fencing, and tennis. I also liked to go to the movies.

What thing as a child did you want more than anything else, but never got?

A motorcycle. Today, of course, I understand why I was not allowed to have one: it certainly can be very dangerous. When I turned 18 years old, I passed my driving test and all my dreams of having a motorcycle went away.

Were you as a child ever strictly punished for something you did?

I do not remember there being any kind of firm rules as I was growing up. But then, a child who does not misbehave is not a child, but an old man in miniature. I simply knew that if in misbehaving I went beyond a certain line, then I was sure to be punished. Here, my cue was both a child’s natural intuition, and the very good parental skills of my family. If they felt they had to punish me for something, they did not simply enforce the rule. They explained to me what I did wrong. The most important rules were not ever to lie, always to step up and answer for whatever I had done, not to condemn other people thoughtlessly, not to be rude, to avoid egoism, and not to be lazy.

When did you learn to read?

I was already reading children’s books when I was five or six years old.

“Everyone has their own ‘internal traffic lights”

Tell us honestly: did you like school?

It depended. There is hardly anyone who could say that they liked everything about school. There certainly were times when I felt weary of preparing my lessons, or irritated with my teachers’ assignments, or that I just didn’t want to get up so early in the morning to go to classes. I especially did not like having to learn solely from reading and taking notes on a book instead of having instruction from a teacher—in those cases I felt as though I was always missing something. But, on the other hand, in school there was a lot that I was interested in, I received good grades in the subjects I liked, and I enjoyed playing and interacting with my classmates. On balance, I have very good memories of my school years. After all, as an only child, school was a good place for me to interact with other children.

What subjects were easy for you, and which were difficult?

I always loved studying languages and reading history. At first, I had some trouble with math, but eventually it got so that it was me giving math lessons to my mother! (laughs).

Did your fellow classmates know who you were?

Those that came over to my apartment and knew my family knew very well who I am, others knew but didn’t quite understand what it all meant, and still others knew nothing at all about my ancestry. In any case, my parents, my teachers, and my friends never put any special emphasis on my ancestry, and neither did I.

Do you yourself know any members of other royal houses?

Of course, I am acquainted with the majority of them, since we not only have the same “royal profession,“ but we are all related to each other. However, when I chose my friends, one’s ancestry or relations made no difference at all to me, only the content of one’s character did.

What did you do when school let out each day?

Like everyone else, I went outside, I played with friends, I did my homework, I played sports, went to the movies, watched television, played computer games, listened to music.

Were you a leader among your classmates at school?

Thanks to the fact that I found it easy to get along with all sorts of people, that I enjoyed and took the opportunity to help out people, to be a peace-maker, to step in to assist a weaker student against a bully, I like to think my friends were able to count on my help and to rely on my opinion when they needed it.

As is often the case, our outlook on life is formed not only by our parents, but also by a favorite teacher. Did you have a favorite teacher who played this kind of role for you?

I am very grateful to all my teachers—both the nurturing ones and the strict ones. Each in his own way has helped me enormously. But I continue to believe that my main teacher and role model remains my grandfather. He was a remarkable man: deeply pious, kind, wise, and genuinely noble-minded. The greatest role in my upbringing has been played by my mother and grandmother. After my grandfather’s death, their efforts to raise me without a male role model became especially difficult for them. But they also each possess a strong character, and so I feel I avoided the pitfalls that I may have otherwise encountered without a strong male influence. Since childhood, I have always had a kind of internal set of “traffic lights.” Circumstances have sometimes been such that, whenever I want or am tempted to do something very wrong, the thought pops up: “And why, in the end, should you follow the rules? Perhaps that is all so much nonsense? ” And then the red light turns on. Often it happens that you stop yourself from doing something even before the red light turns on. And if at that moment you don’t stop yourself, then at least you feel the consequences in your conscience. And perhaps later there will be an opportunity to correct your mistake. Spiritual, moral, and civil laws should be imprinted in us all from childhood. It makes life so much easier to live.

Have you ever done anything that you were later ashamed of?

There is no one who is sinless. Of course, all people sometimes do things that later bother their consciences. If I were to single out something that I’ve done in the past that I’m now ashamed of, I would have to say it was those times when, out of impatience, or fatigue, or lack of time, or some other reason, I unsympathetically cut off someone, or offended people who had come to me with their problems or worries. In our family, such behavior was always considered the least forgivable shortcoming.

After school, you entered Oxford University. What sticks in your mind about those years?

Oxford is an exceptional university. Since the Middle Ages it has been a center of world education—a place for one’s intellectual formation and growth under the instruction of an individual tutor. In addition, Oxford provides the opportunity to meet and become friends with the future leaders of various countries.

Did you work while you were a student?

Students are always short of spending money. At Oxford, as in Madrid, I earned extra money during my free time working in a legal firm. This did not distract me from my studies, however. Rather, it was a kind of on-the-job training.

What did you dream about at that time?

One’s years at university are the most carefree one will ever have. One has more freedom and still not a lot of responsibilities. It’s a period in life one is not anxious to leave behind. But life goes on. I dreamed that, after finishing university, I would find a suitable and interesting job, something related to Russia and that would allow me to provide for myself, and also to help my mother and grandmother, who have made so many sacrifices for me and who denied themselves so I could have such a fine education.

Did your royal ancestry in any way interfere with your romantic pursuits while you were a student?

(laughs) Well, if anything, it didn’t help matters.

Share with our readers your passions: your favorite book, favorite writer, film, painting, country, automobile?

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Of Russian writers, I like Gogol. I like the classic film Quiet Flows the Don by Gerasimov. As for paintings, Michelangelo’s Creation of the World on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As for cars, I like Mustangs. And as for countries, of course, Russia. Russia is my homeland and my favorite country. In Europe, I also like Spain and France.

Does your daily routine vary much depending on where you happen to be?

Yes. In Spain, for example, the rhythm of life runs somewhat differently in comparison to other countries in that everything starts later. There, you go to bed later and you wake up later. In Belgium, the day begins and ends much earlier. In Russia, we sometimes have a schedule that makes you forget when day is and when night is. They say that it has been scientifically shown that a person needs no less than eight hours of sleep to be fully alert during the day. I try to follow that rule when my circumstances and my work permit. But, in principle, I find I have to be ready always for more demanding work schedules.

“In Europe there is a certain caution toward Russia”

Tell us about your first job.

After finishing university, and wanting to learn more about the processes underlying the development of the European Union, I worked at the European Parliament, then moved to a job as the assistant to the vice-president of the European Commission and the Commissioner for Transport and Energy, Ms. Loyola de Palacio. Then I worked in Brussels, and then I went back to working at the European Commission, but now in Luxembourg, at the Department of Atomic Energy and Security of the European Atomic Energy Community, or “Euratom.” In that capacity, I was several times sent as part of a delegation on work missions to Russia, to St. Petersburg and Moscow.

What sticks in your mind about your time working in these institutions of the European Union.

This was a very useful experience for me. My work in the European Parliament and in the European Commission allowed me to strengthen and supplement my formal education at Oxford, and to decipher and comprehend complex economic questions. On the other hand, I cannot deny that, in certain circles in these European bodies, there was displayed a certain caution toward Russia. Sometimes, their criticism is not without foundation, but it also frequently happened that they displayed a completely incorrect sense of things as well as a political double-standard. And I found myself struggling with that situation. Moreover, there are serious people with whom one can carry on a dialogue, and some that can change their minds when they are exposed to new arguments and evidence. And there are those who don’t want to hear or consider anything new. All these dynamics are important to understand in order to defend effectively the political and economic interests of Russia in the international arena.

When you visited Russia, you made a point of meeting with deputies in the State Duma. How much does the political process in Russia interest you?

Politics interests me, but not in the sense of participating in political battles, which we have strictly avoided, but in the sense of a desire to understand how the government of the country operates, how we could be helpful to our people, and support the strengthening and development of the state and economy. Ever since my first visit to Russia, I have met with very likely the majority of today’s spiritual, state, military, civic and political figures in the country. I have had discussions with many of them, but that was when I was a child and I had not yet developed much of a serious interest in these matters. My first visit alone as a representative of the Romanoff dynasty was in September 2006, when I, on instructions from my mother, participated at the celebrations of the 45-th anniversary of the ordination of His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksei II. That was truly an unforgettable service in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, after which, in the altar, I congratulated the patriarch and presented to him a congratulatory letter from my mother and an icon of the Mother of God. We have a very close relationship with Patriarch Aleksei, and we were deeply grief-stricken by his death. During these celebrations, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Metropolitan Kirill, who is our newly-elected patriarch; and with many other hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church; and with the then Minister of Culture, Alexander Sokolov. Afterward, I went to the State Duma, where I met with the vice-speakers, Oleg Morozov and Liubov Sliska; and with a representative of the Duma’s Committee on Public and Religious Organizations, Sergei Popov; and had numerous conversations with other members of the Duma. There was also a separate and interesting meeting with Vladimir Churov, who later became the head of the Central Elections Commission. We spoke about environmental, demographic, and economic issues, about education, and generally about the traditions and history of Russia. But my visits to the Kremlin have only been to attend church services and to visit museums.

“I went down into the mine at age 13”

Do you think you will start a business of your own?

Even before the revolution, there was a firm rule in our family that the personal life of the head of the family came second to duty to the country, but other members of the dynasty were somewhat more free, though even here only within certain boundaries. After we ended up in exile, the situation changed. For example, while my grandfather was alive, my mother could be permitted to take a job wherever she wanted and to occupy herself with whatever pursuits she liked. When she became head of the House of Romanoff, however, most of these personal pursuits ended. I am in the same situation as my mother was before 1992. In principle, starting a business of my own is not something that is presently forbidden to me. One can do many things, of course, but the most important thing is that one do whatever one decides to do honestly and honorably.

What in your view of power?

Any power is first and foremost a call to service and a responsibility. As our Lord said, “To whom much has been given, much will in turn be demanded of him. ” The more rights a person enjoys, the more responsibility he has to serve the general good. If those who have been given power forget the hardship many live with, then for what good use has power been given to them?

What qualities in your view should a successful boss possess?

Let's stipulate and take it as axiomatic that only a person who strives for a certain ideal can be genuinely successful at anything. The ideal may not be attainable, but in striving for it, a person unswervingly completes and elevates himself. Ideally, a person with control over others ought first to be able to control himself, his desires and emotions. He should be honest and given over to the interests of the larger group to which he belongs. He should have a good theoretical preparation and a lot of practical experience. And most important, he should relate to his subordinates not as a faceless mass, but as individuals—respecting them and not exploiting their shortcomings or whims, nor restraining their interests and in not way whatsoever denigrating them. As for those above you, one should relate to them with deference, but never losing sight of one's own sense of honor. The art of being a boss must be learned over the course of one's lifetime. To avoid mistakes entirely is impossible. But, all the same, only by basing your actions on these fundamental principles will allow one to achieve genuine success, which is not clouded by remorse or spiritual discomfort.

Business and government—how do they cooperate with each other in the modern world? How close can business can be allowed to get to the government and how can this closeness, in your view, affect the relationship between business and government?

The wealth of the country belongs to all the people. Business should always consider the interests of the nation and strengthen the well-being of all its citizens. For its part, the state is duty bound to support business, to guarantee its freedom and assure the observance of the laws and the free and fair market. Control by the government and freedom of the market ought to be in a sensible balance, without any destructive abuses from either side.

What hopes and plans do you have for Norilsk Nickel?

I look forward to a long and fruitful association with the firm. I hope and believe that, on the one hand, my proposals and initiatives will be supported by the company's leadership and will be of some use to the company; and, on the other, that working in Norilsk Nickel will enable me to learn a lot and enrich and expand my life and work experience.

Have you been approached by other Russian companies to work for them?

There were offers, but they all came from entirely private businesses. These were good offers, and I am grateful to all who, in making these offers to me, were attempting to help me to establish new connections with Russia. But I could not accept any of these offers since I myself, and also my family, feel that I should work in a field that contributes to the interests of the nation. As I have said, I never have exploited my background and I am not interested in building my own career on that basis. But neither can I forget my duty before my ancestors nor place in jeopardy the honor and good name of the House of Romanoff. And consequently, I never will allow myself be become an instrument of someone's personal interests. In any and all of my activities I put the interests of the entire Russian nation first, no matter what area of my life is involved.

Do you plan to visit Norilsk and to go down into one of the mines?

The first time I ever entered a mine was when I was 13 years old. That was in August, 1994, on the Kola Peninsula, in the city of Zapoliarnyi. We were invited to visit the museum only, but my mother categorically insisted: “Let's go down into the mine!“ They made us wear overalls, they gave us hard hats and gas masks, and we got into the small trolley cars and descended 300 meters into the mine shaft. Once down there, we had the chance to talk with workers and to see how they did their work. They let me pick up a miner's hack and dig out a chunk of the ore. We had that lump with us the entire trip, and it was only just before we flew out for Madrid that they asked me to give this, my favorite souvenir from the mine, to one of our friends “for safe keeping.” This is, of course, just a small story from my childhood, but it stuck in my memory. It's interesting to note that this was a nickel mine—perhaps a sign for me of things to come! Naturally, I hope in the future to visit Norilsk. After all, to go there and not go down into the mine, to understand for yourself how it all works, would simply be pointless!

Published as: “Georgii Romanoff: I hope to be useful to the company“, an interview with Andrei Chernitsyn, in Norilsk Nickel [Noril'skii nikel'], February-March, 2009, no. 1(46), pp. 22-27. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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