20 April 2017

The Head of the House of Romanoff: “We need to set an example with our own repentance.” An interview with Her Imperial Highness, H.I.H. the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, with the newspaper Monarchist [Monarkhist], April 5, 2017

Your Imperial Highness, we’ve reached the 100th anniversary of the greatest catastrophe of Russian history:  the Revolution of 1917.  This anniversary has sparked a heated debate in society about the events of that time.  One interpretation that is popular in some circles today places the blame for this catastrophe on Emperor Nicholas II, who, through his supposed “weak will,” brought ruin upon the country, handed over power to “dark forces,” lost the war, and, through all this, brought the nation to the point of revolution.  What do you think about this interpretation of events, and what do you think were the main reasons for this tragedy?

Any attempt to link a victory or catastrophe to a single person or even to a group of persons seems to be either a naïve oversimplification or a conscious decision to ignore the complex reasons behind historical events and processes. 

The Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Emperor Nicholas II was one of Russia’s best monarchs.  He is set apart from most others by his deep religious faith, his love of country, and his remarkable personal integrity.  Of course, as with any human being, he also was capable of committing sins, and making mistakes and misjudgments.  Without any doubt, as emperor, he bears the responsibility for everything that happened in the country that God entrusted to him.  And he understood and sensed that responsibility very deeply, very personally.  But to label him, as some have, the “main perpetrator” of the revolution—that is just irresponsible demagoguery. 

Most likely, no one in his place and at that time in history would have been able to avoid the revolution that occurred, because the underlying reason for the revolution was a deep and systemic spiritual crisis.

At that very moment in time, unfortunately, there arose a fundamental questioning of the entire system of traditional values and a mood to overturn and destroy those values.  Why this was so is a subject for serious investigation and discussion.  The many and separate root causes of the sorrows that struck Russia in the twentieth century go back many centuries and are intertwined with each other in complex ways.  Our dynasty, the aristocracy and governing classes, parts of the Church hierarchy, the industrial and financial classes—all these elements of society bear a large part of the responsibility for the development of harmful tendencies that ate away at the living organism that was the Russian state.  The Imperial House cannot deny or obscure its own culpability for these trends and tendencies.  We certainly repent of our sins and acknowledge our mistakes before God and our people.  And we are convinced that, to understand the reasons for this tragedy, we must cease looking for someone to blame and instead come together in an open and honest discussion to understand what happened in 1917, what brought on these events, and what were their consequences.

The ideological heirs of the revolutionaries of February and October shift blame on each other for causing the disintegration of the country in 1917.  What are your views about the liberals of the Duma and the generals who were “uninvolved,” or so they claimed, in the abdication of Nicholas II, on the one hand, and, on the other, the Bolsheviks, who claimed to have “saved the Russian state”? 

The Revolution of 1917 was a single, catastrophic process; and February and October were logically connected stages of that single revolutionary process. 

The Revolution was made not only by radical revolutionaries, but also by ostensibly liberal political figures.  And it was precisely the latter, who united with disloyal generals in February/March and struck a blow at the very core of the Russian State, forcing the emperor to abdicate and preventing the smooth and peaceful transfer of power.  But they themselves were unable to hold on to power, and so they were replaced by the Bolsheviks, whose entire ideology flew in the face of the thousand-year-long foundations of Russian civilization, a fact that they made no attempt to hide.

Having won the Civil War, the “Reds” attempted to create a new type of society and to create a “new Soviet man.”  But they were unable to change human nature (as, indeed, no person can).  Therefore, the State that they created included not only elements of Marxist totalitarian and utopian philosophy, but also cultural traits that carried over from Russia’s ancient historical experience. 

To say that the Bolsheviks “saved the Russian state” is also very strange, as strange as saying, for example, that the people sent to some former monastery that had been turned into a concentration camp had “saved God’s monastery.”  Personally speaking, I think they of course “saved” nothing, but instead strove to create something of their own on the site of what they had demolished—the “Old Earth changing her foundations,” as they sang in their anthem, the “L’Internationale.”  But it turned out very differently:  a complicated symbiosis occurred between an imposed Bolshevik ideology and practical policies rooted into the actual, real-life interests and conditions of the country. 

Both my grandfather and my father were convinced that no revolutionary regime, whether it be “Red” or “White,” could destroy the people’s spirit, could eradicated their belief in God, their love of country, their hunger for Truth, or their creative propensities.  Of the Soviet system, my grandfather wrote:  “One need not abolish those institutions which have been called forth by the condition of life itself, but absolutely one must reject those which do violence to the human spirit.”

But of all the things the Soviet regime build and created, the things that were—and remain—for us utterly unacceptable is militant state-sponsored atheism, totalitarianism, and their terroristic methods of governing. 

As for the pursuit of social justice, the ideas of popular self-determination, the search for new forms of cooperation and peaceful coexistence—these aspirations, and several others that were promoted in the Soviet period, do not in any way conflict with the traditional principles and values that lay behind the monarchical ideal.

In some Orthodox and patriotic circles there is the idea that Nicholas II actually never abdicated, that the document he supposedly signed is a forgery.  What do you think of this idea and generally of the legal aspects of the abdication of the Tsar-Martyr?

Conspiracy theories about the “forged” abdication of the emperor contradict a host of well-known and accepted historical sources.  The emperor’s diaries, his correspondence with the empress, the documentary evidence produced by people close to the situation at the time—all demonstrate that the abdication took place on March 2, 1917, and that the document that the emperor signed is authentic. 

The abdication of the emperor did not in and of itself violate the laws of the Empire.  True, the procedure for abdication was not completely defined because, after the publication of the Digest of Laws of the Russian Empire, there had been no instances of an abdication.  But nor was there a prohibition against it in the Laws.  Therefore, theoretically speaking, if history had followed a different path, the Fundamental Laws would have had to be amended to include articles that better spelled out the procedure for abdication and the status of an emperor who had abdicated the throne.

So the issue isn’t that the emperor did not have the right to abdicate (as some have mistakenly argued), but, firstly, that the abdication was signed by the Holy Royal Passion-Bearer under duress and, secondly, that, while he had the right to abdicate for himself, he did not have the right to abdicate for Tsesarevich Aleksei, and thirdly, that Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich did not accept the throne, even conditionally, but postponed the matter until such time as the Constituent Assembly could decide the future form of the government. 

And so there came about a situation that lawyers call a “prorogation of the law.”  Whatever the case (even if Tsesarevich Aleksei had reached his legal majority and had then confirmed his father’s abdication on his behalf), there simply wasn’t anyone who could have brought the act of abdication of March 2, 1917, into legal force. 

After the execution of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich and the Imperial Family in 1918, this all became rather academic anyway. 

My grandfather, who was a strict observer of the principle of the rule of law, never believed that the abdication had actually come into force.  And even when he took upon himself the title of emperor-in-exile in 1924, my grandfather proclaimed that, if by some miracle, and despite the findings of the investigation by N. A. Sokolov, Emperor Nicholas II was actually still alive, all his Imperial titles and prerogatives should immediately be returned to him.  Furthermore, after Nicholas II, the throne belonged next to Tsesarevich Aleksei, and after him, to Grand Duke Mikhail.  And my grandfather was prepared, should even one of these more senior members of the dynasty be found to be still alive, to hand over the title to him and to give an accounting for all he had done as the next most senior member of the House of Romanoff in the line of succession.  Of course, that miracle never happened, as all the male-line descendants of Emperor Alexander III were executed in the summer of 1918. 

Much has been said lately about national reconciliation.  In fact, some suggest a purely formal means to achieving it:  simply to “forget” about the revolutionary and post-revolutionary crimes that were committed.  Other believe that it is necessary to give a precise moral accounting of what took place, focusing exclusively on the events of October and “setting aside” the events of February.  What is your position on this debate?

I am convinced that, in general, we shouldn’t forget anything that happened.  Moreover, I don’t think it right and proper to ask others to forget things they feel it necessary to remember. 

Even so, I do think we need to learn how to forgive, and how to ask for forgiveness.  And that is very much a two-way street.  After all, we sometimes say that we are ready to forgive, only to hear in response:  “And who are you to be forgiving us?  We don’t need your forgiveness!”

Of course, one could just throw one’s hands in the air in resignation and say nothing, being content to remain in one’s own private, comfortable, self-satisfied sense of righteousness.  But that would be rather a pharisaic attitude to take. 

If we really seek reconciliation, we should say:  “You hold us accountable?  We recognize that we are guilty of many things, and we ask your forgiveness.  And we forgive you for the pain and suffering that you caused us.”  That approach has a much better chance of affecting hearts. 

Reconciliation cannot be achieved without a moral accounting and recognition of what was done and without repentance for crimes and mistakes.  But one should not expect or, what’s more, demand repentance from others.  We need to set an example with our own repentance. 

What lessons, in your view, should society draw from the events of 100 years ago, so that a similar catastrophe doesn’t happen again? 

I hope that my countrymen of the most diverse beliefs and convictions would agree with the words of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Emperor Nicholas II, which he spoke while being held in confinement and not long before his martyrdom.  The emperor warned against acts of revenge and vengeance, and uttered the immortal words:  “Evil will never be defeated by evil; only love can defeat evil.” 

The terrible events of the Revolution has shown us that happiness can never be built upon godlessness, upon the suffering of others, or upon hatred and deceit. 

Only love and mutual respect will enable the citizens of Russia, even as they maintain their own individual beliefs and uphold their own individual values, to remain united in what’s most important:  love of country, preserving the balance between freedom of the individual and peace and security in society, the rule of law, the defense of the interests of the state, and the rights of the individual. 

What do you think the prospects are for the restoration of the monarchy in Russia, which could serve as the “end point” for all the Troubles and bring about a return of the nation to its historical path of development? 

The restoration of the monarchy can happen if the people make that decision, having thoughtfully considered all the dimensions of this decision and understanding fully what it is a monarchy would mean for them and our country. 

Right now, I don’t see in place the conditions for the restoration of the monarchy.  But just as it took time for the pre-conditions of the Revolution develop, it will take time to undo its legacy.  This is not something that can happen immediately.  It’s a process.  Moreover, the process of creating something always takes more time and is more complicated than the process of destroying something.

Russia is inexorably returning to its historical path of development.  And I and my son are trying to be useful to our country, not setting up any preconditions and understanding that, for the foreseeable future, the necessary prerequisites for the return of the monarchy are not yet in place.  We are also working to explain to our fellow citizens who have expressed an interest in monarchical ideas or who already hold them, that monarchy is not a magic wand.

And this is the difference between the traditional worldview we have from the utopian worldview of the revolutionaries:  we do not deceive the people by promising them universal happiness and prosperity if they just accept our ideals and values.

What we do say, however, is this: that we firmly believe that the most organic and natural form of government is monarchy, which conceives of the nation as a single family, with a father or mother at its head, which, by virtue of this, can rise above all party interests, guarantee continuity and stability, and play the role of a neutral arbiter.

But families still have their own troubles.  Therefore, we mustn’t believe that the restoration of the monarchy would in one fell swoop resolve all of Russia’s problems.  If God’s will and the people’s desire are to return to our country its ancient monarchical state structure, then this will not be the “end point,” opening the way to some “earthly paradise,” but rather the beginning of an era of collective service and work for all the Russian people, where we’ve restored the notion of the nation as a single, united family, and where conflicts and crises are resolved not by revolutions, but by love and patience.

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