12 December 2005

Interview with the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna in the journal Itogi

Interview with the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna in the journal Itogi (interviewer: A. Kamakin; “Tronnoe mesto [The Place of the Throne],” Itogi,12 December 2005, pp. 24-28). 

Your Highness, the rehabilitation [of the Imperial Family—Nicholas II, Alexandra, and their children] has, in point of fact, already occurred, hasn’t it? Seven years ago, at the ceremony for the reburial of the remains of the Imperial Family, Boris Yeltsyn called the murders in the Ipat’ev House a “monstrous crime” and “one of the most shameful pages in our history”; and he called the reburial itself a “symbol of atonement for our common guilt.” Can any official pronouncement the Attorney General might give be more important than these words?

It is not logical to equate the words of Boris Yeltsyn with the rehabilitation of the Imperial family. Rehabilitation is not a political act, but a juridical act; and no declaration, even one made by the highest political official of the country, can substitute for a judicial decision. The president should have followed up his words with a legal document to this effect.

But why does Your call for rehabilitation come only now, nearly 15 years after the end of the Communist regime?

Before one could make the public call for rehabilitation, it was necessary to gather together in a serious way the historical and judicial documents that would enable a review of the laws and to establish a legal position. Since the time just after the revolution, We have received information about the deaths of Our relatives. Then in 1999, We succeeded in obtaining the rehabilitation of Grand Dukes Pavel Aleksandrovich, Dmitrii Konstantinovich, Nicholas Mikhailovich, and Georgii Mikhailovich, who were all shot in the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1919. In addition, as concerns the rehabilitation of the Imperial Family, We found the position of the Church, which has already canonized them, to be extremely important. In the “Encyclical of Patriarch Aleksei II of Moscow and All Russia and of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, Concerning the 75-th Anniversary of Murders of Emperor Nicholas II and His Family,” is clearly stated the following: “It is necessary to examine all aspects of the crimes in Ekaterinburg—the moral, legal, and political aspects. This is necessary not only to establish the historical truth of the matter, but also to enable governmental authorities to determine legally the evil acts that were perpetrated, in this way displaying their fidelity to law and morality.” Just after the canonization of the Royal Family, His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei II publicly expressed his support for our legal endeavor: “It is necessary to complete the process of rehabilitation as quickly as possible. It is unclear what possible obstacles there could be to it now. Can one find in our country today anyone who still believes that Emperor Nicholas II and his family were criminals deserving of death?” These words speak for themselves and need no further commentary.

In 2002, the Attorney General (AG) reviewed the matter of the rehabilitation, which was brought to the AG’s attention by the so-called “Anastasia Romanova Fund” (which advocates the rights of the well-known Natal’ia Belikhodze). And the position of the AG was made clear at that time: members of the Royal Family are victims not of political repression, but of criminal acts. The actions of the Ural Soviet and of the Ural District Cheka were not in keeping with the juridical norms of the time. Rather, their actions fall under article 1453 of the Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire (“premeditated murder”). What possible objections could You have to that argument?

I cannot comment on the activities of those who blasphemously presume to call themselves by the holy name of a saint. As concerns the opinions about the criminal nature of the murders of the Royal Family, I consider this version of the facts to be extremely far-fetched and groundless. The Ural Soviet was an organ of state power in the Soviet republic. The sentence of murder brought against the Royal Family was “recognized as an order” from the highest organ of power at that time: the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. The law contemplates not only the rehabilitation of those who were sentenced by a court of law, but also those who were persecuted by extra-legal means. The sovereign and members of his family were shot on the orders of a state organ for class-based, social, and religious reasons, and therefore it should be by means of a law that they are rehabilitated as victims of political repression.

This legal dispute could be resolved by documents that prove that the shootings were sanctioned by the leaders of the Bolshevik government. As far as I know, a search conducted by historians and archivists has thus far not produced such documents. How important, really, is this matter to You?

In My opinion, there is no legal dispute whatsoever. Of course, we can only assert by means of indirect evidence that the leaders of the Communist regime ordered the shootings. For example, it is significant that Trotsky spoke of this in his memoirs. However, in terms of the rehabilitation, it is not important what governmental organ made the decision to execute the Royal Family—the highest authority, the central authorities in Moscow, or some local officials. Moreover, we should not forget that repression took the form not only of executions, but also imprisonment and the loss of civil rights. And about this there can be no doubt whatsoever: there is an enormous amount of documents that give witness to the fact that the Royal Family was imprisoned in accordance with the orders of the leader in the Soviet government, Sverdlov. Copies of these well-known documents have been presented to the Attorney General.

The decision to rehabilitate the Royal Family can be made not only by the Attorney General, but also by the President. And the Presidential Commission on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression presented this matter to the president nearly three years ago. There has yet to be any response from the president. Do You still hold out hope that a decision on this matter will come from the President of Russia?

We are following the path that the legal system itself affords Us. We are not interested in a hollow declaration that will attract only the momentary attention of the nation; We are interested in establishing the truth. I hope that the Attorney General will make the decision that is both lawful and correct. If it does not come to pass as I hope, then the matter will be referred to the courts. In that event and at that time, I will turn to the President of Russia.

What will the rehabilitation of the Royal Family mean—legally and otherwise—for the Russian Imperial House and for the country as a whole?

The rehabilitation of the Royal Family will signal a triumph of law, of justice, and legality. The legal act is important first and foremost for the current Russian government. While the royal martyrs remain unrehabilitated, the state is, in effect, recognizing their executions as lawful and taking onto itself responsibility for them. The rehabilitation will elevate Russia’s reputation internationally and serve as a visible symbol that the dark page has turned, that the lawlessness and terror in our history have actually ended. As for the Imperial House, the rehabilitation will allow it to assert convincingly before the whole world that a genuine transformation is taking place in Russia today. Also, the rehabilitation of the Royal Family provides Us with a new opportunity to defend the honour, dignity, and good name of our ancestors who were not only shot to death, but also slandered.

Is not the rehabilitation of the monarch also, in a way, the rehabilitation of the monarchy? Many today are inspired by the example of Spain, the dynamic development of which, in the opinion of most, was in no small way connected to the reestablishment of monarchist institutions. Do You believe that the pre-conditions exist in Russia today for a similar scenario to occur?

The idea of monarchy does not need the rehabilitation. Monarchy is an idea that has always existed in human society. At present, the constitution of Russia guarantees a plurality of views. I consider the monarchist form of government the most natural one for Russia. But its reestablishment cannot happen as some “realization of a scenario.” Political puppets of all kinds come and go on the basis of “scenarios,” but the thousand-year long Russian monarchy can be reborn only by the will of God and the agreement of the Russian people, as a result of the natural course of history. The example of Spain can be instructive, though one must always remember that Russia, like all great and ancient countries, has its own path to travel.

In the context of the question about the rehabilitation of the Royal Family, the issue is often raised about claims to properties that had been seized and turned over to the people responsible for the overthrow of the heads of ousted dynasties. The law of the Russian Federation “Concerning the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repressions” gives to those persons who have been legally rehabilitated, and to their heirs, the right to request the return of all “property that was confiscated, seized, or otherwise lost” or for “money compensation.” Will You, as many fear, request the Winter Palace be returned to You?

Before taking up the question of the rehabilitation of our martyred relatives, I naturally acquainted Myself with the “Law Concerning the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression,” and I understand perfectly well that the return of property or granting of compensation are possible only to those who were the victims of that repression themselves or to their immediate heirs—that is, their children. There are no surviving children of the Royal Family, as everybody knows. I am the heiress of Emperor Nicholas II as head of the Imperial House; but according to present laws, this does not provide the basis for inheritance of property. However, this is not at all relevant to the matter at hand. Let’s not mix apples with oranges. The question of rehabilitation has its own important moral significance. It is sad to Me that there are people today who cannot imagine that one can do something without a motive rooted in money or property. All the fuss about the Winter Palace is nonsense. The Winter Palace is state property, not private property; and it will always remain so.

The topic of restitution is heard more and more often these days: the descendants of well-known aristocratic families are beginning actively to present their claims to their families’ former properties which had been nationalized by the state. There have appeared numerous restitution plans—from the return of estates and landed properties, to the payment of compensation, in stocks or securities. What do You think about all of this?

To decide any question, one must start with the interests of the government, of society, and of the citizenry itself. On the one hand, the principle of respect for private property, which is ensconced in the Russian Constitution, requires that property that has been illegally confiscated be legally returned. On the other hand, the unconditional and complete restitution of private property is fraught with dangers for the civil society in Russia. As early as the 1920s, when there were still alive persons and their immediate heirs who had their property expropriated by the Bolsheviks, my grandfather Emperor Kirill Vladimirovich rejected the idea of restitution. That same view was held by My father, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, and is held by Me. As concerns compensation, even if only symbolic, the form it takes can and should be discussed. After all, if the Russian Federation compensated the descendants of French investors holding pre-revolutionary stocks for their losses in the revolution, how much worse would things be for the citizenry of Russia? How can we accuse other countries of a double standard in their relations with Russia if we were to allow the same double standard with ourselves? In other words, we cannot speak about restitution or full compensation, but the symbolic gesture by the government in relation to people who were robbed of their possessions—the majority of whom, by the way, were not aristocrats, but peasants and townspeople—would be most desirable from the point of view of historical justice, and very important for the future. This would not be burdensome to the government’s budget, but rather be like “small change;” but such “small change” has an enormous moral and legal weight. The most important consideration is to find some kind of solution that establishes justice for one group of people while not harming and not encroaching on the rights of the other group.

Your Highness, while You call for the rehabilitation of the Imperial Family, You nonetheless did not recognize the authenticity of their remains: in 1998, members of the Russian Imperial House and hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church refused to attend the ceremony of their reburial. Have You since changed Your mind about the remains, or do You still doubt their authenticity?

I see no connection between the question of the rehabilitation of the Royal Family and the problem of the authenticity of the Ekaterinburg remains. Our position remains unchanged. We are in full agreement with the opinion of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The question many people are asking today is: why do members of the Russian Imperial House live outside Russia? Have the Romanovs not yet forgiven Russia for their exile? Or is it that life is more comfortable abroad?

Let Me begin with the fact that it was not Russia that exiled us, but the political regime that came to power by means of a coup. To those who debate the comfort of our exile I could suggest that they try it themselves, but I would not wish such a fate on them. If I were a private person, guided only by my own wants and desires, I could have returned to the Motherland at any time. But as the head of the Russian Imperial House, I am duty-bound to preserve its dignity. If that dignity were to be lost, then what service could we ever hope to offer Russia? Therefore, before we return home permanently, it is necessary that the state determine its relationship to Our dynasty.

It is well known that a condition you have set for Your return is that the Russian Imperial House be granted the status of a “historical institution.” But, firstly, what does this status actually mean? Many—including both advocates and opponents of monarchy—believe that this is the first step to the return of monarchy. Secondly, doesn’t this position mean that, if the state never does recognize the dynasty as a “historical institution,” the Russian Imperial House will remain forever in “emigration”?

In practically all countries, including former Communist countries, the question of the status of the formerly ruling dynasties is already decided; so we do not have to reinvent the wheel. The position of the dynasty in a republic is not unlike that of the Church in a secular government. Such a government, remaining republican and secular, recognizes also both the Church and the dynasty as occupying the position of historical institutions which exist and act on the basis of their historical foundations and traditions. In this way, they do not contradict the prevailing legal system. The state also draws these institutions into work on social, cultural, and other tasks, and grants to them, in the confines of a program for the preservation of cultural and spiritual customs, a measure of support for carrying out these functions. This in no way affects the foundations of the constitutional order. We are not fortune-tellers and not soothsayers, so as to foretell whether Our return to the Motherland would hasten or postpone the establishment of monarchy. We are now fulfilling our duty and striving to be useful to Russia no matter what should happen in the future. We are citizens of Russia and We use all the means the law makes available to Us to offer help to Our countrymen. In all things, it is vital to proceed within the confines of the law, and gradually: a house is built from it foundation, not from its roof. The process of Our return to the social life of Russia progresses steadily. I do not doubt that the question of the status of the Imperial House will be resolved favorably, for the mutual benefit of all parties.

Unfortunately, there is no unity among those who claim membership in the Imperial House. The head of the “Romanov Family Association,” Nicholas Romanovich Romanov, constantly issues statements with the harshest criticism of the Russian Imperial House, and, more than anything, raises doubts about Your status. How harmful today is this topic? Is eventual reconciliation among the Romanovs possible?

For Me, this topic is not at all harmful. The status of the head and members of the Russian Imperial House is determined entirely by law. In the Imperial House, besides me, there are only three members: my mother, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna; my son, Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich; and Ekaterina Ioannovna, princess of the Imperial Blood and daughter of Prince Ioann Konstantinovich, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks in Alapaevsk in 1918. Attempts to disparage My rights have originated with people who, firstly, do not belong to the Imperial Family, and, secondly, either do not themselves know the relevant laws or think that others do not know these laws. In either case, there is unscrupulousness at work. The only thing that causes Me regret is that some of our relatives waste their time and energy on little intrigues instead of striving to be of some use to their country. I have never quarreled with anyone about these matters and I remain open to a discussion and cooperation with all, including, of course, My relatives. But there can be no foundation for cooperation without respect for Our dynastic laws, fulfilling these laws, and following our family traditions.

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