01 August 2014

Statement from the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. The Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, on the 100th Anniversary of the Beginning of the First World War, 1914-1918

Statement from the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. The Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, on the 100th Anniversary of the Beginning of the First World War, 1914-1918

My dear countrymen,

A century has passed since the day when the world was plunged into the first-ever global war, which took the lives of more than 22 million people and caused terrible suffering and destruction. The war brought an end to four European empires and established a new system of international relations.

But if Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire fell as a result of their defeat in a war they began, the fate of the Russian Empire was even more bitter and inscrutable.

Our government did everything in its power to halt the escalation of the conflict caused by the villainous assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Unfortunately, all its efforts were in vain. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and amassed a large military force on the border with Russia. In order to assure the security of the nation, The Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Emperor Nicholas II ordered a general mobilization of Russia’s armed forces. Using Russia’s mobilization as an excuse, Germany then declared war on Russia on July 19/August 1, 1914.

Russia’s valiant Imperial Army and Navy, and the entire nation as a whole, rose to the defense of their native land from the invaders. Russia honored its treaty obligations to its allies in the Entente and did not abandon the nations and people who were counting on Russia’s protection. The hardships and defeats of the first phase of the war were in large measure overcome and offset, especially after August 1915, when the Emperor took personal command of the Army. The front lines were contained far from the capitals and from important population centers of the Empire. Behind our lines, there were many economic hardships that were brought on by the wartime conditions, but on the whole the standard of living remained at an acceptable level. At the beginning of 1917, the course of the First World War was shifting toward victory for the Entente; and Russia, which had made the most significant contribution toward the defeat of the Triple Alliance, was preparing to reap the rewards of its wartime sacrifices.

It was at that moment that our country was dealt a deathblow from within. Exploiting the Emperor’s absence from the capital to be at the front, opposition forces incited riots in the capital, along with murders of officers and policemen, and rampant and wanton violence. A criminal alliance of groups of self-serving politicians and military leaders who had violated their oath, together set in motion a sequence of events that led to a national tragedy—revolution. In the midst of this foreign war, the Emperor—the Anointed of God, the Head of State, the Supreme Commander—was isolated and under enormous pressure from his commanders at the front to abdicate his throne. The leaders of the revolution convinced the Emperor’s brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, to delay accepting the throne until a Constituent Assembly could be convened and decide the form of the future government of Russia. And thus was broken the staff of the ancient Russian state.

Of course, pre-Revolutionary Russia had its share of serious social and political problems, and the people had legitimate cause for complaint. But one can only see the attempt to resolve these problems by overthrowing the legitimate government, especially during wartime, as nothing other than sheer madness.

Events followed the course they do in all revolutions. The nation, having been deprived of its historic symbols, slipped into turmoil, which only served to strengthen the extreme terrorist parties. The radicalization of politics led to the ouster from the government of moderate and liberal revolutionaries, and to the seizure of power by far more extremist parties, which openly sought the defeat of their country in the war and whose slogans called for the transformation of the war from a struggle against foreign enemies to a civil war—the most horrific, fruitless, and destructive kind of war.

The Revolution plunged our country into bloody chaos and brought to naught all our military victories and rendered pointless all our many sacrifices. 

Unfortunately, the ruling circles in the countries making up the Entente celebrated the fall of their ally, the Russian Empire, almost as much as they celebrated the defeat of the Triple Alliance. The victors of the First World War believed that, having been freed from their treaty obligations to Russia and from the need to take into account Russia’s historical geopolitical interests, they would become the unchallenged rulers of the world. Subsequent events showed the utter folly and short-sightedness of this unprincipled and treacherous policy.

The system created by the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, which was held without the participation of Russia, was from the beginning shaky and unstable. Instead of restoring an international balance of power, it gave birth to new and deep animosities and contained within itself the seeds of the still bloodier Second World War, as well as a host of other international crises, many of which continue to our own day.

Meanwhile, in Russia a totalitarian and atheistic regime was established, which was openly hostile to the spiritual values and ideals that had taken shape over the course of many centuries. The memory of that which before the Revolution was deemed glorious and heroic, was destroyed and deliberately erased. The First World War, which had come to be called at the time the Second Great Patriotic War and the Great War to Save Civilization, was now declared a “senseless imperialist war.” For many long years, the heroic exploits of Russia’s soldiers and officers during the years 1914-1917 were disdained and ignored. Military service during the years of the First World War was not something that garnered respect and gratitude but rather only made one a suspect character. Even the graves and memorials to the fallen had a sad fate: almost all of them were barbarically desecrated. 

Russian veterans of the First World War who wound up in exile after the Revolution also faced many injustices. They were often treated not as suffering brothers-in-arms in those countries where they found refuge, but as unwelcome aliens. Few wanted to remember the high price the Russian army paid in blood to save the day at the Marne, Verdun, on the Romanian front, and so on.

But loyalty, honor, and sacrifice—these are immortal. 

And now the time has arrived when the events of the First World War are being assessed in Russia impartially, when heroic deeds are being remembered with appreciation, and when the defenders of the Fatherland are finally being given their due honor and recognition. 

From the mouths of the leaders of today’s Russia come moving words about the feats of our ancestors. The commanders of Russia’s armed forces, the clergy, and leading figures in science, culture, and the economy are sponsoring various projects aimed at memorializing the First World War. And—most importantly—the desire to return this “forgotten war” to the pages of history has begun to resonate in the hearts of millions of our countrymen. It is vital that this process not fade away after all the commemorations end, but continue on forever.

Over the course of the next four years—until 2018—we will be marking the 100th anniversary of the famous battles of the First World War. We do not celebrate per se since we were deprived of our part in the victory, but we rather mark the anniversary, analyzing all that took place then, and what took place afterward over the course of a century.

All anniversaries, even those commemorating much happier events, are given to us primarily so that we can fix our attention on a historical event and to learn lessons from it.

In the discussions of what took place 100 years ago, we will no doubt hear many different opinions. All views have the right to be voiced, so long as they are supported by facts and logic. But there are some conclusions which, one would hope, will be accepted by all, regardless of the differences in political beliefs.

Russia must always be strong, resolutely strengthening its Armed Forces. But even as we maintain the high level of our military defenses, we must remember that the greatest power of any nation is not the number or quality of its arms, despite the importance of both, but the unity of the people and the resoluteness of their spirit. Miracles of military technology or the abilities of state and military leaders cannot save a nation if its citizens have lost their ideals and sense of community, which they inherited from previous generations. At the same time, no enemies or deceitful “friends” can do us harm if we preserve in our hearts an unshakeable faith in God, patriotism, and devotion to our traditional values. 

Commemorating Russia’s gallant warriors and admiring their heroism does not prevent us at the same time from recognizing all war as evil. The feats of the warrior may be great, but the feats of the peacemaker are still greater. Alas, peace and security are extremely fragile things. The tragedy going on before our very eyes today in many countries—countries that until very recently were relatively prosperous—shows how easy it is to destroy and scatter that which was built and gathered with great effort. One must never forget that the First World War grew out of a local conflict, that the Second World War became inevitable in conditions where the political elite cynically determined the fates of nations and hypocritically turned a blind eye to crimes that were linked to xenophobia and stoked the flames of international enmities.

International stability is not possible without the constant and full participation of Russia to help maintain it. All great powers have their own interests, and they frequently clash and come into serious conflict over those interests. This is inevitable and unavoidable. However, a special responsibility for the fate of humanity is given to the great powers—a responsibility that dictates a need to respect each other and to resolve problems by negotiation and compromise, not by force. Any attempt to deprive Russia of its right and ability to be an equal partner with other leading nations of the world is harmful and fruitless. The history of the First World War amply demonstrates that even when such attempts succeed for a time, more than just our country suffers for it. The weakness of Russia is a disaster not only for its citizens, but, at the end of the day, a threat to the well-being of the entire world. 

The 100th anniversary of the First World War reminds all humanity of the dangers of a double standard in international politics—of the dangers of reckless saber rattling, of the pursuit of absolute domination, and of seeing one’s own and other peoples as mere material for inhuman social experimentation.

May God grant that in Russia and in all the sovereign states that have emerged from the former Russian Empire, and in other countries, the anniversary of the First World War will become an occasion not for grandiose celebrations, but for prayers for the repose of the souls of victims of this bloody conflict and for international cooperation, so that never again will there need to be victims of war.

H.I.H. The Grand Duchess Maria of Russia


July 19/August 1, 2014

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