19 June 2014

Interview of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, with the Editor of the newspaper Monarkhist, Mikhail Kulybin

Interview of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, with the Editor of the newspaper Monarkhist, Mikhail Kulybin

1. Your Imperial Highness, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. This anniversary will be widely celebrated in Russia. Will the Russian Imperial House be participating in any of the celebrations?

The sorrowful and dreadful date of the beginning of the first global conflagration will be marked around the world by people of the widest possible range of beliefs. Of course, the Imperial House will not be on the sidelines, but will work both in Russia and around the world to preserve and honor the memory of the heroism of Russia’s soldiers and officers, as it has done duringprevious commemorations of the Great War. This year in Russia, thank God, President Vladimir Putin and other government leaders have publicly announced that this “forgotten” war should come out from the shadows and enter more fully into the public’s consciousness, and that its veterans should be forever memorialized.

I also very much hope that this 100th anniversary of the beginning of the war, which coincides with the 700th anniversary of the birth of St. Sergius of Radonezh, will see the completion of a new church on Khodynka Field in honor of this important Russian saint, which willinclude a military memorial.

There will certainly be a number of events marking this anniversary in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities, including commemorative church services, the dedication of monuments, the restoration of cemeteries and the reburial of remains, conferences and exhibitions, and reenactments of historical events. Books will be published on the Great War—both academic monographs and popular histories. There will be films—one would think very high-quality films—made by some of our most talented directors.

But, as I said just before the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the Time of Troubles, the most important way to mark so important a date as this is through good works. The best possible monuments to honor and commemorate our heroes of the First World War would be to organize a full range of charitable and education programs, to award grants and prizes to support young people, and to arrange events to raise money for the needy.

2. The history of the First World War was distorted during the entire Soviet period. For example, the numbers of casualties suffered by the Russian army was grossly inflated. What do you think should be done to correct such ideologically-motivatedfalsehoods?

The interference of party ideology in the historical discipline is a problem not only in the study of the First World War, but of most events in human history. One always has to resist this corrupting influence because History must be objective and honest, and must always strive to establish an accurate picture of the past and not falsify the historical record for the benefit of one or the other political side.

Of course, each historian has his own social and political views, and he can never fully porce himself from them. But it isn’t even necessary to do so. If a scholar carefully and attentively works with the historical sources, if he never distorts the facts, then his personal views and subjective opinions are less likely to interfere with the honesty and integrity of his research.

The role of Russia in the First World War has been distorted and forgotten not only in the USSR. Russia’s allies were also rather lukewarm, to put it mildly, in the way they treated those who died in the name of their common cause, and toward those who found themselves forced into exile after the Revolution of 1917. Of course, the graves of Russian soldiers and officers were not desecrated in the countries of Europe as they were in Russia under the Communists. Inpidual politicians, historians, and writers have from time to time reminded us of the sacrifices that Russia made during these years. But the general silence on the matter serves as a kind of indictment of the official policy of many foreign governments.

But it is pointless to criticize foreign governments when our own country was at that same time under the power of political forces that viewed the Great War as an entirely “imperialist” and “unjust” war, that thought that veterans should feel only shame for participating in it, compelling some veterans even to hide the fact of their service in the war and to put away or destroy their medals. But the Bolsheviks’ ideological slogans about “imperialist war” were fundamentally nonsensical. In any war you can find examples of those who were motivated by a desire to defend their spiritual and national values and interests, by patriotism, by boundless courage and self-sacrifice, as well as those who were motived instead by self-interest, cynical political calculation, gratuitous cruelty, treason, and greed. However, one must never forget or disparage those who have shed their blood for their country, even if the political system of their country has made mistakes, miscalculations, or crimes.

3. One encounters the opinion that much of the blame for the outbreak of the First World War lies at the feet of the Holy Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, who, it is alleged, should have been willing to make concessions to the Central Powers and abandon Russia’s treaty obligations to Serbia. It is even asserted that the Emperor wanted the war in order to return the Cross to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. What do you think of those opinions?

Certainly, the state ideology and foreign policy of the Russian Empire contained ideas about the defense of Slavic and other Orthodox countries and nationalities, and about the expulsion of the Ottoman Empire from Europe and the establishment of Orthodoxy as the state religion in Constantinople and in surrounding territories. In some ways, these policies were merely rhetoric which was not backed up by any action, and in some other ways, these were concrete initiatives and projects.

But to blame the Holy Passion-Bearer Emperor Nicholas II for “unleashing” the First World War would be brazen demagoguery. Everyone knows of the Emperor’s initiatives at the beginning of his reign to bring about world peace. Thanks to his efforts, the Permanent Court of Arbitration for the resolution of international conflicts was created. Ideas expressed and supported by the Emperor lay behind the foundation of the future League of Nations and the United Nations. It is not by accident that in 1921, President Warren Harding of the United States, who can hardly be suspected of harboring any special love for Russia or its autocracy, gave a speech at the opening of the Washington Naval Conference, in which he noted that the notion of limiting armaments by means of an international treaty had its origins in the processes started by Nicholas II.

And in 1914, the Tsar-Martyr did all he could do to prevent war. After the murder by the terrorist GavriloPrincip of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne (who, by the way, if not particularly pro-Russian, was at least convinced of the need for good relations with Russia), Nicholas II recommended to Serbia that it accept all the conditions in the Austrian ultimatum but one, which would have led to the loss of Serbian national sovereignty and to the de facto occupation of Serbia by Austria. If there had been even the slightest desire among the governments of the Triple Alliance to resolve this conflict peacefully, then all the conditions were already in place to avoid war.

But the Central Powers longed to carve up the world, and not only did they not seize the chance to avoid bloodshed, they trampled on the opportunity in the most flagrant way. And so they showed that no concessions whatsoever could mollify them. Even if, hypothetically, they had proposed that Russia suddenly change its course 180 degrees, abandon its allies in the Entente, as well as Serbia, and join the Triple Alliance, this would not have stopped Germany and Austria-Hungary, but quite the contrary, would have only encouraged them more to make war. Remaining a member of the Entente, Russia could not make any further concessions than it already had made. And to imagine that one of the great powers of the world could hide itself and remain neutral on the sidelines of a global war is to live in an inconceivable, utopian, and idle-headed fantasy world. One of the warring European alliances would have drawn us into the conflictin one way or another.

In 1914, it wasn’t Russia that declared war on anyone; it was Germany that declared war. Emperor Nicholas II certainly saw that war was likely, but he himself would never have been the one to initiate it.

There may be out there all sorts of hypothetical arguments proposing “alternative histories,” but these are pure speculation in the end. It may be intriguing to think about the “what-ifs” of history. Butthingshappenedthe waythingshappened. To prepare for the possibility of war does not mean that one has unleashed it. All great powers ideally should be prepared for the possibility of war, but they must also strive always for peace. Striving for peace was the very essence of the foreign policy of Nicholas II.

And it is utter nonsense to suspect Nicholas II of inciting the First World War so he could raise the Cross on top of Hagia Sophia. The dream of taking Constantinople and seizing control of the Bosporus from the Ottomans did, of course, exist in Russia from at least the 18th century. But these ambitions were rooted in the need to defend Russia’s geopolitical interests and to defend the oppressed Christian populations in the region. The Emperor was no madman, and he never thought to shatter the entire international balance of power and condemn to death millions of his countrymen for the sake of a symbolic victory. When the war began, the Ottoman Empire was on the other side in the war, and the slogan “The Cross above Hagia Sophia” again became one of the components of Russia’s patriotic propaganda. But, I repeat, Nicholas II was a man of deep and pure Orthodox faith, and he never was anything approaching a religious fanatic or extremist.

4. Today there are those who wonder whether or not it was in the Russian Empire’s geopolitical interests to be part of the Entente. Some say that the natural allies of Russia were the monarchical governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary, against the liberal democracies in France and Great Britain. How much stock do you put in these ideological constructions?

My father, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, in the Address he published 50 years ago to mark the half-century anniversary of the First World War, called the participation of the Russian Empire in the Entente an “unnatural alliance with countries whose governments were known to be hostile to our Empire and to its political and religious foundations.”

On the one hand, it is hard to disagree with this. Since 1871, France had been a republic. Atthattime, there were relatively few republics in Europe, and in any case, the French secular republic, with its quite open anti-religious tendencies, was at its ideological core the very antithesis of the Russian Orthodox autocratic monarchy. As for Great Britain, for all its roots in monarchist and conservative principles, it for many centuries had been and remains a geopolitical rival of Russia.

But on the other hand, as you yourself understand, neither Alexander III, who embarked on a course of rapprochement with the French Republic in the 1880s, nor Nicholas II, who continued this policy and finalized the formation of the Entente in 1904-1907, were madmen. They were aware of the international realities and never allowed themselves to be deceived about the true attitudes of the ruling elites in France and Great Britain toward Russia. Alas, Russia could not expect much friendship from Germany nor, even less so, from Austria-Hungary. Even within Bismarck’s Chancellery, which understood well the futility of war with Russia, relations between Germany and Russia were becoming ever more complicated. And after Bismarck’s departure from the political scene, the anti-Russia party inside the German governmentonly grew stronger, viewing war with Russia as inevitable and eschewing alignments in complex systems of alliances involving Russia, or even working toward compromise solutions to issues. In Austria-Hungary, hostility toward Russia was becoming all the more common and widespread.

So an alliance of the three European empires proved to be simply impossible. Those who suggest that such a solution was possible are oversimplifying the situation, not taking into account the whole complex of international issues of the period, or simply do not understand, and do not wish to understand, the historical facts.

It is not for nothing that, in an earlier period, the short-lived alliance between Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary was called not the “League of the Three Empires” but the “League of the Three Emperors”—the three Emperors being Alexander II, Wilhelm I, and Franz-Joseph. Their aspirations for peace and cooperation, or at least for good diplomatic relations among themselves, were rooted in their personal affection and respect for each other, and in their understanding of their many common values and ideals. But sadly, neither the personal relationships between these monarchs, nor their kinship ties to each other, outweighed the differences in the geopolitical objectives of their nations, differences which were exasperated by the politicking of various political parties in all three empires.

The formation of the Entente was not the decision of one person or some spontaneous act of folly.

Nor, in fact, is the conspiracy theory one sometimes encounters true, that certain secret forces specifically led Russia into an obviously disadvantageous position in order to destroy the country. Russia’s rulers were not na?ve fools who were deceived by European hucksters. This is an extremely unsophisticated view, unsupported by any substantial evidence.

As it is always the case in history, there are here too many interwoven factors at work: both the objective and the subjective, the logical and the accidental, the useful and the harmful, the friendly and the hostile…. But whatever the case may be, the formation of the Entente was the result of a multilateral international chess game that went on for decades. Russia’s participation in it was not a mistake, but a necessity. In my view, it was also a sad, but also unavoidable, thing.

Our allies were not loyal and reliable. They feared Russia and did not want to see it become strong. In 1917, they were only too happy to see Russia embroiled in a revolutionary crisis, almost happier about that than about the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary. History has validated the words of Alexander III—that Russia has only two allies: its army and its navy.

Having said that, I want to emphasize that I am speaking about the policies of ruling parties, about the unscrupulousness of various leaders. The common feeling of brotherhood shared by the soldiers of Russia, France, England, and their allies was much more genuine and deserves our respect and commemoration.

5. There is the widespread belief that Imperial Russia was going to lose the war. But toward the end of 1916, Russia had occupied as much enemy territory as it had conceded. The same is true about the number of its soldiers who had been taken prisoner. The enemy had not even reached the city of Minsk, let alone Moscow, as they did in 1941. Nevertheless, Nicholas II is blamed for this “defeat.” Howmuchofthisdoyouthinkistrue?

When I hear such claims, I immediately am reminded of the words of Winston Churchill. He was not at all a Russophile. In fact, quite the contrary. But he was a fair man, and highly praised the contribution that Russia, and Emperor Nicholas II personally, made to the Entente’s victory.

Nicholas II may not have been the greatest of military commanders, and he knew that about himself. But he was a man of duty. Many have been critical of his decision to assume personal command of the army. But the fact remains that after Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich was relieved and the Emperor assumed command, the situation at the front began to improve. So that, in a strictly military sense, there was no defeat. The blow that struck down the Russian Empire came from behind. It was in the home front that a plot against the Emperor formed. TheplotledtotheabdicationoftheEmperor. Grand Duke Michael declined to accept the throne without the Constituent Assembly first determining what the future government of Russia would be. The people were thrown into confusion, and extremist terrorist parties continued to agitate actively among them. In the end, the Bolshevik party, the most radical of them all, whose members actively sought the military defeat of their own country, succeeded in transforming this war against foreign enemies into a civil war—the most horrible and destructive kind of war.

Russia’s defeat would not have happened if not for the horrible internal crisis that struck it—first and foremost, a crisis of spirit and of traditional values. No enemy or deceitful “friend” or “ally” could have defeated us if we had been united, if we had held to our centuries-old ideals, which had always saved our country during the most terrible times in the past.

It is wrong to blame Nicholas II for this crisis. Of course, he bears a lot of the responsibility. Hemademistakes, asanyrulerwill. But no honest person would accuse him of not having the deepest faith in God and love for his country and people, or of lacking courage or dedication. The Holy Church has numbered him among the choir of holy passion-bearers, highlighting his traits: that he gave his life for his Christian faith and for his country, and that his martyrdom in any case atoned for any sins and mistakes.

If we recall the nation’s accomplishments during his reign, the impressive growth of the economy, the dramatic increase in population, then we will more deeply appreciate how truly tragic and unfitting was the fate not only of the Imperial Family, but of all Russia, at the turn of the 20th century.

Revolution is a national tragedy and an illness, and it isn’t ever the case that one person can be entirely guilty of bringing it about and another person be entirely free of guilt. Share in the blame must lie not only in the February conspirators and the extremist revolutionaries who came after them, also in the dynasty, in the clergy, in the nobility, and in other elements of society. But to seek out and identify the guilty parties, especially now, is not very useful. We must all repent, and we should together seek the answer to the question “What should we do now?” not “Who is to blame?” Then we can return Russia to power and greatness and finally get past the sorrowful consequences of the fratricidal Revolution.

6. Some political elements exploited the hardships of war to incite a revolution and overthrow the Tsar-Martyr. How do you think that was possible? After all, at the beginning of the war, there was a great surge in patriotic feeling.

The example of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century shows how fleeting displays of “patriotic feeling” can be.

It’s not enough to wave flags, sing hymns, or attend patriotic rallies. True patriotism is more muted in its outward forms—like true religious faith, or true love. It is not for show, but is an internal state. And the deeper and less flashy it is, the truer and stronger it is.

Unfortunately, many of those who attended the patriotic rallies in 1914 and who sang the praises of Nicholas II later all too easily believed the outright slander of him as a “weak-willed tsar,” who had become “putty in the hands of Rasputin,” or the lies about the “German spy” Alexandra Feodorovna, and so on. Later still, they welcomed with joy the victory of the Revolution, destroying churches, tearing down monuments, desecrating tombs…. This was a terrible disaster and aberration, which were caused by the diminishment of faith and the loss of any feeling of national self-preservation. And by and large the majority of the people who took part in this were not bad people at all. There were actually very few clear villains and criminals. Most simply underwent a kind of mass psychosis and gave themselves over to the lies and to an imaginary “emancipation” from religion, conscience, and morality.

Many quickly realized the falsehood behind it all, but it was by then too late. The totalitarian, atheistic regime had created a powerful, terroristic system for the suppression of dissent and, at the same time, had conjured effective methods for spreading its own propaganda.

It doesn’t really make sense to say that all this appeared out of the blue, that the Bolsheviks were guilty of all this, and so on. The Revolution, the Civil War, and all the dark and terrible sides of the Soviet period, as well as many of our current difficulties and troubles, all stem from our loss of faith, hope, and love. No outward displays of “patriotic feelings” can ever replace faith, hope, and love or prevent new revolutions, which have nothing whatsoever to do with true patriotism. We see this firsthand in examples of revolutions in a number of countries around the world. And the most painful example of all for us is Ukraine, where, under the guise of patriotism, the flames of xenophobia have been fanned, where innocent civilians are being killed under the slogans of a “battle against separatists and terrorists,” and where conflict spreads more and more, bringing pain and grief to all sides.

7. Some critics call the return of Crimea to being part of Russia again a kind of new “shot in Sarajevo.” Do you think that’s a fair thing to say?

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was taken as a pretext for war. But a pretext is not a reason. Were we to take only the example of Austria-Hungary, then we would see that the execution in Mexico of Emperor Maximilian, or the assassination by an Italian anarchist in Switzerland of Empress Elizabeth, never became a pretext for war. So the issue isn’t these specific tragedies or inpidual events. Rather, the issue always is the balance of power in the international arena, the conditions in that particular region of the world, and how rational the leaders of nations are. In other words, no single event can become a cause for war by itself; it can only be a catalyst for processes that have come to a head over the course of history.

I believe that the general international situation and the common sense of world leaders—that is, both objective and subjective factors—will prevent any chance that the Crimean situation will become a pretext for war. Taking into account the history of the issue and the absolutely peaceful way in which events in Crimea unfolded, war would be an improbable and disastrous absurdity for all parties concerned and would make what happened in Austria-Hungary and Germany in 1914 look utterly logical.


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