15 February 2012

An Interview with the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, is Published in the National Daily Newspaper Rossiiskie Vesti

An Interview with the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, is Published in the National Daily Newspaper Rossiiskie Vesti

Your Highness, many people have begun to speak today about the various ways the Russian Imperial House might become more integrated into the cultural life not only of the Russian Federation, but also of other neighboring states of the so-called “Near Abroad” (Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Moldova). Your Highness regularly appears at events marking significant dates on our nation’s history. You are present at the dedications of monuments and other memorials. You meet with secular and religious leaders. In the Transdnistrian Republic of Moldova, a presidential decree was recently issued formally establishing the principles of a cooperative relationship between the republic and the dynasty.

In light of all this, I would like to ask: how do you, Your Highness, see the role of the Imperial House in bringing together the states that formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

The notion of the Imperial House as a historical institution requires and presupposes the preservation of a constant and living link with the past, a past from which we are trying to learn. One of the most important tasks that I see for the Imperial House is to offer a continual reminder to all the peoples of the former Russian Empire that we have far more bright pages in our common history than dark ones. I fully recognize the independence of those states that became independent after 1991, the new international agreements that have been signed among them, and the internal laws of each of these countries. But as I often like to say, we may have many countries now, we all share a common Fatherland. All our ancestors spilt their blood for it during the War of 1812, in World War I, and in World War II. Ours is a single civilization and a single cultural space, which cannot be torn asunder by the new political conditions. I feel totally at home when I visit each country across this territorial expanse. I am certain that I am not the only one who feels that way.

One must never forget that we are one family. Families also experience various changes. Children and parents, brothers and sisters—they sometimes go their own ways, starting completely new and independent lives apart from each other. But in all these changes, most family members of course never renounce their spiritual and familial connections to each other, nor their love for one another. When times turn bad, they seek support from family, not from strangers. And life’s joys are always best shared and celebrated among one’s family.

I believe that the Imperial House can contribute to the restoration and strengthening of cooperation between the fraternal peoples of this space—among the peoples of the Russian Federation, and between the peoples of present-day Russia and the peoples of its nearest neighbors. How that cooperation will proceed in the future, and what form their integration will take, remains to be seen.

According to Count Uvarov’s famous formula, the Russian state is established on three foundations: Orthodoxy, Nationality, and Autocracy. The long line of people standing in front of the Christ the Savior Cathedral to venerate the Belt of the Most Pure Mother of God is clear proof that Russia remains a deeply religious, Orthodox country. How relevant, however, does Your Highness consider the other two elements in Uvarov’s formula to be?

These three national ideals that were long ago formulated so well by Count Uvarov, are inextricably linked to each other. Each contains, in one way or another, elements of the other two. After decades of religious repression, Russia has become for the entire world a shining example of the miracle of the rebirth of faith. Most believers in Russia belong to the Orthodox Church, which has as one of its tenets the principles of a divinely-anointed monarchy and “sobornost,” the latter being the supreme expression of national unity.

Nationality—that is, the consciousness of belonging to a nation and to its unique history, destiny, national character, and aspirations—cannot ever cease to be relevant. Genuine nationality is devoid of any meaning without faith and without respect for the law and for government authority. If these links are not present, the nation loses direction and coherence, becomes atomized and decomposes, ceasing in the end to exist.

The most controversial and complicated of these ideals, especially for people living today, is “autocracy.” Thanks to the influence of political propaganda, this word has come to mean the capricious and unlimited exercise of power. But in fact, the best thinkers and legal scholars understand autocracy as connoting, first and foremost, authority, sovereignty, and independence. I believe that in order to avoid ambiguity in the meaning of this term in the present, it is better to use the term “sovereignty.” Power, in all its fullness, must be sovereign or, as it used to be put, autocratic. How power is distributed within a government, and in whom it is personified, depends on the period and on the circumstances. The powers of the monarch, of a president, of a parliament, a government, an army, of the institutions of direct democracy, of various elites—all this can be restricted or expanded, or even modified over time. The most important thing is that power is always sovereign and that it is beholden to the people of the country and that it serves their interests.

Speaking of nationality and Orthodoxy, it is impossible not to think of these without raising a very sensitive issue in our society: the nationality question. Unfortunately, at the present time in Russia, nationalist sentiments are on the rise, and xenophobia, together with bloody crimes motivated by extreme nationalism, are not uncommon. At the same time, many are willing to play the “nationality card” to obtain legal advantages for Russians. I would like to know your opinion on this question.

A healthy sense of nationalism is an entirely normal thing. It’s natural for a person to love his relatives more than strangers and his own countrymen more than those of other nations. However, love for one’s own in no way allows for hatred of others. On the contrary, if we are able to love, then we are so much the better able to understand other people who, likewise, love their own family and their own people most of all. If from time to time there should arise conflicts of interest among the ethnic groups in the unified multi-national Russian family, then it is imperative that these disputes be resolved through reasonable and fair compromises, as if between relatives or neighbors, rather than enemies.

The Russian Empire had a lot of useful experience regulating multi-national disputes within its boundaries. And there were fewer disputes of this kind then than there are now. The nation was and remains Great Russian in its structure and shape. This is a historical reality and it is pointless to argue over so obvious a fact as this. But before the revolution of 1917, all inhabitants of the All-Russian Empire, and not only Great Russians, considered themselves to be Russians. And by the way, that notion remains true to this day across the globe. For foreigners, the term “Russians” means Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Tatars, Uzbeks, Jews, Moldovans, Georgians, Armenians, and anyone who emigrated from the USSR, or the descendants of those who emigrated from pre-revolutionary Russia. There is something deeply positive in this notion. “Russian”—this is not so much an ethnicity as it is a spiritual and cultural concept, just as in antiquity “Roman” was not an ethic identity at its base, but rather more about belonging to a civilization. If a person feels himself to be Russian, then he is Russian, regardless of his nationality.

The main principle of a multi-ethnic state is a dialectical relationship between the common interests of all and the particular interests of various ethnic and religious groups. The government should defend and implement this principle with wisdom and tact.

Nationalist and religious extremism is a manifestation of a barbarism that has nothing whatsoever to do with either religion or national traditions. These are manifestations of an inferiority complex, of a lack of self-confidence in one’s own faith and national dignity, when people see no other solution to their problems but violence or the oppression of others. But nationalist or religious extremism does not appear without a reason, in a vacuum. Aggressive nationalism appears when the rights of a people are unjustly violated for ethnic reasons—whether the rights being violated belong to a minority or to the majority.

Whether made by honest mistake or by a conscious political desire to manipulate, missteps in this extremely delicate area are fraught with potentially dire consequences. In tolerant Europe, voices critical of the failed former immigrant policy have become louder and louder, which has led to a situation where the indigenous population—first with a measure of confusion, and later with increasing frustration—has experienced pressures that have been introduced by groups of peoples of completely foreign cultures, who do not at all want to adapt themselves to their new environments and who are absolutely foreign to and do not understand the system of European values, including tolerance itself.

We have a great saying that applies directly to the issue of immigration: “Don’t bring your own rule book into a new monastery.” Everyone, without exception, should enjoy the respect and protection of the law—majorities, minorities, and immigrants. But it would not be just if the rights of the indigenous population were infringed upon, and immigrants received benefits without a clear commitment to fulfilling their duties as citizens of their new countries, some of them even distaining their new countries.

On the other hand, it is unworthy of a great nation to subject to violence or humiliation the simple people who, as a rule, have come to these counties because of oppression or poverty in their native lands. We must never forget that our history has had its moments of tragedy, when millions of our countrymen had to flee into exile and relied upon the mercy and protection of other people. The most down-trodden and innocent are always the most vulnerable. They are the first to suffer because they are defenseless. At the same time, the real culprits of the current situation are those who experience none of this suffering, and sometimes only pour gas on the flames because they benefit from this state of affairs financially and politically. What is needed is not the stirring up of emotions and violence, but rather a proper legal policy on immigration, because only the government can effectively address this issue by writing new laws, managing the rate of immigration, and creating programs to hasten the assimilation of those who have come from other countries.

Some people try to justify the public disturbances caused by some ethnic minorities by pointing to the failure of the government to address their problems. While this inaction might explain some outbreaks of violence, it nonetheless does not justify it. Spontaneous violence never solves anything. Most often, the victims of this violence are not those who are really guilty of wrongs, but rather the innocent bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And thus a wedge is driven between peoples who once enjoyed friendly, neighborly relations with each other.

Most ethnic conflicts are not related to substantive issues, but rather to bias and prejudice, to ignorant political demagoguery and to a poor understanding of history and culture—not only the history and culture of the immigrants, but also one’s own. I believe that we must create a national network of cultural education centers, where immigrants will be able to get information about the fundamental values in Russia, and where Russian citizens of all nationalities can learn more about the religious world and traditions of other peoples, whose historical destinies have been and are very much intertwined with our own. I also believe it is important to understand that in a country as large as Russia, it cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. The cultural and education centers I am proposing should, in large metropolitan areas, have their own individualized programs: in areas dominated by Russians, there should be one program, in areas dominated by other populations, there should be another program.

An enormous role in all this should be played by religious education in schools, which should offer courses on the foundations of Orthodox culture, and also the foundations of other traditional religions and even the secular study of religion. These courses should not be arranged to pit one group against another. The emphasis in these courses might vary from region to region, but public education should include the study of religion from the early grades.

It is encouraging to see prominent voices in Russia being heard on the nationality question more clearly and more definitively. May God grant that this is more than just pre-election posturing, and that these good words will be followed by real deeds.

Any form of violent nationalism in our traditionally multi-ethnic Russia can be exploited by foreign and hostile powers who are seeking our internal disintegration and the weakening of our country, and by dishonest politicians who want nothing more than to dominate politics in Russia by dividing people and pitting them against each other. In most cases, nationalist conflicts are created artificially, using sophisticated political technologies. But it is for the individual person to decide if he or she will be subject to manipulation, if he or she will give in to provocation, or, alternatively, will understand that evil cannot defeat evil, and that one’s rights are best protected by the rule of law, by honor, kindness, and common sense.

You have often repeated your refusal to get involved in political matters. However, your refusal to involve yourself in the elections does not mean you do not have a position on the issues as a citizen. What do you think about the upcoming presidential elections, and do you have a preference among the candidates standing for the highest office in the land?

The Imperial House does not in any way involve itself in politics, because its main mission, especially in today’s world, is to play the non-partisan role of a preserver of the traditions that unite the nation.

I therefore cannot speak of my own personal preferences, especially during an election year. But I am prepared to share with my countrymen my general thoughts about the current situation in Russia.

Whoever gets elected, he should not assume that the opposition is made up exclusively of enemies of the people or those out to destroy the state. Similarly, members of the opposition should not forget their responsibilities even while criticizing the government.

Disputes should never descend to the level of groundless demagogic accusations. This only tends to discredit the legitimate criticisms one might otherwise have. In a civilized state where the rule of law prevails, one should not air accusations on the public square or in the media if they cannot be proven in a court of law.

Politics is the art of compromise. Compromise is born only of dialogue, when both sides, despite all their disagreements, are still able to listen to each other.

However events unfold, the most important task for both the government and the opposition is to prevent in our country any manifestation of Civil War. The twentieth century has shown that civil conflict never settles a single one of our country’s problems, but only further destroys our country and our people.

Because of the nature of the political system in Russia today, a lot depends on the personality of the President. In contrast to the Duma, where the electoral laws right now are such that elections are completely dominated by party politics, Presidential elections are not so much about pre-election slogans or party platforms, as much as they are, first and foremost, about the person who enjoys the confidence of the majority of the people.

Each citizen who votes in the election should be true to and honest with themselves. You cannot cast your vote under pressure from others, and it is shameful to sell your vote, or not to vote your convictions, or to vote out of “spite.” One must compare and analyze the words and deeds of the candidates and to assess them both by their minds and hearts.

No one will ever create the perfect political system. No government and no society can ever be free of disaffection, and there will always be political competition. But genuine stability can be obtained only when both the government and the opposition are gradually able to come together on a common fundamental system of government, made up of foundations that are recognized by both as indissoluble and inviolable. We should strive to revive and develop a balance of freedom and order, a strong state and a developed civil society. These things are not mutually exclusive, as they are sometimes made out to be, and we must likewise strive to find harmony between them. Harmony is not something that can be imported. It must be achieved through our own efforts, drawing upon the historical experience of our country.

History is always the Present looking back at the Past. We are on the threshold of two anniversaries that determined in many ways the future direction of Russia for centuries. I have in mind firstly the 400-th anniversary of the ascension of the Romanoff dynasty to the throne in 1613, and secondly the victory of the Russian people in the War of 1812. How do you, Your Imperial Highness, evaluate these events from the perspective of modern times?

In marking these two great anniversaries, we must remember that in both cases we are celebrating first and foremost the achievements not of monarchs, or military commanders, or other prominent people, no matter how significant their contributions were to victory. We are celebrating our much-suffering people, who, with God’s help, courageously and selflessly endured so many impossible hardships and so many wars and turmoil. The example of our ancestors gives us hope that we will find a way out of our present difficult situation, and that Russia will again enjoy the prosperity and prominent place in the world that it deserves.

And as for rulers and spiritual and secular leaders and other heroes of these times, I would much rather have their memory immortalized not in glittering holidays or grandiose monuments, but rather in charitable works aimed at bettering the lives of our countrymen today. Offering commemorative prayers and performing various kinds of social work in their name—this would be the best way to show our respect and gratitude to them, creating monuments to them in the hearts of the people.

Published with some abbreviation in: A. N. Krylov-Tolstikovich, “Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, ‘Politics is the Art of Compromise’,” in Rossiiskie vesti, February 9-15, 2012 (no. 4 [2078]).

See: http://rosvesty.ru/2078/first/8104-velikaya-knyaginya-mariya-vladimirovna-politikaeto-iskusstvo-kompromissov/

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