01 March 2013

An Interview with the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, in the Journal The Russian Federation Today, March 2013.

An Interview with the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, in the Journal The Russian Federation Today, March 2013.

1. Your Imperial Highness, what does the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the Romanoff Dynasty mean for Russia?

Above all, we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the nation’s victory over the Time of Troubles. An appropriate and legitimate part of this national celebration is, of course, the 400th anniversary of the ascension of our dynasty. The decision of the Great Church Council and Assembly of the Land of 1613 to call the House of Romanoff to the throne was the culmination of a national struggle for liberation and an affirmation of the results of that struggle. It facilitated the restoration of the Russian state, the succession, and legitimacy. However, it must be clearly recognized that we are celebrating, first and foremost, not the Romanoffs, nor any single prominent person, but the heroism and self-sacrifice of the people.

Only looking at this anniversary in this way will enable us to emphasize the right aspects of these events and to cull lessons from our past—lessons that will be useful for the present and the future.

2. How should this anniversary be marked in our country? Who will take part in the celebrations? What are your impressions from your many travels across Russia about how it should be celebrated in the regions?

The various regions of Russia are organizing their celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the end of the Time of Troubles in many different ways. Representatives of local government, the clergy, civic organizations, figures in science and culture, and ordinary people with a wide range of views and convictions are all taking part in these celebrations. I am very happy that there is so much being done and planned. It shows that people value their history, that they are interested in it, and feel that it is altogether appropriate, to feel a connection with the events that happened so long ago and that determined the fate of Russia for centuries to come.

But I would ask everyone not to become too absorbed with merriment, with concerts, banquets, and with the construction of monuments. These forms of celebration are, of course, necessary—in a measured and modest number—because they lift the spirits and mood of the people. But the focus of the celebrations of this anniversary should instead be on social and educational activities.

Many of our countrymen have it hard. And instead of pride and joy, they will feel enormous disappointment if they see so much attention begin given to grandiose celebrations instead of to their needs.

Many young people will fail to appreciate this anniversary if we do not educate them on the significance of the events of the Time of Troubles to their lives today.

The honoring of saints and heroes of the past should take the shape of acts of charity and almsgiving, performed in their memory. Let’s build monuments to our heroic ancestors not so much on city squares as, first and foremost, in the hearts of the people.

3. It can hardly be questioned that Russia during the reign of the Romanoffs rose to be one of the mightiest and most influential states of the world. But it can also hardly be questioned that the mistakes of the Russian Imperial House led to the Revolution of 1917, which brought down the Empire. Do you believe that historians and politicians have done an exhaustive analysis of these mistakes, and if so, what were these mistakes?

Nothing in this world is absolutely flawless and perfect. If we want to reduce the number of our mistakes, we must constantly analyze the experience of our ancestors and our own lives. We must also be able to forgive others, and to ask forgiveness of others for our own sins and shortcomings.

We have things we can be proud of, and things for which we must repent. We can talk forever about the mistakes and shortcomings of our dynasty, arguing and discussing various aspects and nuances. Thisanalysiswillneverbeexhausted.

Those who criticize the Imperial House often do more good than those who try, even with the best of intentions, to create a grand, but ultimately unrealistic image of the dynasty. Anydeliberatefalsehoodwillinevitablyturnagainstitscreators.

With the lessons learned from the past in hand, we are always ready to work together with well-intentioned persons with views different than our own to find solutions and avoid in the future the mistakes of the past. That way, if someone were to resort to slander and lies, then we would have the means to discuss and explain how things actually were.

History is rarely a linear thing. Some victories turn later into terrible defeats, and sometimes utter failures turn out well in the end. This sometimes becomes clear only years later, and sometimes only centuries later.

I think that it is best not to deconstruct inpidual mistakes, but instead I want to make this fundamental point: the House of Romanoff as well as other dynasties, and in fact all rulers without exception, made their most tragic mistakes when they, for whatever reason, separated themselves from their people, when they ceased to understand their hopes and aspirations. Likewise, all their greatest accomplishments were the fruit of unity between the rulers and the people.

4. According to dialectical materialism, history moves forward in a spiral. I’m not certain that you would share this view, but nevertheless, it is a reality that European monarchies even in the 21st century are doing well and are well-adapted to the times.

The notion that history moves forward dialectically is not at all limited to a materialist approach to history.

There are universal and ancient principles which manifest themselves uniquely in each epoch of history. The idea of monarchy—of a state-family headed by a hereditary king or queen as a father or mother of the nation—is also ancient in origin. It experienced periods of rise and fall, but it has not been extinguished, nor will it ever be extinguished so long as there are humans on this Earth. For example, the Roman Republic was for 500 years replaced by the monarchy. Five hundred years later, the monarchy of the Western Roman Empire fell to Germanic invaders. But in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire—the Byzantine Empire—Christian monarchy lasted for another 1000 years. In Europe during the Middle Ages, the Roman monarchical tradition was resumed by the Holy Roman Empire, which was founded by Charlemagne. But in Italy, which was politically fragmented during the centuries of the Middle Ages, monarchies and republics co-existed side-by-side. The unification of Italy in the nineteenth century took place on a monarchical basis. After the Second World War, the people voted in a referendum in favor of a republic. Butwhoknowswhatthefuturewillbring?

From the very founding of the Russian state and for more than 1000 years, Russia has adhered mostly to monarchical ideals. But even so, within Russia’s boundaries and for several centuries, there also existed republics in Novgorod and Pskov.

At the present time, Russia has a republican structure of government. The Russian Imperial House is absolutely loyal to this choice in favor of a republic by the people, to the Constitution, and to the government. Both I and my son are law-abiding citizens of the Russian Federation. But we are convinced that legitimate monarchy could be the choice of the people in the future. Our goal is to preserve the historical dynasty of Russia and the spiritual values it has embodied, and to preserve the links between the present and the past.

5. In recent times, marriages of heirs to the crown with commoners have become the norm, invigorating many dynasties with new life, despite the fact that such marriages were unthinkable even a century ago. Dothesemarriageslowerthestatusofmonarchies?

It is true that most royal houses, including those currently reigning, have abolished the requirement for equal marriage. In the House of Romanoff, however, that requirement is still in force. Perhaps this will change one day. All laws are written in a specific historical context and contexts can change. What is most important, however, is to observe a general respect for law—not to violate existing laws until they are modified in accord with the proper procedures for changing the law.

I do not see any diminution of the monarchical principle in unequal marriages. In Russia, the requirement for equal marriages for members of the Imperial House was introduced only in the nineteenth century by Emperor Alexander I. And this does not mean that Russia’s tsars before then were in some way lesser sovereigns. Manyillustriousdynastiesneverhadaprohibitionagainstunequalmarriages at all, such as, for example, in Great Britain. And all Romanoffs are descendants of Emperor Peter I the Great and Catherine I, a woman of quite common, even unknown, origins.

When Alexander I introduced this amendment to the Law of Succession and limited the dynastic rights of unequal spouses and of the descendants of unequal marriages, there were, firstly, different conditions and ideas about society than we have now. Secondly, foreign princesses, who were raised since childhood in the traditions of foreign nations, entered into marriage with members of the House of Romanoff and came to Russia, having the opportunity to adapt to their new homeland and fully embrace its national interests.

Now, when the Russian Imperial House itself, for reasons beyond its control, has had to live for decades in exile, it would be important for the new generation of the dynasty to find a life companion from a familiar setting. We never severed our spiritual or cultural ties with Russia, but the long period living abroad has inevitably left its mark. Having spouses who are Russian might actually be preferable in the current historical situation because they would be able to help variously to integrate the dynasty into modern Russian life. In fact, back in the 1920s and 1930s, Archbishop (and now Saint) John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who was a loyal friend and spiritual guide of our family, made that very suggestion.

But modifications to the dynastic laws can only happen according to established procedures. We are bound by our religious oath to preserve the familial regulations, so to reform the laws on marriage in the Russian Imperial House, not only would the Head of the dynasty have to agree to it, a blessing from the Church would be required.

6. President Vladimir Putin in his Address to the Federal Assembly spoke of the need to reestablish links with the past and to unite all the various periods of Russian history into a single, integrated whole. In particular, he spoke of his desire to elevate popular awareness of the First World War, to erect a monument to those who fought in it. Will you play a role in that effort and what will that role be?

I am very glad that the significance of the First World War, and the feats of bravery of those in Russia who fought in it, are being discussed at such a high level.

Last November, I visited Ingushetia on the invitation of the President of the Republic of Ingushetia, Iu. B. Yevkurov, and I saw the recently-erected monument to the Ingush Regiment of the Caucasus Mounted pision, which, during World War I, was commanded by my relative, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich. I am certain that both in other regions of the country, and in the regional capitals, the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland in the First World War will similarly be memorialized, and that their memory will also be celebrated by the publication of books, in films and documentaries, and in the treatments of the war in high-school and college textbooks.

For us, this war was never a closed or forgotten subject. I always have taken an active part in these sorts of commemorative projects, as did my father and grandfather. In this I have been greatly assisted by the members of the Imperial Order of St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker, an Order originally founded by my grandfather, Emperor Kirill I Wladimirovich, in honor of Russia’s military glory during those years of the first global conflict in world history.

7. Vladimir Putin has said that Russia is experiencing a crisis of moral values. What in your opinion needs to happen in order for Russia to return to itstrue national identity? How can the Russian Imperial House assist in this work?

The destruction of moral ideals and of the nation’s spiritual values is a systemic and serious illness. There is no single remedy to the situation. We need to heed our consciences. We need to do unto others as we would have others do unto us. We need to understand that Russia and its people are always more important than our own personal interests.

Overcoming this crisis of morality and the partial loss of national identity is impossible unless we rely on tradition and the historical institutions that preserve the continuity of the present with the centuries-long history of Russia. The Russian Imperial House is one of those institutions. Combining the efforts of the state and civil society, of the Church and other traditional confessions in Russia can help to change the moral climate for the better. In this area, we are always ready to assist the President, the clergy, and all our countrymen.

8. Developing that theme a bit more, I wanted to ask what you think about the attempts by some to delete or blacken the Soviet period from the history of Russia? What do you personally think is the significance of the Soviet period in the life of our state and people?

It is my deeply-held opinion that one should never attempt to deny or delete anything in history.

During the Soviet period, power was in the hands of a totalitarian, atheistic regime that was obsessed with utopian ideas. It brought death and suffering to millions of our countrymen, including my relatives. But even so, during this period the people continued to defend Russia, to love, and to work. My grandfather and father, and I and my son, admire the feats of bravery of our countrymen during the Second World War, the accomplishments in science, culture, and sports during the Soviet period, the contributions made by Soviet scientists and cosmonauts in the study of space…

One must consider the Soviet experience—both the negative and the positive—in all its manifestations.

One cannot forget or discard that which was useful and good because that would simply be unreasonable. And one must remember and correctly assess that which was evil and destructive so that we do not repeat these mistakes and crimes, knowing now what these can lead to.

In 1923, my grandfather, Kirill I, a full six years after the revolution, wrote in one of his addresses: “It is not necessary to destroy institutions that have evolved organically. It is necessary to reject only those that corrupt the human soul.” These words have not lost their relevance and are applicable, in general, to the entire Soviet period.

9. You have in recent years traveled many times to Russia, but inasmuch as you were born abroad, you have had a completely different life experience—a European one—from most Russians. How do you understand the concept of “Russianness”? What is “Russianness” for you? In your opinion, how are Russians different from Europeans?

I do not think that Russians should at all be contrasted with Europeans. TheEuropeancomponentofRussiancivilizationisenormous. If you mean national characteristics, then I would point out that Europe is itself quite perse. European nations are quite different from each other in temperament, in their lifestyle, in their economies, and in their political systems.

If you mean the general shape of society and laws at the present time, then I would say that there is perhaps more emphasis in Europe on pragmatism but less on faith or on a striving for the truth, than there is in Russia. Despite the harsh persecution of religion in Russia during the twentieth century, religious faith has not been abandoned. People do not fear or shy away from declaring their religious faith. This is a very important factor in life. In that sense, Russians have preserved their spirituality and culture much more than Europeans have.

10. What do you believe is the mission of the heiress of the Russian Imperial House, and how does that mission relate to the tasks that lay before Russia today?

The Head of the dynasty must in all respects serve the cause of national unity. If the Head of the dynasty allows him- or herself to be drawn into a political struggle, then he or she risks losing the inherent status as an arbiter—neutral and, at the same time, totally impartial in relation to all the political and social forces in the nation. Therefore, out of principle I try to assume in all things an apolitical position.

Through its continuity and various activities, the Imperial House provides a living link with history. It is a reminder of the glorious events of the past and contributes to the preservation of traditions.

But if we are speaking in practical terms, then its mission at this point in history is, I believe, in advancing the revival and development of philanthropy, in defending the nation’s historical and cultural legacy and the environment, in promoting international relations and religious and civil peace, in supporting the unity of the peoples living in the cultural space and civilization that once was the Russian Empire and the USSR, and in helping to project a positive image of the nation across the globe.

11.What is the greatest and most pleasant surprise that you have had about our country?

Hardly anything can compare to the feelings I had during my first visits to Russia in April and May 1992. I was feeling a wide range of emotions at that time—grief at the loss of my father, a recognition of the enormity of the responsibilities that I had inherited from him; and, at the same time, a sense of great joy at setting foot in the country that my parents had told me so muchabout. I was genuinely surprised to see how my countrymen, who had for decades been inculcated with hatred for us, accepted my family with such love, compassion, and kindness. The capacity to love—that is the most important, most mysterious and most invincible power.

This interview was published (in Russian and with some omissions) on the follow sites:



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