01 July 2013

Interview with His Imperial Highness Grand Duke George of Russia in the Journal Direct Investments [Priamye investitsii]

Interview with His Imperial Highness Grand Duke George of Russia in the Journal Direct Investments [Priamye investitsii]

You were born in Spain, spent much of your childhood in France, studied in England, worked in Belgium and Luxembourg, and now your work alternates between Great Britain, Belgium, and Switzerland. You traveled to Russia for the first time in 1992. Whereishomeforyou?

I have been raised since my youngest years to think of Russia as my homeland. We are grateful to the countries that gave the Imperial House shelter during difficult years, but Russia was and remains first in our hearts.

In 1992, you were 11 years old. Do you remember your initial impressions of Russia? Did you generally understand who you were and why you had come to Russia, or was this first trip more as a tourist?

We came to Russia for the first time in order to attend the funeral of my grandfather. I very much grieved his passing. At the same time, like any child, I quickly—much more quickly than adults, typically—adapted to the new circumstances. I arrived in a Russia that I very much felt was my own country, and I saw it not as a tourist would, but as someone for whom Russia is a dear native land. I did not consciously think about it. The feeling came to me naturally, as if it were in the air I was breathing.

And what about Russian? Have you spoken Russian since your childhood, or have you studied it as a foreign language? You have had to learn several languages for your work—Spanish, French, and English. Whatlanguagedoyouspeakinyourfamily?

Preserving the Russian language has truly been the most difficult challenge about living in exile. One can convey one’s ideas and convictions, one’s faith and patriotism, in any language, but to preserve one’s native tongue is the most critical and vulnerable part of living far from one’s homeland. I recognize that I still need to work to perfect my Russian. I say this without any hesitation. Iam grateful thatIhavestudied Russian sincechildhoodand that I can understand everything said to me. But speaking it is harder. It is hard for some who have not lived for a long time in a place where a foreign language is spoken to understand this. But a person who lives for a long time abroad and begins to speak in a foreign language will soon begin to think in it and speak it with an accent, even if he has been raised in an environment where Russian is spoken.

In my family, we speak in all these languages, and sometimes we mix them all together. When you know several languages you look for just the right word to express the point you want to make. And then you begin to put words and expressions together from different languages. You start with a Spanish phrase, then continue with Russian, and then end with English, and somewhere in the middle you’ve inserted a French word or two. It can sometimes get rather funny, with passengers on a plane or train approaching you and asking, “What is that strange language you’re speaking?”

Both you and your mother, Her Imperial Highness, have Russian citizenship. When and how did you obtain it? Was it a difficult process? Did anything change in your life after you received Russian citizenship? What other citizenship do you have?

Our Russian citizenship was restored to us in 1992. This was an honest and just measure of the Russian government at the time. And we had no difficulties whatsoever. On the contrary, we were invited to go to the Russian embassy in Paris and were ceremoniously presented with our passports. The passport still had the Soviet state seal on its cover. Since then, we travel to Russia just like other Russian citizens do. In Spain, we also have documents making our residence in Spain legal, because we need these documents to make travel possible.

Legally, in accordance with the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, you are the Heir in exile. In practical terms, however, you are a citizen of Russia and are free to enter the country and to settle here permanently. What is preventing you from doing that? Are you unwilling yourself to do it, or are there objective reasons for not doing so?

We are no longer exiles, but not all of the legal questions connected with our returning to Russia have been resolved. If we were private persons, we could return at any moment. But both my mother and I are obliged to preserve the Imperial House as a historical institution. We have set no political or financial preconditions to returning, but we believe it is appropriate that the current government legally confirm the status of the dynasty as an historical institution, just as has been done in many other countries with non-ruling royal houses, including former Communist states. When these questions are resolved, we will return to live in Russia permanently. In the meantime, we try to come to Russia as often as we can.

You have warm relationships with both the civil and religious authorities in Russia. Those relationships have not, however, in any way been formalized. Has the subject of legally formalizing the status of the Russian Imperial House been raised in any of your dealings with the government? Does the government have a plan for resolving this question, or is this something that has not at all been discussedyet?

Our position on the status of the Imperial House has been stated publicly numerous times and is widely known. Anyone who wants can learn about our position, ask us questions, and make their own arguments about it. But we do not request or require anything for ourselves. I am certain that the governmental authorities of today’s Russia are not in principle against recognizing the status of the Imperial House, but are considering carefully what the right moment would be to take this step. We respect and are patient with this process and we try in the meantime always to be useful to our country, setting forth absolutely no preconditions. All things in good time. There are times when one wishes that the process would speed up. Butallfruitneedstoripen. We are not in a hurry, since centuries stretch behind and ahead of us. We do what we believe our dutyis, regardless of what is happening around us.

Have you and your Mother had the opportunity to speak personally with the past and current presidents of Russia? With Patriarchs Aleksei II and Kirill I? What impressions did they make on you?

My grandfather, grandmother, and mother have met with the presidents. Last September, we met briefly with President Putin at the Borodino battlefield. He was very friendly toward us and when we parted, he said, “Come back more often.”

I have had more opportunities to meet with Patriarchs Aleksei II and Kirill I. Both displayed a father’s care and affection toward me.

Patriarch Aleksei II became the head of the Church’s administration at a particularly difficult moment in history. There was a new freedom from the oppression of the past, but also the birth of many new difficulties. Aleksei II lived almost his entire life in circumstances when it was necessary to preserve with all his strength at least some part of that which was being destroyed. And from the patriarchal throne, he had to give direction and guidance in an unprecedented effort to rebuild and restore. And he managed that mission with honor, ensuring the rebirth of Church life and leaving behind a solid foundation.

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill is a hierarch of a new generation. During his pastorate, the Church has moved from restoring that which had been lost, to engaging in more vigorous activity and developing a message of Christian values in all spheres of life. One can be certain that, during Patriarch Kirill’s reign, no attempts to force the Church to pull back from its range of activities will be successful. He is a man with a strong will, a wonderful orator, and a gifted administrator. And when one speaks with him, one senses his deep faith and powerful strength of spirit.

From what you observe in today’s Russia, what causes you concern and what elicits your respect? What “trump cards” does Russia possess compared to other countries, and what should Russia learn from these other countries?

Russia is an example to the entire world of unity in persity. European countries lament the failure of the “multicultural” project. But multiculturalism has been and, thank God, remains a natural, rather than planned, part of Russian life. Living side by side with people of various ways of life, cooperating and working together with them—this is the most precious heritage of the historical development of Russia.

It is very important that people in Russia are not afraid to display their religious faith. The years of persecution did not eradicate people’s religiosity. Our country today is a modern secular state, but it respects the Orthodox Church and other traditional religious confessions, and does not try to replace civility with atheism or with the aggressive secularization of social life.

If we were to speak about things that afflict the nation, then probably one could say that our countrymen lack respect for one another. In the 20th century, the value of the human person and of life itself was lessened. Each of us must constantly try to cultivate in ourselves full personhood, and to remember that self-respect is only possible when we have respect for others.

In the female line, you belong to another royal house—the Bagration-Mukhranskii House. It is one of the most ancient royal houses in Europe and is descended from King David the Psalmist. What does Georgia mean for you? Do you speak Georgian?

I was in Georgia quite a while back, in the middle of the 1990s, when my great-grandfather and great-grandmother—Prince George Alexandrovich of Georgia and Princess Elena Sigizmundovna of Georgia—were reburied in the royal mausoleum in Mtskheta. Georgia is a remarkable country, with a wonderful and noble people. I am very saddened that relations between Russia and George have, for political reasons, so deteriorated. But I am certain that this is all temporary, and that the friendship between these two fraternal Orthodox peoples cannot be destroyed by anyone. I do not speak Georgian, unfortunately. I only know a few words and phrases.

Not long ago, your grandmother, Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess LeonidaGeorgievna, passed away. July 8 is her Name Day. She was an interesting personality, with a life that would fill three novels. Whatplacedidsheoccupyinyourlife? How did you get along, and were there topics that she particularly liked to discuss with you?

My grandmother gave a lot to me. She was a person of enormous love, with an incisive mind, and who possessed wisdom and life experience. She told me a lot about her life and about the people whose fate she shared. She remembered her life in the USSR very well, which she left when she was already able to remember things going on around her. The most important lesson that I take from my conversations with her is that I must never lose my faith, my optimism, or my self-esteem.

Parents, grandmothers, and grandfathers all equally love their children, especially when the child is an only child, as is often the case in Russia. But the child often unconsciously chooses one to be closest to. Which of your relatives were you closest to in your childhood?

As a young boy, I was drawn to my grandfather. To my great sadness, he departed this Earthly life when I was still young. But I will always remember his majesty, his excellent education, his restraint, his calm gentleness, his kindness to others. Hepossessedanincrediblerangeofinterests. He could speak knowledgably about the most perse scientific, spiritual, and cultural issues, then turn around and enthusiastically do something with his hands—fix the car or build model planes, or ride a go-cart. He could quickly switch from performing his official duties to light-heartedly and joyfully playing games with children. His personality harmoniously combined a commitment to traditional values and an openness to everything new and modern.

What is your favorite holiday, now and when you were a child?

Easter and Christmas. Besides their deep religious significance, these holidays were filled with touching and precious memories, which take me back to the happy years of my youth.

Emperor Nicholas II was called Nicky by his family, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was calledAlix. By what name do you call them—both officially and in the family? Doyouhaveafamilynickname?

My great-grandfather, Emperor Kirill Vladimirovich, and members of the dynasty of his generation, continued, of course, to say “Nicky” and “Alix” in family circles. For my grandfather, they were “Uncle Nicky” and “Aunt Alix,” and so it was also for us all in our family. In public statements we most frequently used the phrases “tsar-martyr” and “holy emperor.” The custom of using short forms of names has been preserved in our family as in many other families. My mother likes to call me Gogi. My mother’s cousin, the head of the Georgian Royal House, Prince George Iraklievich, is called Georgy. My mother’s aunt, Grand Duchess Maria Kirillovna, was called “Aunt Mashka.” Prince Louis Ferdinand, the husband of my mother’s other aunt, Grand Duchess KiraKirillovina, was “Uncle Lulu.”

The idea of the State-Family and of the Emperor-Father is one of the foundational notions for monarchy as a social institution. And, very likely, this is a very difficult combination to achieve and maintain. The destruction of the State-Family and the abolition of paternal monarchies entailed the destruction of connected societies and the abolition of the very notions of “father” and “mother” (which we have sadly witnessed in many Western democracies). Do you believe this process is irreversible, or is it possible to turn things back?

That which defies human nature will sooner or later succumb to it. History has shown us this many times. For example, all attempts to destroy belief in God have been unsuccessful. The same applies to similar attempts to destroy the family. One can prohibit some words, but you cannot destroy the notion or nor the reality. No one on this planet can be without a father and a mother.

All absurd trends will certainly come to an end. One hopes that our country will avoid having to go through this strange and dangerous phase.

Modern history has not seen even a single instance of the reestablishment of a monarchy. Onlyitsabolition.Whyisthat?

Actually, there have been instances in modern times when a monarchy has been restored. In Europe, this happened in Spain; and in Asia, it happened in Cambodia. In many countries, especially in Eastern Europe, royal dynasties have regained a significant position in society even if they have not returned to political power. In France and Italy, laws that forced the heads of royal houses and their direct heirs to live in exile have been abolished. Sothedirectionofthingsisactuallyquitepositive.

New monarchies have not arisen in large numbers most likely because Bonapartism became in its own time a kind of effective vaccine against illegitimate monarchy. If a man of the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte could not secure the future of a new type of monarchy, it is unlikely anyone else could. The single, unique phenomenon of his new type of kind of “monarchy” is the Communist “hereditary republic” in North Korea. It has existed for three generations. But it is unlikely that this experience could be applied elsewhere. Each country has its own monarchical tradition, inextricably linked to a certain dynasty and with a whole series of ideas, values, and norms. If the monarchical principle in some form should return to the life of a given nation, it would need to take the form of a genuine, legitimate, hereditary monarchy.

Modern political thinking sees monarchy as a less sophisticated and less progressive form of government. Plato and Aristotle called it one of the types of government that can exist—along with democracy, oligarchy, aristocracy, and so on. (These are, for them, all equivalent forms of government, and it is impossible to judge between them. It is possible to compare “bad” monarchy with “good” monarchy, and it is not obligatory to overthrow the former. It is possible, rather, to repair the former—just as it is not necessary to sever the head of a patient, but merely to cure him.) And, finally, there are monarchists who propose a kind of optimal monarchy. Whichofthesepositionsisclosesttoyourview?

Of course, I cannot at all agree with the thesis that monarchy is a “less sophisticated and less progressive” form of government. If we objectively examine the historical record we will see that the most effective modernizers in history precisely were monarchs. Therearemanyfewersuccessfulreformersamongelectedleaders. And if one of these elected leaders should be successful in making reforms, the cost of this success would be enormous, so much so that the benefits of these successful reforms were often later lost. Of course, monarchs are also not without sin, and the cost of their reforms for the people was sometimes quite high, as well. But, firstly, they as a rule never spared themselves, never hid themselves in underground bunkers, never concealed themselves behind others on the field of battle. It is enough here to call to mind the example of Peter the Great. And secondly, considering everything, in absolute terms and as a percentage, the loss of life under monarchies is far less than the gigantic losses of life under republican regimes.

You have used a very good expression—optimal monarchy. Monarchy, in point of fact, is not always perfect. Aswitheveryhumaninstitution, ithasanumberofshortcomings.But it is optimal because it arose and developed organically. The first means of organizing human society was the family. Then developed more complex familial structures, and then arose the need to live under laws in a state. And this state was also built upon the principle of family and clan. A monarch is not just a ruler. He is the father of his people. He is a natural arbiter, not obliged to any parties or groups and therefore able to express the interests of the entire nation as a whole. Many presidents try to play this role, too, but almost none succeed. And should a president by chance succeed, it takes a long time to get there, and by then the term of office ends. But in monarchy, this principle of impartiality is institutionalized and operates independently of changes in who occupies the throne, independent of the personal character of the monarch, and of other subjective factors.

Who is in your social circle? Have you had many friends? Who are they—members of other ruling houses of Europe, or “ordinary mortals”?

My friends come from the widest possible social backgrounds. I never considered one’s origins as a criterion for making friends with someone.

How do others perceive you? Does our position mean anything to them? Are you harassed by columnists and paparazzi?

Those closest to me value me, first and foremost, as a person. They understand and respect my position as Heir to the House of Romanoff, but that does not dominate my friendships or business relationships. I do not like publicity and I try to minimize it. Publicityisneededonlywhereitbringsbenefits. Public figures must, of course, be prepared for the fact that their lives and activities are of great interest to the general public and so must conduct themselves in a way that never places them in an awkward or embarrassing position. But this does not mean that they must allow themselves to be put under a microscope. Everyone has a right to a private life, into which it is unseemly and indecent for outsiders to intrude. Journalists should have basic ethical principles so that they themselves understand where to draw the line on publicity.

On the surface, it seems that you lead the life of a typical young man of your generation. But probably there are duties and limitations, which are imposed upon you because of your position as the Heir of the Russian Imperial House. Which of these duties are burdensome to you, and which are not? Did you ever, perhaps when you were a young boy, envy your “commoner” friends who were not your royal peers?

Ninety percent of the obligations and limitations that I have are common to all people, without exception. The rules governing human society, education, behavior at home, the work space, relationships with friends, the observance of traditions and customs—these all are generally the same for us all. Whether a king, a president, or a janitor, we must all greet each other courteously, say “thank you,” hold our knives in our right hands and forks in our left, remove our hats on entering a church and shoes when entering a mosque.

Some may think we live under too many restrictions. But in reality, almost all our rules can be expressed in a single phrase from the New Testament: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Perhaps some will think it strange, but of those duties that I must perform in my capacity as Grand Duke, the “royal duties” that many might think would be the most attractive, I actually find the most tedious. Fulfilling ceremonial functions and participating in receptions and festivities are not at all as pleasant and easy as it might seem to some. It is hard and not always gratifying work. Your life isn’t your own, and you must perform these duties regardless of your health or mood. Itcan sometimes feel likeaburdensomelimitationonyourpersonalfreedom. And for those who doubt this, I can only suggest that they try doing even just one of these functions. But mine are not some event that happens two or three times a year that others have arranged, where you stand about sipping glasses of champagne and chatting with beautiful women, but something that you have yourself organized, where you are under the scrutiny of all those present and must be sure that you’ve offended no one and that you’ve made for a pleasant time for all.

Among the other duties of the Heir of your August Family is participating in ceremonies. In 1998, in Jerusalem, you took the dynastic oath of loyalty to Russia and to your Most August Mother. Describe where and how this ceremony was performed, how you prepared for it, and what you experienced.

I prepared myself very seriously for this oath. This was not simply a ceremonial moment, but a kind of initiation into adulthood. The Lord willed it that I should be the first Heir of the House of Romanoff to take his oath in the Holy Land, near the Holy Sepulcher. I took the oath in the Throne Room of the residence of the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, in the presence of Patriarch Diodoros. This was a great leader of global Orthodoxy. He was already quite ill then, but he found the time to meet with us and be a witness to my oath and to offer me his blessing. Thisexperience willremainalwaysinmyheart.

You probably also participate in the family events in other ruling and royal families—name days, baptisms, weddings, funerals. Are these for you purely formal events, or are they based on genuine family relationships?

All the dynasties of Europe are one big family. We are not only “colleagues,” we are relatives. Therefore it is not possible to separate out the familial from the official aspects of these events. Itallmixestogether.

Of course, today’s European monarchies are living institutions. And like all living things, it has in recent years undergone changes, including the order of succession, rules on marriage, and so on. A common thread in all of this is the “simplification” (to put it mildly) of the rules. Russian dynastic law is more strict. It did not change after the Revolution in 1917. What do you think about this? What course would be most consistent with the role of monarchy in today’s world—conservation or change?

Change has happened in the past and should happen again in the future. The law is not a guillotine. It should not operate against the good of the people. Each law has appeared in a particular historical context. Whenthecontextchanges, soshouldthelaw. What is most important is that there be a general respect for rights and laws. While a law is in force, it should be followed and fulfilled. Changes to a law should not be enacted in a capricious way, but should be justified, with a given law being modified within the confines of a legal procedure. I believe that there will one day also be changes in the Russian dynastic laws. But these changes will not be a mere copying of Western models or following some current fad, but will be adopted in order to preserve the dynasty as a special historical institution, which maintains the traditions of its people.

In 2008, the management of Norilsk Nickel offered you a job. How did that offer come about? Did you know the management before the offer was extended to you? Did you have to think long about it before accepting the offer?

I have always wanted my job to be more connected with Russia. My friends in Russia knew this, and when this opportunity arose, they offered me to work at “Norilsk Nickel.” Since this company is not just a private business but has enormous significance for the state and is regulated by the government, I was pleased to accept the offer.

Describe your work at Norilsk Nickel. What are your responsibilities? Did you have specific skills already for this job or did you have to acquire them from scratch?

My job is mainly managerial and advisory in nature. I already had this kind of experience from working in European institutions. I had to learn some aspects of the activities of “Norilsk Nickel,” particularly its economic policy, but that did not take much time. As for the technical processes of production, that I learned generally when I visited Norilsk. I felt it was necessary for me to go there to meet with engineers and the workers, to understand their issues. Iwentonekilometerdown one mine and got to see and understand a lot about this industry. I admire the hard workers at “Norilsk Nickel,” who are creating, in very difficult conditions, the fundamental industrial might of Russia.

One of the issues you are involved in for the company is its long dispute with Europe over the verdict of the commissioners about the dangers of nickel compounds. Whatisyourpositiononthisissue? Are we close to a resolution to the dispute?

The ruling on the “dangers of Nickel” was, in my opinion, the product of lobbying efforts. This is one of the forms of an economic policy that is directed at ousting Russia from the international market. Here, the issue is not just the interests of the company “Norilsk Nickel,” but the national interests of Russia as a whole. I believe this ruling is groundless. But it is much harder to undo a ruling that has already been made than to prevent its adoption in the first place. Workonthisproblemiscontinuing.

The attitude of the European bureaucracy to Russian businesses cannot be very friendly. European bureaucratic institutions look out for their own economic interests. Before 2008, you did the same thing: you worked “for Europe” and “against Russia.” Now that’s been reversed.

I never worked “against Russia.” Those issues that were within the scope of my work and competency concerned general questions of security, over which Russia and Europe had no conflicting interests.

This year, the Russian Imperial House is celebrating its 400th anniversary. How is your family marking this event? Will you be taking part in any celebrations in Russia?

We are simply remembering that our family has served Russia for 700 years—300 of these years as the rulers of the country. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the ascension of our House only within the family would truly be odd. I have been involved in the preparations of all the major public events. But the central role in these celebrations is being played by my mother, because she is the Head of the Imperial House. We discuss together where and when to travel to places, and whether to do so together or separately. When she is participating in these major events, I sometimes come to support various projects.

By your age, most of your forebears had already married and had children. Not “just to be married,” but because they had to as a duty. No one asked them what they wanted. You are still single. Has the subject of your marriage and having a family as a dynastic duty and responsibility been raised to you?

Everything is in God’s hands. Recently, the age that people have been getting married has become older, not only among the heirs of royal houses but for all people. It is very important to continue the family, but that cannot be realized without a normal family life—without love and mutual respect among a husband and wife. When I meet the right person, all other issues will be resolved.

Published in: S. Kannone, “George Romanoff: ‘We are no longer exiles,’” in Priamye invetitsii, July 2013, pp. 38-45.

See http://sberbank.ru/common/img/uploaded/sbjr/07-2013/38-45.pdf.

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