St. Petersburg Journal Interview
HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna
HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, Head of the Russian Imperial House
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1. This year the 400th anniversary of the Romanoff dynasty is being observed. Your Imperial Highness, what does this anniversary mean to you—is it more of a family event or a national event? Which his more important: the spirit of the anniversary or its politics?
We are celebrating first and foremost not “the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanoff,” but the 400th anniversary of the ending of the Time of Troubles and the re-establishment of the Russian State. The ascension of our dynasty occupies, of course, a central and significant place in these events. The summoning to the throne by the people of the legitimate successors to the Riurikovich Dynasty certainly solidified the accomplishments of the victories achieved by the Volunteer Army of Minin and Pozharsky. But even so, that was only part of a larger historical event which resulted from the combined efforts of all the people. Therefore, without a doubt, we are marking this year not an event in our family so much as a national holiday.
Politics should not be allowed to enter these celebrations. All political parties should recognize that the State cannot genuinely be strong if there is no respect for our history and for the system of fundamental values common to all citizens, regardless of their various political allegiances. The memory of our ancestors—their sacrifices and ideals—should not be appropriated by any one political movement.
I am firmly convinced that it is absolutely vital that the celebration of the 400th anniversary of our victory over the Time of Troubles, or of any other significant historical event, should not be reduced to mere showy celebrations—banquets, parades, the dedication of statues, and so on. All these things are important, of course, as a means to appropriately mark the anniversary and for raising the nation’s spirits; but these things must be done in moderation. Many of our country men are still experiencing hardships. They will become frustrated if they see all these expensive celebrations being arranged while their own needs are being ignored. Young people will find these celebrations to be hollow and meaningless if they do not see the relevance of these historical events to their own lives. So it is necessary to utilize anniversaries like this one for charitable and educational purposes. If we can create programs that genuinely help those in need and support for young people to develop their talents; if we can encourage the development of science, culture, the arts, education, and sport—all organized in memory of these past events and of our national heroes; if we can publish books and distribute information in the press, on television and radio, and on the Internet; if we can do these things, then we can be a real benefit to our country. Monuments in the hearts of the people are far more important than marble and bronze statues in city squares.
2.There are a lot of discussions going on now about the restoration of the monarchy in Russia. In your opinion, is a restoration necessary and what form would a restored monarchy take, considering the realities of our day.
I am perfectly aware of the fact that it is at present too soon to talk of the restoration of the monarchy. The monarchist idea—the idea of a Family-State—is alive and well and will continue to thrive in the future. But in order for this idea to be realized in a governmental structure, a whole set of circumstances must first fall into place. First of all, the majority of the people should have an objective and undistorted view of what monarchy is. Many who now call themselves monarchists have an understanding of monarchy that is completely different from what monarchy is in reality. At the same time, those who oppose the restoration of monarchy or who are indifferent to the issue, do so in most cases not because they are staunch opponents of monarchy but simply because they know almost nothing about it. The unknown is always frightening and off-putting, but especially so in this case—after a century of anti-monarchist propaganda has entrenched negative cliches and stereotypes into the minds of people.
For the foreseeable future, the task in front of the Imperial House and of those citizens who support its ideals, is not to get involved in politics, but to engage is the gradual process of educating our countrymen. Article 13 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees freedom of thought. Monarchist principles have the right to exist and be propagated as much as any other principles. It rests on us as to whether we can bring these ideas to the hearts and minds of our countrymen. But under no circumstances should anything be forced upon the people. That would only produce a negative outcome. The House of Romanoff is ready to serve Russia no matter what the governmental structure in Russia is, doing so without renouncing its values, but also without forcing them on anyone.
3. Purely hypothetically, if Russia were to restore the monarchy, would you ascend the throne?
The Romanoffs have never had a lust for power, going all the way back even to the first tsar of our House, Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich. When the envoys from the Assembly of the Land informed him of his selection as tsar, he at first was horrified and refused the throne until he was convinced at length to do so after hearing the pleas from the people. When Nicholas I learned that he was to inherit the throne after his older brother, Constantine, had abdicated, he told his wife, “My dear, our wonderful life has forever ended.” We are perfectly aware that a throne is not some brass ring, but rather a burdensome cross to bear. Those who ascribe to us a thirst for power are sorely mistaken. None of my predecessors, even those who may have been far more prepared for their public duties than I was, given the fact that I was born in exile, ever considered themselves fully capable of governing such a large county single handedly. One must remember that monarchy is not the rule of one person, but a system of beliefs, traditions, and institutions founded on the concepts of faith, honour, duty, and service. The legitimate monarch is the core of this system, regardless of his personal qualities. Hereditary monarchical authority, which is independent of human will, renders the sovereign a natural arbiter, who stands outside of all factions and party politics. The monarch has no choice in the matter, just as fathers and mothers in a family have no choice about being a father or mother. Abdication is possible only in the most extreme circumstances and only when doing so causes no difficulties in the succession. If by God’s Will and the will of the people, the monarchy should be restored, I, my son, and our legal heirs would not fail to fulfill our duty.
4. What does your son, Grand Duke George, think about all these matters?
On this question, the position held by every generation of our dynasty has been, is, and will always be the same. It is a position that derives from our dynastic laws and is, for us, unalterable.
5. How do you feel about the fact that many descendants of the Dynasty, from so-called morganatic marriages, do not recognize you as the Head of the Russian Imperial House?
The status of the Head of the Russian Imperial House is founded on the historic law and does not depend on someone else’s recognition or lack of recognition of that status. The Law of Succession of Emperor Paul I does not allow for any “pretenders” because its provisions always identify the one person who has the rights and duties of the Head of the Dynasty. The Lord willed it that these rights and duties should fall upon me.
I have very good relations with all my relatives. I am very glad when they take part in activities that help Russia. Some I see more than others. I know that among them there are some who are unfriendly to me and my son and who reject the legal and philosophical foundations of our House, and sometimes even resort to false claims about us. I am greatly saddened by this. But I hold absolutely no negative feelings toward them. Disgruntled and disagreeable relatives are an unavoidable part of the history of any dynasty in every and all times. One must treat it with understanding and charity.
6. What do you see in Russia’s future?
I am by nature an optimist and I believe that Russia in the 21st century will continue its on-going development, will overcome the catastrophes of the 20th century, will ensure the well-being of its citizens and fully defend their rights and freedoms, and also will restore its place on the world stage. But it is entirely obvious to me that this cannot be achieved by the waving of a magic wand. Neither a monarchy, nor a republic, nor even the most talented and able statesmen regardless of the system of government, can accomplish anything unless each of us honestly and conscientiously works in our own stations in life for the betterment of all society. This is as it has always been, since ancient times, and how it remains in those countries where this mentality is preserved, such as in Asian countries, where the situation is much more stable than in those countries where inpidualism, social dependency, and egoism prevail.
7. At the close of 2012, you were named “Person of the Year” for your selfless work in the areas of culture, education, and charity, and in connection with the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanoff. Tell us, please, a little more about this prize.
This public recognition of my work is very dear to me. I do not, however, think it right to boast about my accomplishments. In my own opinion, my accomplishments are still very modest. I am striving as best as I can to revive my family’s traditions of philanthropy in various social and cultural areas of activity. I am striving to offer support for international, inter-confessional, and civil peace and harmony in Russia and to strengthen the friendship among the peoples that once belonged to the single cultural world that was the Russian Empire and USSR. I promote a positive image of Russia in the world. Some of my efforts have met with success, but there lies ahead still a large amount of work to do.
Awarding me the prize “Person of the Year” is, I believe, a tribute to the respect for tradition which is embodied by, and which is preserved by, the Head of the Imperial House, and an indication that the gradual reintegration of the dynasty into the social life of Russia is being welcomed by people of the most perse political convictions, not only by monarchists.
8. Last year, you became the patron of the frigate Yaroslav the Wise, with the consent of the Commander of the Baltic Fleet, Vice-Admiral V. V. Chirkov. What is the significance of this?
Patronage of this sort is a traditional form of moral and actual support for the military. I remember back when we were just beginning to re-establish our contacts with Russia, when it became possible to meet and talk with our sailors, they shared their impressions about their meeting with their foreign counterparts, especially with sailors from the fleets of countries ruled by monarchs—Great Britain, Holland, Sweden, Norway…. In those countries, ships of the navy (and military units in the army) had patrons—members of their respective royal families. They maintained a connection with the crews, they personally rewarded those who had distinguished themselves through their service, they participated in celebratory occasions, and they helped to improve the spiritual and cultural lives of officers and sailors. Which is to say that they played in microcosm a role among the crew that the monarch plays on a larger scale among his or her subjects in the realm—that of a father and mother, of an older brother or sister. There are few settings in which the sovereign can have such close and regular contact with his subjects as this kind of patronage. Unfortunately, this tradition was lost after the Revolution. As a result, both the army and navy lost their social connections with the state and society. Army units and naval crews were, in a way, orphaned.
I am striving now to reestablish this tradition of patronage and, in general, the historical and spiritual links between the Imperial House and the Armed Forces of Russia—only, of course, within the framework of current laws and only with the agreement of the government authorities and of the commanders of the Armed Forces. To this end, I have revived the Imperial Military Order of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The knights of this Order—including both active military personnel in the army and navy, and those in retirement—constitute an honorary fraternity, through which I can make a significant contribution to the patriotic education of young people and to the strengthening of the morale of those in the Armed Forces.
My patronage of the Yarslav the Wise is very important to me. My grandfather, Emperor-in-Exile Kirill Vladimirovich, was a sailor. He rose in the ranks from midshipman to rear-admiral, was miraculously saved during the Russo-Japanese War from the explosion that sank the battleship Petropavlovsk, and participated in the First World War, commanding the Naval Guards. The traditions of the navy have a special significance for our family.
I want to note too that my patronage of this ship would be utterly meaningless without the constant sacrifices of the wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of the ship’s officers and crew. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is upon their love and respect for their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers—their patience and understanding—that the defense of our nation ultimately depends. Their unity in supporting their family members serving our country serves as a model of commitment to family, of women’s patriotic service to the nation, and a model for the formation of institutions of a genuine civil society.
9. One of the characters in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, Woland, pays a lot of attention to the issue of blood. In your veins flows the blood of many truly great people. Does this fact place a certain mark on you and compel you to be especially responsible when deciding between this or that action, particularly important life decisions?
Of course, I am obliged to behave in such a way that neither my ancestors in Heaven, nor my descendants on Earth, would be ashamed of me. Having a sense of belonging to an ancient family, which has played a significant role in the history of Russia and the entire world, does compel one to be especially responsible in conducting the affairs of one’s own life. But I am convinced that we all, no matter what our origins, must lead our lives this way. Every person, and every family, has its own destiny and place in history; and at the end of the day, we are all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Neither famous and illustrious ancestors, nor the absence of them, will excuse any of us if we offend others, if we deceive our neighbors, or if we indifferently ignore the suffering of others.
10. What does the city of St. Petersburg mean to you?
I love the Northern Capital very much. From my early childhood, my parents told me about St. Petersburg, even though neither of them had personal experiences living there. They had formed their vision of the city on the basis of stories told them by the previous generation, who had themselves experienced the grandeur of the Imperial Capital. Even so, I had a magical feeling and sense of admiration for this beautiful city. Our travels to Russia began in 1991-1992 with visits to the city of St. Petersburg. I am so glad that the city has preserved its historic character. I very much hope that its architectural integrity is not lost in the future. Every city should evolve, of course. New trends in architecture are unavoidable. But it is necessary to preserve our historical heritage. And if something has to be replaced and rebuilt, then it is necessary to do this in harmony with that heritage and with great care.
11. Do you consider Spain, where you were born, to be your homeland, or…?
We are grateful to Spain and to France, where my family has mostly lived during our exile after the Revolution of 1917. These countries welcomed us and defended us during difficult years. But a homeland is not necessarily the place of one’s physical birth or where one has lived a long time. It is that country to which you have attached your heart and mind. For the Romanoffs, this has always be en Russia.
12. You have a wonderful Oxford education and you speak several languages. How important is it today to be educated and how has your education helped you in your life?
That which is once placed into our heads can never be removed. Each person should spend their entire life tirelessly working to improve and educate themselves. Some have strengths in one area, and others have strengths in another. One must find one’s own path and set off down it, acquiring knowledge and experience along the way. The wider the range of experience, the more interesting the person, and the greater the opportunities to relate to other people. And the ability to find a reflection of oneself in the heart of another person—this is the most important knowledge and most significant experience one can ever have.
In today’s world, there is a tendency to give young people a narrow specialization. I think that’s not good. Because of this approach to education, the larger culture suffers. Moreover, if a crisis should strike a sector of the economy and people lose their jobs, they will have a hard time of it because they don’t know anything beyond their own narrow specialties.
Of course, to be a genuine professional, each person needs to study their own profession very carefully and in depth. But it is vital to have at least a general understanding of other areas of knowledge, too. One should learn something new each and every day. Only then can a person be fulfilled and able to adapt to the vicissitudes of life.
13. Your Imperial Highness, you live in Spain. How is your relationship with King Juan-Carlos? What do you think of the calls by some social and political elements in Spanish society for a transition to a republic, given the corruption scandals that have enveloped the king’s daughter, Infanta Cristina?
I have enormous love and respect for King Juan-Carlos—both as a relative and good friend, and as the monarch of the country in which I presently live. His achievements are enormous. He saved Spain from a new Civil War and raised it to be among the leading nations of the world. True, some subjectively may approve of this or that action by the king, while others do not. There is no one who does not make mistakes. A monarch of a nation, just like a father in a family, sometime errs, makes mistakes, and shows his own human weaknesses. But it is unjust and ugly how some have subjected him to malicious defamation, forgetting his love, his many accomplishments, his experiences, and his bravery at critical moments. I would remind those who are doing this of the words of Alexander Pushkin: “There is no convincing with curses, and no truth where there is no love.” I would urge them to reread the biblical story of Ham, and the gospel passage about letting him without sin cast the first stone.
As for the unfortunate stories that have revolved around the king’s son-in-law, the Duke of Palma de Mallorca, let’s not give in to demagogic hysteria. Only a court can definitively determine the Duke’s responsibility. However this may turn out in the end, the king issued a statement right away that members of the royal family are to be treated before the law as any other citizen of Spain. This statement itself displays the deeply legal nature of the Spanish monarchy, and the king’s own deep respect for the rule of law.
As for the attack on the institution of the Spanish monarchy, this is pure demagoguery. In republics, the level of corruption is much higher. We every day learn from the news services of corruption scandals and arrests of officials in many republican governments involving vastly greater sums than those alleged in the case against the Duke of Palma de Mallorca. But we never hear calls for the abolition of republics because of it. If a citizen is guilty of something, he should be punished in accordance with the law. If he is innocent, his good name should be restored to him. Monarchies as a form of government have nothing to do with this principle. It is absurd that the misconduct of some persons should destroy a stable system of government, which has proven itself and has led the nation out of crises more than once. This would be like closing down all hospitals and destroying the entire health care system in the country on account of the mistakes or criminal acts of one doctor or other medical professional.
14. You are a rather close relative of Queen Elizabeth II of England. What relationship do you have with her? Have you two ever met?
Queen Elizabeth II and I are both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria. When I was born in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II, who was then quite young and had only recently ascended the throne, sent a very warm letter of congratulations to my father, signing it “Your Imperial Highness’s loving niece.” Our relationship is quite cordial and we correspond with each other, but we do not, for a variety of reasons, have opportunities for frequent or close communications. Relations between Russia and Great Britain have always been and remain quite complex and specific. Such circumstances necessarily leave their mark likewise on the relationship between the House of Romanoff and the House of Windsor. In the past, there were both happy and sad memories. But in the purely familial, dynastic sense, we, of course, have feelings of sympathy and respect for each other. I and my son are in the line of succession to the British throne, and many members of the House of Windsor—Edward, Duke of Kent and his children, Prince Michael of Kent and his children, Charles, Prince of Wales and his sons—are in the line of succession to the Russian throne. Of course, because of the way the two dynasties have branched off from each other, the places in the line of succession each occupies (both in our line of succession and in theirs) is quite distant. My grandmother—Empress-in-Exile Victoria Feodorovna—was eighth in line of succession to the British throne, which is quite close. At present, in order for the Romanoffs to inherit the British throne, or for the Windsors to inherit the Russian throne, most of the royal families of Europe would have to die out, which, thank God, will not likely happen. But the symbolic significance of the interrelatedness of the two dynasties remains very important in international relations.
Published with some omissions as “I believe that Russia in the 21st century will continue its on-going development.” An Interview with the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia in The St. Petersburg Journal, by D. Statsenko. June 27, 2013.
For the published version of the interview (in Russian), see:
12 July, 2013