AFTER THE REVOLUTION, WAS RUSSIAN LEGITIMISM SYNONYMOUS WITH REACTIONARY POLITICS?

 

No.

Grand Duke Kirill and his son and successor Grand Duke Wladimir each considered himself to be the Emperor of Russia in exile.  It must be noted, however, that this fact indicates nothing about their views of the political structure of a restored monarchy.[1] Both believed it impossible, undesirable and in the highest degree counterproductive to try to “turn back the clock” by restoring the autocratic tsarism that existed before 1917 or, for that matter, 1905.

They both envisaged a constitutional monarchy.  They knew that countries evolve and that their monarchies must evolve with them.  This was true of countries like Great Britain and must also be true of Russia.

Grand Duke Kirill and his wife Grand Duchess Victoria lived in St. Petersburg until summer 1917 and were able to observe the disintegration of the monarchy from a privileged position.  Both were first cousins of Emperor Nicholas II.  (All three were grandchildren of Emperor Alexander II, the “Tsar-Liberator.”)  Grand Duchess Victoria was also a first cousin of Empress Alexandra and had once been her sister-in-law. Both women were grandchildren of Queen Victoria.  Grand Duke Kirill and Grand Duchess Victoria understood how various decisions during the last years of the monarchy affected its survival.  In late February 1917, when the monarchy was collapsing, Grand Duke Paul, the last surviving brother of Nicholas II’s father (and of Kirill’s father), drafted a proposed manifesto for the Emperor’s signature establishing a constitutional, representative government.  Paul’s letter of transmittal, asking the Emperor to approve the manifesto, was also signed by Grand Duke Michael (the Emperor’s brother) and Grand Duke Kirill.  Nicholas II did not receive it, however, before his abdication.[2]

After taking the title of Emperor in 1924, Kirill I issued a number of proclamations and manifestos setting forth the policies he envisioned for a post-communist Russia.   They included equality of rights of all peoples within the empire, regardless of social class, “the widest participation of the people in the government and economics of the land,” religious tolerance, labor laws protecting the health and safety of workers, and social insurance for the elderly and disabled.[3]   His son, Grand Duke Wladimir wrote that “[m]y parents repeatedly asserted that our first and foremost problem was to convince the whole world that a restoration of Russia’s rightful monarchy would not mean reaction…”[4]

Grand Duchess Victoria herself was half-Russian (the daughter of a Romanoff mother) and half-English.  She was born a Princess of Great Britain and Ireland and was a daughter of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria.  She had grown up at her grandmother’s court and developed a keen understanding of international politics.  In the 1920s and 1930s, she was her husband’s closest advisor and confidante.

            Admiral H.G. Graf, her husband’s private secretary for many years, wrote this about Grand Duchess Victoria:

Her views were broad-minded and modern.  She was particularly interested in new political phenomena and her analyses were always unbiased…[In the 1930s she] no longer believed that the downfall of the Soviet Power was imminent.  Her Majesty[5] could not, of course, predict post-WW II events, but she did foresee the disappearance of the old Occidental European way of life.  She expressed the view that we were living in a transitional period.  She seemed able to sense the emergence of a new era and the triumph of democratic principles over Communism…She often said, “If we [Russia] are a truly great nation, then we shall rise by ourselves.  If we fail, it will not be foreigners who will help us recover.  Foreigners will not only fail to help us, they will simply finish us off.”… Due to her knowledge of, and access to, political circles of Western Europe and the US, Her Majesty was the most effective advocate for the restoration of the legitimate monarchy in Russia.  In meeting statesmen under various circumstances, she would never miss the opportunity to explain to them that the reinstatement of the monarchy in Russia with the Romanov Dynasty should in no way be construed as a reactionary triumph.  Quite the contrary, the new form of democratic monarchy would bring the Russian people liberty and the right to participate in the ruling of the country.  The new monarchy must be and will be a civilized, democratic regime, which the Soviet regime, especially under the dictatorship of Stalin, certainly is not.  To many foreigners Her Majesty’s views were a revelation, accustomed as they were to thinking of the tsarist regime as a dictatorship violating democratic principles, such that its reinstatement would be retrogressive.  Her Majesty viewed the reinstatement of the monarchy and the transfer of power into the hands of the legitimate monarch as the projected outcome of a national revolution and overthrow of the Soviet Regime by the displeased Russian people…Her Majesty projected world events as a long fight between capitalist democracies, leading the nations along a path of progressive development and improvement of living standards on one hand, and communism, promoting ideas which she considered contrary to basic human concepts, on the other.  She viewed communism as an artificial doctrine unable to provide a happy existence to mankind.  She felt that even were capitalism to lose this struggle, the defeat would only be temporary because capitalism was not a contrivance of man but was formed by the dictates of life.  Therefore it couldn’ t perish.  On the other hand, communism, which tries to make obedient slaves out of one portion of the population, is bound to disappear because nobody can change human nature as created by God.  From these premises, Her Majesty viewed as essential the continuous revitalization of monarchistic ideology to embody new trends.  These convictions are reflected in His Majesty’s declarations, since they were written almost invariably with Her Majesty’s participation.  I reiterate here for emphasis that His Majesty and Her Majesty were opposed to any form of foreign intervention in Russia.[6]

Grand Duke Wladimir shared the opposition of his parents to any notion of foreign military intervention in Russia.  He believed the Russia could not make progress until the Russian people themselves overthrew Communism.  After this happened in the 1990s, Grand Duke Wladimir wrote down his views in what would be his last public speech.  It was his first public speech to a Western audience since the fall of the Soviet Union, and he worked on it assiduously for weeks.  The Grand Duke was to deliver the speech before an important business group at a breakfast in Miami on April 22, 1992.  He died suddenly, however, the day before, during a press conference on April 21, 1992.   With her strong sense of duty and knowing that her husband had an important message to deliver in his speech, the Grand Duke’s widow, Grand Duchess Leonida, insisted that the speech be read as planned the following morning.  Prince Nicolas Ouroussoff, who had accompanied the Grand Duke from Paris to Miami, read the speech to an audience of more than a thousand Miami business leaders.  Here are some key excerpts:

…Like many other Russians raised in exile abroad, I have spent most of my life firm in the belief that the best way to help Russia and the Russian people was by opposing communism.  This was also the attitude of my late father, who felt that no real political, economic or spiritual progress could take place in Russia as long it was under the Marxist yoke.  In the last few months, the communist system that held my country in its grip for 74 tragic years has at last, thank God, been smashed to pieces by the Russian people.  And now, for the first time, Russians living in exile like myself can begin to speak realistically about participating with our compatriots in Russia in the effort to rebuild our country…My wife, my daughter, my grandson and I are Russians, and as Russians, we wish to participate and contribute in any way possible, whether official or unofficial, public or private, to the progress of our country.  We all thank God that our country has been delivered from communism.  We are also most grateful that this long and involuntary exile is finally ending…The problems that Russia faces are so enormous that there is room for all Russians, whether in Russia or abroad, to pitch in and lend a hand, each in his own way and each according to his own possibilities.  This of course includes us…Given the continuing fragmentation of what used to be the Soviet Union, it is my belief that a monarchy offers certain definite advantages which no other form of government can provide.  In the first place, a democratic and constitutional monarchy can play an enormous role as a stabilizing factor and as a focus for unity within a federal system.  In the present period of turbulence and chaos, one cannot overestimate the advantages to the nation of a monarchy, which, as an institution, is totally removed from party politics and whose position remains unaffected by the failures of political leaders.  I envision the monarchy as an institution in which one can have absolute trust and whose impartiality and neutrality allow the monarch to serve as a genuine arbiter within a federation or commonwealth.  The example that immediately comes to mind is that of my mother’s country, Great Britain.  Before the creation of the British Commonwealth, the Crown served as the key link and really the last link of an Empire.  With the creation of the British Commonwealth, Her Majesty the Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth, has been the one symbol linking so many countries, both monarchies and republics, all over the globe…It seems to me that the peoples of Russia would understand and accept such a political structure.  A monarchy in Russia, however, could do more than provide a focus for national or commonwealth unity.  It would also provide a symbol of continuity, something that would allow the people to identify with their past and serve as a constant reminder of their history, their patrimony and their roots.  For a nation that was nearly robbed of its history and now in many ways is without moorings, this is of extreme importance.  I see the role of a Russian monarch as a catalyst for federation, within the framework of a democratic monarchy of which he would be the first servant – a monarch not tied to any ideology and who expresses himself publicly on issues from a strictly non-political point of view.  In this sense, a monarchy can serve the people as a democratic bulwark against dictatorship.  In addition, a monarchy as an institution can serve very effectively as the focus for the loyalty of the armed forces.  Armed forces which are loyal to the symbol of the Crown rather than to the partisan political leaders or parties provide a further protection from military interference in the civil affairs of government, thus strengthening democracy.  All these questions must, as I said before, be decided by the Russian people at the appropriate time and under the appropriate circumstances.  It is difficult to predict what the ultimate decision might be.[7]

Almost a quarter century has now passed since the fall of the Soviet Union and the succession of the Grand Duchess Maria as Head of the Imperial House in 1992.  In this final speech of Grand Duke Wladimir, read in Miami the day after his death, he described his only trip to Russia, in November 1991 for the re-naming of the old imperial capital as St. Peterburg.  He then stated, “In this manner the long exile from Russia of the Imperial Family was at last brought to an end.”  Soon after his death, the Russian citizenship which members of the dynasty had been deprived of by Bolshevik legislation after the revolution was restored to Grand Duchess Maria and her son, Grand Duke George.  They now travel frequently to Russia.

Grand Duchess Maria shares the attitudes of her father and grandfather.  As she has come to know Russia better over the years, however, her focus has been on the role the Russian Imperial House can play as a cultural and historical institution representing Russia’s traditions and cultural patrimony.  Her chancellery’s website records in great detail the countless demanding trips, ceremonies, and commemorations she has made or attended in the countries that comprise the former territories of the Russian Empire.  Nonetheless, she realizes that the Imperial House now unfortunately numbers only two members and that there is a limit to how much two individuals can do, even if they are supported by a highly competent chancellery in Moscow.

She is perfectly aware that, under the succession laws promulgated by her ancestor Emperor Paul I in the 18th century, she is the Head of the Imperial House.  She has often stated that the form of Russia’s government is a matter for the Russian people to decide.  She works closely with the Patriarch and the Russian Orthodox Church and does not allow herself to become involved in political issues of any kind.  When a wealthy Russian formed a monarchist political party to advocate a restoration, with her as empress, she rejected his overtures immediately and sent him packing.  Her goal has been to establish the Imperial House as an institution that, in close cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church, can play a constructive role in the civic life of Russia, especially in the realms of charity and the preservation of Russia’s cultural, religious, artistic and architectural patrimony.

The Grand Duchess stated as follows in a 2007 interview:[8]

My main role as Head of the Russian Imperial House is to help the people of Russia to restore the nation’s spiritual and moral values and its national character, to help them build a civil society based on their ancient traditions, which the Revolution nearly destroyed.  In practice, this means our active involvement in charitable, cultural, legal, and other forms of social activities.  At the same time, I am categorically against involving the Imperial House in politics.  The dynasty, whether it rules or not, should be a source of unity, not division.  Ideally, I want each citizen of Russia, regardless of his or her political convictions, social views, or religious affiliation, to know that the Imperial House of Romanov exists and that it belongs to each and every one of them.  That is, I want them to know that there exists a living symbol, which is not just an inanimate representation of the state, like a state coat-of-arms, flag, or national anthem, but is something to which the people can turn for moral support and assistance.  As far as reestablishing the monarchy is concerned, this is not up to me.  Certainly, I believe that the monarchy very much has a future.  For the Imperial House to deny this would be as absurd as the Church denying the existence of God….  Legitimate, hereditary monarchy as a national arbiter that stands above party politics and class interests would be the best guarantor of genuine democracy in the modern world.  That is, in short, my view on the matter.  However, only the people can decide if a monarchy is needed or not.  And the House of Romanoff will always serve Russia no matter what its form of government might be.

 

[1] The response to this “FAQ” is taken almost verbatim from an unpublished research paper written by Brien Purcell Horan and is used here with permission.

[2]  The Fall of the Romanovs by Mark D. Steinberg and Vladimir M. Khrustalëv (Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 86-88

[3] My Life in Russia’s Service – Then and Now by H.I.H. the Grand Duke Cyril (Selwyn & Blount, London, 1939), pp.  274-279

[4] Ibid., p. 224.

[5] After Grand Duke Kirill decided to use in exile his title of Emperor, his private secretary Admiral Graf referred to him and his consort as “His Majesty” and “Her Majesty.”

[6]  In the Service of the Imperial House of Russia, 1917-1941:  The Memoirs of H.G. Graf, by H.G. Graf, translated from Russian by Vladimir Graf with William L. Dunn (privately published, 1998), pp. 558-560.

[7] In referring to democracy, the Grand Duke meant a structure of government responsible to the elected representatives of the people and ultimately accountable to the people.  He would have been profoundly shocked by some of the practices which occurred in the 1990s, including the outright sale of public assets and the creation of a class of billionaire oligarchs.  Some Russians now associate the chaos and abuses of this period with democracy.  He would not have made this association.  His notion of a democratic government was a simple one: a government chosen by voters in elections free from corruption and which enshrined the rule of law.

[8] Agence France-Presse, 19 September 2007.