The Status of the Russian Imperial House
in the Russian Federation
Ph.D. Alexander N. Zakatov
Director, Chancellery of the Head of the Russian Imperial House
Alexander N. Zakatov, the Director of the Chancellery of Head of the Imperial House of Russia, wrote the following article on the legal status of the Russian Imperial House within the Russian Federation in response to comments from the public and from lawmakers concerning the possibility of granting the Imperial House official status as a historical institution. The article cites examples of other former dynasties receiving official recognition, such as the Royal House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg in Greece, and clarifies the position of the Russian Imperial House on a range of issues—from the restitution of properties to the possible restoration of the monarchy. -- The Editors, The Russian Legitimist.
A Conceptual Rationale
Correcting the injustices done to the Russian Imperial House of Romanoff, which made a significant contribution to the foundation, development, and growth of the Russian state over the course of 760 years, is a vital and necessary part of the general policy to affirm the continuity of the current Russian government with the nation’s past. Russia’s rejection of its former Communist ideology and Russia’s Constitutional guarantees of freedom of thought have together created the conditions for the revival of the full range of diverse and dynamic ideals, among the most significant of which are the religious, social, and political values embodied by the Romanoff dynasty. It would be wholly unthinkable to attempt to construct and cultivate a healthy civil society, which all recognize is essential for our nation, without acknowledging our country’s glorious past, to which its social and political structures are inextricably linked.
It was a profoundly Providential moment for our country when November 4 was declared the Day of National Unity—a date that is linked to the restoration of the Russian state after the Time of Troubles at the beginning of the 17th century. It was on that date in the year 1612 that foreign occupiers were expelled from Moscow and that internal enemies and traitors were defeated, beginning a historical process that culminated in the Assembly of the Land of 1613, which called the House of Romanoff, in the person of Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich, to the throne. The Russian government and society today understand and accept the need to eradicate the effects of a new Time of Troubles of the 20th century: the Revolution of 1917 and the atheistic and totalitarian regime it gave birth to. It was therefore that very meaningful date—November 4—that was chosen to mark the Day of National Unity.
The Historical and Legal Foundations of the Russian Imperial House
The Russian Imperial House continues to exist as a historical institution on the basis of its historical and legal traditions and in full accord with its historical and dynastic laws.
No other legal foundation for determining the membership and internal structure of the Imperial House exists, nor can exist, except the House Laws.
Membership in the Imperial House is determined by the Family Statute, and the question of the Headship of the dynasty is determined in accordance with this Statute, “which provides complete clarity on the question and grants no allowance for a choice from among the various members of the ruling House.”
Within the boundaries of its historical legal codes, the right to interpret these laws belonged always to the Head of the Russian Imperial House, that is, to the person, either male or female, who at any given moment is the senior member of the senior branch of the dynasty.
The Composition of the Russian Imperial House at the Present Time
According to the laws of succession of the Russian Empire, the Russian Imperial House today consists of two persons: The Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia (born 1953) and the Tsesarevich and Grand Duke George of Russia (born 1981).
The remaining descendants of the Imperial Family were born of morganatic marriages and therefore do not belong to the Imperial House (Art. 188 of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire) and would not have any rights to the throne in the event of a restoration of the monarchy (Art. 36).
Claims by some politicians and authors that the “Imperial House is no more,” that the “Romanoffs cannot even agree among themselves,” and other similar claims, are groundless and false. Arguments against the rights of the senior line of the Russian Imperial House (which is descended from Alexander II the Tsar-Liberator) are, when appraised objectively, either the typical slander one encounters or the result of ignorance or political partisanship. The legitimate rights of the senior line of the House of Romanoff are based exclusively on the Family Laws, and are recognized by royal houses around the world, by the Church, and by the international community of professional genealogists.
Dynastic Rights in the Context of the Modern Constitutional Framework of the Russian Federation
A right can exist in several forms: in laws, in agreements, in customs, in canon law, and in other forms. In our country, all these kinds of rights exist and are applicable insofar as they do not contradict the prevailing law of the land.
In the Preamble to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, there is a line that states that the people have adopted it (the Constitution) “revering the memory of ancestors who have conveyed to us the love for the Fatherland, belief in the good and justice.” The internal laws of the Russian Orthodox Church (its canons) and of the Russian Imperial House (its Family Statute) are not only entirely consistent with the current law codes of the Russian Federation and its Constitution, but indeed also fortify and expand upon this line in the Preamble, as well as the content of Article 44, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution: “Everyone shall be obliged to care for the preservation of cultural and historical heritage and protect monuments of history and culture.”
The current Russian state—the Russian Federation—though a secular government, nonetheless recognizes the special legal status of the Russian Orthodox Church and that of other traditional religious confessions. Similarly, our state, though a republic, can devise a form of recognition for the legal status of the Russian Imperial House, which, as a historical institution, constitutes a vitally important element of civil society in our country.
The Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, and her heir, Grand Duke George of Russia, have many times stated that the House of Romanoff is prepared to return to Russia. They make no claims on former properties, nor aspire to political power or privilege, but they do consider it proper that the Imperial House be recognized as a historical institution and as part of the historical legacy of Russia. This recognition would be purely on the social and cultural level, but it should be expressed in a legal act.
This legal act regulating the position of the Russian Imperial House in our republic might be modeled on the Presidential Decree № 998 of the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic (the PMR, for Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublika), which was issued on December 21, 2011 (see the Appendix). While the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic is not recognized as an independent state internationally, its legal acts have no less legal validity than, for example, the regional laws of the constituent parts of the Russian Federation or those of any other federal state. The example of the Decree “On the Status of the Russian Imperial House in the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic” makes it clear that the position of a non-ruling dynasty can be affirmed in law by a republic without any contradictions to its Constitution or other legislation, without any political and financial complications, while at the same time showing respect for the national historical heritage. A decree such as this one determines the rights and obligations of members of the Imperial House and provides assurances of their political neutrality.
There is a range of precedents outside of Russia that might be referenced to determine how the legal status of the Russian Imperial House might be established in accordance with the norms of historical and current Russian and international laws, and taking into account the sentiments of society at large.
In many countries, even in those that have experienced political revolutions, the former ruling dynasties often play important social roles today. Non-Communist countries that passed various laws that compelled the former ruling dynasty to go into exile have now revoked these discriminatory laws and today the former dynasties fulfill a vital social function in society. In the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe and Asia, royal houses have returned, have been granted formal recognition by the government, have received some of their former properties back and now reside in their homelands, and work together with other elements of society to eradicate the destructive legacy of the revolutionary era and to restore and develop their country’s international relations. Attempts by the government in Greece to deprive the deposed King Constantine of his Greek citizenship and properties ended with a convincing legal and moral victory for the former monarch and a Court order that the government cease its unjust and illegal persecution of the king and his family.
Comparing all the cases where a former ruling dynasty resides in its home country which is now a republic, a clear pattern emerges: In those lands where the people value their history and where the internal political situation is stable, the former dynasty enjoys the respect of the people and the authorities, and their rights are legally protected. Furthermore, there is in those lands absolutely no concern that the constitutional order of the government is in any way threatened by these rights.
These royal and imperial houses in these countries all enjoy legal status, and as such they are protected from the claims of imposters and are considered a vitally important part of the social and cultural life of their countries.
The Current Situation of the Russian Imperial House in Russia
In its own way, Russia has begun the same process of reintegrating its ruling dynasty into the social life of the country as has taken place in other states of Eastern Europe and Asia. The first step for Russia in this process was the visit on November 5-11, 1991, of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, and his spouse, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, at the invitation of the mayor of St. Petersburg, A. A. Sobchak. Other similar moments in this process soon followed: the meeting between the Head of the Dynasty with President Boris Yeltsin at the Russian embassy in Paris on February 6, 1992; the granting of Russian citizenship to the members of the Russian Imperial House (who had never become citizens of those nations in which they lived during their long years of exile); the funeral service in St. Isaac’s Cathedral for Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, who reposed in the Lord on April 21, 1992, and his burial in the Family Mausoleum in the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral—both officiated by Patriarch Aleksei II of Moscow and All Russia; and the reburial on March 7, 1995, in this same Family Mausoleum, of the remains of the Emperor-in-Exile Kirill Wladimirovich and Empress-in-Exile Victoria Feodorovna. These events were all overseen by V. V. Putin, who at that time occupied one of the most important positions of leadership in the mayor’s office of St. Petersburg.
Over the last 24 years, there have been more than 70 visits of the Head of the Russian Imperial House to Russia in connection with a broad range of historical anniversaries and Church celebrations, all at the invitation of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, representatives of the President of the Russian Federation (for example, for the 100th anniversary of the glorification of St. Seraphim of Sarov in 2003), or the presidents and other leaders of constituent republics and regions of the Russian Federation. The Head of the Russian Imperial House takes part in a wide range of charitable activities. In Moscow the Chancellery of the Head of the Russian Imperial House has been registered with the state as a non-profit organization. The Knights’ Councils of the Imperial Orders of St. Anna and St. Nicholas the Wonderworker have been reestablished, helping to direct the educational and cultural activities of the House of Romanoff, often working in tandem with the Russian Orthodox Church. On October 1, 2008, the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled favorably in a case brought to it by Grand Duchess Maria of Russia seeking the political rehabilitation of her relatives: the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers Emperor Nicholas II and the members of his family. The Head of the House of Romanoff called this ruling a victory for all citizens of Russia, who together seek to strengthen the Russian state today and eradicate legal nihilism.
However, unlike nearly all these other countries, Russia has not yet resolved the question of the legal status of the Imperial House. This omission creates a certain ambiguity in the government’s position vis-à-vis the dynasty and prevents Russia from making the most of the international status and spiritual and historical potential of the Romanoff dynasty.
The Principal Difference between Granting Legal Status to the Former Dynasty and Restoring the Monarchy
Attempts to equate granting the Russian Imperial House legal status with restoring the monarchy, or to see it as merely the first step of the realization of a plan to restore the monarchy, are absolutely without foundation. The examples of other countries that have resolved this issue, as mentioned above, show that there is no danger to the present constitutional order in granting legal recognition to former ruling dynasties.
The position of the Russian Imperial House is that, while it remains the bearer of the ideal of monarchical government and in no way rejects these ideals and its long-held religious and social convictions, it at the same time firmly believes, firstly, that the time for the restoration of the monarchy has not yet arrived; secondly, that no attempt to restore the monarchy should ever be made without the lawful and clear expression of support of the people, and thirdly, that the Imperial House should not and will not participate in politics in any form or on any level.
The Theoretical Possibility of a Restoration of the Monarchy in the Future
Russia’s national political leaders have not categorically rejected the possibility of a restoration in Russia of the monarchy, given certain stipulations. When he was acting president of the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin was asked: “If you are a person who likes to take history into consideration when discussing issues of the day, then surely one of key aspect of our nation’s history is the monarchy. What then should we do now, restore the monarchy?” President Putin replied, “I think it is very unlikely. But in general…in certain periods…in certain places…under certain conditions…monarchy has played and continues to play even in our day a positive role, such as in Spain. I think that monarchy has played a decisive role in that country’s transition away from despotism and totalitarianism. The monarchy was obviously a stabilizing factor. The monarch needn’t wonder if he is going to win the election or not, or meticulously calculate how to influence the electorate. He is free to think only of the good of his people and not be distracted by unimportant details.” When asked if this was also possible in Russia, President Putin replied: “You know, a lot of things might seem at a given moment to be impossible or impractical, and then, suddenly—boom! That’s how it was with the Soviet Union. Who could have imagined that it would collapse the way it did. Not even in our worst nightmares did we see that coming.”
These word of Vladimir Putin prove that he does not exclude the possibility of a restoration of the monarchy in Russia, that he recognizes its “positive role” and not only does not associate it with despotism and totalitarianism, but, quite the contrary, considers it a guarantor of the transition from these oppressive forms of government to lawful government. These comments about the possibility of a restoration of the monarchy are far less restrained than even some of the statements made by Grand Duchess on this subject.
Of course, if the question of the restoration of the monarchy should ever be posed in a serious way, the legal status of the Russian Imperial House as a historical institution and as an already active participant in the social life of the nation, would do much to provide for a smooth and legal transition to the monarchy, without any dangerous forms of political experimentation that might otherwise accompany that transition—like usurpations of the throne, a struggle among “claimants,” Bonapartism, and so on.
But for now, this is a purely academic discussion. In the foreseeable future, the restoration of the monarchy is not in the offing, and the Russian Imperial House on principle abjures all political involvement and does not seek a return to power.
The Question of Properties
Before the February Revolution of 1917, the properties of the Russian Imperial House were divided into three categories.
State properties, which were under the control of the Emperor in his capacity as Head of State, but which were never held nor regarded as his private property.
Inherited properties, which belonged to the Russian Imperial House as a whole—that is, belonged to the family that enjoyed the status of a state institution, and whose members were ranked by seniority of birth and were led by the emperor. This type of property also was not private property, but was distributed among the members of the Russian Imperial House at the discretion of the Emperor.
It was these first two categories of properties that members of the Russian Imperial House were stripped of in March 1917.
Private properties, which were acquired by members of the Russian Imperial House using their own financial resources, and which remained in their possession until July 13, 1918, when the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom), V. I. Ulianov (Lenin) signed a decree entitled “On the Confiscation of the Property of the Deposed Russian Emperor and Members of the Imperial House.” According to this decree, all real and personal property of members of the Russian Imperial House, both in Russia and abroad, was subject to confiscation.
Based on all the foregoing, it follows that the claims of some politicians and other prominent figures that the granting of official status to the Russian Imperial House would be accompanied by a return to them of “all their palaces,” “the Kremlin and the Hermitage,” and so on, is entirely without foundation and designed only to engender ill feelings toward the Imperial House. Naturally, the Russian Imperial House does not now, nor ever had, any such unrealistic pretentions. Any consideration of the return of private properties—and only private properties, the third category alone—could proceed only in the event the Russian Federation should pass a Federal law on the restitution of properties, but there is no such law now, as everyone knows.
Even while those who had lost their properties, or their direct heirs, were still alive, the grandfather of the present Head of the Russian Imperial House, Emperor-in-Exile Kirill Wladimirovich, stated that the Imperial House rejects the idea of the restitution of properties on account of the irreversible changes in the social and economic structure of Russia after the Revolution. This opinion was held likewise by his son, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, and also by his daughter, the current Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, who has many times publicly stated that, in her view, a restitution of properties would cause enormous upheaval in the country, such that the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.
As a result, the question of the return to the Imperial Family of private property has not been taken up in Russia.
We cannot rule out the possibility that the current Russian government might, in recognition of the role the Russian Imperial House plays in society today and out of respect for its place in our nation’s history, facilitate the return of the imperial family to its homeland by providing, by mutual agreement, some historical building where the royal family could live and base itself for its various activities (housing a chapel, offices, a museum, an archive, etc.). It might be one of any number of buildings in need of repair yet of historical and cultural significance —one of the many that government officials have repeatedly said that there is no money to renovate. While the Imperial Family also does not have funds sufficient to restore one of these buildings, the government might permit the restoration work to be funded through private donations from those who respect the Russian Imperial House. As demonstrated by the example of those countries that have returned one or even several palaces to the former ruling dynasties, this option can work quite well: it places no financial burden on the government, and places the responsibility for the renovation and upkeep of the building or buildings in the hands of private citizens.
Whatever the case, contrary to the slanderous claims of some political figures, the Russian Imperial House has never requested nor intends to request from the government the return of any properties or any sort of governmental financial support. Legal status for the House of Romanoff is sought not for personal gain or privilege, but to expand the opportunities to serve the nation.
The Main Functions of the Russian Imperial House in the Social Life of Russia
The potential of the Russian Imperial House as a national symbol and as a guardian of national traditions, bridging the entire length of Russia’s history, is both obvious and natural. The Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, has herself stated her vision of the role of the dynasty might play in an interview she gave to Rossiikaia gazeta: “In the majority of countries, both republics and former Communist countries, the question of the status of the former ruling dynasties has long ago been decided for the benefit of all concerned. The state has granted the royal or imperial houses the status of historical institutions which link modern-day life with the past, with the nation’s traditions, and with the ancient structures of society. I am certain that sooner or later the same will happen in Russia. Many important steps have already been taken in this direction, in fact. In any case, both I and all my family strive to be useful to Russia and to our people, to help as far as possible the president in his efforts to rebuild the country into a strong and stable state… Of course, we have our own opinions on certain things. But as I have many times said, the Russian Imperial House does not involve itself in political debates, nor does it participate in any party politics, because such things contradict its very nature. The historical dynasty, regardless of whether it occupies the throne or not, should be a source of unity, not division.”
The Grand Duchess developed these ideas in an interview she gave to Agence France-Presse (AFP) on September 10, 2007: “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…. 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 Romanoff continues to exist 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, a flag, or a national anthem, but is something to which the people can turn for moral support and assistance.”
Thus the range of activities of the Russian Imperial House lie outside politics entirely and include only public service, philanthropy, defending the rights and freedoms of the citizens, collaborative projects with the Russian Orthodox Church to restore its holy places and religious life in general in the country, working with governmental bodies and religious and civic organizations to support education, civil peace and cultural initiatives, defending the environment, helping to advance research and higher education, and similar endeavors. The Imperial House also works together with governmental agencies, offering advice and support in advance of preparations of celebrations marking significant historical events and also taking part in those celebrations, helping to preserve historically and culturally significant monuments, serving as honorary chairs and members of organizations that, while not vested with any official powers, nonetheless contribute in significant ways to resolving social issues of the day, conflict resolution, and so on.
The Basic Functions of the Russian Imperial House Internationally
In the above cited interview that Grand Duchess Maria of Russia gave to Rossiiskaia gazeta, she mentions the “formation of a positive image of the country across the world.” It is hard to overstate the vital role played by the Russian Imperial House in this area. The kinship ties connecting the Romanoffs and other royal houses present inestimable potential benefits to the nation, which most political leaders do not nor could ever possess and which could not be purchased for any price. Grand Duchess Maria of Russia is a direct descendant not only of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Alexander II the Tsar-Liberator, but also of the biblical King David, Queen Victoria of Great Britain, Charlemagne, and the Prophet Muhammad. Common ancestors link her to all the monarchs and Heads of former reigning dynasties of Europe, and in Muslim countries she has the right to the title “Holy Mother.”
The importance of dynastic connections has been broadly acknowledged by the leaders of many nations today, including the President of Russia. For example, in his speech on October 15, 2007, in Wiesbaden, at the plenary session of the Petersburg Dialogue Russian-German Civic Forum, President Putin, speaking of the “regular direct contacts between civil society representatives from Russia and Germany,” noted particularly that “I would like to remind you that many members of the Russian imperial family came from Germany. This was another important channel that established contacts between our two peoples. Also, many members of the imperial family married members of the German aristocracy and went to live in Germany and this also had its weight.”
The Head of the Romanoff dynasty and other members of the Imperial House can utilize their family ties, their historical position, and their fluency in foreign languages to serve as “goodwill ambassadors” of the nation, helping to advance the official diplomatic agendas of the nation on an international level, promoting the nation’s manufacturing and agricultural sectors on the international markets, and so on. We can see how important this role might be for Russia by examining how other royal families around the world have helped their countries in these very ways. At present the valuable potential of the Russian Imperial House is not being exploited, like a violin that is nothing more than a piece of wood and wire to those who have never heard its magical sounds. The lack of any official legal status inside Russia is an obstacle to the full participation of the Romanoff Dynasty on an international level (because to engage in serious matters of state, one has to possess formally certain rights and responsibilities), and it dampens the outreach that might be undertaken by foreign dynasties and political circles via their dynastic connections to the Romanoffs. So for now, the relationship of foreign dynasties, governments, and influential social and political groups to the Russian Imperial House remains limited mostly to invitations to dynastic celebrations, exchanges of letters and cards on various family occasions, and purely private meetings and communications.
But even in the present circumstances, the Russian Imperial House, having received at least some measure of moral support from official Russian governmental bodies, does much good for its native country. One particularly telling example is the visit by the Grand Duchess Maria to Australia in September 2007. The Head of the Russian Imperial House arrived there at the invitation of the Archdiocese of Sydney and Australia and New Zealand of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Russian Communities living there. The Russian Embassy in Australia arranged a reception in honour of the Grand Duchess, the Russian ambassador accompanied Her Imperial Highness during her visit to the War Memorial in Canberra, and the First Secretary of the embassy accompanied the Grand Duchess at a number of church services, memorial events, and receptions in other cities. These were very important and very visible gestures but nonetheless still expressions of personal respect for the Grand Duchess rather than official recognition of the status of the Russian Imperial House by the Russian Federation. And yet, the reception for the Head of the Russian Imperial House given by the Australian authorities was entirely appropriate to her rank and completely official in nature. They received her both as the Head of a foreign dynasty and as the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, whose memory is greatly honoured in Australia. Grand Duchess Maria of Russia met with members of both houses of parliament and with the co-chair of the Russian-Australian parliamentary group; she stayed in the Governors’ residences in those states she visited; and she met with the lord mayors of the cities she stopped in during her travels about the country. Everywhere she went, the Head of the Russian Imperial House gave speeches supporting new cooperative ventures with Russia, which had been announced by the President of the Russian Federation when he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Australia. The Grand Duchess’s speeches were met with very positive reactions from officials, members of the public, and the press. Moreover, the joint participation of the Grand Duchess and representatives of the Russian Embassy at ceremonies and events helped to establish even further the friendly and warm ties between the people of Australia and the Russian community living in Australia, a point which was warmly and sincerely emphasized by representatives of the Russian embassy at their farewell meeting with the Grand Duchess. There can be little doubt that, if this much success and good will were achieved without legal recognition, then surely much more might have been achieved by the Grand Duchess during this trip (and others like it) if the Imperial House enjoyed legal status as a historical institution in the Russian Federation.
The Head of the House of Romanoff could likewise play a vitally important role in the nations that comprised the former Soviet Union. The Imperial House never took part in the fratricidal civil wars nor in those processes that led to the disintegration of the former Soviet state. For all the peoples of the Russian Empire and USSR, who together belonged to a common cultural space and who were linked by a common history, the Imperial House remains a unique unifying symbol, a reminder of our fraternal past and a politically neutral instrument for the revival of cooperation in the present and future. This theory was confirmed in practice when Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna and then the rest of the Imperial Family visited Georgia (in 1994 and 1995, respectively); when Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna visited Latvia (in May 2000); when Grand Duchess Maria of Russia visited Transnistria and Ukraine (May 2009) and Belarus (in July 2009); when Tsesarevich George of Russia visited Transnistria (September 2010); when the Grand Duchess visited Ukraine (May-June 2011, and September 2013, together with Tsesarevich George of Russia); and when she visited Armenia (in November 2011) and Uzbekistan (in November 2014).
Despite the firm legal foundations of its historical status and its ardent neutrality in political and social affairs, the Russian Imperial House is sometimes attacked and criticized by political figures of both the Left and the Right. The motivations for these attacks and criticisms vary and are often inconsistent. (For example, some Leftist politicians see the activities of the Imperial House as a potential threat to democracy, whereas some on the Right criticize the Head of the Imperial House or its members for their positive statements on democracy.)
Like those critics of the Russian Orthodox Church who denounce the Moscow Patriarchate as somehow being uncanonical and its hierarchs guilty of heresy, critics of the Russian Imperial House attempt to challenge the dynastic rights of the Imperial Family and accuse it of “violating” one or another law or tradition of the dynasty.
Unfortunately, sometimes the personal likes and dislikes of certain persons prevail over decency, legality, character, and common sense. In official Church pronouncements and in his correspondence, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia routinely addresses Grand Duchess Maria of Russia as the Head of the Russian Imperial House, yet some clergy allow themselves to challenge the position of the Grand Duchess. Similarly, the Patriarch and the Office of External Church Affairs have both publicly and officially endorsed the legal proceedings initiated by the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia to obtain the legal rehabilitation of members of the Imperial Family who were executed in 1918; but some clergy individually spoke out against these initiatives.
Some government officials, exploiting the lack of a clear position of the current Russian government with regard to the Imperial House, and so acting on their own personal opinions, have thrown their support around one or another relative of the dynasty. In such cases, there is a double standard at work: when Romanoff relatives who do not belong to the Imperial House but who are friendly to some government official are invited to some official events, they are sometimes introduced as the “Heads” or “members” of the House of Romanoff, but when specialists on the history and laws of the Imperial House object to the use of these terms in reference to these relatives, these same government officials then hasten to say that, in point of fact, there “is no Imperial House anymore,” that these are merely “members of the family,” and so forth. But not one single official who has revealed their bias against the legitimate Head of the Russian Imperial House in his or her official capacity in the government or in public statements to the press, has ever signed a legal and official public document challenging the rights of Grand Duchess Maria of Russia because, in reality, all the facts are on her side, and all their false or groundless allegations are exposed and refuted by conscientious and expert jurists and historians.
The worry of some over how the recognition of the legal status of the Russian Imperial House might lead to protests from some relatives of the Romanoffs is entirely unjustified. First of all, the morganatic relatives of the Imperial House are of a range of opinions, and many of them have excellent relationships with Grand Duchess Maria of Russia. Only two elderly brothers—Nicholas Romanovich Romanoff (1922-2014) and Dmitrii Romanovich Romanoff (b. 1926), the sons of Prince of the Imperial Blood Roman Petrovich by his morganatic marriage to Countess P. D. Sheremeteva—have spoken in negative and destructive ways about the legitimate Head of the Russian Imperial House. This line of descent, in a purely genealogical sense, is not even the most senior line. (The most senior are the grandsons of Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich and the great-great-grandsons of Emperor Alexander II from his first marriage, with Empress Maria Alexandrovna, born Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt—Prince D. P. Romanovsky-Ilyinsky and his brother, Prince M. P. Romanovsky-Ilyinsky. After them comes the great-grandson of Emperor Alexander II from his second morganatic marriage, to Princess E. A. Iurievskaya, born Princess Dolgorukova—Prince G. A. Iurievsky.)
Secondly, and most importantly, the status of the Head of the Imperial House is determined only by the dynastic laws and does not depend on anyone’s recognition or lack thereof. For the current Russian government to withhold official status from the Russian Imperial House on account of the objections of some relatives would be as illogical as withholding all cooperation and concelebration with His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia because there also existed a “Kievan Patriarchate,” or a “Suzdal Schism,” or because the former Bishop Diomid of Chukotka had issued an “anathema” against the entire hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Claims that parts of the public—“the older generation,” for example—could object to the granting of official legal status to the Russian Imperial House are also utterly dismissible. One need only examine the many visits of the Imperial Family to Russia to be convinced that the vast majority of our countrymen, including veterans of the Second World War, regard the Grand Duchess and members of her family with enormous respect and admiration.
Of course, there have been and will always be attacks on the Russian Imperial House. It is likely that these attacks will only increase, particularly as the question of the Imperial House’s official status is discussed and if it were ever granted—at least until the clear and very real benefits of this move became apparent to all. Just as the sad and somber death of Patriarch Aleksei II of Moscow and All Russia did not prevent some from slinging mug at him or his successor on the Patriarchal throne, or even at the entire Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Imperial House will become fair game for its enemies, who may seize upon each and every accomplishment or expansion of its activities as an opportunity to attack and besmirch it.
In the absence of a clear governmental position and plan of action on this question, the status of the Imperial House will continue to lie in limbo, as every time that a resolution to the issue seems to come into view, some anti-Romanoff group sounds off, which then becomes a convenient excuse again to “shelve” the matter indefinitely. However, if a decision in principle were to be made by the highest authorities in the government to begin utilizing the full potential of the Russian Imperial House for the benefit of today’s Russia, then no one could prevent the formation of a fully-empowered governmental commission, which could carry out its work competently, objectively, and transparently, and which could establish all the necessary legal facts and create a legal framework for the granting of official status to the legitimate Russian Imperial House of Romanoff in the Russian Federation and for the return of its members to Russia to reside there permanently.