Your Imperial Highness, tell us about your parents, how they raised you and where you went to school?
I was very fortunate to be born and raised in a family that was imbued with love and mutual respect. My parents were inseparable, and never even the slightest shadow was ever cast on their loving relationship. They raised me with a balance of affection and rigor. More than anything else, they wanted me to preserve my Orthodox faith and to remember always my duty to Russia. They understood perfectly that these feelings of faith and duty cannot be forced onto children by their parents. Only through personal example and by gentle, nurturing instruction in the tenets of our faith can one hope to instill in a child the seeds from which these good things might develop and flower in adult life.
If ever I was lazy in my studies, my parents would consistently, and when necessary, strictly, set me right so I would work with greater diligence. This was especially true with my study of the Russian language. Probably many people don’t quite realize how challenging it is to preserve one’s language when living abroad. Of course, any idea or concept can be explained in any language. And so it is extraordinarily difficult to think and speak in one’s native language when the vast majority of those around you are speaking in another language, and this is especially true when you were born in exile. Many of my cousins and relatives—the descendants of other exiled European dynasties—don’t speak a single word of their native languages. But, thanks to my parents, I never had that problem. I never had any difficulties understanding Russian, and I prefer to read the classics of Russian literature in the original language.
When I came of school age, I entered the English school in Madrid. After I graduated, I went to England and studied at Oxford University. I studied a number of subjects in the humanities, especially those connected with Russia and Russian culture. I also became very interested in Egyptology.
Last year was the 20th anniversary of your ascension to the rights and duties of Head of the Russian Imperial House. What has that meant for you?
Many mistakenly believe that the Head of the Imperial House is the “pretender to the throne.” In point of fact, this is absolutely not the case. The Imperial House is an historical institution, which preserves an entire range of traditional spiritual values, including, of course, the idea of monarchy. It would be impossible for the dynasty to reject monarchy in the same way it would be impossible for the Church to reject belief in God. We are convinced that legitimate monarchy has a future and can be of service to our country. Ifour people—freely and fully-informed—should choose to restore the monarchy, then the Head of the Imperial House will be ready to fulfill her or his dutyas the legal successor to Russia’s past sovereigns. But we do not desire to force ourselves on the nation, we do not participate in any political activities whatsoever, and we do not have pretensions to anything.
Both I and my son, Tsesarevich Georgii of Russia, are citizens of Russia. We respect its Constitution and laws. We strive to help the President and government, the Church, the other traditional religious confessions in the nation, and various civic groups to revivethe nation’s historic traditions and to develop these traditions in ways that fit the circumstances of the modern world we live in.
At the present time, and in the foreseeable future, the main activities of the House of Romanoff are to sponsor charitable activities, to help strengthen the state and civil society, to foster social, religious, and ethnic harmony in the country, to help maintain and preserve the cultures and civilization of the various peoples that once were part of the former Russian Empire, to protect the environment and our common historical heritage, and to promote a positive image of Russia in the wider world. All our activities are of a humanitarian, not a political, character.
What do you see is the role of monarchy in the modern world? What qualities in particular should a monarch today have?
Monarchy historically arose out of the family and the clan, and so it preserves the essence of the State-Family, the head of which is not merely a powerful individual or a skilled manager, but the symbolic father or mother of the nation. Laws of succession provide the greatest possible independence for a monarch. He is beholden to no one for his position: no party, no social group, no large business interests. Therefore the monarch is, by his birth and position, an arbiter who stands above all factional and private interests, and as such, is able to resolve conflicts and reach compromises.
Moreover, legitimate monarchy establishes a connectionwith the history of a county and provides continuity in its government. Each sovereign has a sense of responsibility both to the many generations of his ancestors who have selflessly served the nation, and to his successors, who will carry on this ancient legacy.
The extent of a monarch’s power may have been greater in some ages and less in others, but his position as a father and arbiter remainsconstant.
From this fact stems the foundations of the identity and activity of the monarch. He should accept his power not principally as a right due him, but as a duty and as a form of service—to be just, to respect the dignity of all people, and to support with all his authority a balance between government and society.
In a country as large as Russia, populated with so many different peoples professing so many various religions, it is especially important for there to be an arbiter and for there to prevail a harmonious balance between the powers of government and the freedom of its citizens. I therefore do not rule out the possibility that, at some point in the future, our country will again turn to monarchy, which has proven itself over the course of a thousand years of history.
What emotions do you feel when you visit Russia and when you think about Russia?
Russia is my homeland. That says it all. One might be able to feel comfortable and accepted in a foreign country, but one can never change one’s homeland. I understood this very well when I was younger, during the years when the Communist regime was in power and when we were unable to travel to Russia. Since then, as the borders have opened to us and as we have again and again stepped onto the soil of our native land, these emotions, which I felt all my life, have only grown stronger with each new visit to my homeland.
When do you, Your Imperial Highness, plan to return to Russia to live?
If I were a private person, I would have returned long ago. But I am duty bound to preserve the foundations of the Russian Imperial House and its authority. Thus for me to return to Russia, a number of legal questions would first have to be resolved. I have absolutely no preconditions to my returning, nor any desire for a return of properties, nor do I want any special privileges. But I do have the right to expect that the legal status of the House of Romanoff in Russia would be the same as that of other formerly ruling dynasties in all other civilized countries. Formerly sovereign houses in Western Europe were granted legal status quite some time agoand are today playing public roles in society. The former ruling houses in Eastern Europe (in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and Hungary) have been legally recognized for the last 20 years. All this could be done in Russia too, in full accordance with the Constitution. This process is now gradually taking shape in Russia. As soon as everything is formulated, I will return to live permanently in Russia.
In September of last year, my son and I met with President Vladimir Putin at the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino. President Putin was very friendly toward us and our conversation ended with his very kind words: “Come [to Russia] more often.” And so we are trying to do just that, and we believe that soon we will be able to come to Russia and live, as our royal relatives in Eastern Europe have done.
You are a very religious person. What role does the Church and Orthodoxy play in your life?
Faith occupies the central place in the lives of person. Even those who have convinced themselves that there is no God nonetheless find that faith evinces itself in certain circumstances in life.
I am very glad that religious faith has not been extinguishedin Russia, despite the more than 70 years of brutal oppression of religion. Unlike the populations of most western countries, the people of Russia are not shy about declaring openly their religious faith or standing up for their religious freedoms.
It is very important to impart to each person from childhood a sense of religious faith. Then, having grown up, they can themselves make a choice and can determine for themselveshow much, or how little, they want to draw upon their religious upbringing, and how much they want religion in their lives. But we ought not deprive our children of the knowledge of the joys of faith, of the expectation and experience of miracles in our world, of the goodness that religion teaches us. Therefore, both in the family and in school, it is necessary to encourage a traditional education and familiarity with the fundamentals of religious faith. Of course, this is a very delicate matter, but that oughtnot prevent us from tackling this question, but rather should propel us to search for the rights answers. In this regard, it might be useful to look to how these issues were handled in pre-Revolutionary Russia,or to the experience of religious education in other countries today.
For more than 1000 years, life in Russia has been inextricably linked to the Orthodox faith and to the Church. And so it will also be in the future. The sovereigns of our House always preserved and defended Orthodoxy. I very much value the spiritual relationship and friendship I have with His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill I, who, like Patriarch Alexis II of blessed memory and many other archpastors and pastors of our Church, has supported the return of the dynasty to Russia. I am very glad that the current first hierarch of the Church is so prominent a figure in the Orthodox Church worldwide, a man of deep prayer and a wonderful homilist. I have been very saddened to see certain social and political figures attempt to discredit the Church and the Patriarch, using any excuse to attack the clergy and the faithful. Everyone makes mistakes and commits sins. In this regard, one must always remember the words of Alexander Pushkin: “There is no convincing with curses, and no truth where there is no love.”
Many of our countrymen profess other traditional religions. I am always very pleased to meet with the clergy and faithful of these other confessions. One of the greatest achievements of Russia has been the establishment of unity out of diversity. This unity is also now under assault. There are political forces in the country that are attempting to ignite the flames of fanaticism and intolerance, using religion as a way of pitting people against each other. In my view, one way to prevent this to create centers for inter-confessional dialogue, where people of different religions can meet, talk, and find common ground for mutual assistance and collaboration. These centers can be places where people can learn about other religions while preserving the distinctiveness of their own ancestral faith. This will help prevent people from deceiving others or spreading falsehoods about those who worship in a different way from themselves. All bigotry is based on ignorance and ill will. It is appropriate and necessary to appreciateone’s own faith and to insist on the Truth it contains. But thinking so should in no way foster hatred of others, even if we may ourselves believe that these others are in some way mistaken.
How is the Imperial House preparing for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the ascension of the Romanoff dynasty to the throne?
About a year ago, on March 1, 2012, on the Feast Day of the Holy Martyr Patriarch Hermogen, I issued an Address to my countrymen, expressing my thoughts on the upcoming anniversary. In that Address, I conveyed my deep conviction that we are celebrating first and foremost not the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanoff, but the 400th anniversary of the nation’s victory over the Time of Troubles and the reestablishment of the Russian state. Part of that celebration would also properly include the marking of the 400th anniversary of the Great Church Council and Assembly of the Land of 1613, which summoned our dynasty to the throne. The ascension to the throne of a legitimate sovereign was the culmination of the larger struggle for liberation and an event that helped solidify the achievements of that struggle. But all the same, the anniversary of the ending of the Time of Troubles is a much larger celebration than simply the celebration of the ascension of the young Mikhail Fedorovich Romanoff.
I am convinced that both the government and society at large will give appropriate attention to this enormously significant anniversary. I know that many celebrations are planned. But I would hope that our countrymen will not focus only on the visuals. Of course, parades, monuments, festivals, concerts—all these are necessary and good. These forms of celebrations are useful for engendering pride and liftingthe nation’s spirits. But the first and most important place in these celebrations ought to be social and educational activities. Good works and help for the needy—these are the best kinds of monuments to the saints and heroes of the Time of Troubles. These monuments, constructed in the hearts of the people, are much stronger than any stone or bronze statue.
You are related to most of the royal houses of Europe. Do you keep in touch with them, and with the descendants of the White emigration?
Of course, we are in touch with our relatives. We correspond, we send holiday greetings to each other, and we attend various dynastic ceremonies with them. This is all an integral part of the social role played by the Imperial House. All these events and gatherings symbolize not only the kinship ties among the royal families of Europe, but also the relations among peoples of Europe. Showing respect for a dynasty is showing respect for the entire history of the country that the dynasty rules, or once ruled in the past.
The descendants of Russian émigrs of the first two waves of emigration have, for the most part, assimilated and now identify with the countries where they reside. But, of course, among them are many who remember their roots. We enjoy very good relations with all who want to help Russia and who want to work together with us.
Your mother, Grand Duchess LeonidaGeorgievna, was a member of the Georgian Royal House of Bagration-Mukhranskii. Doyousupport[the restoration of] relationswithGeorgia?
I visited Georgia for the first time in 1994, and then again in 1995, for the reburial of the remains of my grandfather and grandmother, the Head of the Georgian Royal House Prince George Alexandrovich and Princess Elena Sigizmundovna, in the Royal Mausoleum in Mtskheta. I love very much this ancient and glorious country. I have been deeply saddened that Russian-Georgian relations in recent years have deteriorated so sharply. I feel sure that these issues will resolved, because the peoples of Russia and Georgia are brethren in their Orthodox faith and in their common historical fate, and because no political influences can destroy what has been built over the span of centuries and that has been sealed with the blood of fathers and grandfathers, who together shed their blood for their country. His Holiness, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia, whom I very much respect and love, is with great wisdom helping to restore the spiritual ties between Russia and Georgia. His recent visit to Moscow was not only important for the Church, but will also benefit relations between the two governments.
Tell us about your son. How have you arranged for his education, and where did he study? What are his interests and what does he do for a living? Does he intend to marry?
Georgii, like me, attended the English School in Madrid and Oxford University. He worked for a time for agencies of the European Union. Now his work is directly connected to Russia. He accepted a position in one of Russia’s biggest mining companies, “Norilsk Nickel,” and in 2008 he began to work there. He is very serious and diligent about his work. He went to Norilsk and met with miners and engineers, and descended 1 kilometer into a mine in order to understand the processes used in the industry. I feel certain that this experience will in many ways be useful for him.
The Grand Duke has many interests: he listens to classical and contemporary music, he enjoys movies, loves to drive automobiles and boats, and sometimes goes hunting with his friends.
The question of the marriage of the heir is for any dynasty a very important matter. At the present time, the Grand Duke is not engaged to marry.
And now, some last quick questions:
What does your typical day look like?
Like that of most people.
What do you do in your spare time; do you have any interests or hobbies?
I love to read, travel, and to garden.
What kind of music do you like?
I like classical music. I love the opera and the ballet.
Who are your favorite writers and artists?
I especially like Gogol and Chekhov. Among artists, I prefer the works of Velázquez.
What cuisines do you like most of all?
We cook dishes from various traditions: Russian, Spanish, Moroccan, and French. I sometimes also like to go to Asian restaurants.
Who are the people you encounter on a daily basis?
Friends, neighbors, and those who work with me.
What holidays do your celebrate in your family?
Easter and Christmas, other major Church holidays, New Years, Victory Day on May 9, the Feast Day of the Royal Passion-Bearers on July 17, and our namedays and birthdays.