The head of the Romanov dynasty and claimant to the abolished Russian Empire, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, has recently been featured in an interview with a Russian news outlet, in which Her Imperial Highness spoke of her love for Tartarstan and monarchist movements within the Crimean peninsula.
During her interview, the Grand Duchess recalled how she first visited the Russian republic in 1993, where she noted that conditions within the area were “as throughout Russia, very difficult.” In the aftermath of the USSR’s collapse, much of the newly established Russian Federation was in a state of flux and suffering from economic collapse. However, with each returning visit, the Grand Duchess also noted that there were gradual but definite improvements to the republic, and how situations have always changed for the better. Her memories of the region are very warm, not doubt helped by the constant welcomes she has received from the populace whenever she visited.
Speaking in glowing terms, Her Imperial Highness praised the people of Tatarstan for their strong sense of spirituality, their constant investments of time and energy into their homeland, and for the many beautiful mosques and buildings.
“Wonderful land!” the Grand Duchess exclaimed. “[…]Wise people and wise governments…They help each other in mutual understanding and work for themselves.”
The interview also noted the actions of the Grand Duchess’s distant ancestor, Catherine the Great, and her actions towards fostering religious tolerance within the Russian Empire towards her non-Orthodox subjects, with particular attention paid to her treatment of Muslim Tartars in Crimea. Following in Peter the Great’s example towards bringing the Enlightenment and Western practices to Russia, Catherine the Great undertook many reforms and efforts to try and integrate people of all faiths into her realm. Such efforts such as by allowing Muslims within the Empire the freedom to build mosques and practice their religion, and trying to heal the divide between the Orthodox Church and the Old Believers. Her actions were not always successful — non-Orthodox subjects suffered sporadic persecutions throughout her reign, and Jews were ultimately denied any sort of rights or freedoms, remaining foreigners in their own homes.
That aside, the interview remembered Empress Catherine fondly, and the Grand Duchess commented that she always received much respect from the communities she visited thanks to her efforts. The Grand Duchess was also insistent that the foundations for amity and concord between Russia’s many different faiths were already laid down in Tsarist times before its overthrow and the Communist Revolution.
Perhaps as a further nod towards the Grand Duchess’s interest in interfaith harmony, there was also comment on how she is very distantly related to the Islamic Prophet Muhammed, due to the complex interplay of European royal marriages. Starting first with the Emir of Seville, the connection was traced through the Kings of Spain, across Europe, and found its way into the Romanov dynasty.
Crimea is also home to a large community of Russian monarchists, who often advocate for a restoration of the Russian tsar in some shape or form. Although the exact specifics are not always agreed upon — some support the Grand Duchess, others support her rival claimant Nicholas Romanov, while others advocate for President Putin to be crowned tsar — it has been gathering strength since the Communist collapse in 1991. Support peaked in 1998 when the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family were identified via DNA testing and buried in a state funeral within St Peter and St Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg. Some polls show as many as a third of Russians are supportive of a restoration, especially amongst the Orthodox clergy, and as recently as this year the Head of Crimea called for Putin to be crowned tsar. So far, the Kremlin has been adamant that no part of Russia should be a monarchy.
Asked why there was such support for the monarchy in Crimea, the Grand Duchess put forward the opinion that people have started to remember the Tsarist period as one of peace, prosperity and stability in comparison to the Soviet years, and the often-turbulent politics of the modern republic.
“They looked to the Tsar like a father, and the Tsar upon them as his children,” she said. “So, there was no conflict between the peoples of Crimea, including the Crimean Tartars. That’s why I think the peninsula is committed to monarchism.”
It is possible she was referring to the deportation of ethnic Tartars from Crimea during the Stalinist years, which saw 230,000 people removed from Crimea to other parts of the USSR by order of the Soviet government. Since 1967 some were allowed to return, and since 1989 Soviet and later Russian authorities condemned the decision as illegal and inhumane.
The interview ended with a quick question about an upcoming Russian historical film Matilda, which depicts the life of Russian ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska and her alleged romance with Tsar Nicholas II. While admitting that she found the film insulting and personally hurtful, calling the premise against her family history “lies and slander,” she did not support the decision to ban the movie.
“Such decision will only make it more noteworthy and give the film the tempting character of forbidden fruit.”
However, she also conceded that Tsar Nicholas II was young and there might have been some genuine attraction but insisted that there was nothing more scandalous.