This new year marks the centennial of the February Revolution and the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II from the Russian throne during the darkest days of the First World War.
The Provisional Government that replaced him would, in turn, be overthrown just eight months later during the October Revolution, which saw the establishment of Soviet Russia and the start of the Russian Civil War. A hundred years hence, and nearly twenty-seven years since the collapse of the Soviet government, Russia is still trying to find its place again on the world stage and forge a new identity for itself in the 21st century.
The topic of a restoration of the Russian monarchy is nothing new — the idea has been suggested by numerous sectors of Russian society ever since it was abolished — and now a new voice has lent its support to the motion. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a celibate priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, has declared that Russia should reinstate the old Tsardom, and suggested that the current President, Vladimir Putin, be crowned as Imperial Head of a new Russian Empire. The comments emerged as the Archpriest launched his new book, Faith and Life — So There is No Litter in Your House, whereupon he advocated a constitutional reform of the Russian government.
In his comments, the Archpriest remarked that Russia was a country “with a monarchical mentality”. Expressing his belief that Russia could not be without a Tsar, he put forward Putin as his first choice for the role. “It does not matter if we don’t now have a formal monarchy, I think we can re-make it with Putin at the top.”
Alternatively, the Archpriest said, a member of the Romanov family could also be offered the position. Should either of those options fail, he also suggested that the new imperial dynasty come from an elected head of state. This suggestion does have a degree of historical precedence — a tsar would often be elected by the Zemsky Sobor (an early Russian parliament) whenever there was a lack of a clear heir. Mikhail Romanov, the first Romanov tsar, came to the throne in this fashion in 1613.
“While we don’t have formal monarchy, we have monarchic understanding that Russia cannot be without a tsar,” he insisted. However, he also said that the new tsar “must take advice from the people”.
Archpriest Vsevolod is a noted ultra-conservative who had previously served as the Chairman of the Synodal Department for the Cooperation of Church and Society of the Moscow Patriarchate from 2009 to 2015. After Kirill I, Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, he was found in a survey to be the most widely recognised figure of the Russian Orthodox Church. He’s also a member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation. A man of a worldview highly controversial to Western sensibilities, he has advocated for women found guilty of infidelity or having an abortion should be stripped of property rights, and is an outspoken critic of feminism, LGBT rights, and Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Man.
The current leading heir to the former Russian Empire is Maria Vladimirovna, Grand Duchess of Russia, although her claim is disputed by several male members of the Romanov family. A firm believer in the restoration of the Russian monarchy she has said before that she “is ready to answer the people’s call”, and has styled herself as Her Imperial Highness for much of her life. In 2013, she received the backing of Kirill I, who declared her and her son, Grand Duke George Mikhailiovich, to be the sole heirs to the Romanov dynasty and its legacy.