Russia: Monarchist Nostalgia Remains Powerful
PRAGUE, (RFE/RL) - The recent reburial of the remains of Maria Fyodorovna, the Danish princess who married the future Aleksandr III of Russia in 1866, is the latest episode in a long-standing effort to cultivate the idea of restoring the monarchy in Russia.
The idea gained currency under President Boris Yeltsin in 1997, when his close circle, alarmed by the Russian president’s ailing health, started to think about a possible successor. Some of them turned their attention to the living descendents of the Romanov dynasty. That same year, renovation work began at the Kremlin to restore the coronation hall and the tsar’s throne. In 1998, Yeltsin attended a state ceremony to bury the remains of the last Russian emperor, Nicolas II, and his family, who were killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
Interest, however, in the monarchy idea waned as Yeltsin’s circle realized that no living Romanov, for various reasons, had a legitimate claim to the Russian throne and the project was abandoned.
But under Russian President Vladimir Putin interest in Russia’s imperial and monarchical past grew legs once again. In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Nicolas II and his family. Since that time, Russia has seen a boom in the number of monarchist organizations. Recent years have seen the release of hundreds of books and films about the monarchy.
At various times, politicians from across the political spectrum have endorsed constitutional monarchy for Russia, including the former Union of Rightist Forces co-Chairman Boris Nemtsov, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia head Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko.
Many intellectuals and cultural icons have also jumped on the monarchy bandwagon. Two of Russia’s most popular filmmakers, Nikita Mikhalkov and Stanislav Govorukhin, have paraded their monarchist colors. Stanislav Belkovsky, the founder of the National Strategy Institute, said in February 2005: “I believe that the restoration of the monarchy, either formally or informally, is the only choice for Russia, since it is the only way to restore the sanctity of the supreme power.”
A Coordinated Campaign?
The amount of television coverage certainly suggests the Kremlin’s involvement in — or, at the least, tacit approval — of monarchist revivalism. And the state’s hand has been revealed in other places. In 2005, a book called “Project Russia,” by unnamed authors, appeared on the website of a state security veterans organization in St. Petersburg. The book argues that Russia was a monarchy for 1,000 years and, even after 1917, it became a republic only nominally.
The book harshly criticizes Western-style electoral systems and advocates the gradual revival of Russia’s monarchy between 2008 and 2016. It suggests a new monarch could be chosen from among the country’s prominent citizens. The author saw Putin’s 2004 abolition of gubernatorial elections as a first step in this direction. The book suggests using the media — movies, documentaries, talk shows, lectures, and newspapers — to sell the monarchy to the Russian people.
According to Russian media reports, “Project Russia” originated as a seriesof lectures delivered to the cadets at the Federal Security Service (FSB) and military intelligence (GRU) academies. It was later published in a special edition for members of the presidential administration, the government, the army’s General Staff, the Duma, top clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Russian business leaders.
Growing Popular Support
Over the last 10 years, the number of Russians supporting monarchist ideas has risen threefold. A September poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) indicated that 19 percent of Russians agreed with restoring the monarchy, but only if an acceptable candidate can be found. Support is higher in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
But only 6 percent of those who favor the monarchy wanted the future guardian of the realm to be a Romanov. The majority thought a monarch should be a prominent public figure chosen in a referendum. In this way, the poll reveals less the prevalence of monarchist ideas than a traditional Russian desire for strong leadership.
Advantages Of Restoration
The idea of monarchy is intrinsically tied up with the notion of succession, which makes it of special interest to Russia’s current political elite, for whom that issue is a perpetual problem. Many Putin supporters would relish the idea of an anointed successor rather than have to bother with a presidential election.
There is also an international dimension. Many monarchists believe that reviving the monarchy would bolster Russia’s historical ties with Europe. And reviving the monarchy goes hand in hand with the rejection of the 1917 February and October revolutions in Russia. Because those revolutions paved the way for the independence of the Baltic states, Georgia, and Ukraine, among others, revanchists could use the opportunity to revive territorial claims on parts of the former Russian Empire.
But others worry that the monarchist fervor might not stop at mere territorial issues. One Russian humorist quipped recently that the “new Russians,” surely the aristocrats of their age, “want to restore the monarchy only in order to restore serfdom.”
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