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Monarchists Dream of Romanov Return : Russia: A cross between political convention and costume party, a meeting lures royalists of every stripe.

October 07, 1994|SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — In an ornate building near Red Square that was once the palace of Russian nobility, more than 1,000 monarchists gathered Thursday with the aim of restoring the Romanov dynasty.

"The Russian state needs a czar," thundered ultranationalist Dmitri D. Vasilyev from a podium decorated with a two-headed Romanov eagle, as black-robed Orthodox priests and men dressed in pre-revolutionary Russian army officers' uniforms cheered. "A Russian Orthodox Christian cannot but be a monarchist," he said.

In a cross between political convention and costume party, the first meeting of the All-Russian Monarchist Assembly attracted royalists from every political and fashion sect of the new Russia.

Elegant descendants of Russian nobles, some introducing themselves as princes and counts, came in bow ties. Neo-fascists came in black leather jackets. Cossacks in tall woolen hats, teen-agers in knee-high leather boots, middle-aged men in White Army officer uniforms and Russian women in heavy eye shadow all gathered in a hall bedecked with 46 massive chandeliers to proclaim their royalist creed: "God, Czar and Country."

In the hallways, intrigue swirled among allies of the many pretenders to the Romanov throne last occupied by the slain Czar Nicholas II.

Though British and Russian scholars studying bones discovered in Yekaterinburg in 1992 have concluded that they are the remains of the czar and his family, murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, some monarchists are not so sure.

The leading candidate appeared to be the Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who is descended from Nicholas' brother, or her son. Thirteen-year-old Grand Duke Georgy Romanov was raised in Paris but enrolled this fall at the Nakhimovskoye naval academy in St. Petersburg. He is to spend three years at the academy, in keeping with a family tradition of military training for Romanov males.

And there are other pretenders, including a Spanish citizen who claims to be Prince Alexei Vasilyevich Romanov-Dolgoruky, the slain czar's great-great-grandson.

Alexei's supporters insist that Czarina Alexandra and three of her daughters survived the Yekaterinburg massacre and escaped, and that Alexei, born in 1946, is the grandson of one of those daughters, Princess Maria. They oppose any royal funeral for the Yekaterinburg bodies and demand an "unbiased" investigation of Alexei's lineage.

Even devout Romanov watchers could not say exactly how many other living relatives of Nicholas II might also aspire to the Romanov throne--if Russia should decide it wants them back.

The monarchists hope to convene a "Zemsky Sobor," an ancient Russian council that elected the first Romanov czar in 1613, to decide who should sit on the Romanov throne--or even whether the new czar must be a Romanov.

The monarchists admit they are not sure how consensus could be achieved in a Russia still deeply divided over its post-Soviet identity and its future. But they agree that Russia must have a supreme ruler to restore its spiritual and moral grandeur.

"When Russia starts to talk democracy, it ends in bloodshed," said Alexander Shtilmark, a 40-year-old geography teacher and leader of the Black Hundred, a pre-Revolution militia with close ties to the Orthodox Church. "It happened in 1917. It happened last year, and I think it will happen again."

Modern democratic election campaigns are based on deceiving voters with promises that cannot possibly be fulfilled, Shtilmark said, while a monarch would not have to lie to his people to stay in power.

"The czar must answer before God," he said.

The ideas of the monarchist movement are a potent brew of Slavophilism, mystical Orthodoxy, nostalgia for pre-Bolshevik times, and the quest to rebuild Greater Russia from the shards of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Many people in Thursday's audience said they favor a constitutional monarchy of the British sort. But others want an autocracy that would restore the primacy of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The monarchist movement also includes anti-Semitic groups such as Vasilyev's Pamyat, which means Memorial. In a speech interrupted several times by applause, Vasilyev exhorted the monarchists to protect Russia against "Zionist-Masonic intervention" from a malevolent West.

Despite its extremist fringe, the monarchists' convention attracted key opposition leaders, including former Constitutional Court Chairman Valery D. Zorkin, former Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi and Russian Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov.

Zyuganov, who controls the second-largest faction in the Russian Parliament, did not endorse the idea of monarchy. But he warned that President Boris N. Yeltsin's regime is as fragile as the government of 1917, with a head of state as unwilling as Czar Nicholas to listen to anyone outside his sycophantic entourage.

"The czar was accountable to God," Zyuganov said. "Yeltsin, it has become clear, is accountable to no one."

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