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World Perspective | RUSSIA

Romanov Scion Is Rising Czar Awaiting Monarchy's Return

June 21, 1997|VANORA BENNETT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KOSTROMA, Russia — He's 16 years old, lives in Spain and likes pizza. But Grand Duke Georgy Mikhailovich Romanov is ready to drop his modern European life, if his people call on him, and become czar of Russia.

"I don't know what the people will want," this unlikely autocrat told the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. But he and his mother, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who say they have the best claim to the throne among the dozens of descendants of the last czar, Nicholas II, plan to visit Russia this summer.

There the boy prince intends to swear the traditional vow of the czarevitch, or czar-in-waiting, to "Russia, the Orthodox faith and the imperial house."

The place they have chosen for the rite is an idyllic vision of eternal Russia--the onion-domed Ipatyevsky Monastery on the Volga River here, spiritual birthplace of the Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia for 300 years.

Their planned visit has gotten the nod from Russia's current authorities.

President Boris N. Yeltsin wants Russia to make peace with its difficult past: Nicholas II was executed by Bolsheviks after the 1917 Revolution.

Russian newspapers said the itinerary for Georgy's visit includes meetings with government, military and church officials. Obshchaya Gazeta reported earlier this month that First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Y. Nemtsov will accompany Georgy.

At the same time, there were reports that Nemtsov was working on a document giving the grand duke and grand duchess "special civil status" and that Yeltsin had approved a similar document in the fall though later put it aside.

The question pundits started asking--could Yeltsin, whose final term expires in 2000, mean to restore a constitutional monarchy?--has been raised several times since 1991, as the president flirted quietly with the Romanovs.

Kremlin officials tentatively make comparisons with the Spanish royal family. King Juan Carlos I was groomed for years to take the throne and did so in 1975 after dictator Gen. Francisco Franco died.

Georgy's maternal grandfather, Grand Duke Vladimir Romanov, visited Russia in 1991. Since his death, Georgy and his mother have requested permission to make a permanent home in Russia. There has been no official reply.

In January, NTV network anchor Yevgeny Kiselyov raised the idea of restoring a constitutional monarchy, suggesting that it might be better for Yeltsin to be replaced by a Romanov than by a Communist.

"The Kremlin might be quite serious about restoring the monarchy," journalist Alexander Minkin wrote in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. "Kiselyov is close to the Kremlin. What he says is not accidental. The Kremlin uses him to test public reaction."

But public reaction has not been positive. To modern Russians, the idea of a czar is an anachronism. Even some monarchists are against recognizing Georgy as czarevitch.

Georgy's mother, grandfather and great-grandfather all made marriages that broke the old imperial law of succession and could bar him from the throne. His mother married a German prince. Georgy's opponents--and his father--say the boy's family name is not Romanov, after his mother's family, but Hohenzollern, after his father's. His grandfather married a nonroyal Georgian-Russian aristocrat. His great-grandfather married a non-Orthodox Lutheran.

Prince Nikolai Romanov, a cousin viewed by many as the real head of the royal house, does not want to be czar but calls Georgy's plans to swear a czarevitch's vow "a charade."

The down-to-earth mayor of Kostroma, Boris K. Korobov, agrees. He has postponed Georgy's oath-taking ceremony "until the Romanovs can restore order inside their own dynasty."

The Kremlin has taken note. Nemtsov aides said recently that the idea of giving Georgy some kind of official status had been discussed and rejected, though Georgy could still return to Russia as a private individual.

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