Russian Czarists Believe They Have Future, Not Just Past
ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) _ With a theatrical wave of his white-gloved hand, Valery Parfenov brushed back his cape to reveal a glittering, tasseled silver epaulet.
″This is the uniform of an officer in the White Army of Gen. Anton Denikin, who killed more Bolsheviks than anyone, may his memory be blessed,″ Parfenov declared loudly. Passers-by stopped on the muddy sidewalk and stared.
Not many years ago, Parfenov would have been arrested for wearing a czarist outfit in public and his brief speech would have ensured a long term in a labor camp or psychiatric hospital.
Today, being a czarist is not only legal; it’s becoming fashionable.
In a country disoriented by rapid economic and political change, people are reaching back into history for stability, dignity and identity.
Parfenov is one of the 23 members of the Monarchist Center of Rostov, all under age 40, who pine for the days when Russia was a great empire ruled by the Romanov czars.
Similar groups, some with more than 100 members, have been established in at least 17 cities from Rostov in the grain-growing south to Kamchatka in eastern Siberia.
Pictures of the last czar, Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children seem to be everywhere: on cheap commemorative postcards and $100 lacquer boxes, on calendars, posters, lapel pins and key rings.
Nicholas abdicated in 1917 and, the next year, the Bolsheviks executed him and his family.
″We firmly believe that our real lords and rulers will return to our long- suffering Russia,″ A. Veuskitsky wrote in a guest book at an exhibit of Romanov family photographs in Moscow. ″We love you and are waiting for you.″
Another visitor, retired engineer Nikolai Stanyukovich, 66, proudly produced from his wallet a drawing of his family crest: a pair of dolphins under a crown. He said he found it in the state archives, now crowded with Russians researching their ancestry in hopes of proving noble descent.
″If you don’t get there early, you can’t get a seat,″ he said.
Russian media gave extensive, sympathetic coverage to the extravagant funeral Mass held April 29 in St. Petersburg for Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich Romanov, who had led the royal dynasty in exile since 1938.
President Boris Yeltsin gave permission for the grand duke, who died in Florida, to be buried in a special Romanov crypt.
″It’s obvious some people believe that, in this time of crisis in the country, the monarchy - standing above parties and factions - could play the role of arbitrator and be an instrument of national reconciliation,″ said a commentary on ″Itogi,″ a weekly television news show.
In a survey commissioned by the show, 43 percent of 1,000 Moscow residents questioned said the monarchy could not be revived, 17 percent said it could and 40 percent were unsure.
The poll, conducted April 30 by the Institute of Parliamentary Sociology in Moscow, had a margin of error of 1 percent, according to the show’s host, Yevgeny Kiselev.
″We still cannot say that revival of the monarchy has a real future here, but at least the question is being widely discussed,″ said Prince Andrei Golitsyn, scion of a noble family and head of the Moscow Nobility League, whose members must prove links to the aristocracy.
One of Yeltsin’s main advisers, Galina Starovoitova, has called for a national debate on the monarchy but does not personally favor its restoration.
″Of course, today when we talk about a monarchy, we mean a civilized monarchy with constitutional limits, although Russia could never have a purely decorative monarch like in England,″ Golitsyn said. ″The monarch here must play a real political role.″
Since the grand duke’s death, the next in line for the throne would be either his daughter, Maria Vladimirovna, or 11-year-old grandson Georgy, who live in Spain.
Some monarchists favor having a new czar chosen by a ″zemsky sobor,″ or meeting of nobles, like the one that elected the first of the Romanovs, Mikhail, in 1613.
That election ended the ″Time of Troubles,″ a period of weak state authority many Russians compare to the present.