Russian Czarists See Hope in Economic Woes

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

GRAND Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, heir to the Romanov Dynasty throne, has visited Russia for the first time. But the return of the man who would be czar did not have the masses clamoring to restore the monarchy.For the grand duke the week-long trip that ended Nov. 11 was an emotional one. Born in Finland in 1917, the same year the Bolsheviks seized power, the grand duke had spent his entire life in exile, mainly in France and Spain. "To meet my countryman face to face was a joy that I can't explain," the great-grandson of Czar Alexander II said at a news conference Nov. 6. St. Petersburg residents did not share the grand duke's excitement, however. Only small crowds greeted Vladimir Kirillovich and his wife, Leonida, and many paid the visit little or no attention. With the city, and the entire country, mired in a severe economic crisis, people talked more of a market economy than monarchy. "We need to move forward, not return to the past," said street artist Andrei Malkov. A vast majority of Russians share Mr. Malkov's sentiments, according to a recent poll conducted by the Meneniye independent polling service. In the survey of 20 regions of Russia, only 8.1 percent of those questioned said they wanted Russia to have a czar again, the Tass news agency reported. Tass did not say when the poll was conducted or give a margin for error. The low interest among the population isn't discouraging to those agitating for the restoration of the monarchy. The desire for some kind of a czar will grow as the nation's economic situation deteriorates, said Alexander Morgunov, head of the St. Petersburg Monarchist Center. "The population isn't prepared yet, but in about a year they'll realize this country needs a czar," Mr. Morgunov said. "Monarchy isn't suited for all the world, but the particular historical conditions in Russia make either monarchy or dictatorship the most favored form of government," he continued. "Given the choice between monarchy and dictatorship, we'll choose monarchy." Vladimir Kirillovich said he is ready to return if called upon, adding that his most important task would be to help Russia regain its lost glory. The grand duke has no illusions of regaining the near-absolute powers wielded by the last czar, Nicholas II, who was executed in 1918. Instead, Vladimir Kirillovich favors a constitutional monarchy. The grand duke's views, though generally liberal, are based on a deep feeling of Russian nationalism. He spoke of preserving the territorial integrity of the former Soviet Union, though not through the use of force, and also warned against Russia accepting too much foreign aid. "As a Russian, it's very painful to see our country asking for help," the grand duke said, looking dignified and speaking in stilted, pre-revolutionary Russian. "We must use it sparingly and carefully because I don't want our country to become dependent on other nations." Morgunov said the grand duke is capable of uniting the nation during the present crisis as no one else can. "Religious feelings are growing again," said Morgunov. "In Russia, the czar was not only a symbol of the state, but a link to God."

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