Staunton, July 22 – After flirting with monarchism on several occasions, Vladimir Putin has now rejected it seeing the restoration of a monarchy, constitutional or absolute, as a move that would not “prolong” his rule forever but “on the contrary, replace him with another, more worthy and ‘lawful’ ruler,” much as the restoration of the monarchy in Spain did after Franco.
Seen from this perspective, Daniil Kotsyubinsky, a Russian nationalist commentator, argues on the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, recent popular interest in a new monarchy in Russia is “nothing other than one of the forms of anti-authoritarian protest against Vladimir Putin” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2013/07/20/1154494.html).
Interest in restoring some kind of monarchical system in Russia has surfaced periodically since 1991, sometimes in the elites and sometimes in the population, the commentator continues. In the mid-1990s, those around Boris Yeltsin pushed for crowning Georgy Mikhaylovich as tsar with Yeltsin as the all-powerful regent.
But that boomlet soon collapsed. On the one hand, Georgy, a descendent of Grand Duke Kirill who proclaimed himself emperor in 1924, was not viewed by all Russians or even all Russian monarchists as legitimate. And on the other, Yeltsin’s own authority fell so quickly in the second half of the 1990s that the idea of “’a regency’” lost any significance.
Under Putin, the idea of a regency has never been that attractive. But some Russians have proposed “a second, more radical variant for the restoration of the Russian monarchy,” one that would preserve the unlimited power of the current president: That would involve his coronation as tsar.
Putin himself has typically distanced himself from any such notion. In 2002, for example, he said that “It is impossible to divert Russia from the path of democratic transformations.” But monarchist discussions increased once again in 2008 when it was unclear how Putin would remain in power if he were to leave the presidency as constitutionally required.
Some near the Kremlin argued at that time, Kotsyubinsky says, that Putin “de facto was already a tsar and thus any decision which he takes is law,” that the transformation of Russia into a monarchy would thus “change nothing in principle,” and that “only the power of an absolute monarchy could bring the country good.”
Among those making such arguments at the time, the commentator says, were Stanislav Belkovsky, Aleksandr Dugin, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. And others involved even came up with an alternative tsar: Prince Michael of Kent, more acceptable because he is not a Kirillovite with Yeltsin associations and was promoting British-Russian friendship, then a Putin priority.
Yet another upsurge of interest in monarchical ideas occurred in early 2012, Kotsyubinsky says, when Russians were talking about how to move beyond the Putin-Medvedev “tandem.” The Eurasianists at that time even declared that “a monarchy will be restored in Russia in 2015” (gumilev-center.ru/monarkhiya-budet-vosstanovlena-v-rossii-v-2015-s-novym-godom/).
Putin’s own promotion of anti-Western and Orthodox-autocratic values has helped push up support for a monarchy among Russians, and the commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty this year have only reinforced the idea that Russia needs a strong hand or will fall into a new time of troubles.
But increasingly this support for the restoration of a monarchy comes from the population and is directed against Putin and his “power vertical,” something the Russian president clearly understands. The reasons for this are clear: Putin by his own attacks on democracy and the West and the failures of the last two decades provide fertile soil for monarchist ideas to take root.
Polls show, however, that monarchism is not growing fastest where many would expect: among the older, less educated and more rural Russians but rather among students, the better educated and more urban ones, precisely the group most opposed to Putin’s authoritarian manner of rule.
Kotsyubinsky cites one monarchist leader as observing that “we have a monarchy in Russia now, but it isn’t legitimate.” And that notion, that the Putin regime because of its own approach has delegitimized itself is a genuine if long-term threat to its and his survival, especially if his approval ratings continue to fall.
One should not exaggerate the size or influence of monarchists in Russia today, but they have already made enough of an impact that Archpriest Vsevelod Chaplin, who often speaks for the Kremlin on such questions, recently denounced what he called “the danger of ‘a westernist monarchical deviation,’” an apparent reference to a Spanish-like outcome for Russia.