We here at WWW make no secret of our interest in the post-Soviet world. For the better part of a century, the legacy of the October Bolshevik revolution loomed large over vast swathes of the world, with its influence felt globally and even continuing to this very day. What’s less talked about is what came before, in the days of the Romanov empire. Much like the Bolshevik revolution… The legacy of the Romanov empire is more alive than you might expect.
The Death of the First Romanov Empire
You may be aware that Russia is now a federation led by a president. This is what emerged from the ashes of the USSR, but what came before was an empire led by a ‘Tsar’, a kind of emperor. You may well know why it changed, what with the (in)famous execution of the Romanov dynasty by the Bolsheviks in July of 1918. The Tsar, his wife and their five children were killed in an attempt to wipe out the royal family and crush the influence of the ‘White Russian’ monarchist movement. After all, when there’s nobody left to sit on the throne, what’s the point in being a monarchist?
This was of course just the immediate, close family of the monarch. Naturally, should Nicky boy have died by himself, it would pass to his children. Should they die too, then it passes to even cousins, the bloodline becoming increasingly distant with authority over Russia becoming more remote. The Bolsheviks were aware of this, which is why over the following three months, a further fourteen Romanov blood relatives shared the same fate.
While the White movement blundered on for many years afterwards, being decisively beaten over the course of the Russian civil war, many still dreamed of the Romanov family’s return. For many others, this was a great opportunity. Imposters were out in force, claiming to have survived the execution, no doubt dreaming of laying claim to the vast material wealth of the family and even potentially ruling a nation should the Bolsheviks fall. Some of these cases are worthy of their own articles, but we’re not here to talk about mere imitators. We’re here to talk about the real deal.
Many distant relatives did in fact survive. Though as evidence of how far the lineage had vanished, the closest relative was likely the Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich. You might notice that his last name is not ‘Romanov’. That would be because he was a cousin to Tsar Nicholas, not a brother, a son or anything immediate. This is why when he claimed the right to the throne of the Romanov empire, what remained of the Romanov relatives began factionalism and infighting. Damaging his reputation even further was association with fascist-inclined groups and perhaps even worse, a later desire to reach compromise with the Soviets and maintain some aspects of their structure upon returning to the throne. Needless to say, his death in 1938 probably saved him a great deal of embarrassment.
His son Vladimir followed, spending WW2 in an odd position of being simultaneously imprisoned by the Nazis for refusing to support them, while also issuing statements for Russians to assist the Nazis in overthrowing the Bolsheviks. He somehow survived and went on to marry a Princess from a Georgian dynasty. Due to this princess’s immediate relatives not having ruled Georgia for hundreds of years, with Tsar Nicholas outright saying that a marriage within that family would not be ‘equal’, this carried serious ramifications for an heir’s legitimacy to the throne. Naturally, yet more infighting occurred, leading to the founding of the ‘Romanov Family Association’ in 1979, providing an alternative narrative of who claimed legitimate rights to the throne.
After the USSR
Following Vladimir’s death in 1992, his daughter Maria was considered next in line for the throne… By him. Prince Nicholas of the Romanov Family Association also claimed rightful rulership of Russia at this time, though he had outright married a ‘commoner’, giving him even less right to the rule than Maria. But his argument was that of a loophole. Because there was nobody to strip him of his right to rule, he still had the right to rule. Genius! With no authoritative Romanov head, it seemed like a fairly logical argument, in a pedantic sort of way. Following his death in 2014 and his son’s death in 2016, the male lineage of that side of the family died out completely, severely limiting possibilities for future authority to the throne.
As of now, the Romanov Family Association has largely renounced claims to the Romanov Empire. They claim to desire only what the will of the Russian people desires. But they are not the only Romanovs vying for the throne even today. Prince Andrew Romanov, despite being a rather impressive 97 years old (as of 2020), is regarded by many as the ‘true’ heir to the throne. He is, after all, a grand-nephew of Tsar Nicholas II and the great-great-grandson of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia. As far as funky Russian Tsarist law goes, that puts him in line! But… Being 97, it doesn’t appear that he has much interest in pursuing this goal. The same appears to go for his immediate family, who appear to be living fairly happy lives in America.
Still, we have Maria don’t we? Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna! The great, great granddaughter of Emperor Alexander II! Unlike many others, Maria still does desire the throne of the Romanov family and has been granted some degree of local legitimacy by being recognized by the head of the Orthodox church. This recognition grants her significantly more prestige and recognition than most of her peers, with some foreign governments and royal families bestowing awards and medals upon her. Even more useful is her young son, giving the family line certain continuation even after her death. While she does state that she believes that a return to the throne requires the will of the Russian people, surely this is the definite ruler! …Right?
The New Romanov Empire Micronation
Born on the 12th of June 1952, Prince Karl is a pretender to the throne of the Romanov family. He is the great, great grandson of Emperor Alexander II and while he doesn’t have support from the Orthodox church, he does have support of the Russian Monarchist party. The Monarchist party desires to restore a constitutional monarchy rather than the absolute monarchy of the past, with much more involvement in local level politics and indeed with the Orthodox church. But they decide to go a step further… Who needs to wait for the agreement of the people and state? Why not bring back the Romanov Empire now? In micronation form! Oh yes, we here at WWW love our micronations!
The head of the Monarchist party, Anton Bakov, has stated that he views the throne of the monarch as analogous to the Holy See. By ruling over territory, authority is cemented over all Russian citizens. It seems like rather shaky grounding to me, but it’s a convenient way of creating the Romanov Empire without actually doing anything to the Russian Federation. The proposed Romanov Empire was carefully designed not to step on any toes. Any territory of former imperial Russia that is now independent, such as Finland and Ukraine, are not claimed. What is claimed are primarily maritime territories that the USSR didn’t bother claiming after taking control of Russia. Though they do claim all of Antarctica for some reason.
Bakov founded the nation in 2011 and immediately named himself as Prime Minister (naturally). At this time, Karl was a Lutheran but by 2012, had completed the process of converting to Orthodoxy which made him a valid heir to the throne. Why him and not Maria? Well, she utterly disowned the idea and so Karl was dug up instead. Figures. Upon taking up the post in 2014, Karl’s name was changed to Emperor Nicholas III, Emperor of all Russia. So that was all fine and dandy, but even the tiniest micronation should surely have some territory, right?
The Romanov Empire’s Territory
Well to begin with, legitimacy of territorial claim was dubious. At the very outset, Bakov stated that he had purchased an island called ‘Suvorov’ off the coast of the Cook Islands. The ‘island’ is made up of over twenty small islets surrounding a lagoon in a roughly quadrilateral shape. Most of the islands are little more than a hundred or two hundred meters across, collectively making up 1.6 kilometers of land amongst 9.8 square kilometers of territory. The largest of these islands is staffed by two caretakers who manage yachts entering the territory and monitor the bird life. In other words, it’s not a particularly bustling community. The only thing less impressive than declaring this your nation is the fact that Bakov’s attempt to get there was marred by sea sickness. And then the Cook Islands prime minister stating that he’d never sold the island to Bakov in the first place and had never heard of him. Ouch.
With this failure came several more attempts to secure territory. Offers were made to several nations in the Balkans, Antigua and Barbuda, Kiribati and the Gambia. Following a failed attempt to buy three Kiribati islands in 2017, it seemed like success finally arrived on the 1st of December 2017. The ‘Memorandum of Friendship and Co-Operation between The Republic of the Gambia and the Romanov Empire’ was allegedly signed in Banjul by secretary general Dawda Fadera and the ‘Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Romanov Empire’, Modou Lamin Saidykhan. Well shit. This sounds like the real deal! But… Less than two weeks later, the Gambia utterly denied this claim. Are any of you noticing a pattern of sorts emerging?
As of April 2020, the next plan in motion appears to have been constructing artificial islands off the coast of Venice. Something tells me we’re going to hear some nonsense about an agreement being signed before later hearing that nothing of the sort ever happened. Has anyone else also noticed that ‘ol Karl has disappeared from this story entirely? Some emperor he is.
What is the Romanov Empire meant to be?
Okay, I think we’ve all realized by now that the Romanov Empire is barely a micronation. It barely exists at all, frankly. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t plans for what it should be! There were quite detailed plans in fact, including a massive constitution, which you can read if you have a lot of time on your hands and Google Translate. It would appear that the website has largely fallen into disuse though, given that its front page still speaks longingly of its planned islands around the Gambia, as thought all possibilities hadn’t been firmly kicked to the curb already.
The desire claimed is for the micronation city to be a hub for some of the most advanced industry on the planet, along with a strange claim in their about section of achieving ‘Homo Sapiens 2.0’. My best guess is they want to be like Singapore. Curiously, rather than producing their own currency, plans were to trade entirely in Bitcoin and other unspecified cryptocurrencies. You know, the fake money people buy drugs with on the dark web and which seems to crash every few months. It would in fact appear that the Emperor is hardly a factor in the creation of this libertarian tech dream, merely serving as a pretext of legitimacy for establishing a nation. And I suppose maybe some day claiming some kind of importance back in Mother Russia, or any of its long forgotten, mostly irrelevant territories.
And so that’s that! Quite underwhelming, wouldn’t you agree? The Romanov Empire exists but… Only sort-of. Mostly in theory. With an emperor who may as well not be there. Rest assured, WWW will be keeping an eye on things. Should territory ever finally be bought, we will be among the first to want to visit and document everything you have to offer! But please. We’d prefer not to be paid in Bitcoin.