A century after the October Revolution that ended his family’s three-century reign of Russia, Hans Georg Yourievsky believes the country needs a tough leader.
But — for now at least — it is not a role for him, the last living great-grandson of a Russian emperor.
Yourievsky, born and raised in Switzerland, traces his line to Tsar Alexander II, the reformer known as the Liberator for freeing Russia’s serfs, modernizing the legal system and pushing for a constitution that would introduce democracy to Russia, reports Reuters.
The reforms came to a halt when Alexander was killed in 1881, soon after marrying his long-time mistress Catherine Dolguruky. Their passionate love affair inspired the 1959 film Katia starring Curd Juergens and Romy Schneider.
For Yourievsky, 55, his great-grandfather’s assassination by revolutionaries marked the beginning of the end of the royal dynasty and a lost chance to move toward a constitutional monarchy that has flourished in other European countries.
“It would have changed a lot” if Alexander’s reforms had been implemented, Yourievsky said in an interview with Reuters just across the river from the Zurich house where Vladimir Lenin lived in exile before returning home to lead the 1917 Bolshevik uprising and founding the Soviet state.
The Bolsheviks killed Tsar Nicholas II and his family of the Romanov dynasty, but the Yourievsky line from Alexander II’s second wife continued.
“For me and for the family it’s not such a good year,” he said of the anniversary, noting many members of his family were killed in the revolution and the civil wars that followed.
Yourievsky, who grew up speaking German and English and whose Russian is not fluent, played down prospects that his family would ever be restored to the throne in Russia.
He and his family believed this was out of the question now, but he added: “History shows us that you can suddenly have incredible turns.”
In effect modern Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, is not that far removed from a constitutional monarchy, he said.
“Russia always needs a strong leader, whatever he is called. What we have now is Putin, he is also strong, (a) very strong leader, a charismatic leader, and that definitely Russia needs. So we are not so far from a modern democratic constitutional system. Theoretically it is possible,” he said.
Yourievsky’s family moved to Switzerland in 1957, and he did not visit Russia until August 1991, ironically the same week that Soviet government officials tried to topple reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
“It was incredible because I didn’t realize that the feeling would be so strong. Touching this soil, standing on Russian earth was just tremendous. There I really realized that my fatherland — not motherland — was Russia.”
His great-grandmother’s family came from the Rurik dynasty in the Kievan Rus – the historical cradle of Russia as well as Ukraine – so modern-day tensions between the two powers were “terrible” for old noble families such as his own, he said.