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PRAVDA.Ru interviews Nikolai Tolstoy

Recently, PRAVDA.Ru had the unique pleasure of interviewing Count Nikolai Tolstoy. Nikolai Tolstoy is a descendent of the late Lev Tolstoy, a well-known historian, and head of the Tolstoy and Miloslavsky families. Currently, Nikolai Tolstoy resides in England with his family.

Greetings Mr. Tolstoy! We appreciate your taken the time to give PRAVDA.Ru this exclusive interview. I would like to start by asking you about your role as head of the senior branch of the Tolstoy and Miloslavsky families. What responsibilities does this position entail?

As the present Head of the senior line of the Tolstoy and Miloslavsky families, I have no formal responsibilities, and my principal concern is to join with other members in ensuring that the traditions and integrity of our family continued to be maintained as in the past. Perhaps I should explain that I am the heir of the senior line of the Tolstoy family in the male line. After their destruction at the hands of Peter the Great following the overthrow of his half-sister the Regent Sophia, the Miloslavsky family became extinct in the male line. As the senior descendant of the Miloslavskys through the marriage in 1642 of our ancestor Andrei Vasilievich Tolstoy to Solominida Miloslavskaya, cousin to the Tsaritsa Maria (first wife of Tsar Alexei Mihailovich), my great-grandfather Pavel Sergeievich Tolstoy (Chamberlain to the Emperor Nicholas II) was authorised by Imperial Decree dated 11 November 1910 to bear the additional surname Miloslavsky. As Head of the Tolstoy family I have inherited the Cross of Saint Spyridon, given by Tsar Vasily the Blind (1425-62) to our ancestor Andrei, who was the first of our family to bear the surname Tolstoy. Saint Spyridon is the Patron Saint of our family.

I am particularly concerned that members of our family should so far as possible continue in coming generations to contribute to the arts especially, and in other ways to the service of our country. In the 19th century Lev Nikolaevich and Alexei Constantinovich Tolstoy provided major contributions to Russian literature, as did Alexei Nikolaevich in the 20th. We are also proud of the great medallist, sculptor, and painter Feodor Petrovich Tolstoy. It should never be necessary for a Tolstoy to rely purely upon his or her aristocratic name and antecedents: we must earn our way with each generation.

In 1920, your father left Russia for England. Did your father talk to you much about his reasons for leaving Russia? If your father were to look at Russia today, what do you think he would say? My father was born in Moscow in 1912, and escaped from Russia to England in 1920. Sadly he died in 1997, but not long after the collapse of Communism he revisited Moscow and was glad to discover the house where he was born in Sivtsev Vrazhek, number 43, appeared just the same as when he had last seen it in 1917. Though he was greatly saddened by the terrible condition in which 70 years of Bolshevism had left his beloved country, he was heartened to think that this barbaric regime had come and gone within his own lifetime. I have a photograph of him as a little boy standing in the street outside the house. It has always been my ambition to try to recover the house for our family, since it is of relatively moderate size, and both I and my family are so frequently in Moscow. In fact our four children have between them lived there for several years. But sadly I doubt whether my ambition will be realised!

My father rarely spoke to me about his escape from Russia: I believe because it was such a terrifying experience for him. However I know all about it, since my great-aunt Lydia Pavlovna and his brave English nurse Lucy Stark who were with him throughout that time described it to me in detail. For two years the three of them were hiding in the homes of faithful servants of our family in the city of Kazan, where my great-uncle had been Marshal of Nobility. The Bolsheviks pronounced a death sentence on all members of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie, regardless of their age and sex. Eventually in 1920 the Soviet regime signed the Treaty of Copenhagen with the British government, the first clause of which provided for the mutual repatriation of citizens of the respective countries held prisoner. Lucy Stark naturally had a British passport, so for her there was no problem. My father, being Russian, would not have escaped but for the fact that brave Lucy pretended he was her illegitimate son. As a consequence, he and Lucy travelled to the Finnish frontier, and sailed from Helsingfors to England. I have a copy of an English newspaper dated 24 May 1920, recording my father's landing at Southampton as a refugee.

What are your memories of your aunt, Alexandra Tolstoy?

I imagine you mean Alexandra Lvovna, the youngest daughter of Lev Nikolaevich. She was not my aunt, since we are collateral members of the same family. I visited her at the Foundation outside New York which she set up to help Russian refugees after the Revolution, and we were both very happy to establish contact. By then she was very old and near to death. I believe she guessed as much, since the one point she began to describe her own father's death, at which of course she had been present. She was a wonderful person, whose organisation performed wonderful help for great numbers of persecuted people who arrived destitute in the West. I am sure her father would have been very proud of her. She was of course his favourite daughter.

I would like to ask you about the incident of 1989, when you were fined 1.5 million pounds by an English court for accusing Lord Aldington of being a war criminal. You wrote about Lord Aldington’s role in handing over refugees and prisoners of war to Russia and Yugoslavia. Please tell us something about this event.

As a boy after the last War (I was born in England in 1935) I met at our Russian church in London and in the йmigrй community many people who told me harrowing stories of large numbers of refugees and prisoners of war from the Soviet Union, who had been liberated from the Germans by the Americans and British, only to be handed over by force to Stalin. At the time I imagined that these were isolated, unauthorised incidents. It was not until about 1973 that I began to learn something of the larger history behind these personal tragedies. The British Government began to release documents relating to the forced repatriation, and a quick examination of them led me to believe that I should place the sufferings of these people, the vast majority of whom were innocent victims, on public record. However I had no idea that time how much work this would involve, still less what troubles it would bring upon me in my family. My first book on the subject, Victims of Yalta, took four years to research and write. This was partly because I had to examine such a vast range of documents, but much more because of the time it to look to track down as many survivors as possible. These included not only former Soviet citizens, but British and American soldiers and senior officials who had been involved. As a result I was able to combine their personal testimony with the record of the official documents. Though the writing of history has no end, and I have since discovered much more, the extent of the evidence was such that it can no longer seriously be challenged.

When the book was published in Britain in 1978 it caused a major scandal, since I severely criticised the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and his civil servants of responsibility for a major war crime in handing over people contrary to the Geneva and Red Cross Conventions in the certain knowledge that they would be killed, tortured, or enslaved. To the credit of the British people, the overwhelming majority of press and public expressed disgust at what had been done by the Government of the day. A subscription was raised by Members of both Houses of Parliament and all political parties, which was used to erect a memorial in the middle of London to the memory of the victims. So far as I am aware, it is the only memorial in London which has been erected in consequence of the publication of a book. I was pleased with the outcome, since though nothing can be done to alleviate the suffering of the victims, I believe it to be an important function of the historian to investigate such crimes, and place the evidence on record. This was a particularly abominable crime, since it was totally unnecessary, and there can be no doubt that one of the principal considerations in the minds of those responsible was the attitude of the certain type of British middle-class functionary that people from Eastern Europe are barbarians who almost enjoys suffering.

Whenever I encounter this mean-minded attitude, I cannot help reflecting that it is this element of the smug English bourgeoisie who represent the real barbarians. After all, what have they contributed to European culture and civilisation? Their callous and philistine attitude was well described by Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy in his short story "Lucerne". However, having lived in England all my life, I hasten to say that such people represent an unpleasant minority, complacent, stupid, and lacking in any aesthetic sense or capacity for religious feeling.

The fine of Ј1,500,000 for me perfectly encapsulated the attitude of the British bourgeois Establishment. What matters to them is not whether one is right or wrong, but the amount of money involved! I am just thankful that I do not share their ideals!

I am particularly interested in the role of the Cossacks who fought on the side of the Axis in WWII. While writing your book, Victims of Yalta, were you able to speak to any surviving Cossacks who participated in these events? Can you tell us something about their reasons for choosing the side that they did?

I would prefer to say that, rather than "fighting on the German side", the Cossacks were fighting against the Soviet regime, which was not only fully the equal of Nazism in its evil nature (they were after all close allies for two years, as I well remember during the Blitz on London), but which was the tyranny they themselves had experienced. There were those who joined Russian units serving in the Wehrmacht because they were given no choice. They were told they could remain in a prisoner of war camp, be shocked - or join up to serve against the Soviets. However my impression is that the majority joined in order to free their country from Communism. Of course, Hitler had not the slightest intention of creating a free Russia - quite the opposite - that this was not something such people could have known.

Indeed, the German officers who commanded them were for the most part honourable men who themselves sincerely believed that they were fighting to overthrow the Soviet regime. Many of these officers were former subjects of the Russian Empire from the Baltic states, who spoke perfect Russian, and were strongly sympathetic to Russian national ideals. It should also be remembered that in Occupied Europe few people were in any position to be aware of the extent of Nazi crimes, which as I well recall were not even understood or believed at the time in Britain. In 1688 the Dutch usurper William of Orange invaded Britain with a powerful army, and drove out the rightful King James II. Many of the noblest English, Scots, and Irish emigrated to serve in the armies of France, Spain, Austria, and even Russia.

One only has to remember the names of Marshal Keith, Admiral Greig, and General Barclay de Tolly, each of whom was an exiled supporter of the house of Stuart. No reasonable-minded person today regards any of them as traitors. The tragedy of the Russians who served with the Germans against the Soviets was that the regime they served was fully as bad as that which they opposed. However this was not something they were in a position to appreciate, and I believe that considerable allowance should be made for the fact.

What caused you to become interested in the forced repatriations of prisoners of war to Russia and Yugoslavia?

We are talking about the cruel fate of millions of people, which to me it is shocking should be forgotten. It is an ironic fact that those of us who survived into the emigration after the Revolution were the fortunate ones, and I feel the more strongly that it is incumbent on us to do what we can to help those who were less lucky. So far as I am concerned, an aristocracy is worthless unless it is governed by a sense of duty. Since I began my researches more than a quarter of a century ago, I have come to know many of the victims whom I have found to be some of the finest people I have ever had the fortune to meet.

You are involved with certain Russian Cossack organizations. Which Cossack organizations are you affiliated with, and what are your affiliations?

I was very honoured when in January 1993 I was appointed by Ataman G.G. Krutov of the Moscow Cossack Krug to the rank of Essaul (Captain) in the Cossack Host. In June 1996 at a military ceremony commemorating the Nazi invasion of Russia I was presented with a ceremonial sabre by the All-Russian Cossack Ataman Alexander Gavrilovich Martynov, and appointed an honorary Terek Cossack.

You are chancellor of the International Monarchist League. What are the goals of this organization? What role does this organization have in affairs dealing with the Russian monarchist organizations? What, if any, role with the Russian royal family play in the future?

The goal of the Monarchist League is to support the idea of monarchy worldwide, and to promote its restoration where appropriate. We have strong links with various Russian monarchist organisations, and of course hope that one day the House of Romanov will fulfil its proper role in a Russia restored to the power and glory it enjoyed in the days of the Empire. At the same time, we strongly advocate the concept of a constitutional monarchy, in which legislative power lies with Parliament and which possesses an independent judiciary. In a huge country like Russia I believe it is essential to have a focal institution which remains above and outside politics, representing continuity and tradition, and acting as a constant reminder of our ancient history and glorious culture.

How often are you able to visit Russia? How well have your books been received in Russia?

I first visited Russia in 1968, when I was struck by a curious mixture of nostalgia for a country which I had only known in emigration, and aversion to a regime which was built on lies, and had seemingly crushed all spontaneity and independence of spirit. However after 1990 I have frequently visited Russia, and though distressed by the poverty and corruption which represent an inevitable legacy of the worst totalitarian regime known in history, feel happy to be back in what I regard as my own country. I am also very proud of the fact that I have been granted a Russian passport, as have my children. My book Victims of Yalta has been published in Russia thanks to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who has throughout been a good friend and supporter in my struggle. Indeed it was his GULAG Archipelago which first inspired me to write my book.

Do you have a current project that you are working on?

At present I am working on a biography of my late stepfather, the well-known novelist Patrick O'Brian, who wrote a series of brilliant historical novels about the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Though I knew him for nearly half a century, he remains a mysterious and enigmatic figure - which makes him a perfect subject for a biography!

Do you have any plans for returning to Russia in the near future?

Though I have no immediate concrete plan, I certainly intend to continue revisiting Russia regularly. I was brought up in the Orthodox faith, as are my four children, and cannot feel altogether at home in a Protestant materialistic country like England - though I should say that there is much about England that I admire and love.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Though I have written and talked much about political issues, I firmly believe that the only way forward is through a return to Christian values, which in Russia are represented above all by our wonderful Orthodox Church.

Thank you for your questions! If you have any further matters, please do not hesitate to raise them. Now I am being called for supper! Nikolai Tolstoy-Miloslavsky

Questions compiled by Justin Cowgill

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