After a dozen or so years in New York, we felt the time had come to make a choice between the United States and Europe. We chose our continent. Our decision was aided by an event that changed all the rule: the fall of the Soviet Union.
Personally, I was shocked. I never thought the collapse would be so sudden and rapid. Of course, I wished for it, and knew it was an eventuality, as it is for all empires. But I didn’t think I would see it in my lifetime. I immediately felt a sense of relief. Finally, the nightmare was over, this perpetual menace and danger had vanished, disappeared. This evil empire, one that had brought pain and unhappiness into the lives of millions, for generations, was finally done for.
Many observers had predicted that if the Soviet Union fell, it would collapse form the inside, that is from within Russia, rather than from the satellite states. The exact opposite of what actually happened.
During World War Two, at the Yalta Conference, Churchill brought up the Vatican, and the necessity of including them in any post-war planning. Stalin laughed, “How many divisions does the Vatican have at its disposal?” Now, it was this very same Vatican directing in part the collapse. There were rumors that the Polish John Paul II was elected Pope for this very reason. The end of the Soviet Union had its origin in Poland, led by Lech Walesa and the unions, very likely in collusion with the Polish Pope. I remember Poland shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, when it still reeked of occupation. Despite the presence of Soviets, the Church remained powerful, and rich. She soon proved her power.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, I agreed with the Baltic regaining their independence, the same goes for the Central Asian republics. But I have never understood the independence of Belarus and the Ukraine, which were integral parts of Russia. The Ukraine had been the cradle of the Russian Empire and had never before been an independent state. I find the idea of an independent Ukraine absurd.
During my travels in Russia I have noticed the reemergence of two once buried ghosts from the past. All the churches were now opened, those that I visited were full and I had never before felt or witnessed such fervor. The faithful knelt down with their foreheads to the floor, the magnificent choirs of the Russian church sang celestial songs, clouds of incense smoke rose to the high vaulted ceilings, jeweled priests spoke the hymns with somber voices. The church that the communists tried to uproot was more grounded than ever. One day I was walking in Leningrad, freshly rebaptized Saint-Petersburg, when I saw a procession carrying immense icons. I recognized the depictions of Tsar Nicholas and his wife the empress and their children, all massacred at Ekaterinburg. As even the name and likeness of Nicholas II was forbidden under the Soviet Union, popular opinion now wished to bring them back out into the light. Russians were fascinated and draw to their defunct imperial past, which was never forgotten despite the efforts of the Soviet Union to erase it. Whenever I visit the palaces of my great-grandfather, the Grand Duke Constantine, the caretakers and guardians bombard me with questions about his life and his family.