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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Romanov Head a Reluctant Heir

ROUGEMONT, Switzerland -- When he stepped off the plane in the country he knew only from books, Prince Nicholas Romanov felt he was home.


"I had a clear feeling that I was in my fatherland," he recalls from his first visit to Russia four years ago.


Seventy-five years earlier, the Bolshevik Revolution had ended three centuries of Romanov rule.


Tsar Nicholas II and his family were slain, along with 10 other Romanovs. Those who managed to escape the executioners fled into exile.


French-born Prince Nicholas, 74, is recognized by most members of the extended Romanov family as head of the Imperial House. But he isn't looking to gain the throne. Indeed, he says he opposes the very idea of monarchy.


"It would not solve any of the frightful problems facing Russia," he said at his home in this alpine resort. "And there is no constitutional mentality in the country. A monarch in Russia would be bound to become an autocrat and he would not necessarily be intelligent."


A lover of history who is working on a set of biographies of Russian nobility, Nicholas wants Russia to leave its blood-stained past behind and look to the future. He says a historic step in that process will be the planned St. Petersburg reburial of the remains of the last tsar and of those slain at his side in the city of Yekaterinburg in 1918.


Sitting in a studio filled with books about Russia, the prince said his first visit to his family's homeland in 1992 "was neither traumatic nor dramatic."


"I immediately felt very much at home. Of course, I liked seeing the old white, blue and red flag of Imperial Russia. But I would also have accepted a red flag with hammer and sickle. I always respect history," he said.


Nicholas now has an Italian passport after traveling for most of his life with the papers of a stateless person.


With a laugh, he recalled applying for his first visa to the United States in the 1960s: "I had to swear that I was not a member of the Communist Party."