A descendant of the czarist Romanov dynasty was married in the first royal wedding in over 100 years — kicking off a weekend of lavish events that sparked public curiosity, awe and derision.



In Russia's former imperial capital of St. Petersburg, descendants of the former royal family wed in what's being billed as the first such ceremony in over a century. NPR's Charles Maynes sends us this postcard from St. Petersburg.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: It was in this city in 1917 that the last Russian czar, Nicholas II, was overthrown, setting in motion a grim set of events as local tour guide Olga Vdovichenko explains.

OLGA VDOVICHENKO: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: The czar's family - Nicholas, his wife and five children - were banished to the city of Yekaterinburg and eventually executed by a Bolshevik firing squad, all of which made events in St. Petersburg on Friday unusual. For the first time in more than a century, Russians could again see Romanovs not only happy, but very much alive.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

MAYNES: Under the dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral, Grand Duke George Mikhailovich Romanov married his Italian bride, Victoria Romanovna Bettarini, in an Orthodox ceremony before priests and assembled guests, including the renowned nationalist, Alexander Dugin.

ALEXANDER DUGIN: It's a kind of remembrance of eternal Russia - of Russia, of sacred czars and patriarchs and church. It is more or less as imperial a wedding.

MAYNES: Grand Duke George is the great-grandnephew of Nicholas II. And George is alive only because his great-grandfather, the czar's brother, fled Russia after the revolution. In interviews, George insists he never lost his Russian roots.


GEORGE MIKHAILOVICH ROMANOV: (Through interpreter) My first language was Russian, even though I was born in Spain and raised in France. My grandparents raised me on Russian history and culture. It's always been in my soul.

MAYNES: Today, the grand duke claims he's the hereditary crown prince of the Romanov dynasty, even as some family members disagree, and he has no intention to rule. He runs a charitable foundation, issuing grants, not edicts. But don't tell that to Viktor or Olga...

OLGA: (Speaking Russian).

VIKTOR: (Laughter).

MAYNES: ...A couple of avowed monarchists who, like many at the wedding, declined to give their full names.

VIKTOR: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "Without an emperor, Russia can't exist," says Viktor. "Russia needs a czar, not a Soviet premier or president."

OLGA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "We always knew the Romanovs would return," adds Olga. "We've waited. And now it's finally happened."


MAYNES: The long-awaited royal atmosphere included goose-stepping soldiers, a parade of women in those English wedding hats, and dukes and duchesses of minor European royal families. Taking all this in were Alexander and Ivan, visitors from Siberia who happened on the scene. They seemed confused about the royal lineage.

ALEXANDER: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: "So let me get this straight," says Alexander. "He's the great-great-great-grandnephew of Nicholas' third cousin." "This royal blood is too watered down," added Ivan.

OLEG: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Nearby, Oleg was trying and failing to sell tickets for canal cruises to tourists. He was slightly miffed at the wedding pulling away his customers.

OLEG: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "Besides, we already have Mr. Putin," he joked, noting President Vladimir Putin was practically a monarch after more than two decades in power. Still, some argued, with a country like Russia, with its twists of history, you just never know. Could there be a new czar? Vera, who was working the event checking in guests, says, never say never.

VERA: I think everything can change, like, tomorrow or after tomorrow. Everything can change.


MAYNES: As the royal couple emerged into the cold, well-wishers cheered as the grand duke kissed his bride - the future of the czar's dynasty still far from certain, but George, most certainly, king for a day. Charles Maynes, NPR News, St. Petersburg.

(SOUNDBITE OF KOLOTO'S "FOX TALES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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