Vasily Maklakov

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Maklakov in 1917 as ambassador to France.

Vasily Alekseyevich Maklakov (Russian: Васи́лий Алексе́евич Маклако́в; May 22 [O.S. May 10] 1869, Moscow – July 15, 1957, Baden) was a Russian trial lawyer and liberal parliamentary orator, one of the leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party and Russian Freemasonry, notable for his advocacy of a constitutional Russian state. His brother Nikolay Maklakov served as Russia's Interior Minister from 16 December 1912 – 5 June 1915.

Imperial Russia[edit]

Maklakov was the son of a Moscow ophthalmology professor. He studied with Sir Paul Vinogradoff towards Ph.D. in History at Moscow University; his thesis was dedicated to the political institutions of ancient Athens. The student was impressed by French political life during a visit to Paris in 1889 and spent most of his career attempting to establish a similar system in Russia.

Entering the bar in 1895, Maklakov expressed his admiration for the teachings of Leo Tolstoy and, at the novelist's urging, undertook the defence of the Tolstoyans persecuted by the government. He later authored a book about Tolstoy. Maklakov gradually made a name for himself as a brilliant orator with "a profound veneration for legal form".[1] A high point of his legal career was the defence of Menahem Mendel Beilis, a Jew wrongfully accused of ritual murder of an Orthodox child in 1913.

Maklakov joined a moderate reform group in 1904 and played an active part in the organization of the Constitutional Democratic Party two years later, serving on its central committee. The most conservative of the Kadet leaders, Maklakov was anxious to preserve the party's unity, which appeared fragile in the face of his many ideological clashes with Pavel Milyukov, reputed for his intransigent liberal individualism.[2]

Maklakov was elected by the Muscovites to the Second State Duma in 1907 and served in the subsequent Dumas until the Revolution of 1917. In such memorable addresses as that delivered on the Yevno Azef affair, he tended toward conservatism, opposing alliances with revolutionaries. But he grew hostile to the government as the years passed and actively supported the Progressive Bloc, a coalition of liberal parties in the Fourth Duma that called for sweeping reforms.

In September 1915 Maklakov published his most famous article, describing Russia as a vehicle with no brakes, driven along a narrow mountain path by a "mad chauffeur", a reference to either the Tsar or Grigory Rasputin.[3] The extent of his involvement in the murder of the "mad monk" is a matter of keen debate. One of the participants in the assassination, Vladimir Purishkevich, claimed that it was Maklakov who supplied Prince Felix Yusupov with poison to murder Rasputin [2][3], but he himself denied it.[4][5][6]

Following the February Revolution of 1917, Maklakov aspired to take the office of Minister of Justice in the Provisional Government. After the post went to another professional lawyer, Alexander Kerensky, Maklakov was put in charge of the government's "legal commission". He was heavily involved in the preparation of the elections of the Constituent Assembly, of which he was later elected a member.


In October 1917, Maklakov was appointed to replace Alexander Izvolsky as Ambassador to France. When he arrived in Paris, Maklakov learned of the Bolshevik takeover; he nevertheless continued to occupy the splendid mansion of the Russian embassy for seven years, until France found it necessary to recognize the Bolshevik government. Amongst other accomplishments, Maklakov took control of the Okhrana archives stored at the embassy and arranged their transfer to Stanford University in the United States.

Throughout this period, French authorities considered Maklakov "an ambassador who had not yet been accredited".[7] There was considerable ambiguity in this position. For example, he once received a letter from Premier Clemenceau addressed to "Son Excellence Monsieur Maklakoff, Ambassade de Russie", with the lightly erased letters "ur" at the end of "Ambassade".[8] Maklakov lightly compared himself to "a magazine that one puts on a seat to show that it is occupied".[9]

In September 1920, Maklakov visited the Crimea to meet Pyotr Wrangel and other White Russian leaders. This was his last visit to Russia. Later, he assumed control of a network of offices Russes that certified marriages and births of Russian émigrés throughout France and performed other work normally undertaken by Russian consulates. Despite encroaching deafness, Maklakov remained at the helm of the Russian Emigration Office (eventually subsumed into the structure of Charles de Gaulle's government) until his death at the age of 88. His front-rank reputation and talent for mediation allowed Maklakov (rather than better-known but controversial men like Kerensky and Miliukov) to manoeuvre between the many warring factions that made up the Russian émigré community and to represent their interests in dealing with the French government. He also wrote several books on the history of social thought and the Russian liberal movement.

The German Gestapo arrested Maklakov in April 1941; he then spent several months in jail without trial. Throughout World War II, he kept in touch with the French Resistance movement. In February 1945, Maklakov and several surviving members of the Provisional Government visited the Soviet embassy to express their pride and gratitude for the war effort of the Russian people. The visit was controversial among the émigré community, particularly after émigrés learned that Maklakov and others had drunk a toast "to the motherland, to the Red Army, to Stalin".[10]


  • Hamza, Gabor, Some Remarks on the Educational Background and Political Career of Alexander Fjodorovits Kerensky in (Tzarist) Russia. Polgari Szemle 11 (2015) 394-397. pp.
  • Hamza, Gabor, Survey on the oeuvre of Vasilij Aleksejevic Maklakov (1869-1957), the Statesman, Diplomat and Scholar of Classical Antiquity. Jogelmeleti Szemle 2016/4.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnston, Robert Harold. New Mecca, New Babylon: Paris and the Russian Exiles, 1920–1945. McGill-Queen's Press, 1988. Page 175.
  2. ^ The Twilight of Imperial Russia. Oxford University Press US, 1974. ISBN 0-19-519787-9. Page 169.
    Simmons, Ernest J. Two Types of Russian Liberalism: Maklakov and Miliukov, in Continuity and Change in Russian and Soviet Thought. Harvard University Press, 1955, 129–43.
  3. ^ Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy: Russian Revolution, 1891-1924, page 276
  4. ^ Pourichkévitch, V. (1924) Comment j'ai tué Raspoutine, Preface.
  5. ^ The Rasputin File by Edvard Radzinsky
  6. ^ The Russian Revolution and Civil War 1917-1921: An Annotated Bibliography by Jonathan Smele [1]
  7. ^ Hassell, James E. Russian Refugees in France and the United States Between the World Wars. DIANE, 1991. Page 25.
  8. ^ Quoted from Hassell, page 33.
  9. ^ Hassell, page 25.
  10. ^ Boyd, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Princeton University Press, 1991. Page 84.