Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Russian count belongs to Scotland

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Paul Ignatieff
Paul Ignatieff took part in a ceremony to become a UK citizen

Paul Ignatieff owes his life to the Polish language.

His grandfather, Count Pavel Ignatiev, the last Tsarist minister of education in Russia, was due to be shot during the Bolshevik revolution.

He escaped the bullets thanks to one of his "progressive policies" - granting language rights to Poland.

It prompted the Polish commissar who recognised the man he was holding captive to declare: "We won't shoot that man, he's a good man."

It proved to be enough to allow Count Pavel to escape and start a new life in England.

Now, about 90 years on, his grandson has become a UK citizen at a small ceremony in south west Scotland.

Scotland has been very kind to me and I felt a growing sense that I wanted to belong
Paul Ignatieff
Mr Ignatieff, 72, says that after years spent travelling the globe he wanted to feel he belonged somewhere.

There will not be many of his new fellow countrymen can claim such a colourful background.

"My grandfather was a minister, his father was prime minister and then we have a series of soldiers going back," he explained.

"My grandmother's grandfather was a man who beat Napoleon as he was trying to invade Moscow."

His grandmother herself was a Russian princess and lady-in-waiting to the tsarina.

Tsar Nicholas II
Tsar Nicholas II gave Mr Ignatieff's grandfather his post

By 1919, the country was clearly too dangerous a place for the Ignatiev family and - after the lucky escape courtesy of the Polish language - they fled to England.

They settled on a farm in Sussex before moving to Canada where Pavel's second son Vladimir had a son of his own, Paul, in 1936.

The young man spent his teenage years in Rome where his father was based for his high-level work with the United Nations.

However, after "academic failure" he was given an ultimatum when he turned 21.

Mr Ignatieff explained: "He sent me back to Canada with $125 and a one-way ticket and said: 'You make your living in Canada and then you can live anywhere else happily.'

"I suppose that is what has happened."

That is something of an understatement.

He has worked all over the world with the United Nations and Unicef.

It took him to Cambodia, New York, Ethiopia, Japan and Australia but when he decided to retire it was to his wife's family's homeland of Dumfriesshire.

"When you have had a very active career and you retire it is rather like stepping off an express train dead stop," said Mr Ignatieff.

"The thought of boredom is very frightening - it has never happened here."

'A bit motivated'

However, he did feel a little "envy" of his friends in the area who have such a clear sense of belonging.

It prompted his decision to go through the citizenship process this week.

"First of all, all my family, my children are all UK citizens," he said.

"Suddenly, I just felt I wanted to do it.

"Scotland has been very kind to me and I felt a growing sense that I wanted to belong."

He might still stand out a bit as he is entitled, if a little reluctant, to use the title of count given to his grandfather.

"It equates to an earl and it's something that keeps me a bit motivated, I guess," he said.

Before he added with a distinctly Scottish brogue: "But ye cannae trade on it!"

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