TAG | Russia
Russia’s fusion of nationalism, Russian Orthodox Christianity and reverence for (heavily sanitized) aspects of the Soviet past continues to evolve in less than reassuring ways
As voters in most of Ukraine prepare to go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new parliament, the rebels in the east are planning their own vote a week later. For many of the pro-Russian rebels, both local and Russian volunteers, their political vision for the region is the creation of “Novorossia”, a kind of new, improved Russia.
“We are fighting for the liberation of all Russian lands and we are ready to march all the way to the Danube,” says Alexander Matyushin, a rebel field commander.
“We must restore the historic injustice which befell the Russian people in the 20th Century. We need to take land which is ours by right and bring it back into the fold of Holy Russia.”
Matyushin’s fighters – just over 100 of them – are stationed in his native Makiivka, a suburb of Donetsk, which is the largest city under rebel control in eastern Ukraine. The great irony of this conflict is that 10 years ago Mr Matyushin was on the other side of the political divide which now splits this country in two.
He used to work with a far-right Ukrainian nationalist, Dmytro Korchynsky. “We had the idea of a Christian Orthodox revolution back then,” explains Mr Matyushin. “Our ambition was to create an Orthodox al-Qaeda.”
A legacy of communism, in Ukraine as well as Russia, was civil society in ruins, a gap that was—and is—an invitation to the extremes.
Back to the BBC:
The rebels say they have 18,000 volunteer fighters, mostly from Russia, and that more are keen on joining. Several far-right organisations are involved in the online recruitment process. One of them is the Eurasian Movement, a far-right political group with an international reach, founded by ultra-nationalist philosopher Alexander Dugin. Close to the Ukrainian border, in the Russian city of Rostov, one of Dugin’s Eurasian activists, Mikhail Uchitel, is working with Russian volunteer fighters who have been signed up online in preparation for their journey into Ukraine. Although the recruitment process is taking place in Russia, Mr Uchitel is adamant that the rebels do not answer to Moscow.
Yes and no, I’d say. And sometimes, I suspect, puppets just don’t see the strings.
“Leninland,” which was two years in the making, focuses on the massive, tomb-like Lenin Museum at the estate outside of Moscow where the Soviet founder spent his final days and died. The museum complex was built there in 1987, after the period of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika had already begun….
In the “Leninland” trailer, a museum researcher named Yevgenia describes her work in an office decorated with a shrine of Lenin memorabilia mixed in with Orthodox and Buddhist images. “It isn’t about Lenin or defending a concrete person — no matter how wonderful a genius he was — and he really was unique, remarkable, Mahatma Lenin,” she says. “It is about a future for people that they must acknowledge.”
….A deputy director of the museum tells Kurov in the film that “the vibrations of Christ” are still felt on the territory of Lenin’s estate — ignoring the fact that this was the very place where Lenin, an atheist, dictated his instructions to the Politburo on the confiscation of church property and the mass persecution of priests.
Just another reminder that Soviet communism was indeed an expression of an all too religious impulse.
A senior adviser to rebels in eastern Ukraine has confirmed that extrajudicial killings have been carried out “to prevent chaos”. Igor Druz told the BBC such “executions” sent an important signal to the rest of the rebel forces. He also said Ukraine’s government was a “terrorist” organisation, committing war crimes against civilians….
Igor Druz is advisor to the rebels’ military commander Igor Strelkov, and a senior spokesman for the rebel-held territories of Donetsk region. He is in charge of the ideology of the eastern Ukrainian rebel movement. In an interview with the BBC in Donetsk he outlined his vision of the so-called ‘state of Novorossia’ they hope to build here.
He says heis a strong supporter of Orthodox Christian morality and family values, and opposed to homosexuality. He hopes to legalise death penalty for the most serious crimes and he is sure that most rebels will support him in this initiative.
… Mr Druz said the rebels wanted to establish a socially responsible state that would protect Christian values.
The use of the term “rebels” to describe these men, a good number of whom are simply invaders who have crossed over the border from Russia, can, to put it mildly, be questioned. And the ideology being described by Druz is quite clearly an echo of that which has been adopted by Putin (to the applause, regrettably, of some on the American right), an ideology descended from the nineteenth century idea of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality”.
And that “Nationality” is not Ukrainian.
The picture behind Druz in the photo that comes with this story says plenty too. Lenin, it seems, has been replaced by another icon.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
Here’s Radio Free Europe with a reminder of how “traditional” values are playing out in today’s Russia:
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has awarded Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov with an order for “glory and honor.” Patriarch Kirill gave the order to Zyuganov in Moscow on June 27, one day after the longtime communist leader celebrated his 70th birthday.
Kirill said Zyuganov — who in 2010 called for the re-Stalinization of Russia and has called the Soviet Union “the most humane state in human history” — deserves the award as “one of the most famous Russian politicians who has expressed interest in the welfare of the nation and the protection of traditional moral values”.
And to think there are those who still believe that Pussy Riot was the problem.
Estonia’s president Toomas Hendrik Ilves tweets:
Syncretism: the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.
Pause to consider the outrage if a similar icon, but bearing the picture of Hitler, had been included in a march in Germany.
And here’s Serge Schmemann writing in the National Geographic back in 2009:
…Some astoundingly dark and retrograde notions openly circulate in reactionary churches and on nationalist websites. One is a drive to canonize Rasputin and Ivan the Terrible, two of the more noxious characters of Russian history who have been reinvented by extremists as “defenders of Holy Russia.”
Outside St. Petersburg, the decaying summer palaces of old Russia’s tsars and grand dukes overlook the Gulf of Finland. Behind the ruins of one such palace stands a tiny, half-restored chapel. Inside I come face-to-face with a spectacle that makes me gasp—a large icon of Joseph Stalin. He’s not wearing the halo of a saint, but a saint is blessing him.
The icon depicts a legend in which Stalin, at the outbreak of World War II, secretly visits St. Matryona of Moscow, a blind and paralyzed woman to whom many people came for spiritual guidance until her death in 1952. According to the legend she counseled the Soviet dictator not to flee Moscow before the invading German Army, but to stand firm against the onslaught.
The chapel’s pastor, Evstafy Zhakov, is a fiery nationalist highly regarded by his flock for his charismatic sermons. In an interview with the right-wing newspaper Zavtra, he defended the icon by explaining that Russia has a long tradition of saints blessing warriors before battle.
“But Stalin was an atheist,” the interviewer interjected.
“How do you know?” Father Evstafy retorted. Two wartime patriarchs proclaimed Stalin a believer, “and I will believe them before I believe all these liberals and democrats.”
The Aviationist reports:
A Tupolev Tu-214SR, used as a communication relay aircraft often dispatched by the Russian Air Force to accompany Putin’s presidential aircraft or other Moscow’s VIPs on their trips, has departed from St. Petersburg and it is currently circling near the border with Finland.
The orbit RSD49 (the radio callsign of the aircraft) is flying, centered on the island of Valaam, the largest in Lake Ladoga, where Putin is visiting his “spiritual mentor”, brings the Tu-214 as close as 20 km from the Finnish border.
There’s something nastily appropriate about that. The Valaam monastery is in a part of Karelia that was Finnish territory until stolen by Stalin in 1940.
In other Russian Orthodox news, note this detail from the recent account of a visit to “separatist”-occupied Slavyansk (eastern Ukraine) by the Belarusian journalist Dzmitry Halko:
[T]hey are in complete control of the city; Slavyansk is occupied.
Q: And what do they call themselves, these armed men?
A: They do not introduce themselves. They have signs everywhere saying “Donbas People’s Militia.” But no one introduced himself to us. No one said anything about himself.
The only person who spoke to us was a civilian who was standing at these roadblocks with a ribbon of St. George [symbol of loyalty to Russia] and without a mask. Some kind of hardcore Orthodox fundamentalist. Only with him was it clear who he was, that he was a local; he even showed his passport – he has retained a Soviet passport in which there was a column for nationality; in it was written: “Russian.” He is proud of this. And he says that we are all Orthodox Russians here. That means, we do not want this “European plague.”
Only he spoke with us in a normal way, and told us about his motives at least. Incidentally, among these people there are many with beards, but not because they have not shaved for many days, but really long beards, as if they were some kind of Orthodox brotherhood. Many say they are from Slavyansk, I do not know.
Pat Buchanan, writing in Human Events, appears to suggest that Vladimir Putin may, so to speak, be on the side of the angels:
In his Kremlin defense of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin, even before he began listing the battles where Russian blood had been shed on Crimean soil, spoke of an older deeper bond.
Crimea, said Putin, “is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”
Russia is a Christian country, Putin was saying.
This speech recalls last December’s address where the former KGB chief spoke of Russia as standing against a decadent West:
“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”
Heard any Western leader, say, Barack Obama, talk like that lately?
…Author Masha Gessen, who has written a book on Putin, says of his last two years, “Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world.”
But the war to be waged with the West is not with rockets. It is a cultural, social, moral war where Russia’s role, in Putin’s words, is to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”
Would that be the “chaotic darkness” and “primitive state” of mankind, before the Light came into the world?
This writer was startled to read in the Jan-Feb. newsletter from the social conservative World Council of Families in Rockford, Ill., that, of the “ten best trends” in the world in 2013, number one was “Russia Emerges as Pro-Family Leader.”
In 2013, the Kremlin imposed a ban on homosexual propaganda, a ban on abortion advertising, a ban on abortions after 12 weeks and a ban on sacrilegious insults to religious believers.
“While the other super-powers march to a pagan world-view,” writes WCF’s Allan Carlson, “Russia is defending Judeo-Christian values. During the Soviet era, Western communists flocked to Moscow. This year, World Congress of Families VII will be held in Moscow, Sept. 10-12.”
Will Vladimir Putin give the keynote?
In the new ideological Cold War, whose side is God on now?
On the corruption of the Russian Orthodox Church: nothing.
On the bullying of other (non-Orthodox) Christian denominations: nothing.
And on so much else: nothing.
People believe what they want to believe and they see what they want to see.
…Then came Russia’s takeover of Crimea, and Mr. Rohrabacher had to draw the line — in favor of Mr. Putin.
“There have been dramatic reforms in Russia that are not being recognized by my colleagues…The churches are full. There are opposition papers being distributed on every newsstand in Russia. You’ve got people demonstrating in the parks. You’ve got a much different Russia than it was under Communism, but you’ve got a lot of people who still can’t get over that Communism has fallen.”
What about Pussy Riot, the Russian protest group? Its members were jailed for criticizing Mr. Putin, released, then publicly flogged when they showed up at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“Well, I don’t think that happens often,” Mr. Rohrabacher said with a shrug. “There are lots of people demonstrating in the streets of Russia who are perfectly free to do so.”
Don’t get me wrong, Russia has changed immensely (and generally for the better) since the fall of the Soviet Union, but there is a middle ground between accepting that the old Cold War certainties no longer apply on the one hand, and a starry-eyed enthusiasm for the emerging new Russia on the other, but that’s not where Dana Rohrabacher stands.
Meanwhile, Right Wing Watch (I know, I know) reports that Concerned Women of America will no longer be attending a ‘World Congress of Families’ summit scheduled to be held in the Kremlin later this year. The group’s CEO Penny Nance has said, “I don’t want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.” Well, it’s taken a while for the penny to drop, Penny, but good.
On the other hand:
CWA’s choice is especially surprising because its senior fellow, Janice Shaw Crouse, is amember of the board of the World Congress of Families and has been a vocal defender of Putin’s social policies. Last month, Crouse even appeared at a press conference promoting the Moscow summit.
Now the question becomes whether other American groups will follow Nance’s lead. An organizing meeting for the event in October included Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, Benjamin Bull of Alliance Defending Freedom, Justin Murff of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.
A draft program for the event that was obtained by Buzzfeed includes speeches by ADF president Allan Sears, Focus president Jim Daly, Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, Brown, Ruse and Murff, among others.
In addition, the World Congress of Families receives funding from “partner organizations” including the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and Americans United for Life.
The World Congress of Families’ Larry Jacobs said at last month’s press conference that members of the U.S. Congress would also attend the event, though he would not specify which ones since he said their confirmations were not yet finalized. The draft program also accounts for speeches from unidentified members of Congress. to speak.
As we’ve noted, the planned summit is more than just a trip to Moscow. It’s being held at the Kremlin with funding from key Putin allies and will include a joint forum with Russia’s parliament. In addition, the World Congress of Families itself has been working to support Putin’s crackdown on LGBT rights in Russia…
Ruse articulated the apparent attitude of many American groups when he told Buzzfeed that although the Ukraine invasion “muddied the water,” he had not been concerned about working so closely with the Putin regime until now, “because the Russian government has been quite good on our issues.”
Useful idiots, redux.