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Feb/16

13

Two “Brothers”: Pope Francis and the Chekist

pope-francis-patriarch-kirillCross-posted on the Corner.

The Pope’s decision to meet his “brother”, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in, delightfully, Havana (you can find some details here of the way that the persecution of Christians has spiked since last year’s Francis-brokered deal between the Cuban dictatorship and the US) says quite a bit about Francis’ equivocal (I’ll be kind) attitude to individual liberty.

As for Kirill, well, here’s David Satter writing in Forbes back in 2009:

The installation of Kirill I as the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church last month will not end the subordination of the church to the Putin regime. On the contrary, the church is likely to emerge as an even stronger supporter of dictatorship and anti-Western ideology. Kirill, who was the Metropolitan of Smolensk, succeeds Alexei II who died in December after 18 years as head of the Russian Church. According to material from the Soviet archives, Kirill was a KGB agent (as was Alexei). This means he was more than just an informer, of whom there were millions in the Soviet Union. He was an active officer of the organization. Neither Kirill nor Alexei ever acknowledged or apologized for their ties with the security agencies…

On the day after his accession to the Patriarchy, Kirill elaborated on his ideas for “harmoniously” combining the demands of the state and human rights. He said that he wanted to base church-state relations on the Byzantine concept of “symphonia,” in which a distinction is drawn between the imperial authority and the priesthood, with the former concerned with human affairs and the latter with matters divine. The two are regarded as closely interdependent, and neither is subordinated to the other. Church scholars have pointed out that there is no example of symphonia successfully defining church-state relations in our times, and the recent history of the Russian Orthodox church indicates that, faced with the power of the Kremlin, it has no interest in becoming a moral force.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the church received official privileges including the right to import duty-free alcohol and tobacco. In 1995, the Nikolo-Ugreshky Monastery, which is directly subordinated to the patriarchate, earned $350 million from the sale of alcohol. The patriarchate’s department of foreign church relations, which Kirill ran, earned $75 million from the sale of tobacco. But the patriarchate reported an annual budget in 1995-1996 of only $2 million. Kirill’s personal wealth was estimated by the Moscow News in 2006 to be $4 billion.

Thus the affair of the disappearing watch. Disappearing watch?  The BBC explains:

The Russian Orthodox Church has apologised for showing a photo of its leader Patriarch Kirill that was doctored to airbrush out a luxury watch he was wearing. The gold Breguet watch is estimated to be worth more than $30,000 (£19,000) and was spotted by Russian bloggers.

The watch’s reflection could be seen in the 2009 photo on the church’s website.

Clearly—to borrow Francis’ term—a ‘church of the poor’.

Meanwhile, writing in The Catholic Herald last year, Geraldine Fagan explains how the Kirill’s (superficially spiritual) vision of a “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir, a term also used by Putin) that spreads beyond Russia’s current orders has given support to the Kremlin’s adventures in the ‘near abroad’, adventures that have not been good news for religious minorities:

Although ostensibly upholding religious freedom, the Donetsk People’s Republic [a ‘state’ in occupied Ukraine] retains the right to “protect the population from the activity of religious sects”. These “sects” are not defined by the territory’s constitution – but you only have to watch Russian state television to work out who they are. A popular talk show broadcast on the day of Crimea’s annexation focused on “false religions that have destroyed the Ukrainian nation and soul”, including Baptists, charismatic Protestants and Eastern Rite Catholics. Catholics and Protestants are already reporting difficulties in the pro-Moscow areas.

Protestant communities are particularly strong in south-east Ukraine, following a 19th-century spiritual revival among German settlers originally invited there by Catherine the Great. In the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, Protestants report confiscations of their churches as well as the Donetsk Christian University, previously among the largest Protestant institutions of higher education in the former USSR.

In one particularly grave incident in June 2014, four Pentecostal men known for their active mission work were kidnapped by separatists in Slavyansk and later found shot dead, their bodies showing signs of severe beatings. A small Catholic convent founded 18 years ago in the Crimean city of Simferopol was forced to close in late 2014, according to Forum 18 News Service. The convent’s three Franciscan nuns – citizens of Poland and Ukraine – were denied extensions to their residency permits. Six of the peninsula’s 12 Roman Catholic priests had similarly been forced out by the end of last year. Forum 18 also reports that only one of Crimea’s five Eastern Rite Catholic parishes currently has a priest. Being citizens of Ukraine, their seven priests may spend only 90 days at a time on Russian territory before leaving the country for a further 90 days.

Doubtless they will have been delighted by the spectacle in Havana.

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Fili, Moscow, Mar 92 (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

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

BBC:

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.

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Aug/14

2

‘Novorossiya’: A suburb of the Third Rome?

Igor-DruzBBC:

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.

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Apr/14

27

Putin’s Church

Valamo, Finland 1930sThe 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.

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Mar/14

29

Dana Rohrabacher, Again

Pussy Riot in KievDana Rohrabacher, Republican congressman and scourge of Pussy Riot, is at it again.

The New York Times:

…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.

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MoscowMarch15Two of the formerly-jailed Pussy Rioters have been in Moscow today, bravely speaking at a demonstration to oppose what Putin is doing in Ukraine.

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.

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Jan/14

10

Church and States

Novodevichy, Moscow, Feb 91 (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

Russia’s first modern ‘official’ ideology was developed in the early 19th Century, primarily as a response to the potential liberal challenge from both home and abroad, and was summed up in the words Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality. And by nationality, it meant Russian nationality, a key concern for a czar presiding over a multinational empire.

Some traditions die hard. Here’s the Kyiv Post reporting on the disagreement between Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and a firm supporter of the Putin regime, and the Ukrainian patriarch, Filaret:

Commenting on the statement of Russian Christian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill that the EuroMaidan demonstrations are a threat to the spiritual unity of Ukrainians and Russians, the Patriarch of Kyiv and all Rus-Ukraine Filaret stated: “This is not true.”

“If we take the idea that Kirill defends – Rusky Mir (Russian World) – it is not unity, it is empire, wrapped in a nice package. In fact, it is about creating a new empire. The Customs Union is the beginning,” said Filaret, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revival of an economic and political union of former Soviet republics including Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. Putin also hopes to include Ukraine, the second largest former Soviet republic, in the grouping.

According to Filaret, “the truth is to practice the Orthodox faith, and each nation will have its own independent church, as required by the canons of the church.”

I’ve no idea about the canon law, but Filaret is clearly onto something about the politics of all this.

· ·

Aug/12

18

Idiots

Cross-posted on the Corner:

As a piece of political theater, the protest in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior has turned out to be an outstanding success, but that’s only thanks to the overreaction by the authorities. It’s safe to say that most Russians did not approve of the form that the demonstration took, and the three women themselves now say that it was an “ethical mistake” to have done what they did in the cathedral. Under the circumstances, all the government had to do was impose a light punishment. That would both have signaled its own restraint and its distance from actions that genuinely offended many Russians. Call it a ‘silent majority’ strategy. As things turned out, that sort of subtlety was beyond a regime still steeped in its Soviet heritage. Its heavy-handedness has backfired against it within Russia as well as without.

That’s not to say that Putin’s opposition won’t still be giving him assists.

Radio Free Europe reports:

Ukrainian activists from the Femen movement have cut down a cross in central Kyiv in a gesture of solidarity with the [Russian trio]…The cross — erected during Ukraine’s 2004-05 Orange Revolution in memory of the victims of communism — was located near the International Center for Culture and Arts in Kyiv. A topless Femen activist used a chainsaw to cut down the cross.

Femen said in a statement, “On the day of the sentencing, the Femen women’s movement expresses its support and respect . … By this act, Femen calls on all healthy forces of society to mercilessly saw out of their heads all the rotten religious prejudice that serves as a foundation for dictatorship and prevents the development of democracy and women’s freedom.”

Femen is a controversial group, but quite often a force for good. Not on this occasion.

Such an act of vandalism will anger many, religious or not. It is also an insult to the memory of the millions of Ukrainians who suffered and who perished under Communism, not least in 1932-33’s Holodomor, the monstrous man-made famine that Stalin added to the tools he was using to break the back of the Ukrainian nation.

The Kremlin has denied that the Holodomor was genocidal (it is argued instead that it was part of a wider Stalinist tragedy).

Putin will, I suspect, not have been too sorry to see that cross fall.

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