The Return of Alexander III?

Alexander III, St Petersburg, July 2000 (AS)Yet another reminder of why the Pussy Rioters went to the Cathedral.

The Moscow Times reports:

President Vladimir Putin said Friday that the Russian Orthodox Church should be given more say over family life, education and the armed forces in Russia, as he celebrated the leadership of its head Patriarch Kirill.

Faith runs deep in Russia after the fall of the officially atheist Soviet Union, and Putin has looked to the largest religion in the country for support since he began his third term as president after a wave of protests against his rule.

He has also tried to mix spirituality with his own brand of patriotism in order to unify the officially secular country where ethnic and political fault lines are beginning to show.

“At the heart of all Russia’s victories and achievements are patriotism, faith and strength of spirit,” Putin said in the Kremlin’s gold-encrusted Alexeyevsky hall, celebrating the fourth anniversary of Kirill’s accession as patriarch.
Putin’s relationship with the church has strengthened since band members of protest punk band Pussy Riot entered Russia’s Christ the Savior Church last year and sang a vulgarity-laced song, urging the Virgin Mary to “cast out Putin.”

Without giving specifics, Putin said a “vulgar” understanding of secularism must be swept away to give the church, and other religions, control over more aspects of Russian life.

“While preserving the secular nature of our state, and not allowing the over-involvement of the government in church life, we need to get away from the vulgar, primitive understanding of secularism,” he said.

“The Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional religions should get every opportunity to fully serve in such important fields as the support of family and motherhood, the upbringing and education of children, youth, social development, and to strengthen the patriotic spirit of the armed forces.”

Putin has praised the church’s spiritual values in their own right, but he has also turned to religious understanding to counteract ethnic tension in cities such as Moscow, which have large Muslim migrant populations from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The church in turn has praised Putin’s leadership. Shortly before the Pussy Riot performance, Kirill likened Putin’s time in power to a “miracle of God.” Putin was then-prime minister and in the midst of a campaign for the March 4 presidential vote…

Russian Orthodoxy is a part of what makes Russia Russia, and that is something that can work for the good (in charitable, cultural and educational activities and the like), and as a social glue for a nation still fragmented by the disaster of the Soviet experiment. But the church’s seemingly instinctive support for authoritarianism and its willingness to work with an increasingly illiberal state in the marginalizing those who do not fit a certain notion of Russianness is, to say the least, disturbing.

As I’ve noted here before,”Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality” was an ideology developed under Nicholas I (reigned 1825-55). It reached some sort of zenith under the penultimate (and last tough-guy) Czar, Alexander III (reigned 1881-94).

It seems to be on the way back.

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