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The Church has replaced the communist party

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
    http://www.themoscowtimes.com/print/article/the-church-has-replaced-the-communist-party/468302.html   The Church Has Replaced the Communist Party 18 September
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 18, 2012
      The Church Has Replaced the Communist Party
      18 September 2012
      By Vladimir Ryzhkov

      As President Vladimir Putin tries to strengthen his vertical power structure,
      the country's social divisions are growing deeper.
      The Pussy Riot case divided Russian society between those calling
      for leniency for the women and those who demanded that they be severely
      punished. This split also represents the division in attitudes toward
      the Russian Orthodox Church itself. Many Orthodox believers have openly
      criticized the church hierarchy for its reactionary stance on the case and for
      its close alliance with the country's authoritarian leadership. In response,
      squads of self-appointed Orthodox vigilantes have taken to the streets
      to enforce the church's moral code of public behavior.
      Amid all this, there has been a sharp discussion on the Internet regarding
      the list of Orthodox church scandals — from the appalling way that Patriarch
      Kirill pressed charges against his neighbor for leaving excessive dust in his
      luxury apartment to a series of car accidents involving Orthodox priests,
      sometimes drunk, driving expensive foreign automobiles. Topping the list
      of scandals was a photograph showing Patriarch Kirill wearing a very expensive
      watch, which the church sloppily tried to erase using Photoshop.
      Orthodox leaders claim that there is an organized campaign, supported by the
      opposition and its supposed sponsors, to discredit the church. In response,
      public figures accuse the church of colluding with the Kremlin to force
      obedience to the authoritarian regime, stifle dissent and violate
      the Constitution by merging the church and state.
      It seems that the Russian authorities are the ones most actively
      and deliberately working to deepen divisions in society.  
      There are, indeed, two Russias. The first Russia consists of about 15 million
      "modernist and European" citizens, or 11 percent of the population, who live
      mostly in large and medium-sized cities, have a higher education and are
      employed in the private sector, which makes them less dependent on the state.
      They are the foundation of the opposition movement that has taken to the streets
      for the protests that began in December. Most of the Russian intelligentsia
      belongs to this group, although there are many high-profile members of the
      "creative intelligentsia," such as singers Oleg Gazmanov and Yelena Vayenga
      and film director Nikita Mikhalkov, who go out of their way to support Putin. 
      The second Russia consists of about 40 million conservative citizens, or 30
      percent of the population. They are nostalgic about the Soviet period, support
      Putin and believe the country as a whole is moving in the right direction. They
      are mainly residents of outlying provinces, small and medium-sized cities
      and rural areas. Their distinguishing feature is their dependence on government
      support in the form of salaries, pensions, social benefits and subsidies
      from the federal budget. The members of this group don't want convulsions to the
      existing social order and favor stability even when it means stagnation.
      Uralvagonzavod factory director Igor Kholmanskikh has become a poster child
      for this Russia, along with Sveta from Ivanovo. Kholmanskikh is now
      the presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District, and Sveta became the host
      of a prime-time show on NTV.
      These two Russias hold vastly different values and attitudes toward
      democracy, freedom and human rights. The Western-bent and modernist Russia
      demands protection of human rights and freedoms, tolerance of dissent, the right
      to privacy, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, freedom of the
      press and guarantees for private property and fair market competition. It calls
      for a secular government and a strict separation of church and state. In foreign
      policy, this more educated and progressive class supports closer ties with
      the European Union and the United States and is suspicious of Russia's
      friendship with Belarus, Venezuela and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
      Much of provincial, conservative Russia has little concern for democracy
      and human rights and is most interested in receiving government handouts
      and achieving lifetime job security with positions in the bloated state
      The same people who once bowed before portraits of Vladimir Lenin
      and Communist leaders now pay homage to the Russian Orthodox Church and its
      icons. In Soviet times, any criticism of the Communist Party was considered
      blasphemy. Now, criticizing the Orthodox church qualifies as blasphemy. This
      Russia is strongly anti-Western and anti-U.S., and it believes that there is
      a global conspiracy against the country. It is convinced that the opposition is
      a fifth column of agents funded by the U.S. State Department.
      Putin has openly aligned himself with the conservative Russia and has
      initiated a war against the values most important to the progressive Russia:
      freedom of speech, the freedom to form nongovernmental organizations, freedom
      of creative expression and the right of assembly, and the unrestricted use
      of the Internet.

      Russia has not been this deeply divided since the supporters and opponents
      of democratic and market reforms battled each other in the 1990s, a period
      marked by dangerous social tensions. The danger we face today is that social
      divisions and the escalating standoff between society and the ruling powers will
      once again erupt in a violent standoff between retrograde and progressive
      members of society.
      Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, hosts a political
      talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio and is a co-founder of the opposition RP-Party
      of People's Freedom.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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