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1422Bulletin 7:26 (2013)

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  • andreumland
    Jun 18, 2014

      A Biweekly Newsletter of Current Affairs
      Vol. 7, No. 26(214), 18 June 2014
      Compilers: Parikrama Gupta, Darya Malyutina, Vildane Oezkan & Andreas Umland


      I NEWS: 16 - 30 November 2013

      [NOTE: When viewing an RNB issue in the Messages archive of the homepage and the end of the text is truncated, scroll to the end of the message and click "Expand Messages." Only then, the whole text of the - otherwise truncated - issue will appear. When quoting from an article found here, please, mention the RNB, as the source. Thank you!]

      I NEWS: 16 - 30 November 2013

      Interfax: World Russian People’s Congress calls on Poles to stop hating Russians

      Johnson's Russia List, November 14, 2013


      MOSCOW. Nov 14 (Interfax) – The World Russian People’s Congress believes the recent incident near the Russian Embassy in Warsaw is a result of Russophobia, which is cultivated in some groups of Polish society.

      “The main reason for these outrageous actions is the constant fuelling of hate for Russia and the Russian people in some parts of Polish society,” the discussion club of the World Russian People’s Congress said in a statement received by Interfax on Thursday.

      The statement alleges that most Polish history books and publications promote the image of Poland as a victim that was “constantly persecuted and oppressed by its cruel Eastern neighbor.”

      “The fact that Rzeczpospolita ‘from sea to sea’ was formed largely by the territory of Orthodox Rus and that Russian troops never entered originally Polish land before the 18th century, and that Polish troops reached as far as Moscow is no longer present in the mass consciousness of Polish society,” the statement says.

      Polish society has still not realized that the Russian movement westward in the 18th century was “only a counterattack, a re-conquest of the ancient Russian lands with Orthodox population” and the divisions of Rzeczpospolita by Russia only affected that part of the Polish state, the World Russian People’s Congress said in its statement.

      The statement says that while modern Russian society “reflects on the crimes committed by our government in the years before and after the war (which, in particular, the Katyn tragedy),” Polish society “has removed from the memories of the crimes of that era from its collective consciousness.”

      “They never repented the mass killing of imprisoned Red Army soldiers in 1920, the total demolition of Orthodox churches (including the magnificent Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky in Warsaw), the destruction of the culture of the people of Belarus and Ukraine on ‘Kresy Wschodnie’, or the cruel actions by guerillas from Armia Krajowa against Soviet civilians during the Hitler occupation,” the statement says.

      On Monday, participants in a Polish nationalist march devoted to the Polish Independence Day threw bottles, flares, and garbage onto the territory of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw. It was later reported that the attackers had burned a security booth near the embassy fence. The Polish ambassador was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry over the incident and the ministry demanded that the Polish authorities apologize and take measures to protect the Russian Embassy. On Wednesday, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski apologized to Russia for the “absolutely scandalous events near the Russian Embassy” in an interview with Polish Radio Zet.





      Interfax: Demographic situation in Russia among reasons behind U.S. adoption ban – Astakhov

      Johnson's Russia List, November 18, 2013


      MOSCOW. Nov 13 (Interfax) – One of the reasons why Russia has banned U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children is the demographic issue, Russian children’s rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov said.

      “We have a demographic forecast: the infant population in Russia will be about 22 million by 2025. And the United States will have 105 [million] by 2025. Is there a difference? And now let’s proceed from here: why should we give our children to Americans in a situation like this?” Astakhov said when speaking to law students at Moscow State University on November 12.

      U.S. citizens eagerly adopt foreign children due to many reasons, including the fact that the adoption of a child born in the United States is often considerably more difficult due to U.S. laws, the commissioner said.

      Russia should learn a responsible attitude toward children from the United States, Astakhov said. “The most important thing for me is that they clearly realize they are responsible to future generations for their country and for their children. They should learn this. They love children very much and respect their rights,” he said.

      This is where “the enigma of the U.S. soul” is, Astakhov said.

      “I have a firm belief that if it is said today that all world countries are ready to give their children – just to give, take as many as you want! – Americans would find a way and would come and take all of them. This is the enigma. There is the enigma of the Russian soul and there is that of the Americans,” Astakhov said.





      Activist Plans Protest Amid Outrage Over Talk Show Host's Homophobic Meteor Comments

      The Moscow Times, November 18, 2013


      Leading gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev has applied to City Hall to stage a protest in Moscow later this month against homophobic comments made by a Russian talk show host this week.

      Alexeyev plans to stage the meeting at the Ostankino television center on Nov. 26 and, if the application is successful, hopes to gather 50,000 protesters, Interfax reported Thursday.

      During his "Special Correspondent" show on Rossia 1 television channel, host Arkady Mamontov incensed the LGBT community by suggesting that the meteorite that exploded over Chelyabinsk in February was punishment brought upon Russia for tolerating gays.

      Citing the Bible story about the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah, Mamontov said that Russia faces similarly fiery disasters unless it suppresses gay activism.

      "This is a warning to us all that we need to preserve our traditions, the family, the traditional love, or not only the Chelyabinsk meteorite will hit us, but something bigger," Mamontov said.

      "I know that sodomites — which is what they should be called, instead of 'homosexuals' — react very painfully to this story," he added.

      He also accused the West of seeking to "destroy Russia" by supporting gay rights movements.

      The Russian LGBT Network has asked the General Prosecutor's Office to investigate whether Mamontov's remarks constituted hate speech, Russia Today reported Friday.

      Human rights lawyer Maria Bast called the airing of the show on a major state-run network a demonstration of increasing suppression of independent thought in Russia and said that the show reflected fascism and intolerance, a statement on the website of the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights said.

      Russian LGBT activist groups say that assaults against gays in Russia by homophobic vigilantes have increased sharply since the country adopted a law outlawing the promotion of "gay propaganda" to minors.





      Overwhelming majority of Russians don’t approve of unisex relations, infidelity, polygamy and childlessness – poll

      Interfax-Religion, November 19, 2013


      About one third of Russians have incomplete families, one forth don’t have children
      Moscow, November 19, Interfax – Overwhelming majority of Russians stick to traditional views about family, the poll held by the TSIRKON research group among 1600 Russians shows.
      According to the poll results conveyed to Interfax-Religion, 88% do not approve of unisex relations, 84% - of infidelity, 82% - of polyandry, 78% - of free love , stray amours, 78% - of polygamy, 63% - of willful childlessness.
      Ninety-five per cent are positive about full families, 89% - about official marriage, 89% - about families where senior members of family are treated with respect, 86% - about families with one or two children, 77% - about families with many children, 75% - about families with adopted children, 68% - about big families consisting of several generations, 60% - about church marriage. 





      Police hold 600 at Moscow market for checks

      The Moscow News, November 19, 2013


      RIA Novosti – Moscow police said Tuesday they detained more than 600 people at a market in the Russian capital to check their possible involvement in crime.

      The city police rounded up hundreds at the Sadovod market in the southeast of the city, including many people from former Soviet republics.

      A spokesperson said the police plan to fingerprint those detained and check if they are wanted in connection with any wrongdoing, or if they are staying in Russia legally.

      Moscow authorities have in recent months staged a series of police raids on the city’s market places, including Sadovod, which employ many migrants from former Soviet republics. They say the move is an attempt to root out crime in the capital, although critics have dismissed the tactic as a populist stunt.

      In October, hundreds of nationalist protesters rioted at a Moscow market after a local man was knifed to death by a man the police later said was from Azerbaijan.





      Vkontakte Access Restricted Over 'Extremist' Materials

      The Moscow Times, Issue 5259, November 19, 2013

      State-controlled telecoms operator Rostelecom has partly restricted access to the Vkontakte social network, after a court ruled that some of its pages contained "extremist" materials, a news report said.

      Responding to complaints by users who had been unable to access their accounts from Friday onward, Rostelecom wrote on its Twitter account Monday that the restrictions had been ordered by the Lefortovo District Court.

      Rostelecom said that as an operator it has no right to initiate blocks on content and was merely carrying out the court's orders.

      Rostelecom's Twitter messages provided no further details, but company officials said that the court had ruled that some of the materials posted on the platform were of an "extremist nature," Digit.ru reported.

      United Russia lawmaker Mikhail Markelov recently filed a petition with the Prosecutor General's Office, requesting an investigation into supposedly offensive and extremist posts on the network.

      He singled out the network's social group MDK, which posted a photo of last month's Volgograd bus bombing under a headline that read: "Terrorist attack in Volgograd. Dead bodies, cries for help," followed by an expletive.

      In a separate court ruling, Vkontakte has also been blocked in Italy for posting videos without the consent of license-holder.





      Russian Patriotism Has Declined Under Putin – Poll

      RIA Novosti, November 19, 2013


      The proportion of Russians who consider themselves patriots has dropped by eight percent since President Vladimir Putin first took office 13 years ago, according to a new survey released by the independent Levada Center pollster Tuesday.

      Sixty-nine percent of respondents professed to be patriots in the poll held at the end of October, down from 77 percent in 2000.

      The survey also found that Russians’ definition of patriotism has changed somewhat since the turn of the century.

      The number of respondents who said patriotism meant “working or acting for the good of the country” dropped to 21 percent in 2013 from 35 percent in 2000.

      Russians who defined the concept as “loving your country” held steady at just under 60 percent.

      However, the proportion of people who said patriotism meant considering one’s own nation better than other countries increased slightly to 21 percent of respondents from 2000′s 17 percent.

      The idea of national identity has been a point of focus for the Putin administration in recent years, as the government has struggled to define a modernized post-Soviet ideology amid clampdowns on political dissent and widespread public dissatisfaction with corruption and Russia’s loss of global influence.

      Last year, Putin ordered the creation of a Directorate for Social Projects, which the Kremlin said would improve patriotic upbringing and strengthen the moral and spiritual foundations of Russian society.

      Many respondents to the Levada Center poll (42 percent) said they had noticed an increase in government officials speaking about rising patriotism in Russia. However, only 24 percent of Russians said they had actually noticed an increase in patriotic sentiment among the population.

      The survey of about 1,600 respondents was conducted on October 25-28 in 45 Russian regions. The margin of error was no higher than 3.4 percent.





      Bail granted for more jailed Greenpeace activists in Russia

      The Moscow News, November 19, 2013


      RIA Novosti – A court in St. Petersburg granted bail Tuesday to several more Greenpeace activists awaiting trial, signaling a possible softening in the authorities’ stance over the case.

      A judge at Primorsky District Court ruled that Brazilian citizen Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel, New Zealander David John Haussmann, and Miguel Hernan Perez Orzi of Argentina can leave their detention facility after they have posted bail of 2 million rubles ($61,500) each.

      A group of 28 Greenpeace activists and two reporters was initially charged with piracy for attempting in September to scale an Arctic Sea oil platform owned by an affiliate of energy giant Gazprom to protest against offshore drilling in the environmentally sensitive area. That charge was later downgraded to hooliganism, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of seven years in jail.

      Another three members of the group were granted bail Monday at another court in St. Petersburg. The environmental group said earlier in the day that it has already raised the funds to pay the bail.

      Greenpeace said in a statement that it was waiting for the Investigative Committee, which is handling the case, to provide details for a bank account into which the bail money can be transferred.

      Courts were due to rule Tuesday on bail requests from six more members of the what Greenpeace has dubbed the “Arctic 30.”





      Migration issues contribute to rise of xenophobia, religious hatred, ethnic crime in Russia – concept

      Interfax-Religion, November 20, 2013


      Moscow, November 20, Interfax - Illegal migration in Russia and unfavorable tendencies in domestic migration are related to threats to public safety contributing to the rise of extremism, nationalism and crime, the public safety concept approved by the Russian president said.
      "Illegal migration by foreigners and persons without citizenship to Russia, including from countries with difficult public, political, economic, sanitary and epidemic situations, contribute to the rise of threats to public safety," the concept posted on the Kremlin website said.
      "Foreign citizens staying and working in Russia illegally often deteriorate the social situation in the place of their stay and create conditions for the formation of terrorist organizations, political and religious extremism and nationalism," the document said.
      "Unfavorable tendencies are observed in domestic migration as well, the major vector of which remains the resettlement of migrants from the east of the country to its center, the Moscow Region included," the concept said.
      "As a result, imbalance in population distribution throughout Russia worsens and social tension increases in society, thus contributing to a rise in xenophobia, national, racial and religious hatred and the number of criminal groups is on the rise as well," the concept said.




      Interfax: Astakhov Criticizes Western Juvenile Justice, Nontraditional Families

      Johnson's Russia List, November 20, 2013


      MOSCOW. Nov 19 (Interfax) – The Western form of juvenile justice will not work in Russia, Russian children’s rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov said.

      “My principled stance is that the Western style, a virtually bankrupt form of juvenile justice is not viable,” Astakhov told reporters on Tuesday.

      “It is not viable in Russia because the equality between parents and a child exists, everyone is equal under the law and in the court,” the commissioner said.

      Protecting the traditional family is an issue of Russia’s security, Astakhov said.

      “The main front for our country now is the fight for the traditional family, this is the target of the main strike and our children are most vulnerable in this sphere. What will happen to our children and in return to our country depends on us,” Astakhov said at the Holiness of Motherhood forum.

      “The notion of the family – as any union, of any citizens, of any gender and soon it will be of any number as well – is changing today,” the commissioner said.

      The notions of mother and father are becoming lost in Europe, though this contradicts the UN convention saying that a child has the right to a mother and father, Astakhov said.

      “Politicians and state officials, who support the destruction of [traditional] family, should be pariahs, should be cursed in centuries to come as destroyers of the family and the human race. The so-called freedom of relations does not give the pitiful minority the right to destroy humanity, to rewrite history and to throw our children into chaos,” Astakhov said.

      Meanwhile, Head of the Russian Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) Alexander Zharov said at the forum that on November 25 the concept on children’s information safety, developed by the agency together with experts, would be submitted for public discussion.

      “Our goal is to develop a set of measures to implement this concept at the state level. It concerns almost all branches of the authorities and it contains recommendations for all executive agencies involved in information circulation,” Zharov said.

      Roskomnadzor monitors over 5,000 mass media outlets daily, detecting several dozen violations of the law on protecting children from harmful information, the official said.





      Russia not against Ukraine’s association with EU, would object to NATO membership – Putin

      Interfax, November 21, 2013


      Russia is not against Ukraine becoming an associated EU member, but it would object if Ukraine decided to join NATO, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

      “We are not against Ukraine’s sovereign choice, whatever it is. We are talking about something absolutely different. If we heard that Ukraine joins NATO, then we would really be against it,” Putin said at a meeting of the Russian Literary Assembly on Thursday.

      The advance of NATO’s infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders poses certain danger to it, Putins aid. “Economic associations do not pose any danger in terms of the country’s defense capability. There are other threats,” he said.

      Russia and Ukraine have an open market and zero export and import rates, but if Kyiv opens its market to the EU and sets zero rates on the same groups of goods, Russia will have to react, Putin said.

      “We held negotiations with the WTO for 17 years and were bargaining on each position, and all of a sudden we hear ‘Your gates with Ukraine are open, and now Ukraine will open its gates to Europe’,” Putin said.

      Russia will have to protect its economy, and this is its only motive, Putin said.

      The accusations that Russia is pursuing “an aggressive policy” concerning Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU are “an unscrupulous approach to judging about our position,” he said.





      Russian MP: Eastern Partnership policy of amputation of post-Soviet states

      Interfax – November 27, 2013


      Pro-Kremlin United Russia MP Leonid Slutskiy has accused the EU of conducting a policy of “amputation” of post-Soviet countries from Russia-led alliances.

      Privately-owned Interfax news agency quoted the chairman of the State Duma committee for CIS affairs and Eurasian integration saying in reference to the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy, specifically as regards Ukraine: “The European Partnership tactic is a tactic of overt amputation of post-Soviet countries from the Eurasian project, their ‘polarization’ in the western direction as semi-colonies.”

      Slutskiy said that in the run-up to the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius the EU and the USA have subjected Ukraine to “unprecedented” pressure.

      Slutskiy was reported saying that the USA was seeking a unipolar world order, hence its “reaction” to Ukraine’s decision to suspend preparations for an association agreement with the EU.

      “The fact that Ukraine took the liberty to slow down, or make a departure from the line dictated by the EU is seen by certain forces in Washington as deserving punishment,” said Slutskiy.

      Slutskiy said that using the EU the United States was trying to subjugate countries.





      Russians still proud of their country, though number decreasing – survey

      Interfax, November 28, 2013


      Russians are more proud of living in Russia than of Russia itself, sociologists said.

      The share of Russian citizens who are not proud of their country has recently grown notably – from 34% in 2010 to 40%, while 53% respondents (against 88% in 2010) are proud of contemporary Russia, the Levada Center told Interfax following a poll held among 1,603 people in 45 Russian regions on October 25-28.

      When asked whether they were proud to live in Russia, 70% said yes and 22% – no (against 88% and 11% in 2010), the survey showed.

      Currently 52% Russian citizens feel freedom in Russian society and 39% have no such feeling, sociologists said. The majority of respondents (78%) admitted they personally had no influence on the political or economic life in Russia, 3% said they did and 14% believe they have some impact, the Levada Center said.





      Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin advises Orthodox countries not to adopt Western democracy models

      Interfax-Religion, November 29, 2013


      Moscow, November 29, Interfax - The Moscow Patriarchate has called on Orthodox countries, including Russia, not to change in dialogue with the European Union under its influence, but suggest that the EU change instead.
      "Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria - representatives of the most powerful civilization - could well demand that the Western members of the Council of Europe begin forming a renewed organization from scratch, changing a lot of what is characteristic of the Western part of Europe and is not characteristic of its eastern part, when entering the Council of Europe, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations, said in an article published on the Interfax-Religion website.
      Likewise, any negotiations with the EU should now begin "with a question as to how the EU is ready to change to be able to become a common house not only for the western, but also for the eastern socio-political tradition on a parity basis, not with docile hearing of someone's instructions," he said.
      "The western democracy model is now used by a minority of the population of our planet, and it should eventually be realized as an indication that this model is not the only model and that insisting on its universality, especially that all peoples and all legal and political systems should adjust to it is, to put it mildly, unfair and unjust," Father Vsevolod said.
      Any country which have string traditional religions (Orthodox, Islamic, or other) should ask members of this union when attempts ate made to toughly change its legal system or in any negotiations on the accession to a specific interstate union: "Maybe they should change, especially as regards their values and legal and political traditions, before making alliances with countries where powerful religious and moral traditions are present?"," Father Vsevolod said.
      He also cautioned Western elites against forcing their traditions on the majority of the world's countries, including on the issue of same-sex marriage, recalling that several countries, primarily Greece, are having serious debate of the decision made by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on November 7, which states that the Greek law under which marriage is only possible between heterosexual partners discriminates against same-sex couples.





      Almost 80% of Russians say their country has enemies – poll

      Interfax, November 29, 2013


      Some 78% of Russians believe their country has enemies.

      The number grew 15%, from 63% last year, Levada Center said presenting a poll held in 130 towns and cities in 45 regions.

      Only 13% claimed that Russia had no enemies and 9% could not answer the question.

      Not everyone is pleased with Russia’s policies, the sociologists said. In fact, 50% of the respondents expressed their discontent and 41% were supportive.

      The percentage of the respondents displeased with the economic course of the country is even higher, 66% vs. 29% of content respondents.

      Meanwhile, the polls conducted by Levada Center in November showed that 52% of the respondents generally approved of the activities of President Vladimir Putin and 61% supported his leadership. Fifty-five percent said that Putin had a strong influence on national events.

      The sociologists asked whether Russia needed the State Duma or “national life could just as well be organized with presidential decrees.”

      Some 43% respondents that the president could substitute the parliament and 39% argued that the country could not do without parliamentary deputies.

      Three percent of the respondents were well aware of the work, political goals and preferences of State Duma deputies; 45% had a general idea and 49% knew nothing about that.

      Fifty-one percent said they had a rather vague idea about what the State Duma had been doing for in the past two years.





      Russian church calls for broad debate of idea for special role of Orthodox faith in Constitution

      Interfax, November 30, 2013


      There is a need for an open and broad public debate on the proposal to reflect in the Constitution the special role of Orthodox faith, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the synodal department on relations between the church and society, said.

      “Such initiatives, like any public, ideological, and legislative initiatives, can and should be discussed freely. It is strange that people who expressed so much support for the draft religious Code proposed by Mr. Prokhorov, which in my opinion is debatable, literally begged the authors of this initiative to be silent,”

      Father Vsevolod told Interfax-Religion on Wednesday. “Any proposals should be discussed. They should influence public opinion. We need to know how our people really feel about them, not just how narrow expert or political groups feel about them,” he said.

      According to earlier reports, representatives of the public organization Romanov Anniversary, the Russian Institute of Strategic Research, ad the Department of Constitutional Law of the Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO) earlier signed an address calling for the special role of Orthodox faith to be stated in the Russian Constitution.

      The document was backed by participants in the interfaction parliamentary group in defense of Christian values recently held in the State Duma. They spoke for including in the preamble of the Constitution the idea that Orthodox faith is “the foundation of the national and cultural identity of Russia.”

      The priest admitted that this initiative will have many opponents and that the prospects of legislation being immediately passed on it “are far from being obvious.”

      However, he said he believes it is good that it has caused “important debate.” “It is obvious to me that Orthodox faith has special significance in Russian history and modern life, regardless of how our law will develop. Our country would not have become Russia without Orthodox faith, and it has no future without Orthodox faith,” he said.

      Chaplin said that, with all his respect for people with different religious affiliations, “it is obvious that an atheist, pagan, non-Orthodox Russia cannot be called Russia.”

      “It is Orthodox faith and the Russian people who took it together with other peoples who took it that formed Russian consciousness, the Russian model of society, the Russian ideal in public administration, economics, culture, morals, education – in all aspects of our life,” he said.






      Russia’s spinning moral compass

      Geraldine Fagan [1]

      Open Democracy, 16 November 2013


      Vladimir Putin’s latest course as president – from the jailing of Pussy Riot to the law against gay ‘propaganda’ – strikes many as being one defined by the Russian Orthodox Church. On this point, both Orthodox statists and their secularist opponents can agree.

      But is it really so? Church-state relations in Russia have certainly changed over the two years since Dmitry Medvedev swapped jobs with his old boss. The Church had been edging away from the state, only to be yanked back and secured more firmly. But this process happened quickly: by the time the Pussy Riot scandal focused world attention on the Russian Orthodox Church, it looked to have been an ever-present fixture at Putin’s side.

      Putin and Patriarch Kirill seemed on best terms during his most recent inauguration in 2012. The relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin has not, however, always been this cosy. 

      Church support for the Putin regime was previously not assured. In 2000, its bishops infuriated the Kremlin by approving civil disobedience as a potential response to any government policy forcing Orthodox believers to commit ‘spiritually harmful actions.’ When pensioners across Russia braved blizzards to protest against Putin’s monetization of state benefits in 2005, Patriarch Aleksy II supported their ‘defence of their right to a decent life,’ and declared the policy unjust. In 2008, he refused to side with the Kremlin in Russia’s brief war with Georgia. 

      These were isolated criticisms; more typically, during Putin’s first two presidential terms, the Church oscillated between support for the state, and neutrality. Russian citizens broadly welcomed the political status quo, despite growing signs of corruption and cronyism. Why would the Church rock the boat by challenging Putin’s sacred value of ‘stability’?

      Thus, when Medvedev proposed on 24 September 2011 that Putin return as president, the Church responded by welcoming the move. This was ‘a real example of goodness and morality in politics,’ spokesperson Fr Vsevolod Chaplin enthused; when in the history of Russia had state power been transferred ‘so peacefully, nobly, honestly?’

      Demonstrations of loyalty

      Just two months later, parliamentary elections forced the Church to face up to whether the shift in power was as noble and honest as all that. With smartphones and Facebook, evidence of massive fraud went viral. In just one instance, a young Orthodox priest volunteering as observer at a Moscow polling station blogged how 690 votes were recorded for Putin’s United Russia against 202 for the Communists - when the two piles of ballots were plainly of equal height. ‘What are you doing?’ Fr Dmitry Sverdlov railed at electoral commissioners ‘you are destroying our country with your own hands!’ 

      Similar outrage brought 5,000 Muscovites out on to the streets after polling day, a crowd many times larger than previous opposition demonstrations of recent years. A popular Orthodox website quizzed parish priests on whether Orthodox Christians should participate. ‘What’s Orthodoxy got to do with it?’ Fr Dimitry Smirnov commented. ‘Can the Orthodox go to the baker’s? Of course – the Constitution is for everyone.’ Another priest, Fr Aleksandr Ilyashenko, complained that the will of the people was being ignored, ‘often quite cynically. We can and must protest against cynicism and a devil-may-care attitude.’ Even Church spokesperson Vladimir Legoida demanded that the state ‘be attentive to all, both satisfied and dissatisfied, not allow violations of citizens’ rights, and show serious respect for the will of all the people.’

      Tentative criticism, perhaps, but representatives of other faiths were far more defensive of the regime at this time. Protestant leader Sergei Ryakhovsky insisted that it was the job of religious believers to bless the authorities. In the view of Muslim representative Damir Mukhetdinov, ‘Satan and his cohorts are calling upon believers to go out on to the streets and rebel.’

      As the Moscow demonstrations swelled, the Russian Orthodox Church grew still more vocal. When 50,000 assembled on Bolotnaya Square on 10 December 2011, and state media claimed they were American stooges, the Church disagreed: ‘Demonization of dissenters is the path to repression and war,’ objected one of the Church’s most influential clerics, Protodeacon Andrei Kurayev. By now, Church spokesperson Fr Chaplin was urging the authorities to answer the ‘serious and awkward questions’ being asked of them, and calling for ‘national dialogue on the format of the electoral process and civic control over it.’

      After an 80,000-strong opposition march along Moscow’s Sakharov Avenue on 14 December, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill also urged ‘those with differing opinions - including on the political situation in the country and the recent elections - to enter into real civic dialogue.’ With Putin facing his deepest political crisis yet, Kirill clung to the same neutral stance adopted by Patriarch Aleksy during the standoff between President Boris Yeltsin and parliament in 1993. In both cases, it was not immediately clear which side held the upper hand.

      But the Church’s most forceful criticism of the Kremlin was yet to come. The protest mood was a ‘legitimate negative reaction’ to state corruption, Patriarch Kirill declared on 22 December, and it was imperative ‘from a moral point of view’ that the president address it. He again emphasized the Church’s neutrality in a 9 January 2012 interview on national television, pointing out that there were Orthodox Christians among both the demonstrators and those being demonstrated against. On 18 January, Fr Chaplin received opposition leader Aleksei Navalny – the Kremlin’s new bête noire – to discuss ‘how we can help foster dialogue.’

      But the protest movement was beginning to lose momentum, despite another massive Moscow demonstration in the bitter cold on 4 February. Putin was clearly not going to budge; and the Church began to waver. ‘Orthodox people don’t know how to go on demonstrations… they pray in the quiet of monasteries… at home,’ Patriarch Kirill opined in a 1 February speech. ‘They see clear historical parallels between what is happening with our people today and the rowdy and thoughtless behaviour of the pre-revolutionary years.’ 

      The Church’s switch back to the regime was sealed at an extraordinary 8 February meeting at Moscow’s Danilovsky Monastery, where Putin was guest of honour. For four hours, religious leader after religious leader offered him paeans recalling the Stalin period. Patriarch Kirill thanked Putin for his huge personal role in ‘correcting’ Russian history: ‘You once said you toil like a slave in the galleys, with the only difference that no slave showed such dedication.’ With the presidential election just weeks away, the patriarch made sure to mention that Putin’s candidacy had ‘the best chances, of course.’ 

      Pussy Riot

      Pussy Riot’s now infamous ‘punk prayer’ in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on 21 February 2012 was a reaction to such obsequious posturing. Ironically, it also handed Putin a political lifeline. A wedge could now be driven between the Church and the opposition movement, whose alliance would have been devastating for the Kremlin had it developed further along the cautiously critical line taken up by Church representatives in late 2011. And with Pussy Riot’s protest cast as purely anti-religious, the Church served as a convenient shield to absorb blows meant for the regime. Putin gladly joined in the Church’s condemnation of the women’s stunt as ‘blasphemy’, dubbing it a ‘witches’ sabbath’ on 6 April.

      Pussy Riot was a blessing in disguise for Putin, despite the international outcry it caused. It allowed him to drive a wedge between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian opposition; a relationship which, had it been left to foster, could have been devastating to him.  

      To many, Putin’s response to Pussy Riot appeared the product of genuine outrage at their affront to Russian Orthodoxy. But his initial, unfazed reaction – practically unnoticed by the media – reveals his subsequent position to be tactical. Mingling with female journalists on the eve of the 8 March public holiday for International Women’s Day, Putin was asked what he thought of the incident at the cathedral. ‘If they violated established church order, then I apologize to all believers and clergy on their behalf, if they could not do it themselves,’ he replied. ‘I hope that it won’t happen again.’ If Pussy Riot violated church order – what devoutly Orthodox president would say that? Interfax news agency toned down the gaffe – clearly audible in a video of the event on Russia’s government website – to ‘if they violated the law’. 

      Moral credentials

      This initial response, in fact, chimes with Putin’s earlier revelations about his faith. He may have stood candle in hand at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour every Easter, projecting the sort of cosy Church-state relationship loathed by Pussy Riot. But on the rare occasions when Putin has volunteered information about his beliefs, he has appeared strikingly alien to the Church. What devoutly Orthodox president would admit he had not sought a church blessing on his marriage, more than two decades after this stopped being risky to a government career? Or refer to the fact as ‘the religious side of the matter’ not existing, as Putin did in his June 2013 divorce announcement? As early as 2002 he claimed that it does not matter to which faith a person belongs, since ‘all confessions are thought up by people.’

      But it was the Church’s, rather than Putin’s, moral credentials that came into question in the wake of the Pussy Riot incident. Both state-controlled and independent media lapped up episodes like a Church representative’s botched attempt to airbrush Patriarch Kirill’s 30,000-euro wristwatch from an official photograph (the watch’s reflection remained in the highly polished tabletop beneath). Newly vulnerable to public mockery, the patriarch was thus prevented from resuming his earlier position as mediator above the political fray. If the Putin ship was going to sink, the Church would have to sink with it.

      Putin has never been one to shy away from a religious photo op.  His own personal relationship to religion and the church, however, is somewhat ambiguous. 

      Protodeacon Kurayev sensed soon after Pussy Riot’s cathedral performance that the focus on the Church’s reaction was a trap: ‘Church people are being provoked into taking part in a play where we have already been allocated a particular role, and the TV cameras are ready to shoot our grimaces.’ Given that many in the Church indeed supported its close relationship with the state, he foresaw an even greater danger: ‘If they are granted the political opportunity to go beyond secular and internal Church restrictions, will they be able to stop?’ 

      ‘Traditional’ values

      A test was not long in coming. In late 2012 Russia passed the so-called Dima Yakovlev Law – named after a Russian boy who died in the care of his US adoptive parents – which banned US citizens from adopting Russian children. This closely followed Washington’s Magnitsky Act, which barred Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses, from entering the USA, including those thought to have contributed to the death in custody of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer investigating fraud by Russian tax officials. 

      In the earlier phase of Putin’s rule, ‘one could be both a liberal and work for the Kremlin: everything was play and nothing was taken seriously,’ Russia analyst Peter Pomerantsev observed. But the new political climate demands a sense of morality. ‘Now you have to make a decision: either you back the use of orphans as a political weapon or you don’t; either you support the imprisonment of Pussy Riot or you don’t.’ 

      Instead of drawing a clear moral line, the Church has so far given conflicting responses. ‘It is inadmissible to take decisions affecting children for political reasons,’ the head of its charity department, Bishop Panteleimon of Smolensk, said of the Dima Yakovlev Law, ‘while we have not yet created proper conditions to raise children in foster care, and while we have many social orphans, it is wrong to ban adoption to the USA.’ By contrast, Church spokesperson Fr Chaplin brushed aside criticism of the same legislation with, ‘There are no ideal laws,’ insisting that the Dima Yakovlev Law was not in revenge for the Magnitsky Act, he suggested that an overwhelming majority of parliamentarians had simply ‘supported measures aimed at keeping Russian children in Russia.’

      Laws against gay ‘propaganda’ and ‘offence to religious feelings’ followed in the summer of 2013. But their trumpeting of Orthodox values was, like the response to Pussy Riot, firmly on the state’s terms. Addressing an annual Orthodox conference this January, parliamentarian Yelena Mizulina – key sponsor of the anti-gay ‘propaganda’ legislation – let slip how distant her thinking really is from the Church’s, by affirming homosexuality as a morally acceptable adult choice. ‘Excessive promotion of homosexuality,’ she noted, ‘limits the sexual freedom of our children and deprives them of the opportunity to choose their sexual preference when they grow up.’ 

      Toeing the official line

      In September, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova wrote an open letter describing the violent and degrading conditions at her women’s prison, run by a self-confessed Stalinist. Apparently as punishment for this protest, she has been transferred to a different camp in remote Siberia. Even given the brutal detail of Tolokonnikova’s account, Church spokesperson Fr Chaplin insisted it required proof. He dismissed her complaints of 17-hour working days, a diet of rotten potatoes, and beatings: ‘A person who has committed a crime should understand that deprivation of freedom does not happen in the setting of a holiday resort.’

      Protodeacon Kurayev’s quite different reaction to Tolokonnikova’s appeal highlights how deep the Church rift over politics has become. ‘Before us is a situation straight from the Gospels – a person is crying in pain, asking for help… Should we make faces and say, ‘No, no, no, until we see an expert analysis in triplicate and officially stamped saying there really are violations and problems there, we won’t waste our compassion’?’

      Imagine if such a letter lay on the desk of Pope Francis, asked Kurayev. Would his reaction be the same as Fr Vsevolod Chaplin’s? ‘I don’t think so.’ For the protodeacon, the stakes of clerical support for the regime in the new Putin era could not be higher. ‘This is already a question of the honour of our Church.’

      Despite clear indications that the Kremlin line can change abruptly should political circumstance require, and despite words of warning from some in the Church about too close a collaboration with the Putin regime, some official Church representatives continue to toe the line, but might they not be making a rod for their own backs? 

      [1] http://www.opendemocracy.net/authors/geraldine-fagan
      [2] http://www.opendemocracy.net/russia/topics/religion
      [3] http://www.opendemocracy.net/russia/topics/politics
      [4] http://www.opendemocracy.net/russia/topics/justice
      [5] http://www.opendemocracy.net/russia-hashtags/church
      [6] http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=http://www.opendemocracy.net/print/77006&t=Russia’s spinning moral compass
      [7] http://twitter.com/share?text=Russia’s spinning moral compass
      [8] http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/natasha-bitten-tatiana-kerim-zade/duma-and-russian-orthodox-church-vs-feminism
      [9] http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tikhon-dzyadko/russian-orthodox-church-from-farce-to-tragedy
      [10] http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oleksiy-radynski/prayers-for-dead
      [11] http://od-odrussia.disqus.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.opendemocracy.net%2Fod-russia%2Fgeraldine-fagan%2Frussia%25E2%2580%2599s-spinning-moral-compass
      [12] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/
      [13] http://www.opendemocracy.net/contact





      Putin's Distorted History

      Vladimir Ryzhkov

      The Moscow Times, Issue 5258, November 18, 2013


      There is actually nothing fundamentally new about the Russian history textbooks recently unveiled by a working group headed by State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin. Although the textbook ostensibly advocates freedom, constitutionalism and the paramount value of human life, the main value embraced by the authors — and the book's chief client, President Vladimir Putin — ­remains the supremacy of the state.

      The intrinsic value of the state is the common thread running throughout the textbook. The result is that schoolchildren will be taught the same lessons that they learned in both tsarist and Soviet times — that the state's interests always take precedence over the interests of individual citizens. In practice, that means the state can arbitrarily sacrifice people and their freedom for its own interests. The new textbook aims to cultivate obedient "servants" of the state, not independent and free citizens of a democratic Russia.

      In the new history textbook just released for schoolchildren, Ivan the Terrible is a "reformer," Stalin is a "modernizer," the democratic achievements of Gorbachev and Yeltsin are ignored, and Putin is a hero who restored Russia's greatness.

      The "new concept" of Russian history is a disturbing throwback to previous times. It cobbles together the old, official tsarist history prior to 1917 and elements of Soviet history. Simply put, it suggests that all tsars and Communist Party general secretaries were enlightened autocrats, no matter what they did to their own people. The text overlooks the fact that this pantheon of leaders did little or nothing to improve the lives of their citizens,

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