Staunton, August 19 – In a disturbing echo of how the tsarist authorities used nominally independent Orthodox nationalist black hundreds organizations to go after opponents of the imperial government, Orthodox “pogromists” are now doing exactly what OMON officers did against the Bolotnaya demonstrators in 2012.
That should be a matter of concern because it gives Russian officials plausible deniability of non-involvement at least with the credulous in Russia and the West if there is a backlash against these groups even as it allows the Kremlin great scope for deploying them against its enemies and creating a climate of fear among the population about taking part in protests.
But as Russian cultural specialist Elena Volkova tells “Novaya gazeta,” the danger this represents to Russian society is even greater because increasingly the Orthodox radicals feel themselves empowered not only by God but by the state and thus are adopting ever more radical views and taking ever more radical actions (novayagazeta.ru/society/69592.html
She said that she has no doubt that the Kremlin “welcomes” what the Orthodox radicals did against the art exhibit last week. “And what are they doing? They are doing in principle the very same thing that the OMON officers did … dispersing people engaged in peaceful protest, beating them, and then accusing them of beating the OMONites and putting them in prison.”
That works to the benefit of the Kremlin, Volkova continues. Enteo and the orther Orthodox radicals “understand perfectly well that the powers need them, that people must be kept in fear, and that any growths of free expression must be extirpated or suppressed in order to show who here in this house is the master.”
“In this house,” such people believe, “we are the masters, illegal pogromchiki who speak in the name of God.”
The Moscow Patriarchate shares responsibility for all this with the authorities, because “it has created the ideological justification” for such actions. And that is the danger: with such a justification, there is no limit to what these people might do, especially given that the authorities and the church cannot exist without each other: they are Siamese twins.”
(Volkova does not cite it, but one article by an Orthodox radical nationalist this week goes so far as to say that a state of human laws is definition a departure from the the laws of Christ, therefore illegitimate and thus not deserving of respect in any sense (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2015/08/14/pravovoe_obwestvo_eto_uklonenie_ot_hrista/).)
What happened last week, Volkova says is “a development of what began in 2003 when Father Aleksandr Shargunov sent his altar boys to destroy the “Careful, Religion!” exhibit.” Those who went were initially detained by the police for the violent act, then released, and finally given awards.
In the intervening period, that has become a pattern, and Volkova says she expects the same outcome after last week’s events. Enteo will probably get a state award, although she expresses doubt that his medal will be inscribed “for a successful conduct of a pogrom” against enemies of the state.
“Already in the 1990s,” Volkova continues, “the church willingly gave agreement to be the metropolitburo (thus Father Gleb Yakunin called the church), that is, to serve as the ideological department of the state where Orthodoxy is a political religion and totalitarian ideology in which there remains the values of the communist political religion of Marxism-Leninism.”
It is possible to call this combination, the culture specialist says, “a communist world in Christian clothing.”
This involvement of religion in politics has some serious consequences, she continues. “Earlier we were better as a Soviet country, now we are better as an Orthodox one. ‘We are surrounded by a hostile world. Earlier, it was capitalist; now it is heretical, Catholic, Protestant or something else.
“That is,” she says, “’we are the light surrounded by darkness.’ “ Under socialism, the class struggle intensified; now, “the struggle with enemies of the church, with heretics and the godless, is intensifying as well,” something that is becoming increasingly obvioius as “all enemies are demonized as Satanists.”
This new church-state ideology presents sees itself as something broader than even Soviet ideology. “Soviet ideology was planetary: ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite!’” This new one is “cosmic because ‘God is behind us,’ ‘we are saving the true faith,’ and ‘we speak in the name of God.’”
Moreover, Volkova says, “the authorities are attempting to make Orthodoxy a national idea,” even though there are very few genuinely Orthodox people: fewer than one in ten practices the faith, but 80 percent call themselves Orthodox because to say one is Orthodox is now to identify as “belonging to the majority” and thus “worthy of trust.”
“Many people,” she continues, “easily shifted from Soviet ideology to Orthodoxy. They considered Soviet ideology in a purely formal manner.” One declared oneself a supporter of the party because that was required. Now, people are doing the same thing with Orthodoxy, something that does not benefit the true faith.
Instead, Volkova says, it makes the church into a group of people who simply feel compelled to be on the side of the powers that be. “Some calculate in the following way: ‘the authorities now support Orthodoxy;” and thus they conclude that they must say they are part of that as well.