Annals of the Holy Russian Empire

David Satter, writing on

The Orthodox patriarchate is a bulwark of autocracy.

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.

As head of the church’s department of foreign church relations, Kirill gained the reputation of a relatively enlightened church leader. He met with Pope Benedict, and he has been attacked by church conservatives for “ecumenism.”

More important than his contacts with Catholics, however, has been Kirill’s support for a new Russian ideology based on the denial of human rights. At the 10th meeting of the World Russian People’s Council–an international public organization headed by the patriarch, in Moscow, on April 4, 2006–Kirill accused human rights leaders in the West of “dictatorially” forcing societies to accept the right to engage in gambling, euthanasia and homosexuality.

The Council said that there are values “that stand no lower than human rights.” These are “faith, morality, sacred places and homeland.” When these values contradict the realization of human rights, “the society and government and law should harmoniously combine them.” How this could be done was not made clear but, according to the Council, it is impossible to tolerate a situation in which human rights “threatened the existence of the motherland.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn lent his support to Kirill’s remarks. In an interview on May 4, 2006, he said that “unlimited rights are exactly what our cave dwelling ancestor had. Nothing could stop him from snatching meat from his neighbor and finishing him off with a big stick.” He said that what was needed were not human rights but “human obligations.”

Solzhenitsyn, of course, was in error. “Rights” exist in relation to a government, so cavemen did not have human rights, let alone “unlimited” human rights. At the same time, the place of rights cannot be taken by obligations. Rights exist as a counterpoise to the obligations imposed by society. To eliminate rights in favor of obligations is to destroy higher moral authority, leaving the individual defenseless before the power of the state.

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.

9 responses to “Annals of the Holy Russian Empire

  1. “Solzhenitsyn, of course, was in error.”

    This line’s patronizing attitude reminds me one of many colorful Monty’s sayings: “As God once said, and rightly so”. I can’t believe the subscribers of Forbes are prepared to pay for this bombastic lack of insight with their (apparently hard-earned) dollars.

  2. Solzhenitsyn may have wanted freedom for Russians, but he was quite happy for other ethnic groups to be enslaved by Russia

  3. I agree with Solzhenitsyn too.
    The West has taken this rights thing
    so far as to remove individual accountability and to remove the Judeo Christian moral framework that their needs to be in
    place for a free society to prosper.
    For example every one of the ten Commandment was there for your
    protection. Thou shalt not steal-protection of property, Thou shalt not
    commit adultery-protection of marriage etc, etc
    Perhaps this issue needs more thought than you have given it.
    Best Regards

  4. Daniel, I agree with much of what you are saying.
    However Solzhenitsyn was a Russian imperialist of the old stripe.
    He wanted freedom from opression for ethnic Russians, but was against the same freedoms for Ukrainians, Balts, Georgians, Chechens and so on.

  5. Sorry for intrusion.

    Solzhenitsyn was a Russian imperialist of the old stripe.
    He wanted freedom from opression for ethnic Russians, but was against the same freedoms for Ukrainians, Balts, Georgians, Chechens and so on.

    ?? Was he? If so, it would be nice to see some evidence of that – I am sure you can easily provide it. Or did you mean he was against their secession/independence? Well, many attempts of that sort have been and still are suppressed in very democratic countries.

    BTW, I am not arguing in defense of Solzhenitsyn. He does not need any help from me. I am puzzled (not kidding) by the tone of the quoted article from the Forbes magazine; it is trying to look substantive, but lacks any insight/ideas. It looks like a daily column in our town’s Metro, but is garnished as a piece of analysis.


    “Nationalist Rhetoric

    Solzhenitsyn’s nationalist leanings also earned him much criticism in Belarus and Ukraine, both eager to steer away from their former imperial master after gaining independence in 1991.

    Ales Antsipenka, a Belarusian philosopher, says that after the essay “Rebuilding Russia,” “I realized that Mr. Solzhenitsyn was a common Russian imperialist, despite the fact that he had lashed out at the totalitarian system with such force. I saw it as a terrible contradiction because any imperialistic system is, to a certain extent, totalitarian. I saw that Solzhenitsyn was hugely contradictory in denying Belarusians and Ukrainians the right to determine their fate.”

    Such sentiments are widely echoed in Ukraine, despite enduring admiration for the man who shook the foundations of Soviet rule with his stinging indictment of Josef Stalin’s gulag camps.

    Yevhen Sverstiuk, a Ukrainian writer and poet who was jailed as a political prisoner in the 1970s, says Solzhenitsyn played a key role in bolstering the opposition throughout the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine. But Sverstiuk says the author’s political views took a turn for the worse in the mid-1970s.

    “After receiving the Nobel Prize, Solzhenitsyn deteriorated — he switched from the great challenge of combating the evil empire to Russian imperial issues. He fell not only in our esteem, his international image also deteriorated. Each of his words was closely monitored and sparked disenchantment after disenchantment,”

    Disappointment at Solzhenitsyn’s mounting nationalist rhetoric, says Sverstiuk, was all the deeper in Ukraine due to Solzhenitsyn’s Ukrainian origin.

    “Ukraine is a separate topic since Solzhenitsyn, whose mother was Ukrainian, had a particular attitude toward Ukraine. He sought to reject his Ukrainian half and uphold his Russian nationalist half. In this sense, he lost his stature. He joined the very narrow, reactionary, and primitive world of Russian imperial ideology. His speeches on Ukraine were horrid. They were wrong, they were full of false information, the kind of information that Russian society is being fed,” Sverstiuk says.

    Solzhenitsyn also angered Ukrainians by denying the country had been the victim of genocide during the 1932-33 famine. In April this year, the 89-year-old wrote that the famine had killed millions across the entire Soviet Union, adding that many of the communist officials who had helped orchestrate it were Ukrainian.

    His article, in which he scolded the West for backing what he called a “loony fable,” came as U.S. President George W. Bush laid a wreath in Kyiv to honor the memory of the famine’s victims. It also coincided with a State Duma resolution rejecting Ukraine’s claims of genocide. ”

    He was also anti-semitic

    I am not reying to detract from his heroic exposure of the evils of the communist system, but you have to understand the man warts and all.

  7. I am not trying to detract I mean.

  8. Dear Andrew,

    Not counting “denied his Ukrainian half” and “horrid” I see one specific/tangible thing that is not liked by the authors you quoted

    “denying Belarusians and Ukrainians the right to determine their fate”

    This is exactly what I stated in the previous posting:
    “did you mean he was against their – Ukrainians, Balts, Georgians, Chechens and so on (names are from your previous post) – secession/independence?”

    Perhaps, but this is the type of views shared by many liberty-minded people. Mr. Lincoln had a similar attitude towards the CSA in 1861, but is widely credited for promoting freedom and liberty. States that are members of EU do not respond favorably to several national independence movements on their own territory (Basks in Spain, Irish in UK, Corsicans in France and so on). Kurds do not have a state in spite persistently trying to get one, and I have not noticed that they are being helped in that by the West.
    Hence, it is hard for me to see anything outrageous/horrid in Solzhenitsyn’s opinion on this subject.

    Finally, I was actually way more lighthearted when I wrote my first comment – this discussion became way more serious than I could possibly anticipate. All I meant at that time (I will put it very bluntly) – it is kinda funny when David Satter (I admit I don’t even know this guy) expresses this patronizing attitude toward Solzhenitsyn. It is just funny, any politics aside. Cheers!

  9. Back to Solzhenitsyn:
    Here’s something unrelated but interesting which I read on the
    blog Redstate which I thought might
    interest you, Daniel

    It would feel self-indulgent to launch a jeremiad about how very, very evil Lenin and Stalin and their system were. The novelist Martin Amis did this in a book a little while ago, Koba the Dread, which is essentially about his own belated discovery of that truth. And how his father, Kingsley Amis, and godfather, Robert Conquest (who exposed the atrocities of the Great Terror for the west) had been … right all along while Amis and his college chums had been proclaiming the glories of the Soviet Union and Mao’s China in the 1960s. It was nice to see Amis fils getting around to getting it right, but the tone of shocked baby-boomer awakening bordered on the amusing.

    No, it seems to me there’s another point, a narrower focus to be sought here, and it comes from – unsurprisingly – Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose The Gulag Archipelago, smuggled out to the west thirty-five years ago, documented the abomination of the Soviet internment camps with a terrifying mixture of Biblical prophet and meticulously detailed scientist. (Solzhenitsyn, who did more to expose the reality of Lenin and Stalin and the Soviet empire to the world than anyone else who ever lived, and did so with unfathomable courage, did not surface anywhere near the top of the balloting, by the way.)

    Here’s the issue that seems necessary to register after considering this vote: in The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn makes the point that as of 1966 some 86,000 Germans had been convicted in Germany for Nazi crimes. But what about in the Soviet Union – the Gulag, the enforced starvations, the Terror? “In our own country (according the reports of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court) about ten men had been convicted.” (The italics are his.) And he asks, “What kind of disastrous path lies ahead of us if we do not have the chance to purge ourselves of that putrefaction rotting inside our body?”

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