The Holy Russian Empire?
On July 9th, Russian “prime minister” Vladimir Putin and Russian Patriarch Kirill (the Slavic pope) paid a state visit together to the island of Valaam and its ancient monestary, a famous place of religious pilgrimage for Orthodox Russians. The two have more than just Russian nationalism and religion in common: It’s widely believed that Kirill, like Putin, was a member of the KGB. Russia’s constitution, just like America’s, calls for separation of church in state; as with every other aspect of the document, Putin simply ignores it with impunity.
Moscow recently. Despite the nomenclature, Putin has held all the real power in Russia for the past decade, making the recent “elections” (shamelessly rigged and not worthy of the name) that brought in as “president” nothing but a public relations exercise.is quotation mark nation these days. Putin’s title is prime minister, but not even Barack Obama could use it with a straight face, repeatedly referring to Putin by his former title “president” while in
It hard to understate the role the Russian pontiff is gaining in the halls of government these days. Back in Moscow the next day, Putin’s party of power, , hosted Kirill at a meeting to discuss pending legislation. That’s right: The Russian Orthodox Church is developing a veto over Russian lawmaking.
With Russian tanks rolling into Georgia last August, is it too early to speak of a “Holy Russian Empire” developing under Putin as dictator? Only one argument says yes, a scenario even more horrifying to contemplate, namely a radicalized Islamic Russia.
The next time you wonder why Putin is always playing footsie with Mr. Ahmadinejad in Iran, even going so far as to help him develop nuclear capacity, consider this: Back in 2007 Putin advisor Vladimir Dergachyov predicted that “differences in growth rates of Christian and Muslim groups in Russia along with the arrival of Muslim immigrants from abroad will boost the percentage of Muslims there from 10 percent now to 50 percent by 2050″ and “told the Russian Orthodox online journal Stoletiye that many Russian political figures still fail to appreciate that increasingly important reality and thus fail to support or even openly question the efforts Putin and the Russian foreign ministry have made to develop ties with Muslim countries.”
Perhaps the single most stunning fact about Slavs are dying off fast due to a horrifying mortality rate and a low birthrate, and this has given Russia’s nascent Muslim population the chance to dramatically expand and take over.is that while it holds a seat on the lofty G-8 and U.N. Security Council, it doesn’t rank in the top 150 nations of the world for average adult lifespan. Russian men typically don’t live to see their sixtieth year — Slavic Russian men, that is. The
So Putin is playing a double game. On the one hand, he’s trying to build a place for Russia in the Muslim world, bolstering Iran by blocking UN sanctions and providing nuclear power, and sending weapons to Syria and piles of cash to Hezbollah and Hamas. On the other, he’s bringing the Russian Orthodox Church directly into the halls of government and seeking to revive Slavic nationalism in a last-dash effort to stave off transformation.
So it was that Kirill was summoned by United Russia. Kirill is furious about efforts by the European Union and the Council of Europe, of which Russia is a member, to introduce sex education into Russian schools, and Putin responded by giving the church unprecedented authority to vet proposed legislation of all types before it ever reaches the working stage in parliament. The Orthodox Church opposes sex education in schools even though Russia has one of the world’s worst looming AIDS disasters, just one of many factors contributing to its ghastly mortality rate.
What’s driving all this is the growing power of Russia’s ethnic groups, among which the Muslims are the driving force. It all starts in the war-torn Chechnya region, where years of unsuccessfully fighting Islamic rebels for control has led ultimately to the Kremlin adopting a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy giving the local strongman, , basically carte blanche authority in the region in exchange for reigning in terrrorism against the Slavic population in the north. The fighting in Chechya has subsided from previous levels, but now all the other Caucasus regions are boiling with separatist activity, looking for their own slice of the pie. Assassinations and attacks on Russian forces are rife, calling Russia’s ability to safely carry out the , which it proposes to hold in the region’s epicenter of Sochi, into serious question.
Back in February, a pair of rabbis were expelled from Russia for alleged visa violations, but in fact their “crime” was aggressively seeking to expand the Jewish faith, something for which neither the Orthodox Church nor the growing Muslim population have much patience. Ben Lazar of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement, fairly close to the Kremin and one of Russia’s most powerful Jewish leaders, remarked ominously: “Jews have begun to fear for the future of their community in Russia for the first time in many years. In the negative environment of the [financial] crisis, when material problems become exacerbated, some start looking for someone to blame and declare those who are unlike themselves to be guilty.”
So in light of that, it comes as little suprise to read from noted Russian religions scholar Paul Goble that Russia is trying to weaponize the Jewish faith as a wedge to divide, and thereby reconquer, Ukraine. Goble notes, for instance, that in April 2008 Russian sources released a story that “an Israeli historian named Yury Vilner had published a book entitled Andrii Yushchenko: The Person and the ‘Legend.’” Its research supposed “proves that during the Second World War, the father of the president of Ukraine may have been a camp policeman and Nazi informer.” The only problem was that, as far as anyone can now tell, no such book was ever published and there wasn’t a shred of truth to the allegations. The President of the Ukraine, by the way, one Victor Yuschnenko, is ardently pro-West and has aggressively sought to bring Ukraine into the NATO and EU folds. During his election campaign, his face was severely disfigured in a dixoin poison attack that he only barely survived and which many analysts attribute to the Russian KGB.
The financial crisis, which has left Russia with double-digit inflation and unemployment and a stock market that has lost three-quarters of its value, of course only serves to toss gasonline on the incendiary situation created by the demographic crisis. In such an environment, it’s quite handy for Putin to have Kirill at his disposal. The Russian Pontiff has been willing to link human rights and democracy activists with immorality, associating them with gambling and homosexuality and repeatedly denouncing them as contrary to Russia’s interests. This gives Putin cover as he attempts to crack down on civil society, having already seized control of the major TV networks and newspapers and abolishing the election of regional governors, who now serve at Putin’s pleasure.
The church has not been shy about playing the role of enforcer, leading many to see the it as just another ministry of power. It defrocked a priest who dared to question the show trial and conviction of after the oil baron began making noises about seeking the presidency. It demoted another priest when he questioned whether the patriarch had too much power. And it excommunicated a third who participated in a government commission that exposed a large number of Soviet-era clerics as KGB infomers.
At the same time, there is increasing nationalism on display among the clergy. One St. Petersburg cleric even created a holy icon depicting the homicidal dictator Josef Stalin, whose image is being rehabilitated by the Putin government in a series of new history texts. In fact, within the church there is a burgeoning movement to canonize the Soviet overlord.
So it seems Russia faces a Hobson’s choice where religion is concerned: Either impose totalitarian Orthodoxy and fight a never ending war with Islamic insurrectionists, or become part of the Islamic world and battle Slavic nationalists. With no ability to manage democratic pluralism, the notion of an American-style melting pot appears to be off the table.