Posts tagged with: putin

John Couretas’s link today to the recent Christianity Today article on how Russian evangelicals “thank God for Putin,” reminded me of this excellent post last month from Joseph Pearce on the complexities of religious tribalism in the Ukraine crisis. As ought to be expected, despite the Cold War posturing of both Western and Eastern media, the situation is not as simple as East vs. West or, for that matter, good vs. evil:

Regardless of the relative merits of each side’s claims in the Ukraine, it struck me as unfair to blame the Catholic Church for the actions of western Ukrainian forces. It is true, of course, that the people of western Ukraine are mainly Catholic whereas those in the east are mainly Orthodox. In this sense, it can be conceded that the war is “ethnic,” in the sense that two different cultures are struggling for dominance or for separation. It is, however, not fair to categorize the war as “religious.” It would be much more accurate to describe it as political in the sense that it is a clash of nationalities: ethnic Ukrainians in the west and ethnic Russians in the east. The western Ukrainians blame their eastern neighbors for their suffering under the Soviet system; the eastern Ukrainians blame their western neighbors for their collaboration with the Nazis and the hated SS during the second world war. There are communist “conservatives” in eastern Ukraine who long for the patriotic “glories” of Soviet imperialism, and there are many neo-Nazis in positions of power in the western Ukrainian government.

It is, however, not fair or accurate to describe the struggle between the two warring parties as religious, except in the decidedly irreligious sense of its being a sectarian struggle in which religious affiliation is little more than a badge worn in the service of tribalism.

I happen to be particularly sensitive to this crucial distinction between that which is genuinely religious and that which is merely tribal. Many years ago, back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was heavily involved in the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland between the so-called Catholics and the so-called Protestants. In those days, long before my conversion to Catholicism, I was on the side of the Protestants, even though I had no religion. I was technically, I suppose, an agnostic. I was not an atheist because God was not important enough to me. Frankly I did not care whether He existed or not. I was a Protestant, not because I cared about the way that Luther or Calvin differed from the Catholic Church but because I hated the IRA.

Read more. . . .

The all-girl Russian punk band, which in February pulled its juvenile, blasphemous stunt on the ambon of one of Russian Orthodoxy’s holiest places of worship, has generated an unending stream of twaddle from so many commentators who betray a deep, willfully ignorant grasp of Christianity and a perfectly secular mindset.

Commentator Dmitry Babich on the Voice of Russia observed that “the three female members of the group, who called the Patriarch ‘a bitch’ and ‘the God’s excrement’ in the holiest of the holy (the altar of Russia’s main Orthodox cathedral), were lionized by nearly all Western press.”

Did the band members deserve two years in prison? No — a massive over reaction. But imagine if the girls had pulled their punk-stunt in the United States in, say, a mosque or a synagogue or a liberal church, and directed that kind of language at the minister or imam. How would the Western media have reacted? (Even so, they might have qualified for a National Endowment for the Arts grant).

Peter Hitchens points out in “Pussy Riot and Selective Outrage” that the exhibitionists who staged this little exercise in “protest” weren’t just interested in free speech: (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, March 28, 2008

Russian emigre philosopher Georgy Fedotov (1888-1951) proposed two basic principles for all of the freedoms by which modern democracy lives. First, and most valuable, there are the freedoms of “conviction” — in speech, in print, and in organized social activity. These freedoms, Fedotov asserted, developed out of the freedom of faith. The other principle of freedom “defends the individual from the arbitrary will of the state (which is independent of questions of conscience and thought) — freedom from arbitrary arrest and punishment, from insult, plundering and coercion on the part of the organs of power … ”

In an ideal world, all of these freedoms would be present. But Fedotov also cautioned that “freedom is the late, refined flower of culture.”

For the flower to bloom, the roots need to be watered. A free society, from the ground up, requires a respect for the rule of law, a judiciary and police force that aren’t easily bought, a political culture that knows how to rid itself of corruption, and a vigorous free press to keep the pols and bureaucrats honest. I would also add a liberal measure of economic freedom and property rights that secure wealth from the “arbitrary” plunder of the government.

All of which gets us back to Russia. In an interview this week in the Financial Times, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev pledged to root out the “legal nihilism” that plagues his country. Excerpt:

[Medvedev’s] starting point is his legal background – he is, he says, “perhaps too much of a lawyer”. Meticulous and precise, he sees almost every issue through the prism of legal thinking. But behind the occasionally laboured language lies a deeper goal. Mr Medvedev says he wants to do what no Russian leader has done before: embed the rule of law in Russian society.

“It is a monumental task,” he agrees, switching momentarily to English. “Russia is a country where people don’t like to observe the law. It is, as they say, a country of legal nihilism.”

The pledge to overcome “legal nihilism” became a central part of Mr Medvedev’s low-key election campaign. It seems a restatement of Mr Putin’s own promise eight years ago to establish a “dictatorship of laws”, although critics say Mr Putin delivered too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Even today, Russians quote the 19th-century satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s aphorism that “the severity of Russian laws is alleviated by the lack of obligation to fulfill them”. The result is a society plagued by endemic corruption, arbitrary use of the law by the state against individuals or companies – and by companies against each other – and a judiciary that has never known genuine independence.

To paraphrase, all democracy is local. One of the strengths of the American democratic tradition is its intensely local nature. Most Americans’ experience with democracy happens when they vote for a judge, attend a school board meeting, or run afoul of the local traffic cop. If democracy doesn’t work at this level, it doesn’t work at all. As Medvedev pointed out to his interviewers: “When a citizen gives a bribe to the traffic police, it probably does not enter his head that he is committing a crime … People should think about this.”

But bribing a cop is a moral issue, just as much as it is, if not exactly a political crime, then a seemingly simple act of convenience. Morality cannot be legislated, but it can be taught and for this we need the Church and the family and those other neighborhood groups, charities, and small businesses, that act as civic training grounds and make up a healthy community. Edmund Burke called these “the little platoons” of society. (more…)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Der Spiegel has published a far ranging interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn in which the great writer “discusses Russia’s turbulent history, Putin’s version of democracy and his attitude to life and death.” It is very much worth the read. Once again, you come away from an encounter with Solzhenitsyn’s thought and marvel at his courage, his dedication to his art, and the almost indestructible quality of this man, now 88.

In the current Religion & Liberty, I reviewed the new “Solzhenitsyn Reader” from ISI books. I highly recommend this collection to anyone who wants to deepen their appreciation of Solzhenitysn.

Here are some highlights from the Der Spiegel interview. On the “nostalgia” for the Soviet past:

If we could all take a sober look at our history, then we would no longer see this nostalgic attitude to the Soviet past that predominates now among the less affected part of our society. Nor would the Eastern European countries and former USSR republics feel the need to see in historical Russia the source of their misfortunes. One should not ascribe the evil deeds of individual leaders or political regimes to an innate fault of the Russian people and their country. One should not attribute this to the “sick psychology” of the Russians, as is often done in the West. All these regimes in Russia could only survive by imposing a bloody terror. We should clearly understand that only the voluntary and conscientious acceptance by a people of its guilt can ensure the healing of a nation. Unremitting reproaches from outside, on the other hand, are counterproductive.

On the Russian Orthodox Church:

… we should be surprised that our church has gained a somewhat independent position during the very few years since it was freed from total subjugation to the communist government. Do not forget what a horrible human toll the Russian Orthodox Church suffered throughout almost the entire 20th century. The Church is just rising from its knees. Our young post-Soviet state is just learning to respect the Church as an independent institution. The “Social Doctrine” of the Russian Orthodox Church, for example, goes much further than do government programs. Recently Metropolitan Kirill, a prominent expounder of the Church’s position, has made repeated calls for reforming the taxation system. His views are quite different from those of government, yet he airs them in public, on national television.

On the concentration of political power under President Vladimir Putin:

Of course, an opposition is necessary and desirable for the healthy development of any country. You can scarcely find anyone in opposition, except for the communists, just like in Yeltsin’s times. However, when you say “there is nearly no opposition,” you probably mean the democratic parties of the 1990s. But if you take an unbiased look at the situation: there was a rapid decline of living standards in the 1990s, which affected three quarters of Russian families, and all under the “democratic banner.” Small wonder, then, that the population does not rally to this banner anymore. And now the leaders of these parties cannot even agree on how to share portfolios in an illusory shadow government. It is regrettable that there is still no constructive, clear and large-scale opposition in Russia. The growth and development of an opposition, as well as the maturing of other democratic institutions, will take more time and experience.

On facing death:

No, I am not afraid of death any more. When I was young the early death of my father cast a shadow over me — he died at the age of 27 — and I was afraid to die before all my literary plans came true. But between 30 and 40 years of age my attitude to death became quite calm and balanced. I feel it is a natural, but no means the final, milestone of one’s existence.