Russian Orthodox Fundamentalism Recalls Islamist Kind and Will Also Lead to Violence, Ikhlov Says

November 8, 2015
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill and President Vladimir Putin lay flowers at the monument to Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, who expelled the forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1612. Photo by RIA Novosti

Staunton, November 8 In his recent speeches, Moscow Patriarch Kirill has articulated a kind of Orthodox Fundamentalism that not only resembles the more familiar Islamist variant but like it will encourage those who want to attack modernity in the name of traditional rural values to engage in violence, Yevgeny Ikhlov argues.

“If in Kirill’s speeches, one replaces his references to the Mother of God with Allah….Russian civilization with the umma…the Orthodox Tsar with the Caliph of the Faithful, we obtain a ready-made manifesto of some Islamist fundamentalists, the Moscow commentator says.

Of course, Ikhlov continues, the Moscow Patriarch’s version of fundamentalism is more “cowardly,” almost certainly because “the term ‘Orthodox p

ogromist’ is much more well-known than ‘Orthodox shahid [suicide bomber],’ although for example, the world has seen in excess socialist and communist ‘shahids.”

Were these words simply the churchman’s opinion, they might safely be dismissed as wrong-headed, but the coming together of two trends, Ikhlov continues, means that they are anything but a marginal view and almost certainly will have deleterious consequences for Russia and Russians.

On the one hand, for the third time in modern Russian history, the powers that be have turned away from European values such as the supremacy of law and civic freedoms in the name of protecting Russia’s supposed “special path.” The first time was in 1848; the second was at the end of Stalin’s reign; and now Putin is doing the same as these values threaten his power.

And on the other, Russia’s new turning away from the West is drawing is energy from traditionalist even archaic rural culture whose bearers are prepared once again to use violence against those mostly modern urban people whom they view as threatening their values, their way of life, and the nation as they define it.

This conjunction has allowed Kirill and the church hierarchy to aspire to become the Putin-era analogue of the Ideological Department of the CPSU Central Committee, Ikhlov argues.

The patriarch in his recent remarks have pushed three “basic” theses: First, in his view, “Russia has a special civilizational path and is under the invisible rule of the Mother of God” and one that can realize itself only by preserving its identity from attempts to impose Western values on it.

Second, “the essence of this identity is in the preservation of ‘popular morality’ from fornication and pseudo-freedom.” And third, in the defense of these values, “the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox church is the avant-garde of Russian society and is leading it to a bright past,” a notion that is “not simple a comic inversion” of the CPSU’s claims but an affirmation of the church’s increasing influence in the regime.

There is no doubt, Ikhlov says, that “local Russian civilization has its own specific character,” just like “all the other ‘daughters’ of European civilization do.” It specific features include “cyclical-catastrophic development,” with each stage of its development divided from its predecessor by a time of troubles and “its essence being the overthrow of its predecessor.”

Its efforts at modernization have always been incomplete and superficial. It has seen “the preservation of enormous influence of traditionalist (feudal) and even traditional (archaic and pre-state) periods.” And it has been engaged in a Manichean struggle “between models of a messianic continental empire and a nation state of a European type.”

But what is “most important” in the current context, Ikhlov argues, is this: Russia has been the arena for a struggle between those who celebrate the village and the past and those who believe that the future can and must be defined by urban civilization rather than by the patriarchal village.

Conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, “genocidal pogroms in East Africa and South East Asia and India very clearly have shown to what horrific cruelty are capable in ordinary life simple, honest and good villagers” when they are confronted by changes in the cities and mobilized by elites against urban civilization.

“The cruelty of the traditional individual is explicable,” Ikhlov suggests, “because he lives in fear” of those who bring change and is thus prepared to attack witches, Jews, heretics, “wreckers” and more recently “fifth columns.” As long as the tradition of which he is a part is strong, he is a picturesque figure. But when tradition weakens, he is unleashed.

And that is true, the Moscow commentator suggests, whether the villager is a Shiite in Iran or an Orthodox believer in rural Russia. Both have seen their formerly strong traditions weaken in the last century; and now they both want to take revenge on those they blame for this development.

If the Russian Orthodox Church were prepared to condemn such attacks, Russia might get through its current time of troubles without violence. But Patriarch Kirill is making clear, Ikhlov says, that he has no intention to rein in such traditionalist emotions and thus wll, along with the Kremlin, likely exacerbate them still further.