Staunton, April 28 – Russia is unlikely to develop into a fundamentalist country like Iran with Orthodox radicals playing the role of mullahs, but “the moral permissiveness [toward evil] in combination with permanent fear for one’s life and well-being is blocking the development of both [Russian] society and its individual members, according to Ekaterina Schulmann.
In an essay in today’s Vedomosti, the Moscow political analyst points out that proposals by Duma members to prohibit abortions or otherwise impose what their authors believe are Orthodox values receive a great deal of media attention and generate fears in some quarters about the future.
But few notice, Schulmann observes, that “not a single such initiative advanced further than the first reading. All of them have been either rejected, returned to their authors, or withdrawn by them” – a pattern that says a great deal about where Russia is and where it is heading.
Supporters of the Putin regime can make as any “sexist or traditionalist public pronouncements” as they like, “but officially, [the regime] avoids the slogan ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche,’” she continues, and that shows the gap between these public positions and what is actually occurring.
“Why is it impossible in Russia,” she asks rhetorically, “to imagine politically influential organizations struggling with abortions and promiscuity in general on the model of numerous structures within the orbit of the Republican Party of the US or the Catholic church in the countries of southern Europe?”
The reason is to be found in the fact that “’Russian fundamentalism’ and the degree of its realization in reality and not just in propaganda” are two different things. Russian society is too diverse and its history too complicated to imagine Russia reversing itself in the way Afghanistan and Iran have.
“In Russia,” she observes, “a difficult-to-describe ‘lower matriachate’ functions, something which does not make the lives of women wealthier or better defended.” Moreover the gradual disappearance of the non-nuclear family is combined with a cult of children” which uniquely features things like divorce in favor of children and the handing over of children to orphanages.
Homosexuality is “understood not as ‘an orientation,’ a personal characteristic, but as a social stigma which is connected with the acceptance everywhere of a criminal ethos.” As a result, many Russians see homosexuals as “wreckers” who threaten children, Schulmann continues.
“All these things,” the Moscow scholar says, “intuitively understood” by people in Russia “poorly translate into the language of the social sciences. Our values are defined by the lack of a Reformation, of amoral-religious revolt of the lower orders against the upper ones – and consequently by the non-existence of ‘Russian puritans’ and their corresponding moral system.”
In Russia, the church remains subordinate to the state, and religious figures “are influential only to the extent that they are close to the ruling bureaucracy rather than the other way around.” And that in turn means, that “the inheritance of the Soviet authorities – the atomization of society, the collapse of family ties, secularism, the total involvement of women in the workplace and hyper-urbanization – dominates the situation.”
According to the World Values Survey, she notes, “Russian society combines secular rational values with a high priority for the values of expression,” a pattern that shows Russia has chosen survival over development and broken with traditionalism far more not only in comparison with “all Islamic and Latin American countries and Catholic southern Europe but also from the majority of English-speaking countries – Canada, the UK and the US.”
This means, Schulmann argues, that “in Russia few are agitated by moral problems as such, but all are agitated by issues of security … [Russians] don’t feel righteous anger: they imitate it. It isn’t morality that agitates them, but survival at any price – in other words by a certain ideological opposition to any moral code, traditionalist or liberal.”
There is a positive side to this, she says. It is unlikely that there will appear in Central Russia the kind of radical priests and their fundamentalism that many might expect. But there is a negative one as well: “moral permissiveness in combination with permanent fear for one’s life and well-being blocks the development of both society and the individual.”
In sum, Schulmann says, “Russian society, for completely understandable reasons, does have display the feelings of fundamental security which, psychologists say, ought to form in a child during the first year of life and allow him to develop his abilities, take risks and acknowledge the new.”