Vladimir Putin

Putin Goes to Church

Russia's unholy new alliance between Orthodox and state

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The biggest news story out of Russia in 2012 was not Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency in May. It was the trial of three young women from the guerrilla-girl punk band Pussy Riot, charged with "hate-motivated hooliganism" for a protest performance in a Moscow church. The women's offense was a brief song-and-dance act at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February, opening with a prayer chant of "Mother of God, Blessed Virgin, drive out Putin." On August 17, after a nonjury trial in which the judge blatantly favored the prosecution, Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were found guilty and handed two-year prison sentences. In October, two of the women were transported to remote penal colonies. 

The prosecution, which was condemned by figures ranging from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Icelandic singer Bjork to Polish former president and dissident Lech Walesa, became an international symbol of the Kremlin's heavy-handed approach to dissent and artistic freedom. Yet at its core, the Pussy Riot case was also about the unholy union of organized religion and authoritarian state in modern-day Russia. 

Pussy Riot's protest song was about not just Putin but also the cozy ties between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church under the leadership of the pro-Putin Patriarch Kirill. The indictment against the punk rockers accused them not only of demeaning the beliefs of Orthodox Christians but of "belittl[ing] the spiritual foundations of the state." 

The case looked and felt like something out of the Dark Ages. The state-run Rossiya television channel repeatedly referred to the women as "blasphemers," while a co-founder of the semi-official pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi warned that the decline of harsh blasphemy laws throughout Europe had set the continent on a path to destructive liberalism. During the trial, the judge deemed it relevant that the Pussy Rioters had violated rules established by an eighth-century church council. Outside the courtroom, the lawyer for one of the prosecution witnesses told a newspaper, with no trace of humor, that the group's actions stemmed from Satan himself. 

Are these developments harbingers of a new Russian theocracy? While some of the religious zealotry underlying the scandal was undoubtedly genuine, the prosecution was mostly a loud display of pretend medievalism—political theater performed by Jesus-loving Stalinists, KGB clerics, and Christian soldiers who dabble in soft porn. As Novaya Gazeta columnist Andrei Kolesnikov has pointed out, religion's true role in contemporary Russia is perhaps best summed up by none other than Karl Marx, who in his 1852 pamphlet The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte described it as "the domination of the priests as an instrument of government." 

'A Land Watched Over By God'

The irony should not be lost on anyone who remembers the extent to which Soviet evildoing was chalked up to godlessness by many in the West, especially Americans. "Communism's attempt to make man stand alone without God" was a central theme of Ronald Reagan's famous "Evil Empire" speech in 1983; three decades earlier, the addition of "under God" to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was at least partly motivated by a desire to differentiate God-fearing America from the atheistic USSR. 

The Soviets certainly earned their godless reputation. In 1918 Soviet Russia became the world's first atheist state, and its rulers launched a ruthless, sustained attack on religion. Thousands of priests, monks, and nuns were killed, and many more were imprisoned. Churches were sacked, converted to warehouses and social clubs, or razed. (The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, demolished in 1931, was the most famous casualty; the present building, the scene of Pussy Riot's crime, is a 1990s reconstruction.) Later, physical violence gave way to an aggressive propaganda war against faith. 

The persecution eased after Hitler's 1941 invasion. Seeking to rally Christians to a "holy war," Joseph Stalin scuttled the anti-religion campaign and allowed thousands of churches to reopen. Official attitudes fluctuated during the next four decades, but atheism always remained central to state ideology. In the 1970s and early '80s, as Soviet communism limped toward the ash heap of history, believers generally had to stay in the closet or face unpleasant consequences. Being a churchgoer could cost you your job or get you kicked out of college. Those who stepped out of bounds—priests whose sermons were too bold, laypeople who published Christian samizdat—were harassed, terrorized, and sometimes thrown into labor camps or mental hospitals. Baptists and other "sectarians" faced especially vicious treatment. 

All of this changed in the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms opened up Soviet society. Interest in religion surged, just in time for the millennial anniversary of Russia's conversion to Christianity in 1988 (the occasion for the first-ever broadcast of church services on Soviet television). Two years later, communist-era restrictions on faith were formally abolished, and equality for all believers and nonbelievers became law.

Before long, however, the Russian Orthodox Church, historically the dominant religious organization in Russia, had had enough of religious freedom. Authorities were nervous about the flood of post-Soviet missionaries from abroad and the massive crowds that turned out for Rev. Billy Graham's historic 1993 trip to Moscow. In the early 1990s, the church began to lobby for measures to curb proselytizing and other religious work by foreign nationals. Such moves stalled at first, due both to Western backlash and to conflicts between parliament and then-President Boris Yeltsin. But in 1997 Yeltsin reluctantly signed a new law that returned religion in Russia to a highly regulated status—privileged for some faiths, marginalized for others.

While ostensibly affirming religious freedom and the secular nature of the state, the law's preamble recognized "the special role of Orthodoxy" and expressed "respect" for Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism as faiths with historical roots in Russia. Meanwhile, new religious groups seeking legal recognition now had to overcome numerous bureaucratic hurdles, including a 15-year probation period during which they were barred from virtually any activity other than private services and prayer meetings. Even existing religious organizations were subject to multiple restrictions. Today, less favored faiths endure routine discrimination and abuse: Last September, the evangelical Church of the Holy Trinity in Moscow was bulldozed into rubble after the city refused to renew its land-use permit; church belongings, including costly audio equipment, were carted away by the demolition team. A few days later, pastor Sergei Romanyuk was briefly arrested for conducting a prayer service—deemed an unsanctioned rally—at the site.

As the regulations went into effect, a new climate of official religiosity was taking hold in Russia. In 2001, when George W. Bush first met with Vladimir Putin, the two presidents bonded over Putin's heartwarming tale about a cross he had supposedly received from his mother and worn his entire life, and which had miraculously survived a fire at his summer cottage. It is hard to say whether this anecdote attests more to Bush's credulity or to Putin's cynicism; the thought of an active-duty KGB officer wearing a cross is hilarious to anyone with rudimentary knowledge of Soviet society. But it also illustrates the extent to which God talk was becoming part of Russia's official discourse, and not just for foreign consumption. When Putin restored the old Soviet anthem with brand-new lyrics in 2000, "the victory of communism's deathless ideas" gave way to "a land watched over by God."

By the end of the decade, Russia was a country where politicians regularly attended televised religious services; Orthodox priests blessed everything from spaceships to new prison buildings; Nashi, the "patriotic" youth movement mobilized to whip up loyalist fervor and browbeat the opposition, had an "Orthodox division" (whose chief, Boris Yakemenko, waxed nostalgic for medieval blasphemy laws during the Pussy Riot case); and some high-level officials spoke of the Orthodox faith as the "kernel" of Russian identity. In a televised debate during the 2012 presidential campaign, filmmaker and Putin crony Nikita Mikhalkov questioned whether one of Putin's Potemkin rivals, businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, was fit to lead Russia since he was an avowed nonbeliever. Orthodoxy is the majority religion, Mikhalkov pointed out, and the Orthodox believe all authority comes from God.

'Try Believing in God Instead, Scumbag'

In the wake of the Pussy Riot debacle, a number of commentators noted that religion has become the Russian state's new ideological prop, a "national idea" to fill the post-communist void. Not surprisingly, this religion-as-ideology often seems more political than spiritual—an aggressively statist creed perfectly aligned with Putin's worldview. 

Thus the 2008 formal statement of "Russian Orthodox Church Doctrine on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights" amounted to a Christian-flavored manifesto for Putin-style "sovereign democracy." Individual rights, the doctrine made clear, must never take priority over the interests of "Fatherland" (Otechestvo); human rights activism must not advance the agenda of "particular countries" seeking to export their way of life (a thinly veiled jab at supposedly U.S.-sponsored dissidents); and citizens' exercise of their political rights should never undermine social unity or the traditional Orthodox model of harmony between government and society. 

Practical examples of such church-state harmony apparently include Putin dodging the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency by using loyal protégé Dmitry Medvedev as a placeholder. In September 2011, after Medvedev announced that he would not seek a second term but instead step aside for his benefactor, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of Public Relations, hailed the development as a "peaceful, dignified, honorable, friendly transfer of power" that other nations should envy. (That Russian voters had yet to ratify the "transfer of power" was clearly a minor detail.)

Ideological Orthodoxy fits snugly with the anti-Western animus that pervades Putinism. Take a look at the much-ballyhooed "Name of Russia" TV project held in 2008 to choose history's greatest Russian. The winner (almost certainly government-approved, with Internet vote-rigging to avert a first-place finish for Stalin) was the legendary 13th-century prince and Orthodox saint Alexander Nevsky, famous for routing small bands of Northern European crusaders. Future Patriarch Kirill, then an archbishop, championed Alexander in television studio debates as the warrior who saved Russia from the Western menace. Kirill even praised Alexander's choice to collaborate with the conquering Mongol Horde—whose rule is generally viewed as disastrous for Russia—while spurning an alliance with the Pope. The Horde "only wanted our purses," Kirill said, while the West threatened Russia's very identity. 

In a modern context, this attitude translates into a full endorsement of the Kremlin's Putin-era foreign policy, with its peculiar mix of ego-driven global posturing, imperial nostalgia, and paranoid pique. Kirill, who was elected Patriarch by the senior church hierarchy in 2009 and thus became spiritual and organizational head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has echoed Putin in deploring the Soviet Union's collapse. Chaplin, the Patriarchate's P.R. man, raised eyebrows last January when he suggested that Russia should step up its military involvement "in all areas where people are concerned about the danger of orange experiments" (Kremlin-speak for alleged U.S.-manipulated subversion, named after Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, which ousted a pro-Moscow president by challenging election fraud).

Last February, at a meeting with religious leaders hosted by the Patriarch, Putin mused that "the primitive understanding of the separation of church and state" should be jettisoned in favor of "cooperation." And indeed, the church was cooperating at that very moment by serving as the state's cheerleader in the face of rising popular discontent. Putin's planned Kremlin comeback, compounded by fraud in the December 2011 parliamentary vote, had finally roused many Russians from apathy and sent tens of thousands into the streets. The response from church leadership—aside from a few squeaks about the need for government to hear citizens' legitimate concerns—was to caution against rocking the boat and to praise Putin as (almost literally) God's gift to Russia.

In early January, as protests grew, Chaplin wrote in a column for the Interfax website that while "the popular will to political activity should not be suppressed," it was "shameful" for Russian activists to stand next to liberal opposition leaders such as chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov. In televised sermons, Patriarch Kirill warned of the potential bloodshed, chaos, and destruction from people fighting for "their own small, human, insignificant truths" and averred that "Orthodox believers don't know how to go out to demonstrations." While hosting Putin's meeting with clergy in February, the Patriarch described Russia's revival since 2000 as "a miracle of God"—one for which he bestowed much of the credit on Putin himself. (These comments inspired the Pussy Riot lyrics, "Patriarch Gundyayev [Kirill's secular name] believes in Putin; try believing in God instead, scumbag!") 

The Abbot Kisses the Ring

In return for its loyalty, the church—or at least its senior hierarchy—has been amply rewarded with wealth, status, and perks. But that doesn't mean the more faith-specific parts of its agenda get translated into government policy (aside from local bans on gay pride events and on "propaganda of homosexuality to minors," an area where church dogma dovetails with majority biases). Abortion, which is as unacceptable in Orthodoxy as it is in Catholicism, remains not only legal but free at public clinics. In 2011 the Patriarch's plea to end government funding for abortions was briskly dismissed by the ruling United Russia party, and legislation introducing some restrictions, such as spousal consent for married women, died in the Duma (the Russian parliament); the only actual policy change was tighter regulation after the first trimester. Church advocacy on this issue has been fairly low-key and deferential; when Kirill raised it in his meeting with Putin, it was to concede the pro-choice tilt of popular opinion and beg for better incentives for women to make other choices.

The effort to bring Orthodoxy into public education has yielded mixed results at best. A few years ago, proposals to make "the basics of Orthodox culture" a required subject for middle school students met with a strong backlash, including an open letter from a group of concerned scientists whom the church assailed as relics of militant Soviet atheism. Then Putin's docile Duma nixed a resolution condemning the critics, and Putin himself warned that religious indoctrination in state schools would be illegal. As if on cue, church spokesman Chaplin made a conciliatory statement calling for a pluralistic approach to religious studies. The solution was a class in "secular ethics and world religions" (which recently became mandatory nationwide after a two-year pilot program), with several options from which parents can choose. So far less than a third of students have enrolled in the Orthodox track, compared to more than 40 percent for secular ethics and 20 percent for world religions. The Patriarch blamed the church's comparative failure on "the liberal press."

All this is a far cry from theocracy, even if disturbing examples of religious coercion are common. (Last spring, REN-TV did a report on kids being pressured into baptism at a summer camp for the children of railway employees.) It is, rather, an unequal tandem of a cynically pious state and a cynically servile church. 

Of course, subservience to state power is an old tradition for the Russian Orthodox Church; it started under the czars—particularly after the 1700s, when Peter the Great effectively reduced the church to a subordinate branch of government—and continued under the Soviets, when the church was brought back from near-obliteration as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet regime and the KGB. 

That dark legacy lives on in the present-day church. In 1992 a parliamentary investigative commission co-chaired by Father Gleb Yakunin, an Orthodox priest and Soviet-era dissident, released KGB files exposing a vast network of collaborators among clerics, particularly at the highest levels. (Shortly afterward, Yakunin was defrocked, supposedly for violating church discipline through his political activity.) One of those collaborators, code-named Mikhailov, was almost certainly Kirill himself. In the 1970s, the future Patriarch, then an up-and-coming church official, traveled regularly abroad for conferences where he participated in the Soviet "struggle for peace" and pooh-poohed claims about religious persecution in the USSR.

Compared to Soviet times, the church today enjoys a far more exalted status. Yet there is no doubt as to which side dominates in the church-state "partnership." A few days before the Pussy Riot verdict, a clip from a Russian newscast made a splash on the Internet: On a visit to a historic monastery, a startled Putin shrank back when the abbot bowed and moved to kiss his hand. Russian media outlets treated the abbot's abasement as a comical gaffe, and he later apologized for his inappropriate zeal; but many Russians saw the gesture as a fitting bit of symbolism. 

'War of the Whores'

Aside from the fact that many of its high-ranking servants of God are former servants of a totalitarian atheist state, Russian Orthodoxy today has another unusual quality: Many of its rank-and-file believers aren't believers at all. Both church leaders and establishment politicians describe Russia as a highly religious, overwhelmingly Orthodox nation. Nearly three out of four Russians identify as Orthodox Christians, up from 30 percent in 1989 and just over half in 1994. Yet according to the Levada Center, Russia's premier independent polling firm, only 40 percent of these self-proclaimed Orthodox say they definitely believe in God, while 30 percent definitely do not. Half never go to church; only one in 10 prays and fasts. Fewer than 5 percent know the Ten Commandments. All this recalls a popular 1990s Russian joke mocking faddish faux religion among the nouveau riche: A "New Russian" at a jewelry shop asks for a cross—the biggest, most expensive they've got. The salesgirl brings a massive, jewel-studded golden cross with the crucified Christ on it. "Great!" says the man. "But can you take down the gymnast?"

In other ways, too, Russia does not fit the image of a religious society. Sexual liberation, eagerly embraced after decades of forced communist-era prudery, is still in full swing. Premarital sex is the norm; almost one in three births are to single mothers, nearly triple the figure in the early 1980s; and at least 45 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, compared to 15 percent to 20 percent in Western Europe. Popular culture is sex-saturated to an extent that Westerners find jarring; respectable news sites routinely feature links—complete with R-rated thumbnail pictures—to raunchy gossip, risqué celebrity photos, and sex tips. Nashi, the Kremlin-financed youth group with an Orthodox division, has promoted racy novelty items such as bikini panties pledging loyalty to Putin and "erotic calendars" in which lingerie-clad beauties in provocative poses declare their passion for Dear Leader or battle corruption with innuendo-laced slogans like "you can have it without a bribe."

The paradoxes of Russian-style religion were on stark display during the Pussy Riot backlash. TV pundit Maxim Shevchenko, who denounced the punk feminists and their supporters' assault on the faithful in a blog post titled "War of the Whores," is a staunch defender of Stalin, on whose watch the original Christ the Savior cathedral was destroyed. Multimillionaire pop singer Elena Vaenga, who posted on her website a much-ridiculed semiliterate rant demanding punishment for "the skanks" and declaring herself deeply insulted as a Christian, recently had an out-of-wedlock child a few months after leaving her common-law husband. Vaenga's music is as un-Orthodox as her lifestyle: In the video for one of her songs, she strips down to satin panties and bra and gets into bed with a man while talking to another lover on the phone.

What kind of Christians are these? Ones for whom, writes Kommersant columnist Konstantin Eggert, Orthodox Christianity is "a new ideology to replace 'the moral code of the builder of communism'—a quaint mix of ill-understood rituals, well-studied conspiracy theories, rote- memorized rules and state-backed patriotism." Some Orthodox ideologues freely concede this communist lineage. Discussing the Pussy Riot verdict on a radio show, Roman Silantiev, an official in the church-sponsored activist organization the Russian People's Assembly, predicted that the controversy would draw more "patriotic-minded people" to the church because Russia's enemies were lined up on the other side. "Just as they used to say 'anti-Soviet' meaning 'Russia-hater,' they are now saying that anyone who hates the Russian Orthodox Church hates Russia," Silantiev said. "These are the people who will make the church stronger." 

'The Miracle of the Watch'

If the full-bore prosecution of the Pussy Riot trio was intended to rally the religious around government, or to drive a wedge between the secular and religious parts of the opposition, the move failed. In the end, the controversy may well hurt both the Russian Orthodox Church and the church-state alliance. While few Russians approved of the feminists' stunt in the cathedral, opinions were sharply split on the prison sentence. In one poll, one-third felt it was too harsh, about as many saw it as appropriate; 15 percent found it too lenient, and 10 percent said there should have been no prosecution. Many were critical of the church's response to the incident, which included calling for hate crime charges and penalties severe enough to deter future miscreants. On the eve of the trial, only one in five Russians agreed this stance was justified; twice as many said the church should not have tried to influence the court at all, and 30 percent felt it should have "shown Christian mercy" and asked for the women's release. (After the sentencing, the church chimed in with a mealy-mouthed plea for clemency.) 

Even more people were alienated by the outpouring of hate from self-styled defenders of the faith such as the talk-show callers who proposed lurid punishments for the women, from public scourging to impalement, and the Orthodox activist photographed punching a female Pussy Riot supporter in the face. No prominent churchmen condemned this behavior, saving their rebukes for believers who called for tolerance and forgiveness.

The aftermath of the trial saw more moves by the government to tighten the screws on undesirable religious expression; a bill that would institute criminal penalties, including prison terms of up to three years, for "insulting the feelings of believers" began to move through the Duma. Characteristically, the law protects only followers of the four institutionalized faiths mentioned in the 1997 legislation on religion: Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. There was also a series of incidents in which hardcore "Orthodox activists" used frankly thuggish tactics to intimidate church critics and other undesirables—harassing people wearing pro-Pussy Riot T-shirts, disrupting a theater performance that supported the group, and even invading a museum of erotica to subtly threaten the owner. These developments will inevitably drive a deeper wedge not only between religious and secular Russians, but between Christians who believe in religious liberty and the faithful who are also believers in state power.

The Church's image problems have been compounded by several unsavory recent controversies surrounding the Patriarch, including one featuring a luxury apartment, an extortionate lawsuit, and a rumored mistress. (Orthodox priests can marry, but bishops belong to the celibate monastic priesthood.) In late March, the news site Rosbalt.ru reported that a prominent retired surgeon was being forced to pay nearly $1 million for damage supposedly caused by dust from renovation work at his apartment to his upstairs neighbor's furnishings. The owner of the apartment above was Patriarch Kirill, who has two official residences; the apartment's occupant, and the plaintiff in the dust-damage lawsuit, was one Lydia Leonova, described as the prelate's longtime friend and "second cousin." Then in April came what wags called "the miracle of the watch." After a television interview in which Kirill denied owning a $35,000 Breguet watch and asserted that a photo of him wearing one was a fake, bloggers discovered that the watch had vanished from the Patriarch's wrist in a photo on the Moscow Patriarchate's website—yet a reflection of the offending object could be seen in a mahogany table.

In August the VTSIOM, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, found that half of all Russians trusted clergymen, down from two-thirds in 2010. Growing negativity about the church is found not only among secular Russians but among the faithful, including some members of the clergy. In 2011 three priests from the Izhevsk diocese in northern Russia wrote to Patriarch Kirill criticizing the church's cozy relationship with government leaders and wealthy patrons; the local archbishop responded by banning the priests from service. 

The Pussy Riot fiasco is likely to accelerate this trend. On the day the women were sentenced, Muscovite Svetlana Goryacheva, writing on Facebook, explained her choice to leave the Russian Orthodox Church after 16 years as a churchgoer: "I am still a believing Christian, but I cannot stay in a church full of liars, money-grubbers and bigots." 

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83 responses to “Putin Goes to Church

  1. Needs more……

    1. Of course Cosmo’s have a sympathy for pussy riot. How could they not? Never mind that they invaded private property. It was old white Christian men’s private property. And the punishment was out of proportion to the crime. After all, it’s not like neo-Nazis who marched into a synagogue yelling “gas the Jews” would get two years in prison. Charity begins halfway around the world.

    2. yeah, needs more of this news.. konsultasi medis online

  2. Russia has turned into an authoritarian theocracy. Not great. I wouldn’t want to live there. But in relation to the rest of the world, not really that far down the “horrible, immoral place” list. This is pretty minor compared to places like Saudi Arabia or really any of the Gulf states. Yet, I don’t recall much talk in Reason about those places.

    1. Russia holds a much larger place in the cultural tapestry than some backwater POS Middle Eastern country.

      Were you looking for an actual explanation, or a fight?

      1. Those backward POS middle eastern countries tend to be a lot more important than their size would indicate. They have a lot of oil over there in case you haven’t heard.

        The media likes to cover Pussy Riot, because they are attractive young women. If you have a dissident movement and you want the Western media to pay attention to you, get an attractive woman to be your spokesman. See for example Burma. The Burmese junta are pretty nasty fellows. But I can name at least ten countries off the top of my head that are much much worse than Burma and have their own courageous dissidents. Yet it was Aung San Suu Kyi wins the Noble Peace Prize not one of the thousands of equally courageous people rotting in North Korean, Cuban, Iranian, Saudia Arabian or other prisons around the world.

        For the life of me can’t see why the Pussy Riot issue should get so much coverage outside of Russia.

        1. Maybe you are unaware of the giggles a name like Pussy Riot creates in the newsroom. They get to put Pussy on the front page.

        2. John, at this risk of sounding like a pearl-clutching Jezebel feminist shouting “awareness” and “raising consciousness”…

          I take your point, but you have to admit that any coverage at all is better than no coverage.

          If people are calling nation state A for its brutality, and becoming aware of the negative consequences of its brutality, while ignoring the even worse B, it just means that B’s day of reckoning is in the future.

          That’s better than ignoring both A and B and not developing the awareness that totalitarianism sucks.

        3. For the life of me can’t see why the Pussy Riot issue should get so much coverage outside of Russia.

          Because Pussy Riot is a very funny name.

          1. Randian, the word “meme” seems to be a term of art to you. It has taken me a while figure out how you mean it. But as best I can figure it means an argument or a set of facts that you don’t like but have nothing to say in response.

            1. What the fuck are you talking about? I didn’t post that as any sort of argument. I rarely use the word “meme”, and to my knowledge I’ve never said it to you nor used it as an argumentative term.

              I mean, seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you? You completely made this up out of whole cloth…like you’re talking to someone else or maybe just the voices in your head.

              1. If I misunderstood you, I apologize. But I guess I don’t understand what you were saying. Why did you put “meme” in response to my post? What are you saying?

                1. I put the word “meme” in there because that’s what they’re fucking called.

                  You know what? I’m throwing my hands up here. Jesus.

                  1. So meme seems to mean something you don’t like What a stupid and insulting word and term. The fact is no one is doing concerts for dissidents in places like Cuba or North Korean. U2 isn’t writing songs about them are they? Why did Aung San Suu Kyi get so much love from the world gliterati? Because she is attractive and well spoken and someone they can identify with. It is really that simple. Calling it a “meme” doesn’t make untrue.

                    1. John, I think you should click through on Randian’s link to understand why he used the word “meme.” Plus, it’s really fucking funny.

                    2. He isn’t even bothering to click what I wrote.

                      John is literally the stupidest person I have encountered in a month.

                    3. Click the hyperlink, John. You jumped the rails on this one.

                    4. You’re being a dumbass John.

              2. “I mean, seriously, what the fuck is wrong with [John]?” I’m afraid there is no answer to that question.

        4. I, for one, was completely unaware of the bigger picture behind the Pussy Riot thing. In fact I would argue that most Americans are more aware of the shitholes you mention than what’s going on in Russia these days.

      2. “””some backwater POS Middle Eastern country.””

        Hey, that is some backwater POS Middle Eastern country which buys up western institutions, businesses and politicians while at the same time providing the bulk of the foreign terrorists in conflicts around the world. So get it right.

        1. Hey, that is some backwater POS Middle Eastern country which buys up western institutions, businesses and politicians

          Who stole DJF’s tinfoil? He really needs it.

          1. You don’t think the Saudis throw around a lot of money in this country? And that doesn’t buy some good coverage? The Saudis are horrible. A much worse place than Russia. Yet, we never seem to hear about it when they execute people for things like blaspheming Islam.

            Why is that? Do tell.

            1. Here, John, let me run a simple search so you can stop concern trolling and making stuff up.

              1. Sorry, one Reason article doesn’t cut it. Is it your position that the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia have received more coverage than the Pussy Riot issue? If it is, then you are going to need to come up with more proof than a single Reason article.

                1. You fucking idiot. That’s a link to Reason’s TAG for SAUDI ARABIA. There are THREE PAGES OF ARTICLES.

                  You aren’t even bothering to click on the things you’re responding to, you blithering retard. Holy shit.

                  1. This is why i never even READ John’s comments, merely doing that can cause your IQ to lower exponentially.

            2. Why is that?

              By stuffing their women into black sacks, they ensure that there will be no photogenic dissidents for the Westerners to ooh and aah over?

            3. Because Cathy Young’s a better writer than Shikia Dalmia.

            4. That’s ’cause they are brown, at least in spirit.

          2. Randian, DJF is not too far off.

            Most of the non-native Iraqi’s shooting at U.S. troops in Iraq ~2004-2005 were Saudis obeying the call to jihad being issued by Wahabbist imams… imams whose salaries are paid by the Saudi monarch.

            The royal family can be divided among two groups, the religiously pious, and the guys who use religion to buttress their power (as in Russia with the Orthodox Church).

            The former group wants to spread their religion far and wide, and gave lots of money to groups like the Taliban, al Queda, etc.

            The latter group occasionally tries to reign in the former group, but on occasion will make common cause with it – in the case of Iraq, they sent a bunch of people who might otherwise make trouble for the king to go and die in front of the 30 mm chain guns of the U.S. army.

            The wahabbists are an aggressive, violent, dangerous death-cult, as any sane person who pays attention to the news will realize. The Russian Orthodox church, for all its sins, is bush league compared to them.

            1. Are they really “buying up” politicians? Businesses? Institutions? What’s the percentage of FDI from the Saudi Arabia?

              The United States is the world’s largest recipient of FDI. U.S. FDI totaled $194 billion in 2010. 84% of FDI in the U.S. in 2010 came from or through eight countries: Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Canada

              1. “””or through””‘

                And how much comes through these countries from the Gulf? Both Switzerland and Great Britain for example are well known for their banking for the Gulf.

              2. Randian, when you have the U.S. government waging unpopular, budget busting wars on your behalf, it’s safe to say you have major pull over it.

                U.S. foreign policy in the middle east is entirely aimed at protecting the Saudi monarch. It’s why U.S. troops were dispatched to defend its northern border, and then when Al Queda was using those bases as its casus belli, why the U.S. govt decided to go and conquer Iraq.

                The Saudi Monarch is like Paul Atreides in Dune. The day he announces that he will only accept Euros or gold for oil, is the day the U.S. dollar collapses and the U.S. govt loses its ability to export inflation around the world. They can destroy the U.S. government, so the U.S. government serves them as a loyal retainer, no matter what the cost to the citizenry.

                1. None of what you just said is correct.

                  The United States invaded Iraq so it could get its troops out of Saudi Arabia because having them there was a major factor in terrorism. Also, it put us on both sides of Iran and made a classic “squeeze play”.

                  The top three providers of US Oil are Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Saudi Arabia is fourth. Thanks to fracking and offshore drilling, the monarchy doesn’t have the kind of monetary power you’re hypothesizing. Like, at all.

                  1. The United States invaded Iraq so it could get its troops out of Saudi Arabia

                    If I was exerting influence over the global hegemon, why wouldn’t I encourage them to conquer my enemies, rather than provide purely passive, defensive forces?

                  2. The United States invaded Iraq so it could get its troops out of Saudi Arabia because having them there was a major factor in terrorism.

                    Exactly my point! The invasion allowed them to pull troops out of Saudi Arabia without leaving it vulnerable to invasion from the North.

                    The top three providers of US Oil are Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Saudi Arabia is fourth.

                    Which is about as relevant as tits on a ram.

                    The reason why *world* oil sales are in dollars is because OPEC insists on payments in dollars, and the guys in OPEC insisting on that policy are the Saudi reps.

                    The reason why the dollar is the defacto reserve currency is that the oil trade creates an ersatz petroleum standard.

                    And, why is the U.S needing to squeeze Iran?

                    Iran was financing and arming the Northern Alliance back when the Taliban were shielding Bin Laden. Ignoring their junior partnership with Saddam Hussein in formenting terrorism against Israel, all their wars in the 80’s and 90’s were defensive in nature.

                    But, the Iranians are Shi’ites. And to a wahabist, the only good shi’ite is one that has been beheaded for apostasy. The Saudis encourage the U.S. govt’s hard-on for kicking Persian ass because in this case the chain guns will be massacring apostates.

    2. This is pretty minor compared to places like Saudi Arabia or really any of the Gulf states. Yet, I don’t recall much talk in Reason about those places.

      Why is Reason talking about what’s in the news instead of what I think is really important. I mean, if they were really objective then they’d talk about what I want them to talk about.

      Waaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaaaah!

      1. No dipshite, it means that Pussy Riot really isn’t that big of a deal.

        1. You don’t think Pussy Riot is a big deal because there are worse things going on in other places in the world. Yet Reason is not covering those things. Clearly Reason should just shut down as an organization because they aren’t living up to your high journalistic standards. Why don’t you demand to be the editor? Clearly you are more qualified than anyone who works in the field.

        2. Waaaaa…reason won’t cover my hobby horse! Even though there’s three pages of articles Randian found in five minutes!

          Waaaa…

    3. In the United States, we have what we call hate crimes. If a crime is designated a hate crime, the punishment is more severe than it would be if someone did the same thing, but it was not considered a hate crime. What these women did by violating the sacred space of others is a hate crime. Orthodox Christians have a concept of sacred space. These women committed great sacrilege in a sacred space of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church, by the way, has pleaded with the secular authorities to give these women clemency.

      1. Why is everyone on this board named John so damned stupid?

  3. Fact: Unless it’s the original stuff from the 1970s-early 80s, most punk rock nowadays sucks. That’s why indi/alternative rock was invented.

    1. But in Russia it still is the 1970s and 80s. Maybe? Bueller? Bueller?

  4. I was disappointed to see the KGB/Russian Orthodox thing relegated to page 3, because it’s fucking central to what’s going on.

    The Russian Orthodox Church was entirely controlled by the KGB by the 1940’s. Sheymov (a senior KGB counter-intel guy) wrote in his auto-biography that every frocked priest was a KGB agent, that the KGB controlled all the personnel decisions.

    Under Putin, the old KGB consolidated their power in the post Soviet Russia, and their control of the church has been critical to that endeavor. Essentially, instead of a communist state, they’ve built a fascist state. Instead of the church acting as a honey-trap to ferret out dissent, it’s now providing moral and spiritual cover.

    It’s not about ideology. It’s about maintaining control.

    1. Completely. And the Russians are facing a demographic cliff and inevitable decline. They are paranoid as hell. I don’t like what they are doing anymore than you do. But they are not killing millions or having another reign of terror. I think we would do well to stay the hell out of it as much as possible. If they want to have their little authoritarian theocracy, let them. If they want to reclaim Russian minorities in places like Georgia, let them. As long as they stay out of places where we actually have an interest, leave them alone.

      1. As long as they stay out of places where we actually have an interest, leave them alone.

        I just wish we could get this as a more general policy.

    2. “It’s not about ideology. It’s about maintaining control.” John cares not a one bit, since it makes ‘liberals’ mad.

  5. Oh, and also because the one with the “Bob” hair-cut and the big pouty lips is really attractive.

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  7. Coziness between the Kremlin and the church?! Did the headline writer know why the Kremlin was built?

    Ms. Young, I’m bothered by your implication that the current relationship between the Church and the Russian state is some sort of deviation from the Orthodox Church’s true nature. How many centuries must pass before conceding that this is the Church’s nature? They’ll take as much authority as they are allowed and concede as much as they need to maintain their position of privilege. There’s no doctrine involved, and this is no different from the attitude of most other organiz’ns, yet you treat it as if somehow it should be so. The Orthodox Church never had the chutzpah of the Popes, who used a flimsier basis to proclaim their secular power. The Pope sought Charlemagne to make a new Emperor; in Russia, by contrast, it was the Russian Emperor who took on the mantle from the Church after Constantinople fell.

    The apparently secular devotion of Russian Orthodox followers as shown by polling is not materially different from that of Christians in most of the rest of Europe. The only difference is in their seeing a closer relationship in Russia between their religion and the state than elsewhere between their government and, for instance, the Catholic Church. The current lack of secular authority or leadership accorded Christian establishments in most of western & central Europe is the product of a long, complicated hx that should not be expected to be duplicated in Russia.

    1. The Orthodox Church has for long time been more deferential to secular authority than the Roman Catholic Church and its breakaways mainly because the Eastern Roman Empire lasted nearly one thousand years longer than the Western and they had to deal with powerful emperors for longer.

      1. There are four church state patterns. The Roman Catholic Church taught during the Middle Ages and I suspect still believes that the Church, especially the Pope is superior to the state. The Protestants like the Church of England and the Lutheran State Churches made the State superior to the Church, even to the point that the state has authority over doctrinal matters. The Orthodox concept was cooperation between Church and State, with the State supreme in secular matters and the Church supreme in spiritual matters. Although there were times such as Tsarist Russia when the Orthodox Church became a department of state, the Church never surrendered control over its doctrine to the state the way the state Protestant Churches did. Finally, we have the American system of separation between Church and State. I actually believe that the Orthodox approach comes closest to the American idea.

  8. ” Putin crony Nikita Mikhalkov questioned whether one of Putin’s Potemkin rivals, businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, was fit to lead Russia since he was an avowed nonbeliever. ”

    He’d get along well with Gingrich.

  9. 1. This author talks about Putin’s wearing the cross while active-duty KGB – when did he say that? He apparently claims it survived a fire in a HOUSE.

    2. Yes, Pussy Riot members were sentenced to 2 years for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. Hmmm . . . after his psych evaluation, the guy who thew paint on the Black Madonna in Poland will, if he’s not deemed insane, be standing trial and facing a prison sentence of 2 years for “offending religious sentiment” (see: http://www.france24.com/en/ 20121209-man-throws-paint- polish-miracle-virgin-mary-icon). A trend in formerly militantly atheistic countries.

    3. The U.S. government also bans “foreign funding of political activity” – hence, the secrecy required by the CPUSA about its Comintern funding, and did anyone notice Obama’s tarnishing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with the accusation of its receipt of foreign funding (i.e., from members who are foreign-owned multinationals)? There was talk about making the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “political activity” illegal by banning such activity by any organization receiving foreign corporate funding, never mind foreign governmental funding such as happened in Russia (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2012 /01/20/world/europe/ british-aide-admits-russian-spy-claims .html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=russia+brita in+rock&st=nyt).

    Ms. Young may have been born in Russia but has about as much understanding of it as any other American.

  10. In my opinion, a church that needs the state to prop it up is a weak church. What’s going on in Russia is a problem in many nations where there is a dominant church. It is the flip side of a theocracy, where the state controls the church instead of vice versa.

  11. This article is extremely biased and fails to take into account the real trauma that the Russian Orthodox Church suffered under 70 years of violent Communist persecution. I recognize that they have over reacted, but just as a person frequently over reacts after suffering extreme trauma, the Russian Orthodox Church is reacting to Communism during which their Churches were destroyed, millions of believers sent to the Gulag or murdered by the Communists and their religion ridiculed by the Communist dictators. Then after the fall of Communism Russia was flooded with well funded Protestant missionaries trying to take advantage of the suffering of the Russian Church to spread their Protestant religion by taking people from the Orthodox Church using highly dishonest techniques and spreading outright lies about Orthodoxy. Then these women invaded what Orthodox consider their sacred space in a Church that was rebuilt after Stalin had it literally blown up. Thus they over reacted. After what they went through, it is only to be expected that like a wounded child, they have sought comfort and support from anyone who would give it, even if it is a man like Putin. Thus, you should have shown a little more understanding of why the Russian Orthodox Church has over reacted after the terror that they went through for 70 years.

    1. I think the article takes full account of the trauma suffered by the Russian Orthodox Church during the Communist era – and specifically the near destruction of that church and the replacement of its leadership with corrupt apostates who remain in power to this day and have no clue what the Christian religion is about.

      That persecution continues to this day, as is clear in the case of the Pussy Riot defendants, who may have been the only faithful to speak in that cathedral since it was rebuilt.

      As for Protestantism, it is a different sect but the same religion as Orthodox Christianity. Large parts of Protestantism (notably the Baptist churches) even have pre-Lutheran roots in the Slavic culture of Bohemia and Moravia. I would hope that would not be so offensive to Russians.

      1. No, it does not take full account of the suffering the Russian Orthodox Church went through. That is clear because Ms. Young does not show any understanding of Orthodoxy in referencing the wearing of the Cross when Putin talked to Bush about its surviving the house fire. In Orthodoxy, you wear your Cross under your clothes close to your heart 24-7; you don’t take it off. The Cross was, allegedly, his mother’s; so, it was left at the summer house. If the fire occurred during his KGB tenure, he had plausible deniability (i.e., it was my mom’s and is merely a keepsake). If it was after, there is the proof that he is not a believer himself or it’s a Cross specifically feminine. Her derision of the 2008 Doctrine’s citing of a “centuries old” Council is even more troubling for taking her seriously as anyone with a serious interest in Russia needs to understand Orthodoxy; in Orthodoxy all doctrines must be firmly rooted in the theology articulated prior to the 7th Council. Anything articulated after the 7th Council is not official Church dogma. So, yes, in official position papers, much like those articulated by the Pope, the Orthodox hierarchy must tie anything it says to pre-7th Council theology. Again, Ms. Young is making a career out of her having been born in Russia, but she clearly doesn’t particularly care to learn about Russia – her article is a nice piece of anti-Putin propaganda but reveals a depth of ignorance which makes her conclusions suspect.

        1. And the Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Moonies, et al who showed up during the ’90s appeared to Russians like vultures. From the Russian perspective, they were trying to reclaim their culture from 75 years of brutal repression, and western missionaries appeared in droves, telling Russians that their traditional church was the Church of Satan – a religiously motivated desecration as opposed to the 75 years of atheist desecration. So, yes, Russians took offense – they were in a period of tremendous change after much suffering, and between psychological insecurity and Soviet era propaganda, the flood of western missionaries was quite threatening as Fr. John Morris, above, points out in the implications of his comment. And that is why, as Cbalducc points out, the Church to the State as it mistakenly did so in the past – it was weak. Now, of course, it runs the risk of allowing the Pussy Riot types (not Protestant, Allan – they are also a throwback to groups such as People’s Hand/Will, depending on translation, which contributed to the militant atheist persecution of the Church when the Bolsheviks took power; those groups went along with the Bolsheviks and, then, they also were repressed. La plus ca change . . .

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