Thursday, June 21, 2018

Trolling of Patriarch Kirill Responsible for Declining Public Support for Orthodoxy, Church Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Over the last 25 years, the percentage of Russians who say they view the dissemination of religious instruction has fallen by almost half, from 61 percent to 36 percent, leading some commentators to suggest that there is now a crisis in the relationship between the Russian people and the Russian Orthodox Church.

            Some blame this on the behavior of priests and senior clergy, behavior that polls show puts Russians off, and others simply on the growing secularization of Russian society, one in which for all the talk about religion, churches remain largely empty and the views of the church ignored.

            But the Moscow Patriarchate itself says there is no problem with its behavior or with the relationship to it of the Russian people. Instead, its officials insist, journalist Anna Popova says, that all the bad press the church gets is the result of an army of trolls that attack the clergy and especially Patriarch Kirill (

            Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, head of the Patriachate’s commission on the family, the defense of motherhood and childhood and one of the most flamboyant attackers of modernity and defenders of obscurity, says that talk about a crisis of faith in Russia is the work of trolls who know nothing about the church or about Russia.

            In their telling, he says, every priest has a Mercedes, and such reports infuriate many Russians. “The people have acquired the sense of envy.  And it is well-known that the Russian peasant woud like not to acquire a second cow but to see that the cow of his neighbor has died. The Bolsheviks inculcated this and changed the mentality of the people.”

                “There is a whole army of [such] people,” the archpriest says. “They constantly troll the church and the patriarch.” They treat any report about well-off clergy as if the next story would be about Nagasaki or Hiroshima. Indeed, “an entire pleade of such nihilists has arisen who know nothing.”

            According to Smirnov, “the main symbol of their worldview is the Mercedes … Yes, priests sometimes travel in good cars, because those who support them and can give them such vehicles, not new ones but all the same…” He says that he was given a nine-year-old Audi.” It was in good condition, he sold it and then bought a Volkswagen.” It is at least new.

            He argues that “Christianity is the foundation of European culture, and if Russia is a European country, then Russians must know the basics of the faith. Just like, for example, the French. Regardless of whether he believes in God or not, a Frenchman must know the basic commandments and know something about Christianity.” Russians must do the same.

Putin’s Popularity to Decline in Near Term, Lev Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Lev Gudkov, the head of the Levada Center, says that Vladimir Putin’s popularity will decline in the near future because the mobilization effect of his campaign is wearing off and because of the unpopularity of some of the government’s most recent initiatives such as raising the retirement age.

            But at the same time, he tells Deutsche Welle, there is no unified opposition to Putin in Russia. His opponents are “demoralized and divided in part as a result of repressions against civil society and in part as a result of the loss of faith in the possibility of changing anything given the authoritarian regime (

            Indicative of the rapid fall off in the effect of the election campaign, Gudkov says, is that while in August 2017, 66 percent of Russians wanted Putin to continue in office beyond 2024, today that number “has fallen to 51 percent.”

            According to the sociologist, support for Putin’s remaining in office forever comes mostly from the less educated, the less well-off, and those living in the provinces, all people who are “nostalgic for the Soviet system.” Opposition comes from those more educated, more well to do, and more urban and socially active.

            Most likely, Gudkov continues, those who oppose Putin remaining in office for life “did not take part in the voting in March 2018, having concluded that the pro-Putin hysteria meant that their voices would change nothing.” Moreover, they understood that what occurred in Russia on March 18 wasn’t an election but “an acclamation, an organized consensus.”

            “Such a situation cannot last for long,” he says, “and therefore Putin’s popularity in the near term will begin to fall. That will be more likely because of the negative social background now – the continuing fall in the standard of living and the unpopularity among people of the pension reform which is supported by “fewer than 10 percent of Russians.”

            What is especially striking in recent polls, the Levada Center head adds, is that more Russians want to see an improvement in relations with the West than are concerned about improving the standard of living. Fifty-one percent list improving ties with the West as most important; 45 percent say living standards are.

            This makes perfect sense, he says. “People from their own experience know that he authorities will deceive them and that all Putin’s promises will remain unfulfilled. But confrontation with the rest of the civilized world really frightens them.”

Residents of Two Daghestani Villages in Azerbaijan Moved En Masse to Daghestan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – A long-simmering problem between Daghestan and Azerbaijan appears to be on the way to a solution, not by shifting the border so that those ethnically tied to Daghestan could live among their own but rather by moving 377 residents of two villages that are located in Azerbaijan into new houses in the North Caucasus republic.

            The villages, Khrakh-Uba and Uryan-Uba, are in Azerbaijan’s Khachmaz district. Until 1991, they were governed by Novo-Agul rural council of the Magaramkent district of Daghestan; but after the disintegration of the USSR, they became “enclaves on the territory of Azerbaijan” (

            Some activists from the villages, supported by their co-ethnics in Daghestan, had called for a border change so that they would be ruled as they had been in the past. But Azerbaijan for understandable reasons given its conflict with Armenia was unwilling even to discuss that possibility. And in September 2010, Moscow and Baku signed a border accord.

            That border left the two Agul villages within Azerbaijan, and in the years since, the residents and their supporters in Daghestan have campaigned to move the people north to Daghestan. The conflict intensified on occasion over the use of water by these villages given that the border between Azerbaijan and Daghestan is a river.

            This year, the Daghestani authorities were able to come up with the money to pay for the relocation of the people, as a result of a massive subvention from Moscow arranged by the new head of the republic, Vladimir Vasiliyev, who very much wanted to avoid having a genuinely “international” conflict on his southern border.

            According to the Kavkaz Uzel news agency, those who have been moved are pleased with this arrangement although many say that they have had to wait far too long and that some of those who had lived in the two villages earlier had departed on their own and thus have been lost to the community.

                Although the size of this population transfer is quite small, it is a model of what can be done to deal with enclaves both official and unofficial which include people who identify with another country than the one they find themselves in. And because it doesn’t involve border changes, it is a strategy that some in the international community might be prepared to support.

            Consequently, the successful move of two Daghestani village populations could be a model for resolving similar problems elsewhere in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. As such, how it plays out now that the populations have been shifted merits the closest possible monitoring.