Staunton, February 16 – The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church says it opposes calls to label all the population of the Russian Federation “civic Russians” [rossiiskye] because that will place an even greater taboo on discussions about the national catastrophe the Russian [russkiye] people suffered during the 20th century.
Aleksandr Shchipkov, head of the synod’s department for social relations, said yesterday that “the conception of V.A. Tishkov,” the ethnographer Vladimir Putin has tasked with preparing a draft law on the subject by August 1, will have other negative consequences as well (interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=66200 and politsovet.ru/54521-v-rpc-raskritikovali-koncepciyu-rossiyskoy-nacii.html).
According to the Russian churchman, “Tishkov’s conception will promote a further taboo on the themes of Russian [russkoy] national catastrophe and genocide … and will lead to the realization of the doctrine of ‘the word as a community of regions’ and the collapse of single national spaces of the Russian Federation.”
Shchipkov argued that Tishkov is trying to suggest that “there exist only two understandings of the nation: one ethnic that is backward and underdeveloped, and a second which is ‘civic.’” That approach, the church official continues, does not reflect “the existing realities” about “the space of bearers of the Russian language, culture and the Russian form of Orthodoxy (the Russian World).”
“A civic Russian nation [Rossiiskaya natsiya] makes sense only as a synonym for the ethnic Russian [russkoy] one,” Shchipkov concluded.
The opposition of the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy to Tishkov’s plans represent a major obstacle to their realization given the centrality of the church as an ideological prop for the Putin regime. At the very least, Tishkov and those working with him are likely going to have to make some compromises if their idea is not to prove still born yet again.
Moreover, the church’s opposition to Tishkov’s proposal in the name of defending research on the demographic disaster visited upon the Russian people during the 20th century by the Soviet state is likely to gain additional support because of a new report released this week showing that the USSR lost not 28 million people in World War II but almost 42 million.
Commenting on these new data, opposition politician Gennady Gudkov writes that “it has finally become clear why Stalin [minimized] Soviet losses” in that war, one that has no basis to being called “The Great Fatherland War” because as the Kremlin dictator conducted it, the war was a genocide inflicted on the Soviet people (echo.msk.ru/blog/gudkov/1928696-echo/).
Newly declassified archival documents show, Gudkov continues, that 41,979,000 Soviet citizens “were sacrificed to achieve victory.” That is one of every five citizens of the USSR at that time, a figure that is almost beyond the imagination in its horror. And even it is not a full accounting given those who died from wounds, hunger and illness or who became invalids.
“That is the price of the repressions and purges which destroyed the army on the eve of the war, it is the result of the innumerable attacks of unarmed battalions since to certain death by the Stalin clique with the order to ‘get weapons in battle,’ it is the result” of all the senseless actions of the Kremlin commanders.
Moreover, Gudkov says, it is the result of Stalin’s faith and loyalty in Hitler right up to the moment of the 1941 attack, of his “criminal conspiracy with Hitler in the 1930s, the joint parades of the Red Army and the Wehrmacht, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the secret protocol about the division of Europe.”
Polls may show that ever more Russians have a positive view of Stalin, but “there can NEVER be forgiveness and justification” for what Stalin did in sacrificing the Soviet people to his own incompetence and ambitions, Gudkov concludes.
What makes the appearance of these new figures more disturbing, of course, is something that Gudkov doesn’t mention. The debates over the last half century about Soviet losses in World War II were hampered by two things: the absence of a serious census between 1937 and 1959, and the desire of Moscow and its supporters to cover up Stalin’s mass murders in the GULAG.
Given that data were scarce and in dispute, those seeking to minimize Stalin’s crimes domestically had a vested interest in boosting war losses in order to claim that Stalin killed fewer people in the Great Terror. If 28 million were said to have died in the war rather than 20 million as officials had claimed earlier, then Stalin’s crimes could be presented as somehow less.
The Putin regime, which has promoted the image of Stalin as “an effective manager,” may thus use the new figures to suggest that those who blame the Soviet dictator for the GULAG are overstating losses in it; and if the Russian Orthodox Church is right, then the Kremlin may be planning to use Tishkov’s efforts to help it cover up Stalin’s crimes in the war and otherwise.