Friday, November 14, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Patriarch’s Definition of ‘Russianness’ Will Alienate All Non-Russians and Many Russians as Well, Butakov Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, November 14 – The World Russian Popular Assembly under the chairmanship of Patriach Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted “a declaration on Russian identity” which defines that status so narrowly and in religious terms that it is certain to offend all non-Russians and many Russians as well, according to Yaroslav Butakov.
            The declaration specifies that “a Russia is someone who considers himself Russian, does not have other ethnic preferences, speaks and thinks in Russian, recognizes Orthodox Christianity as the basis of national spiritual culture and feels solidarity with the fate of the Russian people” (
What that means, Butakov says, is that “if you have ethnic ancestors other than Russians (Ukrainians, for example) and at the same time you do not consider them ethnically alien to you, then you are not a Russian.”
And “if you consider that in addition to ‘Orthodox Christianity’ (a term in the opinion of many just as absurd as ‘Mormon Christianity’) Russian ‘spiritual’ culture has a multiplicity of foundations (including Slavic and Finnish paganism, for example), then you also are not a Russian.”
In short, Kirill and his followers believe that “only they will define who is a Russia and who is not,” a pretension that would be “laughable if it were not so serious” given the influence Kirill and his ilk have on Russian President Vladimir Putin who in recent weeks has talked more and more about the centrality of Russianness in the Russian state.
“I am a Russian,” Butakov says. “Why should this automatically mean that I am an Orthodox?! In which law is this written? Who said so? Dostoyevsky?”  In reality, “the priceless right to be Russian is given by one’s mother and father and not by the priests! Especially since many of them are not ethnic Russians.”
“In general,” he concludes, “the criteria of belong to Russians cannot be defined either by a cosmopolitan ideology (which Orthodoxy is) or a multi-national corporation (which the Russian Orthodox Church is).  All such attempts represent an effort to get involved in things outside its competence.”
That is all the more so because in the Russian Federation today, surveys confirm that many Russians are Orthodox only nominally, and the census shows that an increasing share of the population consists of people who are not ethnically Russian at all. Insisting on such a narrow definition of Russianness will alienate both.

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