Staunton, November 18 – Russian nationalists with close ties to the Moscow Patriarchate increasingly insist that like the Jews, Russians have suffered and continue to suffer their very own “holocaust,” a claim expanded upon in a new book entitled “The Scaffold” (“Plakha”) and intriguing for three reasons.
First, Russian nationalists for more than a century often promoted anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist ideas and would have rejected any comparison of the suffering of their people to that of the Jews. Now, that has changed, largely because of what Russians see as an increasingly nationalist and militarily powerful Israel with whom they are ready to identify.
Second, despite what many might expect, Russian nationalists now use the term “holocaust” not to refer to the millions of deaths believers and others suffered under Stalin – those deaths are usually treated by the church as acts of individual heroism rather than those who suffered being the victims of state policy.
And third, but rather to efforts first by Austro-Hungary, then by the Nazis, and now, in their view, by the Ukrainians and other post-Soviet nations to undermine Russian national identity and divide the Russian nation, forcibly assimilating or otherwise wiping out the Russian communities in these states.
In a review of a new book, “The Scaffold” (“Plakha”), in today’s “NG-Religii, Lev Perchin quotes its editor, Aleksandr Shchipkov as saying that “today it is already obvious that Russians in the 20th century in the course of a short interval repeated some of the aspects of the fate of the Jewish people” (ng.ru/ng_religii/2015-11-18/1_hollocaust.html).
Over the last several years, the “NG-Religii” journalist continues, “the rhetorical parallel” between the Jewish Holocaust and the fate of Russians has become a maintain of Russian Orthodox Church and Russian commentary, with Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a protégé of Patriarch Kirill, using the term “our holocaust” to refer to the Pussy Riot demonstrations.
But the Church hierarchy, Perchin points out, is careful never to use this term to describe state-organized mass murders in Soviet times, although “comparisons of the GULAG and German death camps are [sometimes] made by the liberal minority of the church intelligentsia.
“What then do the ideologues of Russian conservatism consider ‘the scaffold’ of [the Russian] people? In the center of this conception is the current Ukrainian crisis and its historical roots,” in which “certain external forces over the course of the last century have tried to destroy the self-consciousness of the Russian people and often physically destroyed them if they resist.”
The new book, he writes, “sees the roots of this Russophobic project in the policy of Austro-Hungary at the start of the 20th century in the persecution of Orthodox Rusins in Galicia.” Its actions were followed by the Nazis who wanted to “destroy Russia.” And in both, “the main weapon for rooting out Russian self-consciousness is the project of Ukrainian ‘separateness.’”
According to the “Plakha” writers, “today we are observing the apotheosis of this Russophobic conspiracy in the form of persecution of the Russian minority in Ukraine, the punitive operation against the Russian republics of Novorossiya, and so on. Such in brief,” Perchin continues, “is the dark picture” they offer.
This “historical-political construction” enjoys wide resonance among Russian conservatives and reflects the position of the Moscow Patriarchate “for which the problem of preserving the church’s jurisdiction in the entire post-Soviet space and Russian national interest are presented as an indivisible ideological unity.”
According to Patriarch Kirill, “the Russian church like no other organization ‘suffers from the actions of extreme nationalist forces including those who devote their negative energy to the fratricidal conflict in Ukraine.’ Where the patriarch speaks of ‘extreme nationalism,’ a whole chorus of voices openly call the forces which have won in Ukraine ‘Nazi.’”
“We will not evaluate the historical correctness of the comparison of ‘the Ukrainian challenge’ to Russia [these authors offer] with the genocide of Jews in Europe,” Perchin says, except to note that the latter involved actual murders while the former has only involved challenges to identity and church administration.
But given the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism of many Russian Orthodox and Russian nationalist writers in the past, including most recently St. Petersburg Metropolitan Ioann (Snychev) who often suggested that “Zionists’” were “the main enemies of the Russian people,” the new willingness of such writers to link Russian and Jewish fates is interesting.
Perchin suggests there are three reasons for this rhetorical shift. First, these groups are seeking “political respectability, which excludes open anti-Semitism.” Second, ever more Russians now view Israel as a leader of conservative values and even a model for using religion to build a traditional state.
And third, for such people, Perchin argues, “Israel displays power which cannot but elicit the sympathy of Russian great power advocates and justifies it by the suffering of European Jews, recalling them in the same sense which the Russian Orthodox Church recalls the persecutions of its past and present believers.”