Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Russian Orthodox Act like an Embattled Minority Because They are One, Anthropologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – The conflict between the Russian Orthodox Church and the people of St. Petersburg over the possible return of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, long a museum on the northern capital’s most important boulevard, has raised new questions about how many believers there really are in Russia and why they are acting so aggressively.

            In a conversation with Yuliya Galkina, a journalist for The-Village.ru portal, Zhanna Korminova, a specialist on the anthropology of religion at St. Petersburg’s Higher School of Economics, argues that the Russian Orthodox are acting like an embattled minority because they are one and feel themselves to be (the-village.ru/village/people/city-news/255979-orthodoxy).

            Despite claims that more than 80 percent of Russians identify as Orthodox, only a tiny percentage, far fewer than five percent, actually participate in religious life, Korminova says; and that minority knows that it is both small and different from others and behaves in the ways one expects such people to do.
            “Church people,” she continues, have chosen a particular style of life, “one that sociologists would call a sub-culture. They have their own style of dress their own marriage patterns and their own biographic strategies, they have a specific language and other specific practices as well.”

            Given all this, Korminova says, “they feel themselves as a minority” that is both misunderstood and mistreated. At the same time, “they are certain that it is they who are preserving the spirit of the nation … and have the right to count on gratitude or at least respect from their non-church compatriots.”

            “And this bitter feeling sometimes leads to quite sharp and even aggressive expressions as happens with any minority which feels itself to be stigmatized” as different from the norm.

            There are of course different kinds of identification with religion. In Moscow, people are overwhelmingly loyal to Orthodoxy but this loyalty is “on the level of official ideology.” For people in some smaller cities, like Lipetsk, Orthodoxy is a way of life.  S). And in St. Petersburg there is still a third pattern.

            The northern capital “was built as a window on Europe,” and along the Nevsky Prospekt were “a Catholic church, an Armenian church, a Swedish Lutheran one … and of course an Orthodox one” (St. Isaac’s). Thus, the religious diversity of the population was institutionalized “in the city’s landscape,” a very different pattern than the one found in Moscow.

            The reason that the recovery of St. Isaac’s from the state is so important to the real Orthodox believers, Korminova continues, is that they believe that this is a sign that they are making progress and that if they have a church, it will be filled. But most of the population view the situation differently.

            They aren’t opposed to the appearance of new churches, but not in their backyard, in their recreational spaces or where the church is followed by the building of a cemetery, she says. “No one wants a cemetery where he walks with his child.”  In general, these two sides can’t reach an agreement, but the Orthodox often make the situation worse for themselves.

            They tell the residents: “Everything has been decided” by the authorities and then they act “like conquerors.” They see the recovery of a church as evidence that “this land as becoming Orthodox” and so reacquiring churches performs much of the same function for them as does missionary activity.

            As far as the restoration of ruined churches is concerned, something the opponents of the Orthodox often say the religious should focus on before trying to take back existing ones in the middle of cities, the facts are these: almost all of such churches are in places where there are no longer any people or any parishioners.

            In her concluding remarks, Korminova throws cold water on one of the most fervent expectations of Orthodox believers who think that the return of churches will lead to an upsurge in church participation. For those who are genuine believers, she says, that isn’t going to matter, and an increase in the number of churches won’t boost the size of their flocks.

Fate of All Non-Russians Rests on Future of Moscow-Kazan Federative Treaty, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – Many commentators have reduced the issue of continuation or replacement of the existing federative treaty between Moscow and Kazan -- an accord that runs out this year -- to the question of whether Tatarstan will be allowed to retain the post of republic president, despite Russian federation law to the contrary.

            But in fact, Ilnar Garifullin, a Tatar political scientist, points out, a great deal more is riding on the fate of that document including the status of Tatars in Tatarstan and beyond its borders and that of all the non-Russian peoples in Russia, despite the fact that de facto Moscow now treats the accord as a dead letter. (idelreal.org/a/28262902.html).

                A key to understanding what is at stake, the analyst says is the timing of a demand by the All-Tatar Social Center (VTOTs) that the new power-sharing treaty must include a provision guaranteeing Moscow’s recognition of Tatar as the state language of Tatarstan and of the right of Tatarstan to assist Tatars outside the borders of the republic.

            The current accord, adopted in 2007 which will lapse this year, replaced an earlier one adopted in 1994, but the second unfortunately, Garifullin says, is only “the last ‘remnant’ of the era of sovereignization which is already far in the past.” It has little real force because while it exists “de jure,” it doesn’t “de facto.”

            In thinking about what should be in a third edition of this arrangement, he continues, it is important that it not be limited to “guarantees to the power elite of Tatarstan” but rather include “guarantees both to residents of Tatarstan and to Tatars living elsewhere in other regions of Russia.”

            That is a minimal requirement given that Article 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan already confirms that right, Garifullin continues. If a new treaty is in fact drafted and approved, it must grant to Tatarstaan the right to “promote the preservation of ethno-cultural and civic rights of Tatars” living beyond the borders of the republic.

            The need for such a provision was highlighted by the recent events in a Tatar school in Mordvinia where authorities sought to impose a ban on school girls wearing the hijab, he says. (Another analyst suggests that Moscow causes this conflict in order to weaken Kazan’s position. See poistine.org/moskva-nepokrytaya-protiv-hidzhabov-belozerya#.WJBRuX90e-f).

            Had Tatarstan been able to intervene effectively in this case, Moscow might have had to intervene, something that at least some officials at the Federal Agency for Nationality Policy might in fact support, Garifullin argues.

            In addition, he says, the new accord should include a provision that the federal ministry of education and science must take into account ethnic issues not only at the level of schools but also at that of higher educational institutions. If the accord doesn’t do at least these three things, “the republic doesn’t need it” because it would have no significance at all.

            Garifullin then turns his attention to the role of VTOTs in all this,  arguing that that organization which arose at the end of 1988 was in fact behind most of the achievements of Tatarstan today, saying  things republic officials could  not and thereby mobilizing public opinion to promote change.

            For any years, VTOTs played the role of “bad cop” to Kazan’s “good cop” in dealing with Moscow. Unfortunately, the analyst continues, the republic leadership “destroyed this arrangement” and preferred instead to “legitimate itself” on a religious basis which it viewed as “neutral and not politicized.”

            But that shift, Garifullin argues, has led to “still greater problems,” not only opening the way for Moscow to condemn Kazan on religious grounds but also to lead Tatars out of politics where the old saying – “’if you don’t get involved in politics, politics will get involved with you” – proved all too true because it cost official Kazan the support of nationally thinking Tatars.

            That has left the Kazan Kremlin without the kind of support in the republic that it used to have and used with such effectiveness in the 1990s.  That makes moving forward harder, but it also means that the discussion of the power-sharing accord is much more important than just retaining the title of republic president – and not just for Tatarstan and Tatars.

With Trump, Russian Government and Russian Opposition Swap Positions on US

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – Russian democrats have denounced Donald Trump’s ban on some Muslims entering the US as a violation of human rights, while the Russian government media have been far more restrained or even supportive of what the new president has done, the clearest reversal in the way the two parts of the Russian political spectrum view the United States.

            In a commentary in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Aleksey Gorbachev, the political observer of that Moscow paper, says that under Barack Obama, the Russian opposition generally supported official Washington’s moves while the Russian government condemned them. Now in the Trump era, the reverse is true (ng.ru/politics/2017-01-31/1_6916_oppozicia.html).

            Konstantin Merzlikin, the deputy head of the PARNAS Party, says that “no one prohibits a migration service from strictly checking the admission to its country of citizens of states with a heightened level of terrorist threat. But when such a measure is introduced … toward those with visas and resident permits, serious questions arise about fundamental rights and freedoms.”

            He adds that in his view, “this will produce an increase in anti-Americanism around the world.” Yabloko Party leader Emiliya Slabunova agrees: Trump’s action, she says, “will not only deepen the split in America and in the world community but increase the risk of new terrorist actions.”

            Sergey Mitrokhin, another Yabloko leader, says that the wave of protests against Trump’s actions clear show just how much what the US president has done “contradicts American civilization” because the US is “a country of immigrants.”  Imposing a religious test “not only points to double standards but raises the risk of terrorist attacks against Americans abroad.

            Moreover, according to Mitrokhin, the order “testifies to the lack of analytic thinking in Trump and his entourage.” Any further steps in this same direction would become a chance to rethink the basis of [America’s] existence.”

            But Russian state television, Gorbachev says, “assess the situation differently.” Its broadcasters talk about how Trump is “a builder of a new America” and criticize the opponents of his immigration ban either as those who long for Obama’s time or who want cheap labor for American factories.

            According to the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist, “experts are certain that Russian media will be sympathetic to Trump just as long as he will keep their hopes alive for the lifting of sanctions.”  Up to now, he quotes Aleksey Mukhin, head of the Moscow Center for Political Information, they remain “in a state of euphoria about Trump.”

            Mukhin says that he doesn’t share that euphoria because despite Trump’s “pro-Russian rhetoric,” the American president remains “a very complex personality with whom [Moscow] will find it extremely difficult to agree on something.”

            Nonetheless, it is striking and disturbing that Russian democrats are condemning what Washington has done while Russian authoritarians are praising or at least not criticizing it, a pattern that represents a departure from the past and that should be a warning signal to those who care about democracy in all countries.