Staunton, September 5 – Many are hoping that when Vladimir Putin leaves office, whenever that may be, Russia will move toward a more open and democratic society; but some, including Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov, the Kremlin leader’s spiritual advisor, who already are planning to ensure that a harsh authoritarianism will survive, Nikolay Solodovnikov says.
In a commentary entitled “The Birth of a Russian Ayatollah,” the head of the Open Library project argues that Shevkunov is “only formally” a man of the church. In fact, he is very much involved in the current system of political power and is animated by a hatred of the intelligentsia and enthusiasm for the security agencies (echo.msk.ru/blog/nik_sol/2049862-echo/).
Shevkunov has criticized Lenin, but “in a surprising way, he conducts himself as the continuer of [Lenin’s] work” and especially as a supporter of Lenin’s chief support, the Cheka. When the security agencies are strong, the bishop believes, the country is too; when they weaken in any way, serious risks arise.
Shevkunov “in this sense,” Solodovnikov says, “is a Bolshevik. Not because he respects the doctrine of Marx” but because he believes that the state can grow strong only via “all-embracing radicalism … toward the civilized world.” Russia is surrounded by enemies and can survive only by insisting on “a special Russian path.”
In Shevkunov’s mind, the Russian commentator suggests, “the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin was a gradually dying organism which finally exhausted itself at the end of the 1980s with the beginning of perestroika.” The bishop doesn’t want that to happen again when Putin leaves the scene.
“Vladimir Putin for Shevkunov and his party is a sacred figure but at the same time a passing one,” Solodovnikov says. “Today before them stand the task of creating conditions for the coming to power of figures on the one hand no less strong but, on the other, still more authoritarian than Vladimir Putin” in order to avoid what happened after 1953.
“Today the Russian Orthodox Church and the FSB are called upon not to allow this,” and together they are behind the attack on Russian cultural figures to ensure that the country becomes even more cut off “from the pro-Western European intelligentsia” that they see as a threat to their project.
According to Solodovnikov, “soon all these problems will require a final decision. Putin (even if it is 12 years from now) will soon be leaving. And then [Shevkunov] can become a very suitable authoritarian and political strong figure” as “the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.”
It is worth remembering that only under the Bolsheviks did the restoration of the patriarchate become possible, and today, the Russian commentator says, “the church is the second main binding of Russian society, the second after all-encompassing mass fear for which the FSB is responsible.”
“A new Patriarch Tikhon (if this happens) will be the birth of a Russian ayatollah. And then there will be no going back” for “this will be a Russia without Serebrennikov, a Russia without Sokurov,” and Solodovnikov implies a Russia without the hope for a better future that animates many now.