Staunton, May 30 – Vladimir Putin thought he could count on the Russian Orthodox Church to legitimate his increasingly reactionary and authoritarian regime, Igor Eidman says; but the Church has alienated so many Russians by its arrogance and greed that the Kremlin leader has to turn to a new legitimating principle, the quasi-religious cult of victory.
The Russian sociologist argues that the ROC MP has been able to show “extensive” growth by building more churches but it has not shown “qualitative growth” in attracting more believers. Instead, the church has driven ever more away and cost the Kremlin support in the process (openmedia.io/exclusive/pochemu-xramov-vse-bolshe-a-doveriya-k-cerkvi-vse-menshe).
Russians were never as religious as Putin imagined, although they identified as Orthodox as a kind of ethnic marker and were quite prepared to defer to it until the ROC MP began to use its involvement with the regime to push obscurantist measures and its undoubted influence to take land away from the people for pompous churches.
As a result of this, over the past several years and especially over the last few months, the standing of the church with the people and consequently with the regime, albeit with a certain lag, has collapsed with the church falling far down the list of respected institutions and the Kremlin not getting the benefits it hoped for.
Indeed, the only place where the ROC MP has been successful, Eidman says, is rapidly becoming yet another reason for its downfall. Its acquisition of enormous wealth and the flashy lifestyles of its hierarchs, something Russians had overlooked, are now a source not just of snide comments but active hostility.
Such attitudes have intensified now that church leaders have tried to seize public spaces, destroy green zones, and even occupy museums and observatories. Yekaterinburg is a symbol of this but it is also a turning point for the Church and for the Kremlin, weakening both and forcing the latter to look for a new ideological base.
“The powers that be, seeing that the church is insufficiently influential in society is turning toward other instruments of ideological control over it. Recently, it has placed a bet on the active promotion of a patriotic quasi-religious ideology, the chief element of which is ‘the cult of victory.’” This cult has more active participants than the Church.
As a result of this turn, Eidman concludes, “the main religious symbols of Putinist Russia are not the Christian cross or an icon but the neo-pagan six-pointed star with images of ancestor warriors and ‘sacred’ Georgian ribbons, symbolizing military victories. The role of the ROC in the sphere of ideological servicing of the powers is becoming secondary.”
As a result, the church remains “a business and nothing more.” How much of that the powers that be will allow in the future remains to be seen.