Staunton, Aug. 1 – Patriarch Kirill declared on July 27 that Russia has never known the religious wars that have been endemic in most countries (m.vk.com/wall-55384089_3402), a claim that on one level is clearly false but that on another reflects popular attitudes and a historical tradition Moscow is loathe to acknowledge, Mark Shishkin says.
The Kazan historian says that in fact there were numerous cases in which the Russian state attacked others because of their religion, including the wholesale campaigns of the military and political administrations in the Muslim regions of the Middle Volga and the North Caucasus (ng.ru/ng_religii/2022-08-02/9_534_history.html).
But at a deeper level, the Russian state rarely declared a religious war against anyone, a pattern that Shishkin argues reflects two things Moscow doesn’t want to acknowledge. On the one hand, the average Russian has never been so attached to his religion that he or she religious differences as opposed to linguistic or cultural ones the basis of conflict.
And on the other, the Russian state’s approach to religion was in large measure shaped by the Mongol Horde, a political structure which was strikingly tolerant of various faiths as long as they were politically submissive. In many ways, the Kazan historian says, Russian rulers have followed that path as well, setting itself apart in yet another way from European states.
In support of the first of these explanations, the historian points to the conclusion of Orthodox missionaries at the end of the tsarist period who pointed to “the indifference” of ordinary Russians to the spread of their Orthodox faith. They cared about language and political loyalty but not about religion.
“This indifference,” Shishkin continues, “was characteristics not only of the Russiangupeasantry but of other social groups, including the Orthodox clergy who served among non-Russian congregations.” In the case of these groups, there were many examples in which the priests accepted much from other faiths and even sabotaged efforts to insist on purity.
According to the Kazan historian, “Perhaps it is precisely these features which make modern Russians confident that Russia was an exceptionally hospitable home for all the peoples part of it. A Russian settler could do domestic and economic injustice, but as a rule, he didn’t care about the religion of non-Russians.”
The state did repress other religions but only episodically, Shishkin says, a pattern that does not point as much to tolerance as to the lack of popular support for doing more and an acceptance of the Mongol approach by both the population and the authorities that did so much to shape Russian thinking in a wide range of issues.
Kirill and the Kremlin are unlikely to be willing to admit either. Indeed, both are far more interested in promoting Orthodoxy and its claimed supremacy over other faiths than any Russian state in the past has done for long. But Shishkin’s argument helps to explain why neither the religious nor the political authorities are likely to be able to do so regardless of their desires.