Saturday, June 10, 2023

Russia’s Orthodox and Muslims Clash on Origins and thus the Future of Russian State

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 6 – Two conferences in the last week, one organized by Metropolitan Tikhon, Vladimir Putin’s favorite priest, and a second arranged by the Moscow Islamic Institute, offered radically different versions of the origin of the Russian state and empire, Andrey Melnikov of NG-Religii says.

            The first stressed the importance of the conception of Moscow as the third Rome in the development of the Russian state, although there were serious disagreements as to whether that was a burden or a the guiding principle of how Russian rulers have acted over the last 500 years (

            Those who suggested that the Third Rome was a burden, including Tikhon, argued that the state and church have an obligation to increase the involvement of Russians in church life rather than engage in imperial actions. But those who viewed it as a guiding principle stressed exactly the opposite, and despite Tikhon’s influence, they appeared to be in the majority.

            The second conference, organized by the Muslim educational institution, argued that the origins of the Russian state lay instead with the subordination of Rus to the Golden Horde which provided a model for “Russian statehood and the formation of Russia as a polyethnic and poly-confessional state,” a view most participants in the Orthodox conference rejected.

            Three things about the simultaneous appearance of these two meetings are noteworthy. First and perhaps most striking is that they happened at all and at the same time in a Moscow that is increasingly totalitarian in its historical claims. Second, they show that such historical debates are about far more than the past.

            And third, they highlight the fact that Russian Orthodox and Muslim scholars and the communities from which they spring are deeply divided about this historical question and that however much the Kremlin seeks to suppress such differences, they remain very much alive and are likely to be the stuff of politics in the post-Putin era.


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