Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Putin Moving to Depoliticize Entire Russian System, Stanovaya Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – Vladimir Putin’s installation of technocrats as governors in place of politicians is likely to have an impact on the country’s systemic parties, leading to their de-politicization as well by means of the replacement of the aging politicians who head them now by younger pragmatic functionaries, according to Tatyana Stanovaya.

            The Carnegie Moscow Center expert says that these parties are already integrated into Putin’s power vertical and so in the near future, they too are likely to be subject to the same shifts that are already occurring among the governors. Indeed, she says, the behavior of the parties in the Duma already points in that direction (carnegie.ru/commentary/?fa=68067).

            The Duma today already functions like “one large United Russia fraction,” with the KPRF being the left wing, the LDPR being the national patriotic one, and Just Russia being a reflection of the past.  Such an arrangement thus corresponds in the parliament to the idea of the irreplaceability of Putin himself.
            What it means for the 2018 election, Stanovaya says is that there will appear four and possibly even five “Putins” – “the main Putin,” “the Putin communist,” “the Putin nationalist,” and “the Putin socialist.” And for good measure and to appeal to one sliver of the electorate, “a market oriented Putin.”

            If that is how “political” life is going to be arranged, the scholar says, it doesn’t really matter whether one has a real politician at the head of any party. Indeed, a younger and more pragmatic functionary will do just fine – and perhaps even better when they attend meetings in the Presidential Administration.

            If the system has enough resources, it may be able to last for years, being a simulacrum of real politics without any political competition.  The only real problem is that the citizenry will see no reason to take part in this charade and there may emerge an insurgency from outside seeking the changes this unpolitical arrangement would seem to preclude.

A Romeo and Juliet Story from the Post-Soviet Space

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – There are two kinds of stories that come from the former Soviet space: those that could only happen there because of the nature of the systems people there have experienced and continue to experience, and those that could happen anywhere because they reflect the human condition but sometimes take on a distinctive shape in those countries.

            One such story, a post-Soviet version of the classic Romeo and Juliet plot appeared in the Pskov editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets yesterday (mk-pskov.ru/articles/2017/02/19/pskovich-doshyol-do-kieva-po-shekspiru-a-ne-po-prilepinu.html) and has was relayed by the After Empire portal today (afterempire.info/2017/02/20/rij/).

            The heroes of this story are a young man aged 14 from Pskov and a young girl 15 from Ukraine’s Donbass who became acquainted via the Internet before Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea tore their world apart.  They had been corresponding for some time but their parents objected to a meeting, more it appears for political than personal reasons.

            The family of the Pskov Romeo didn’t like the idea that their son was going to associate with Banderites, an attitude strengthened by the fact that the Pskov division was nearby and the young man was approaching draft age.  Juliet’s family also had doubts about a meeting, but the two sets of parents ultimately began a negotiation.

            And in a post-Soviet update of the Shakespearean classic, a Ukrainian Orthodox Church priest intervened and proposed that the two meet in Slovakia where both could enroll in the university.  “Not without difficulties,” which the Pskov paper describes in detail, the two young people were able to assemble the documents they dneeded.

            “The mother of the girl met her chosen at the Polish border,” and despite all the problems with transportation – the only way to get there was by bus through Lviv, widely suspected of being a hotbed of Banderites – the young “Moskal” managed to come together with her beloved, thus ending in a happy way this age-old but distinctly post-Soviet story.

Kirill’s Overreaching Marginalizing Russian Orthodox Church, Mitrokhin and Chaplin Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – Two of the leading experts on the Russian Orthodox Church, Nikolay Mitrokhin of Bremen University and Sergey Chaplin, former head of the Moscow patriarchate’s publications arm, say Patriarch Kirill’s effort to grab power and property is alienating Russians, marginalizing the church, and reducing its influence at home and abroad.

            In a commentary for the Grani portal, Mitrokhin says that the conflict over St. Isaac’s has now become “an all-Russian scandal,” one that has not ended despite Putin’s decision to return things to where they were before it started, given that church services had been held there even when it was only a museum (graniru.org/opinion/mitrokhin/m.258944.html).

            “Initially,” he writes, “the authorities simply intended to satisfy Patriarch Kirill’s request about the transfer of St. Isaac’s” and assumed that they would not face serious protests and could ignore any that might occur. But the protests turned out to be far larger and far more widely supported than anyone anticipated.

            Indeed, Mitrokhin says, “by their size, these protests in Petersburg were no smaller than those against the beginning of the war in Ukraine three years ago. [And] by their importance, they exceeded them because they showed that ‘the Putin majority’” was now distancing itself from Putin and his officials.

            Most immediately, however, the people have been distancing itself from the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill personally. Discussions on television and in the media show that neither has the standing it did and that those who might have been unwilling to criticize it are now attacking both across the board.

            Kirill had to use “to the full his personal resources in the battle for specific objects of property,” Mitrokhin continues, “and to attract to his cause ever more doubtful allies, right-wing radicals from the personal guard of ‘Forty by Forty’ and the young football fanatics from ‘the Nevsky Front.’” 

            That accelerated the decline in his influence far more than even the drift of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churh away from Moscow.  In fact, it is now totally possible to speak about “the intensification of the process of the dissolution of the Russian Orthodox church in Russia itself.” And that process is now feeding upon itself.

            “The Internet is filled with stories” written by “’former priests’ who are disappointed and seeking for themselves a new place in life,” Mitrokhin reports. There is now an extremely active site, ahilla.ru/, filled with such stories, and it is supplemented by others on a VKontakte page,  vk.com/atheist__blog.

            As a result, the Germany-based Russian scholar says, however things develop around the conflict over St. Isaac’s, the position of the church inside Russia is going to be weakened, as is that of those who thought they could use the church as a fundamental support for the existing political system.

            Chaplin makes a similar article in Gazeta, saying that the church has only itself to blame for what has happened because it has refused to treat the population as an equal and has assumed it can behave crudely and even viciously because of its good relations with Putin’s power vertical (gazeta.ru/comments/2017/02/16_a_10529081.shtml).

                Not all the statements made by priests and hierarchs are approved by the patriarch, Chaplin says. “On the contrary,” many now feel free to say what they like with little regard for anyone or anything. But all of their remarks show that the Moscow Patriarchate does not feel than any “serious conversation with society” is needed.

            Instead, these people only talk to and speak like mid-level officials with all the crudeness Russians have long expected.  And that in turn means that neither the church as a body of believers nor as a bureaucratic structure is capable of “controlling the situation,” something all Russians can see.

            It may be, Chaplin says, that in a post-secular society where the church is a participant, extremist and crude declarations will win some support; but it is absolutely certain that these statements will alienate more than they attract and thus undermine any possibility that the Russian Orthodox Church can play the role it aspires to.