Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin’s Ties with Religions Said Strengthening ‘Archaic’ Elements in Each

Paul Goble

Baku, May 21 – The Kremlin’s drive to expand cooperation with the leaders of the four ‘traditional’ religions of Russia has served some of the interests of both but at a high price: It has also intensified “archaic elements” in both, according to a leading Moscow specialist on religious and ethnic affairs.
Speaking in Moscow last week, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of the SOVA Center, said that during the presidency of Vladimir Putin, both the federal authorities and the official leaders of Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism had seen their authority reinforced by such ties (www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=20568).
The government’s interest in this cooperation is “transparent” – “support of the status quo and the stabilization of arrangements [in society] as a precondition of the stability of the power of the ruling circles,” the Moscow expert said. But the interests of the religious leaders in this arrangement are less obvious.
The basic motive, especially of the dominant Russian Orthodox Church is in “the maximum de-secularization of society,” the establishment of “a dominating position “ for Orthodoxy, and “ a sharp rise in the status” of the senior hierarchs at the top of the Moscow Patriarchate.
De-secularization as defined by the Church is, according to Verkhovsky “the basic component of a more general task – the de-demodernization” or re-traditionalization of Russian society. And that in turn means that the Patriarchate today “is not simply a conservative but an ‘archaic’ organization.”
Its current leaders, he suggests, are thus reversing the direction of the church in the 1980s and 1990s when at least some of them tried for internal renewal and reform. Because it is unlikely that they will move in that direction again anytime soon, Verkhovsky continues, their only option is to “try to bring society into line with the current state of the Church.”
What that means is that they want as do some of Russia’s political leaders to “somewhat de-modernize society, which to a certain extent is always possible.”
The interests of the leadership of the other confessions are similar. The Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) under Mufti Talgat Tajuddin wants the same thing, the SOVA head says, although he suggests the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) under Ravil Gainutdin has a more modernist approach. The two other “traditional” faiths do not play a big role
Because the Kremlin shares the commitment of the leaders of the traditional religions to “stability” and because it views modernization in exclusively “technical” terms, Verkhovsky continues, it does not oppose their “anti-modernism.” Instead, it sees what the religious leadership is offering as representing the kind of “civilizational nationalism” it is promoting.
Verkhovsky concluded his presentation by saying that the rapprochement of the Kremlin and the traditional religions had peaked in 2003, but he suggested that a major reason for the closeness then were the personal ties between Putin and the Patriarch and that for the former it became clear that he needed to “rethink” this relationship.
And the SOVA analyst said, “sooner or later ‘other people’ will come to the Kremlin who will be capable of listening [not just to the Patriarchate or even the MSDs] but to the proposals of [a wider range] of social groups. And it is possible that religious leaders will ultimately decide to try to reach out to society rather than demanding society conform to their views.
Not surprisingly, Verkhovsky’s presentation at the Carnegie Endowment’s Moscow Center sparked what Blagovest-Info characterized as “a lively discussion.” Perhaps the most interesting comment came from what many would think to be a most unexpected source: the editor of the Old Believer journal, “Tserkov’.”
Aleksandr Antonov pointed out that the experience of Russia at the start of the 20th century showed that “the bearers of the archaic” can under certain circumstances become participants in a positive way in “the creation of a civil society based on a powerful religious foundation.”

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