Vienna, July 8 – Dissident Orthodox Bishop Diomid, whether intentionally or not, is helping to promote separatism in Chukotka, according to on Russian nationalist commentator. But another Moscow analyst suggests that the Kremlin’s own behavior in this case is doing far more than the embattled churchman to threaten the territorial integrity of the country.
In an article on the Pravaya.ru portal, Yury Bazhenov says that Russia risks losing Chukotka for reasons both domestic and foreign. Domestically, that Far Eastern region is so far from Moscow – more than 10,000 km and more than 10 time zones – and so cut off -- its towns are accessible only by irregular air routes that the center does not exercise effective control.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bazhenov continues, this isolation became even more important. The collapse of Soviet subsidies meant that a large number of Russians and other Slavs fled the region, and the examples of ethno-nationalism elsewhere in the Russian Federation inspired some Chukchis as well (www.pravaya.ru/look/16086).
And internationally, Americans, in his view, have always looked longingly at this Russian region, the only one in the Western hemisphere, as a jumping off place to begin their occupation of the entire Russian Far East and Siberia as Zbigniew Brzezinski and others have urged.
In the early 1990s, the Russian commentator points out, the Alaskan legislature advanced claims to the Wrangel Islands, invoking ethnic links. The same argument, he suggests, could be advanced by Sitka or Washington with regard to some of the indigenous peoples of Chukotka, especially if it gains the support of Siberian regionalists.
Given this situation, Bishop Diomid is playing a dangerous role, even if it is one that he personally does not recognize. On the one hand, his role, although with former regional head Roman Abramovich in creating and then building up a separate eparchate helps reify Chukotka identity.
And on the other, the deposed bishop’s actions in splitting the Russian Orthodox community there open the way for interventions of various kinds by Old Believer communities in Alaska and by parts of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia that do not yet accept communion with the Moscow Patriarchate.
Such actions could have the effect, Bazhenov says, of giving what is “in fact the social group most loyal to the Russian state not simply a cause for the loss of this loyalty” but even set it “in opposition to the civil authorities as de facto [it has already] been put in opposition to the church authorities.”
Such developments by their very nature would undermine Moscow’s control of the region and could open the way for an American advance, dangers that Bazhenov says he hopes Bishop Diomid will recognize in a timely fashion and avoid taking any steps that might “end with a split in the Church and the disintegration of Russia.”
But another Moscow observer, Sobkorr.ru’s Yury Gladysh, argues that if any Chukchi begins thinking about separatism over the Diomid case, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government as a result of their clumsy and heavy-handed actions in the last week will have only themselves to blame (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4871CAC37C624.html).
On the one hand, as more and more commentators have pointed out and as more and more supporters of Diomid insist, the Patriarchate violated canon law and its own specific rules in moving against the Chukotka bishop and has compounded its mistake by the manner in which it has installed Archbishop Mark of Khabarovsk and Priamurye as his temporary replacement.
And on the other, the church has involved the civil authorities in these actions not only by having the militia assist in the seizure of churches whose congregations support Diomid but also by having more senior officials in Chukotka inform citizens there that they will face difficulties at work if they continue to back the bishop.
(Indeed, these official actions against Diomid and in favor of the Patriarchate have been so insensitive that some in Chukotka itself have said online that from their point of view, 1937 – the year of the worst Soviet oppression of the Russian Orthodox Church and its pastorate -- has returned (www.zaveru.ucoz.ru/news/2008-07-06-571).)
Not only do these actions violate the Russian constitution and Russian law, Gladysh argues, but they have the effect of broadening the base of support for Diomid. The authorities are using the same methods against him that they are using against secular opponents, a pattern that is driving the latter into the hands of the former.
Thus, “a new protest group is being formed,” one larger and more powerful than either of its components was before, the direct result Gladysh says of the Russian leadership’s thoughtless and clumsy approach to the ranks of what Moscow continues to view as the “extra-systemic opposition” to itself.