Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s First Lady Promotes Orthodox Family Values

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 8 – Russia’s first lady, Svetlana Medvedeva, said that the simultaneous celebration of the secular Day of the Family, which Moscow declared a state holiday last year, and of the Orthodox Day of Sts. Peter and Fevroniya today is intended to revive the traditional Russian respect for the family that is the basis of a strong society and a strong state.
In an interview published in the Russian Orthodox Church’s “Foma” magazine, Medvedeva, who serves as one of the patrons and organizers of this holiday, said she had been gratified to see growing popular response to this holiday and the ideas for which this joint secular-religious commeoration stands (
Russia’s first lady has been publicly associated with a variety of Orthodox causes, including the restoration of the New Jerusalem Monastery, and with various senior Russian Orthodox clerics. But her involvement with and remarks about this holiday represent the clearest indication yet of the way in which she sees Orthodoxy and Russian state interests converging.
At the same time, however, she showed political finesse during the interview, noting that “despite the fact that this is a day of memory of Orthodox saints, representatives of the other traditional religions of Russia as well as non-religious people were willingly accepting it,” with the Inter-Religious council “immediately supporting our initiative.”
But at the same time, Medvedeva did not say, although she certainly knows, that the Council and the idea of “traditional” faiths it embodies were the work of Patriarch Kirill. And she is certainlyaware many religious traditions are excluded from it – including Catholicism and Protestantism – and even some which are not often view that body as an Orthodox enterprise.
In addition to promoting strong families in the Russian tradition, Medvedeva said, today’s holiday is intended to teach young people about the importance of marriage and children and to oppose abortion. Indeed, when asked about the specific measures this holiday involved, she pointed to plans for a “Week against Abortions” beginning tomorrow.
Many people, the Russian first lady said, now talk about “the collapse of the traditional family” as some kind of “natural” trend. But she argued that one should oppose that trend with all the resources available. On the one hand, she said, when women enjoy equal rights, “the importance of the family is only growing.”
And on the other, “even if it is not so simple to stop negative tendencies, this does not mean that one should do nothing,” a task that requires the combined efforts of state and church because “the efforts of the state alone are insufficient. No one can force people to change if they themselves do not want to.”
In order to achieve that end, Medvedeva said, the role of Russian traditions is critical. Many of the country’s current problems are the result of “the break with traditions which took place in the last century. And what is a tradition? This is the living experience of previous generations, our parents, grandparents and great grandparents.”
“And toward that tradition,” which she clearly sees as closely linked to Russian Orthodoxy, Medvedeva said, “we must show respect and attention,” a position with which many ethnic Russians will agree but one that is certain to raise questions among the increasing number of that country’s citizens who are neither Orthodox nor Russian.
That Medvedeva sees value in a convergence of Orthodox and Russian state traditions is not unimportant given the influence that she has on her husband, but there was another indication today of the way in which the Russian Orthodox Church and the powers that be in Moscow are coming together in ways that raise political and even constitutional questions.
Andrey Isayev, the deputy secretary of the presidium of the pro-government United Russia Party who is himself head of the Duma committee on labor and social policy, told Interfax that United Russia intends to consult with the Moscow Patriarchate concerning all legislation (
“We have agreed that we will present the Patriarchate with a plan of the legislative work of the Duma both on all questions which elicit even the slightest shadow of doubt [between the state and the church] and conduct preliminary consultations in order to avoid any misunderstanding” between them.
Such an arrangement, which gives the Russian Orthodox Church a highly privileged position, one far beyond that of primus inter pares, may point to the introduction of precisely those Orthodox family values of which Medvedeva spoke. And if so, that will change the nature of Russia, on the one hand, and it will certainly anger the non-Orthodox, on the other.

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