Friday, August 7, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Is the Russian Patriarch Being Clever or Too Clever By Half?

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 7 – Patriarch Kirill’s statement that he is ready to accept dual citizenship in Ukraine because he is a patriarch of more than the Russian Federation, despite the anger it generated among many Ukrainians, may have been the cleverest move of his visit or a misstep that will cost him and the Russian Orthodox Church support from key constituencies at home.
In the course of his 10-day visit to Ukraine, Kirill repeatedly stressed the commonality of the two Slavic peoples who descend from Kievan Rus’ and said that as a churchman with responsibilities for Russian Orthodox believers in both countries, he would willingly accept becoming a Ukrainian citizen while of course retaining his Russian citizenship.
Because such an arrangement would violate Ukrainian law and because his proposal suggested that the Moscow prelate was interested in the restoration of some kind of common state for Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, Kirill’s comments infuriated many Ukrainians and raised questions back home about his intentions.
On his return, Kirill was received by President Dmitry Medvedev. The patriarch told the president that his visit to Ukraine was “worth all the scandals” it had provoked not only about Ukrainian Orthodox leaders interested in autocephaly but also among Ukrainian officials who suspicious of the Russian churchman’s plans (
Kirill said that “the political tension between the two governments which has increased in recent times, has not been able to undercut the truth in Russia among ordinary Ukrainians.” And he said that Russians and Ukrainians must always “feel themselves comfortable in the common spiritual space” of which they are a part.
Medvedev responded that must be so even if they are “citizens of different states” because “despite everything else, they are sons and daughters of the Russian Orthodox Church.” And he insisted that these special “fraternal feelings … must be preserved regardless of who is in power and independent of the political requirements of any particular moment.”
But perhaps most important and certainly in the minds of some most ominously, the Russian president said that “the pastoral visit of the Patriarch [to Ukraine] can become the basis for ‘a number of practical conclusions,” although, as “Argumenty i fakty” reported in its coverage of this meeting, Medvedev did not explain what those might be.
Some Russians were enthusiastic about the Patriarch’s visit to Ukraine and even his proposal that he take Ukrainian citizenship while retaining his Russian citizenship. Sergey Chernyakhovsky, a member of the Moscow Academy of Political Science, was among them (
On the one hand, he said, Kirill and the Russian government are acting in Ukraine “on different levels,” something that works to the advantage of both. The patriarch “appealed to that Ukraine which is again a confrontation with Russia,” with which he did not have to speak as the Russian government does about gas supplies.
And on the other, Chernyakhovsky said, Kirill’s citizenship proposal could have an even greater set of consequences. “If all the citizens of the republics adopted the citizenship of the others and became citizens of 15 states, then,” the Moscow analyst suggested, “what would result would be the reunification of a new USSR.”
But if some Russians, especially those with imperialist aspirations, liked Kirill’s idea about dual citizenship, other Russians clearly are concerned about what the patriarch’s proposal says about his attitude toward the Russian nation. And one church analyst has warned that such people could turn against him and thus undermine the influence of the Church in Moscow.
In an interview posted on the site, Father Gleb Yakunin, a longtime liberal activist within Orthodoxy and the head of the Freedom of Conscience Committee, said that Kirill’s remarks about citizenship could represent “a very risky move” (
It is obvious, Yakunin said, that by suggesting he is ready to take Ukrainian citizenship in order “to show that he so loves Ukraine and so sincerely wants to be accepted as a genuine Patriarch in Ukraine.” But in making this statement, which has already sparked opposition in Kyiv, Kirill has created problems for himself and his Church in the Russian Federation itself.
First, Russia’s “ultra-nationalists” are certainly infuriated by any suggestion that Kirill “loves Ukraine more than Russia” and who wants to make Kyiv rather than Moscow “the ‘Third Rome,’ a completely new idea which for them is completely unacceptable and against which they will speak out.
Second, Kirill has often spoken of the need to restore what he calls “’Orthodox civilization,’” and many are certain to view his proposal to become a citizen of Ukraine as a prelude to his becoming a citizen of Belarus and thus giving him a standing above all the Slavs greater than the Russian president or the Russian prime minister.
Such a move, Father Gleb said, could open the way for Kirill to act “in the style of Lukashenka” and thus to have the kind of independence that neither Medvedev nor Vladimir Putin would be happy about. After all, if they attempt to “take the Church under complete control” in Russia, Kirill is giving himself an out: he could simply move to Ukraine.
And third, there is another and even more dangerous consequence of the Patriarch’s proposal, Yakunin pointed out, one that Kirill himself probably has not considered. Perhaps a third of the Orthodox clergy in Russia are ethnically Ukrainian even though they current have Russian Federation citizenship.
If they decided to follow Kirill’s example and take Ukrainian citizenship, they too would have a way out should Moscow try to impose greater control over the Russian Orthodox Church: they too could leave. Consequently, Father Gleb concluded, “the situation is quite complicated with regard to games at dual citizenship.”

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