Monday, September 21, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Speculations about Death of Aleksii Said a Siloviki Warning to Kirill

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 21 – Angered by Patriarch Kirill’s increasing involvement in Russian political life in ways they do not like, the force structures -- “siloviki” – reportedly are behind media speculations about the death of his predecessor, Aleksii II, both to raise questions about the legitimacy of the current church leader and to remind him of his own mortality.
In an article in the current issue of “Argumenty nedeli,” Andrey Uglanov says that Kirill’s extraordinary activity has attracted ever more attention, including from some who the journalist points out do not like to have their positions questioned let alone challenged. And that has become Kirill’s “big problem” (
Uglanov writes that “it is said that the behavior of the patriarch” in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation as well “does not very much please a definite circle of the so-called siloviki” and that they are looking for ways either to get Kirill to change his ways or at least to lower the decibel level of his comments.
Kirill’s trip to Ukraine this summer annoyed some because the Russian patriarch cozied up with Viktor Yanukovich, the head of the Party of the Regions, rather than with Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko, who, it appears, enjoys the backing of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
But even more offensive to these siloviki, Uglanov continues, have been what even “the unaided eye” can see: “his anti-Stalinist and anti-Bolshevik actions,” including his appearance at the Solovetsky stone in Moscow’s Lubyanka Square on the very Day of the Memory of the Victims of Political Repression.
Given Kirill’s position as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, those who oppose him have had to come up with an indirect approach to try to influence him, and Uglanov suggests that “it is possible to consider as a certain warning [to him] the distribution in the information space of reports about the circumstances surrounding the death of his predecessor, Aleksii II.”
These reports, which have appeared in several Russian outlets, have claimed that the current patriarch “is concealing the circumstances of the death” of Aleksii, implicitly suggesting that Aleksii might not have died of natural causes and that Kirill, who for a long time had been his number two, would have had a motive for wanting to see him die as soon as possible.
Such suggestions were fed by additional stories that suggested that Aleksii II had “feared his entourage and did not completely trust his protectors” – exactly the kind of stories many Russians would be likely to draw parallels with reports that have continued to swirl around the death of Joseph Stalin.
Church publicist Father Andrey Kurayev has demolished these reports about Aleksii, pointing out that the suggested chronologies are wrong and that Aleksii was neither young nor in good health at the time of his death, although those who want to see a conspiracy are likely to continue to do so.
Indeed, Uglanov says, “it is already not so important” that the version about the murder convincing. Because however that may be, such stories can serve as a warning against Kirill and his growing political strength, “reminding him about those circumstance in which he became Patriarch and recalling to him the temporary nature of everything earthly.”
Kirill for his part shows no sign of backing down in any respect. Today, for example, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reported under the rubric “politics” that he is not only reorganizing the Patriarchate’s media system but creating his very own press service to make sure his ideas get to the widest possible audience (
And also today, Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, who heads the Patriarchate’s department for working with the security agencies, said bluntly that “if we want,” religious instruction in the schools can be “introduced tomorrow” because “the single source of power in Russia is the people,” and they are on the side of the Church (
But the possibility that someone might consider attacking the Patriarch physically is not as farfetched in Russia as one would hope. Not only have more than 50 religious leaders been killed there in the last several years, but yesterday, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, was murdered (
While most of the media has echoed the official line that Ismail Bostanov was killed by “Wahhabis,” many of his relatives and close friends do not believe that, noting that the late Muslim leader had not criticized that trend in Islam any more than any of his colleagues and thus was unlikely to have been singled out for liquidation on that basis.
Also today, Rabbi Berl Lazar, Russia’s chief rabbi, while regretting Bostanov’s murder, appealed to Moscow, “including the force structures,” to provide “all necessary measures to protect the real security of believers,” a request that in itself is a damning comment on the state of religious life in Russia today (

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