Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Orthodox Church Saved Russia from Both Reds and Whites, New Book Argues

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 22 – In represents the latest effort of Russian nationalist activists close to the Moscow Patriarchate to promote the role of Orthodoxy in Russia, a new book on the Russian Civil War argues that the Church saved Russians from the catastrophes that would have been visited on them by any final victory of either the Reds or the Whites.
The book, “The Civil War in Russia: An Encyclopedia of a Catastrophe” (in Russian; Moscow: Sibirsky Tsiryul’nik, 2010, compiled by Dmitry Volodikhin), argues, according to a review by Pavel Svyatenkov, that “the official historiography” of that long-ago conflict is completely wrong (www.russ.ru/pole/Cerkov-po-tu-storonu-belogo-i-krasnogo).
That historiography, Svyatenkov writes, views the Civil War “through the prism of the conflict of the Reds and the Whites,” with the battle presented as one between “the central Bolshevik government in Moscow” and “numerous ‘separatists’ – the White generals Kolchak, Denikin, Yudenich and Wrangel.”
Consequently, “from the point of view of Soviet historiography as it was established under Stalin, the Bolsheviks behaved as ‘Ivan Kalitas,’ as ingatherers of the Russian lands that had fallen away.” And “therefore, the cult of empire in the post-Soviet period is not accidental – its roots are in the propaganda model of Stalinist times.”
What makes the new encyclopedia so different, Svyatenkov says, is that its authors view the Civil War “not from two but from three points of view. They write not only the history of the Reds and the Whites,” but they ascribe to the Orthodox Church a distinctive historical role” in the conflict, not as a combatant but as something more.
Under conditions of “total political and national division,” the new work argues, the Church “was able to preserve the feeling of the historical nature of the Russian people and its mission. Indeed, it continues, Orthodoxy within the limits of the possible prevented the final victory of either the Reds or the Whites.
The “project of the Reds,” the encyclopedia says in Svyatenkov’s reading was intended to subordinate Russia and the Russians “to the world communist revolution,” reducing them to the status of “a colony without rights” which was to play a supporting role in “the establishment of the worldwide Marxist republic.
The “project of the Whites,” in contrast the Russian nationalist commentator suggests, was to promote “the unification of Russia to the global West with the rights of a colony or semi-colony,” a territory whose administrators would “only fulfill the desires of their masters across the seas.”
The victory of either would have represented, Svyatenkov says, “the End of History” for the Russian people -- if not for a state located in what had been Russia – because history shows that “a people that rejects its historical mission in the name of modernization undermines both modernization and mission.”
Fortunately for Russia and the Russians, the Orthodox Church existed at the time of the Civil War. Its leaders were found in the camps of both the Whites and Reds. “But by the very fact of its existence, [the Church] was dangerous” because it served to recall Russians to their “historical” mission, one separate and apart from the rest of the world.
Given the Church’s role, Svyatenkov says, it was not surprising that Joseph Stalin turned to it when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, not so much in his view from “selfish and cynical motives” but rather because Stalin’s action represented a clear “recognition of the right of the Russian people to historical existence.”
To be sure, Svyatenkov says, “under Soviet conditions,” this right was “inevitably a limited one. But for Russians, who had been oppressed by revolution and war, it is extraordinarily important.” The new encyclopedia, he suggests, continues that tradition when the possibilities for the Russian Church and the Russian people are far greater.

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