Vienna, February 23 – After the election of Dmitry Medvedev as president, Patriarch Kirill has been “able to use the interest of [First Lady] Svetlana Medvedeva in Orthodoxy and achieve certain essential concessions for the Russian Orthodox Church which [Vladimir] Putin did not want” to agree, according to a leading specialist on Russian religious affairs.
In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty posted on that station’s website last Thursday, Nikolay Mitrokhin, currently a scholar at the Center for the Study of Eastern Europe at Bremen University, described the way in which the interests of Kirill and Medvedeva have converged (www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/1961591.html).
The occasion for Mitrokhin’s remarks was the appearance of a report prepared by the National Institute for the Development of Contemporary Ideology, whose board President Medvedev heads, on “The Moral Basis of Modernization” which urged the inclusion of Orthodoxy as a key element for Russia’s future development.
While the report, as the institute has stressed since then, is only for purposes of discussion and does not represent the position of United Russia, its content does represent a significant departure from the ideology of that party in the past, especially as articulated by Vladislav Surkov, the first deputy of the Presidential Administration.
Surkov, Mitrokhin said, “does not support any Orthodox ideas.” And consequently, the push for Orthodoxy as a moral basis for modernization must have other sources, all the more so because Aleksandr Kovalev, the head of the Institute’s expert council, is neither especially senior nor closely attached to the Church. Indeed, Mitrokhin said, the report was simply a “PR” effort.
But, the Russian specialist said, “it is possible to say that after the election of President Medvedev, new Patriarch Kirill was able to use the interest of Svetlana Medvedeva in Orthodoxy and achieve certain essential concessions for the Russian Orthodox Church, to which [Medvedev’s predecessor] Putin did not want to go during his presidency.”
(Among these, Roman Lunkin points out in a commentary on Portal-Credo.ru, are the introduction of a chaplaincy corps in the military, the trial run of teaching religious culture in schools, the restitution of more church property, and active state support for the Russian Orthodox Church’s activities abroad (www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=comment&id=1722).)
Asked by RFE/RL why he connected this with Svetlana Medvedeva, Mitrokhin said that “there is a basis” for doing so, and he cited Medvedev’s actions on chaplains and religious education that “followed literally two days after Patriarch Kirill prayed together with Svetlana Medvedeva in the Kremlin.”
Despite this support, Mitrokhin said he had grave doubts that the ideological program in support of Orthodoxy would amount to as much as some hope and others fear. The number of people who attend Orthodox services even twice a month is about half a percent of the Russian population, he said, about the same as the number of Muslims and Protestants there do.
And even if one uses the more generous measure of church attendance over the course of a year, something which he said attracted 7.5 to 10 percent of Russians, the Orthodox Church hierarchs “say that the future development of Orthodoxy in Russia is possible only with intensify government support.”
Not only are there constitutional obstacles to some of that, Mitrokhin said, but he noted that “in society, an atheist tendency is strengthening. The Academy of Sciences which for a long time was quite indifferent to questions of religiosity now takes a quite harsh position” and has pushed a number of measures to halt “the Orthodox expansion.”
And Mitrokhin added, “the level of dislike of the Russian Orthodox Church, in any case, among the educated part of society, has grown.” Consequently, if the government and the church do come together, “sooner or later all these things will end for the Church as in 1917,” something the hierarchs can imagine but are not prepared to talk about.”
As far as the idea of promoting Orthodoxy as the basis of modernization is concerned, Mitrokhin concluded, this project will fail because “there is not one affair which United Russia has conducted successfully” except for its ability to ensure reported majorities in any elections it stages.