In a Faith in Europe Briefing (see video recording on the Briefing Videos page) in October 2020 Dr Ruth Deyermond, Senior Lecturer in Post-Soviet Security at King’s College London, suggests that in recent years, conflict with Russia has emerged as one of the greatest threats facing the UK and Europe. The most serious threat of all is to Russia’s neighbours, the states of the former Soviet Union, but these are also problems that the rest of Europe cannot afford to ignore. This talk looks at the current crisis in Belarus; the ongoing conflict in Ukraine; the risk of interference in upcoming elections in Georgia; and the political and security threats posed by Russia to the rest of Europe. It explores the way that all these crises have been shaped by the wider conflict between Russia and the West over ethical issues such as human rights and the Russian government’s identification as the defender of traditional values and Russian Orthodoxy
Radicalism or Reconciliation in Russia?
Focusing on Religion in the North Caucasus
Censorship, Imprisonment and Death
A friend of mine in Moscow, who will remain nameless, recently told me how his offices had just been raided and files taken away – his Christian ecumenical work had come under suspicion, through contacts with foreign organisations and charities. Many other important NGOs have been closed down – human rights organisations in particular have been targeted, as have any liberal media outlets. How many journalists from Novaya gazeta have been killed in recent years? I think it is five. People may have heard of the heroic Anna Politkovskaya and read her journals, but I saw a figure of a total of 17 journalists and cameramen who have been killed – plus hundreds of disappearances – in Russia since 2000. Last year in June, you may recall, General Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, personally threatened to kill Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor of Novaya gazeta, because of his critical coverage of his agency.
Mysterious deaths and disappearances, or kidnappings, have not just been confined to writers, human rights workers and journalists. We know of the big businessman and others falling out with President Putin and with those who control the levers of power in the Kremlin – from Mikhail Khodorkovsky to Sergei Magnitsky (murdered in prison in 2009) we have seen the cost of crossing a thin ‘red’ line. The unsolved (or untried) murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 was perhaps the most public revelation of the work of the Russian secret services (FSB) – even if he may have been a double or triple agent. Politically, it is said that one of the most dangerous jobs in Russia is that of being a mayor – Russakaya planeta recently reported that more than 100 mayors have been dismissed from their jobs or charged with crimes and imprisoned in the last five years – all of them had run and won against United Russia candidates. The popular mayor of Yaroslavl’, Yevgeny Urlashov, a human rights activist and lawyer, was warned and then arrested just over a week ago on trumped-up charges just after he had organised a protest of several thousand people against United Russia.Continue reading “Radicalism or Reconciliation in Russia? – focusing on Religion in the North Caucasus”
Karelia and Kamchatka
Since the turn of the century I have been involved in the research behind what at Keston Institute we call the Encyclopaedia on Religious Life in Russia Today, which in seven volumes covers all Christian denominations and religions in all the administrative divisions of the Russian Federation. We are now working on a second edition which will be more analytical, focusing on the most important religious groups which are significant players in today’s Russia.
This year my field trips have included one to Petrozavodsk in Karelia, north of St Petersburg at the western end of Russia, and most recently one to the very opposite end of Russia, Kamchatka, which is even further east than Vladivostok. The Karelian Republic, covering 172,400 sq km, has a population more than twice the size of Kamchatka’s and Kamchatka is 1½ times larger than Karelia. Both areas were the focus of virulent antireligious activity during the communist period, so that few churches were left standing in Karelia and none whatsoever in Kamchatka.Continue reading “Karelia and Kamchatka”
Roman Catholic, Anglican and Russian Orthodox Views on Civil Society and Recent Church-Related Civil Society Developments in Russia
There is a widespread view that the Russian Orthodox Church is subordinate to the state and that religious authority is complicit with the political authority of the ruling regime – whether the absolutism of the tsars, the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union or the authoritarianism of Putin’s postcommunist Russia. Linked to this charge of caesaro-papism is the claim that the Orthodox East as a whole has failed to overcome the legacy of Byzantium – above all, there is no clear, constitutionally enshrined separation of powers or a robust rule of law. Since 1993 it has also been suggested that church and state in Russia have sought to put in place a neo-Byzantine settlement where individuals and society are ruled by the twin forces of president and patriarch – the representatives of earthly and heavenly powers. Closely connected with this is the common assumption that the East has no or only a weak civil society. Or, to be less general, that only Central European Catholic countries such as Poland or Slovakia have a vibrant civic culture, while the Orthodox East is statist and lacks a constitutional tradition, which would favour the emergence of intermediary institutions.
Elements for an Alternative Theological and Historical Narrative
However, both the theology and the history of the Russian Orthodox Church are rather more complex than this contemporary caricature suggests. Theologically, there is a clear distinction between state and church. St John Chrysostom, a fifth-century Greek theologian, was opposed to the sacralisation of power – a critique that underpins the distinction by Pope Gelasius I of the two swords. For Chrysostom, and for St Augustine who followed and developed St Paul’s teaching, secular rule is confined to the temporal saeculum (destined to pass into God’s Kingdom) and falls inside the church insofar as it concerns justice and the orientation of human existence to the Good.Continue reading “Roman Catholic, Anglican and Russian Orthodox Views on Civil Society and Recent Church-Related Civil Society Developments in Russia”
Russia: its Current Political and Economic Situation and its Geopolitical Position, including its Position on the EU
The unofficial term for the partnership between Medvedev (President) and Putin (Prime Minister) is ‘Tandemocracy’. Medvedev has worked for Putin for 15 years and regards him as an elder brother. Putin has always defended the Constitution and the form of democracy as developed in Russia. Putin is also head of the United Russia party, which is by far the biggest party in the Duma, so if Medvedev tried to sack him the Duma would probably object.
I think Putin sees himself as a transitional figure whose task is to bring stability to Russia after a Time of Troubles, and he envisages that that he will give way to a more democratic younger generation. Hence he chose Medvedev, who was the most liberal of the possible choices. But Putin has a Plan B: if everything goes wrong he will come back and wield a firm hand again.
Medvedev and Putin think basically alike, but probably differ over their perspectives on the future: Medvedev has set up a think tank which is now espousing a more liberal line than the Putin camp. In the current economic crunch the Putin camp is arguing for more state intervention, protection for workers and so on, but the Medvedev camp is arguing that the bargain reached under the Putin presidency, when people put up with the curtailment of civil liberties in return for economic growth, should now be modified in the direction of more civil liberties.Continue reading “Russia: its Current Political and Economic Situation and its Geopolitical Position, including its Position on the EU”
The Russian Orthodox Church and Human Rights:
Moscow Meeting, March 2007
Conference of European Churches – Office of Communications Press release No. 07-15/e
23 March 2007 (Slightly edited for layout but not cut – Philip Walters)
Churches Stay Committed to Human Rights
From 20 to 21 March 2007 delegations of experts from the Russian Orthodox Church and from the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) met in Moscow to discuss about human rights.
The meeting was organised because the Russian Orthodox Church intends to adopt a basic document on human rights. Preparations for such a document began with the 2006 Declaration of the World Russian People’s Council and subsequent statements from members of the Russian Orthodox Church on human rights. These gave rise to the concern as to whether there is still a common basis for human rights related issues among member churches of CEC.
The most important result of the dialogue meeting in Moscow in this regard, is that the very concept of human rights is not under question. The Russian Orthodox Church wants only to raise some questions with regard to the interpretation of certain human rights, as H.E. Metropolitan Kyrill, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations put it. The Joint Communiqué of the meeting reads:
Continue reading “The Russian Orthodox Church and Human Rights: Moscow Meeting”
The two delegations agreed that the result of the present debate on human rights within the Russian Orthodox Church and among European churches will be to strengthen the churches commitment to human rights as laid down, for instance, in the United Nations Bill of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Council of Europe’s Social Charter as well as in documents of the Follow-Up Conferences of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Current Developments in the Relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Diocese in the UK
I dedicate my remarks today to the memory of Fr Sergei Hackel. He would have been suffering very much if he had lived to see the recent developments in the UK diocese.
Irina Levinskaya has spoken of the conservatism and insularity which have prevailed within the Moscow Patriarchate over the past decade. The Holy Synod in Moscow has just had a two-day meeting at which it approved the report of the commission looking into the conduct of Bishop Basil Osborne. Members of the UK diocese refused to take part in the commission because it could not satisfy them that they would have a fair hearing. The text of the commission’s findings has not been made available to the UK diocese.
In 1927 Metropolitan Yevlogi, head of the Russian Orthodox diocese in Paris, appointed a priest to London. In 1930 Yevlogi was ordered to take a pro-Soviet line; in response he moved his parishes from the jurisdiction of Moscow to that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. After the Second World War there was a movement to return to Moscow. Metropolitan Yevlogi was persuaded to do so, but died a year later.Continue reading “Current Developments in the Relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Diocese in the UK”
Current extremist tendencies in and around the Moscow Patriarchate
We cannot call the Moscow Patriarchate a progressive force. In fact it is conservative. It constantly demonises the West. It shows xenophobic and anti-Judaic tendencies. It expresses strong support for a centralised authoritarian state. Even those bishops who are labelled as ‘liberals’ are not liberal in the western sense. They are simply more moderate exponents of the same ideas.
The centres of conservatism are the monasteries. The more conservative hierarchs have monastic roots. As far as the theological seminaries and academies are concerned, we should recognise a great difference between those in St Petersburg and those in Moscow. The former are located in the middle of the city, and the students are exposed to international contacts. The latter are in Sergiyev Posad, a long way from Moscow, and do not have these kinds of contact. The new generation of church leaders are products of the Moscow academy.Continue reading “Current Extremist Tendencies in and around the Moscow Patriarchate”