Staunton, October 21 – Many Russians fear that nationalist radicals are on their way to transforming Russia into an Orthodox Christian version of Iran; but their fears are misplaced, Fyodor Krasheninnikov says, Russia has officially promoted “traditionalism” without the traditions in the population such a state would require.
In a Snob commentary, the Yekaterinburg analyst says that “throughout the world, conservatism is the struggle for all that remains of what was the case in the good old days.” It agenda is relatively fixed over long periods of time because it reflects the values, views and agendas of a significant segment of the population (snob.ru/selected/entry/130313).
But because of the Soviet system’s attack over seven decades on what might be traditional values, Krasheninnikov says, the situation in Russia is very different. There isn’t the widespread support for traditional values; instead, there is the promotion of traditionalism by elites to defend their own power positions.
And that explains, he continues, why those behind the promotion of traditionalism, Russian clericals and conservative intellectuals, have not been able to come up with any clearly defined or attractive political program. They can offer “fantasies about the rebirth of monarchy,” but “there is no program, only a desire to continue to dominate society.”
What is going on can be easily seen if one considers the nature of traditionalism and conservatism in the US and the nature of the 1979 Iranian revolution and its consequences, Krasheninnikov says.
“In the US, traditionalists of all kinds operate not on bureaucrats and ‘siloviki’ but on millions of those who in the evenings read the Bible and each Sunday go to church, perhaps with a gun in a holster but at the time of elections vote for conservatively inclined politicians.” They have values, and they support them.
“In Russia,” in contrast, the commentator continues, “there are hardly any clerical conservatives in the form of a multi-million-strong community of socially active people.” What does exist are attempts by those in power to link post-Soviet behavior with religious ideas. Not surprisingly, this kind of conservatism is “fruitless” despite enormous effort by the authorities.
That can be clearly seen in what is happening now: those opposed to the film Mathilda are calling on prosecutors and officials to stop it because they appear to understand that ordinary people are completely uninterested in this “monarchist cargo cult” and would not respond to appeals to block its showing in theaters.
But the appeals of the opponents of Mathilda have been so dramatic and have been given so much coverage by the government’s media, that ever more Russians and perhaps others fear that “soon Russia will become ‘an Orthodox Iran.’” People who say that only display their ignorance of Iran and of Russia as well, the Yekaterinburg analyst says.
“The truth consists of this: in Iran at the times of the pro-Western Shah Mohammed Rez Pahlevi, the absolute majority of the population consisted of practicing Muslims. Feel the difference: it was not Ayatollah Khomeini who on coming to power forced Iranians to go to the mosques. It was just the reverse” because the Iranians were committed Shiites.
“The Iranian revolution occurred not because the religious leaders called the population to submit to the shah and his regime and it imposed Islam on the people from above. On the contrary, Islam in the shah’s Iran became a banner of mass social, political and even moral protest against the shah’s corrupted, westernized and repressive regime.”
According to Krasheninnikov, “present-day Russia is more the shah’s Iran in reverse: we have a small stratum of churched officials, siloviki, major enterprises, and clerics drowning in wealth who … are calling millions of their fellow citizens who are scarcely making ends meet to repent before the emperor who was overthrown a century ago.”
Orthodoxy, of course, is full of martyrs and saints, “who lived all their lives in poverty and squalor, but the oligarchs and the prosecutors aren’t trying to unite people in emulation of them.” Moreover, as some appear to have forgotten, “in the final analysis, the symbol of Christianity, including Orthodoxy is not the last emperor but Jesus Christ.”
Those living in luxury today prefer to forget that but it may be that “perhaps they themselves do not understand that the clerical-conservative version of Imperial Orthodoxy with all this carnival cult of the overthrown tsar, rickety Cossacks and officials who have only recently been baptized is least of all suitable for mass consumption?”
In some respects, their lack of understanding is a good thing. “If after 20 years of fat life in a regime of maximum well-being, our clericals and conservatives can offer society only a caricature scandal about the intimate life of Nicholas II, there really isn’t anything to be afraid of” from that direction. Instead, all this deserves only bitter laughter.