The Corner

Turning the Other Cheek?

Tomorrow is verdict day for the naughtily-named Russian trio that staged a brief demonstration in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior (and have been jailed since March).

The Guardian reports:

Guards at the cathedral broke up the peaceful protest, ripping off activists’ masks, twisting their arms behind their backs and kicking at least one photographer in the face as he tried to take a picture.

The original protest was in poor taste, and the trio’s often bizarre politics, a sort of feminist twist on an absurdist-anarcho-leftism with some connection to (doomed) moverments in the early Soviet Union, are not always endearing. Nevertheless it’s worth reading what one of the defendants, Yekaterina Samutsevich, had to say (during the course of her closing statement) about the way that the Putin regime has coopted not only the modern Russian Orthodox Church but also its historical reputation as a victim of the Soviet state. It’s a subtle point, carefully made.

It may be that the tough, failed policies of Putin’s government, the incident with the submarine Kursk, the bombings of civilians in broad daylight, and other unpleasant moments in his political career forced him to ponder the fact that it was high time to resign; otherwise, the citizens of Russia would help him do this. Apparently, it was then that he felt the need for more convincing, transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the helm. It was here that the need arose to make use of the aesthetics of the Orthodox religion, historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself.

How did he succeed in doing this? After all, we still have a secular state, and shouldn’t any intersection of the religious and political spheres be dealt with severely by our vigilant and critically minded society? Here, apparently, the authorities took advantage of a certain deficit of Orthodox aesthetics in Soviet times, when the Orthodox religion had the aura of a lost history, of something crushed and damaged by the Soviet totalitarian regime, and was thus an opposition culture. The authorities decided to appropriate this historical effect of loss and present their new political project to restore Russia’s lost spiritual values, a project which has little to do with a genuine concern for preservation of Russian Orthodoxy’s history and culture.

An interesting angle to this whole case is that the women have been charged under Article 213 (2) of the Russian criminal code: “hooliganism” motivated by religious hatred or hostility. The language of western political correctness, not to speak of Islamic efforts to suppress free speech, have, it seems, found an echo in Moscow, the Third Rome.  That the Russian law can also be read as a part of a wider effort to protect the country’s believers from a return to the vicious anti-religious persecution of the Soviet era only adds to the ironies surrounding this case, as does the often-heard allegation that both Russia’s president and its patriarch both used to work–how shall I put this—for a certain malevolent organization.

In any event, five months in jail is more (much more) than enough.

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