Wiesława Lewandowska talks with Anna Łabuszewska about the spirit of Putin’s Russia, religiousness of the Russians and of the very president Putin

WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: – John Paul’s II dream was about Europe which could breathe with two Christian lungs, the Eastern one and the Western one. At present it seems – regarding the political conditions – less and less possible…

ANNA ŁABUSZEWSKA: - Looking at the spiritual-religious issues from the political point of view – which has a special significance in Russia – the Russian-Ukrainian crisis causes a situation when there are less and less chances for the common breathing than it was some time ago. Here it is worth noting the way in which president Putin was speaking about fundaments of this conflict on 18 March. He formulated civilizational purposes for Russia, went away from the international area in which politics should be based and entered onto wide civilizational tracks. Referring to the notion ‘russkij mir’, that is, ‘the Russian world’ and ‘Russian law and order’, he showed a clash of civilizations. The Western civilization is perceived in Russia as a rot overturning permanent conservative values, to which Russia is referring now.

– Aren’t these the values identical with the values of Christianity, including the Western one?

– It seems so, but it is difficult to say if the religious component would be included in this new law and order of Putin. It is only maneuvered as a part of a political game.

– Also the Catholics in Poland are complaining about the rot of the West. Isn’t it a similar complaining?

– During the visit of the Patriarch Cyril in Poland there were really references to the conservative values of the both religions. In the common document signed at that time, attention was paid to our common values and opposing to what the president Putin names ‘rot’. However, here I see a kind of a dissonance…

– Did Putin want to build this ‘new Russian civilization’ with religion or rather without religion?

– Certainly, with religion. However, a completely unexpected element appeared in this puzzle of Putin. During the mentioned message in Kremlin, under golden chandeliers there were hierarchs of all religions existing in Russia – there was the main rabbi, the most important Muslim hierarchs – whereas the Orthodox Church was represented only by one of metropolitans, not a patriarch. In an official message of the Moscow Patriarchy so much information was given that the patriarch was not present in Kremlin.

– How significant was his absence?

– We can assume so – on the basis of the so-called unofficial leaks- that the patriarch wanted to mark his different opinion about the policy of Kremlin in Ukraine in this way. For the Orthodox Church it is a very sensitive issue because the situation of the Orthodox religion in Ukraine is very complicated.

– More complicated than in Russia?

– It is difficult to make comparisons here. The Russian Orthodox religion is united under the Moscow Patriarchy and only insignificant dissenters. Whereas in Ukraine there are a few Orthodox churches. The strongest Church is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchy, but also the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchy which announced its independence from the Moscow Patriarchy, is significant but it is not acknowledged as the canonic Church, and the Greek-Catholic Church as well as the Autocephalous Orthodox Church subordinated to Rome. There have been operations for years in order to create one ‘pomiestnyj’, a local Orthodox church. It seems that the events of the last months put a cornerstone under creating this Orthodox Church in Ukraine independent from Moscow, which must be not convenient for the patriarch of Moscow.

– Why?

– Without the Ukrainian Orthodox of the Moscow Patriarchy the very Russian Orthodox church will not be the strongest Orthodox Church in the world. Cyril, as a patriarch of Moscow put much effort in order to maintain the closest relationships with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; he often went there with pilgrims, agreed to using liturgical texts translated into Ukrainian language. Every time, being in Kiev, he used to emphasize that it is the home of the Russian orthodox religion.

– And the home of Russia to which Putin would like to refer, forming his ‘russkij mir’?

– Kievan Rus is really a home of the Russian statehood, not only faith. Whereas in the Russian Wikipedia the term ‘Kievan Rus’ has not been anymore…..It was replaced by the motto ‘multi-Russian state’. It was very significant. The patriarch Cyril referred to the common faith and the common civilization as a spiritually binding symbol, whereas politicians entered this area with an axe and started destroying what had been built for a thousand of years.

– Did they make the Orthodox Church weaker in this way?

– Definitely yes. Putin has surely weakened relations uniting the Moscow Patriarchy with Kiev, which can have really far-going consequences. What consequences – it is difficult to say. In Majdan the common attitude of the Orthodox Church was very significant, regardless of obedience. Every day there were prayers of the both main Orthodox churches and Greek-catholic church. The churches got fraternized with each other and with the society. The orthodox Church in Ukraine behaved in a civilian way, whereas the Moscow Patriarchy maintained a far-going distance towards events in Kiev – hierarchs did not support the attitude of Kremlin, as well as they did not express their attitude towards the voices coming from Kiev.

– Were these voices calling for support?

– Yes. Bishop Onufry, being on duty for the ill patriarch Wołodymir, sent letters to the patriarch Cyril with the explanation of the situation, suggestions of help and expressing of understanding. However, the Russian Orthodox Church behaved very in a restraint way, which strengthened the opinion of the society in Ukraine that ‘here we have our own Orthodox Church’. So, somehow on this occasion, there can be full autocephalia of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. However, it is difficult to predict when it will happen, because a lot depends on events in the political scene.

– Ukrainian Majdan, similarly as the Polish August ’80 showed how faith and religion are needed in difficult moments. Did the Russian society resorted to religion after the collapse of Sovietism?

– Surely yes. In post-soviet Russia it was possible to speak about a declared return to religiousness. In the beginning of the 90s of the last century in Russia there was a boom of being interested in religions (not only the orthodox religion); careers were being done by missionary churches, mainly the American ones. Moreover, various social-religious movements started reappearing which referred to the tradition of imperial Russia. At that time the orthodox Church was in a difficult situation, was being destroyed, in any way – both the material (buildings) and the spiritual way (priests demoralized by communism). It was not prepared for providing spiritual nourishment to its believers.

– So, aren’t today’s Russians very religious?

– I have a problem with this kind of evaluation, because there are many contradictory testimonies in this matter. Official data about participation in divine services say only about few per cent. And, on the other hand, when during the last two years in Russia there have been a few spectacular visits of relics from the Holy Mount Atos, especially in Moscow, there were very long queues. And this even hysteric reaction surprised religion experts because according to their opinion the Russian society, despite the declared belonging to the orthodox religion, it is secularized to large extent. Today in this situation, the increase of the authority of the Orthodox Church is quite significant – at present it takes a high position among institutions of the public trustfulness.

– It is not difficult to gain an opinion that the Orthodox Church is a pillar of the current authority and realizes tasks given by Putin…

– It is true. And it is also true that in the last decade the state gave the Orthodox Church all kinds of material help, lots of sacral buildings were built, cloisters were regained, as well as orthodox churches ( in which there used to be warehouses, cinemas before, etc.).

– Did the president Putin want to buy favour of the Orthodox Church for his person because he considered its influence on the nation? It is rather difficult to hope for his personal conversion….

– Definitely it concerns a political calculation. Indeed the declaration of the president Putin is explicit: he admits to his faith and to the Orthodox religion. On many occasions he shows that he can kiss icons and knows how to behave during divine services, that he can make the sign of the cross. However, I think that as a man brought up in the Soviet Union, in a secular family, who served in the Committee for State Security, and he has learned this religiousness only recently. Because it is good now to have – in the secular country – an image of a believing leader. Therefore, the president (and TV team with him) always at the Easter and Christmas goes to the Orthodox Church.

– And does he increase the support of the nation in this way?

– Definitely yes. The Russians, even those non-religious, appreciate every Russian tradition, which is only an element of the previous greatness. And in such planned atmosphere, even today’s referring of Putin to the superpower slogans and military means, as the tools of building the power of the country, not only he gets away with it, but he causes loud ‘hurray’ in whole Russia. Now opposing to the bad, rotten West in all possible ways seems to be the most important.

– Speaking ironically, one can say that the president of Russia will become a charismatic spiritual religious leader….

– It is really a bitter irony, but the charismatic spiritual leader for a big part of the society is Władimir Władimirowicz…. He repeats that the Russian nation is great, that Russia is a great powerful country and the nation believes in his every word. We can wear rubber boots, but we will be powerful – this belief is often heard in Russia today. Today Putin is considered as a father of the Russian welfare and a suitable leader in a suitable place. Quite small part of the Russian society think that he is leading Russia into a dead end, that during his reign there is archaism instead of modernization…..Those people want to open up to the world, they do not want Putin to be the symbol of their country.

– However, most of the society enthusiastically worship the president Putin as a creator and a restorer of the big Russian nation…

– That is true. In Russia the fire under the boiler of nationalism has always been maintained and also controlled and stifled by the state. Whereas now the authority possesses the content of the boiler and is heating it definitely for its purposes. It was seen during meetings in various cities after the annexation of Kremlin. In Moscow on the Red Square a stage was set up, on which singers and speakers were performing and who agreed to quite indiscriminate, quasi-patriotic, nationalistic shouts which caused a contentment of a crowd of people….Shameless lies told by politicians and media will meet with approval in the Russian society: in the recent sociological surveys even 54 per cent of the surveyed said that media can tell lies, if it serves to the interest of the state. The state is more important than a citizen, everything can be subordinated to the interests of the state.

– In Poland we still remember that there is still this ‘second Russia’, although there are also those who doubt it…

– What Russia is really like is difficult it say. Surely in today’s Russian society what is domineering is the previous Soviet reaction of delegating civil rights about making any decisions to the authorities. Putin takes advantage of it and today we have ‘Russia of Putin’. But there remains the fact that in Russia a kind of conscience of the nation has always existed….Even in those darkest times there have always been those who are just in Sodoma. In 1968 there were such eight people who went out to the Red Square in order to protest against intervention of armies of the Warsaw Agreement in Czechoslovakia. The dissident’s movement in Russia has always had its traditions (it is worth reminding merits of Andriej Sacharow) and at this moment also some part of the creative intelligence expresses its strong opinion against the policy of the state.

– Can the worried world rely on this ‘second Russia’?

– The hope is the fact that the Russian society even in this omnipresent impulse of contentment about the territorial prey and delight with it is not uniform. Maybe what one really thinks is not revealed for fear of possible repressions. Despite this fear, one of the biggest Moscow protests in the recent years was the march for peace which was attended by a few dozen thousand people. It was a protest against taking over Kremlin, against a war in Ukraine and against terrible mendacious propaganda of the state. The participation in this march was really an act of great courage. Because even not it was being said loudly that what Putin had done in Kremlin is bad and requires great civil courage. But there are people who still have this courage.


"Niedziela" 16/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
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