Punk Protest, Bad Video Art, and "Religious Insult"

by Irina Papkova there’s an eerie similarity between the reaction of some Orthodox believers to Pussy Riot and the worldwide protests against “Innocence of Muslims.” Continue Reading →

Punk Protest, Bad Video Art, and “Religious Insult”

by Irina Papkova there’s an eerie similarity between the reaction of some Orthodox believers to Pussy Riot and the worldwide protests against “Innocence of Muslims.” Continue Reading →

Balancing Act: Sectarian Leaders in Lebanon

by Irina Papkova Last week marked twenty-two years since the signing of the Taif Accords put an end to the last civil war…but external pressures are at work once more. Continue Reading →

In the Shadows of Syria: Defusing Sectarian Tensions in Lebanon

by Irina Papkova For two weeks, Lebanon lived on the knife edge of a sectarian civil war. And here the truly interesting part of this story begins to emerge. Continue Reading →

Rolling the Dice: The Orthodox Church’s “Bet” on Putin

by Irina Papkova

The recent Russian elections have highlighted the complicated relationship between the Orthodox Church with both state and society. In December, prominent clergy expressed their dissatisfaction with the evidently fraudulent nature of the parliamentary election, and even patriarch Kirill made statements that could be interpreted as calling upon Putin to reform the system. Yet, by early January the patriarch had clearly declared in support of Putin, as a man who “labored like a galley slave” for the good of the country. By the time the presidential elections came along, it seemed that the Church had finally resolved the vacillations visible in December by unequivocally “betting on Putin.”

Is this really the case? And if so, why did it occur?    The response to the first question is an equivocal “yes” – the Moscow Patriarchate, which is the administrative apparatus of the Russian Orthodox Church, has indeed expressed support for Putin 3.0. Whether or not the rest of the Church – the individual bishops, the lower clergy and the parishioners – have internalized the Patriarchate’s position is not clear, and, in the absence of systematic polling conducted among this subset of the Russian population, will likely remain so.  Based on anecdotal evidence we may surmise that the Church is divided in its attitude towards the new/old Russian president. It remains then to answer the second question – why, instead of following the example of the Islamic establishment in Egypt, has the Patriarchate decided to oppose an incipient “Russian spring?” Continue Reading →

Rolling the Dice: The Orthodox Church's "Bet" on Putin

by Irina Papkova

The recent Russian elections have highlighted the complicated relationship between the Orthodox Church with both state and society. In December, prominent clergy expressed their dissatisfaction with the evidently fraudulent nature of the parliamentary election, and even patriarch Kirill made statements that could be interpreted as calling upon Putin to reform the system. Yet, by early January the patriarch had clearly declared in support of Putin, as a man who “labored like a galley slave” for the good of the country. By the time the presidential elections came along, it seemed that the Church had finally resolved the vacillations visible in December by unequivocally “betting on Putin.”

Is this really the case? And if so, why did it occur?    The response to the first question is an equivocal “yes” – the Moscow Patriarchate, which is the administrative apparatus of the Russian Orthodox Church, has indeed expressed support for Putin 3.0. Whether or not the rest of the Church – the individual bishops, the lower clergy and the parishioners – have internalized the Patriarchate’s position is not clear, and, in the absence of systematic polling conducted among this subset of the Russian population, will likely remain so.  Based on anecdotal evidence we may surmise that the Church is divided in its attitude towards the new/old Russian president. It remains then to answer the second question – why, instead of following the example of the Islamic establishment in Egypt, has the Patriarchate decided to oppose an incipient “Russian spring?” Continue Reading →

Riot in the Cathedral

 

A review of The Orthodox Church and Russian Politics, by Irina Papkova.

Oxford University Press, 2011.

By Sean Guillory

In late February, four members of the Russian feminist punk group, Pussy Riot, performed a “punk prayer” on the altar of Christ Our Savoir Cathedral, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Their action, which included singing the song, “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin Drive Putin out!” targeted the Church’s support of Putin. “The head of the KGB is their main saint / He leads protesters to prison under guard . . . Patriarch [Kirill] believes in Putin / It’s better to believe in God, bitch,” they sang. Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” has since become an international scandal as three members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhin, and Ekaterina Samutsevich, are facing a possible seven years in prison for “a premeditated hooligan act based on religious hatred.” Responses from Church officials have been varied. Some, like Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, have called for extremism charges to be filed against the group for their “incitement of hatred against Orthodox Christians.” Patriarch Kirill referred to the action as “the Devil laugh[ing] at all of us.” Others within the Church have called for leniency. Archdeacon Andrei Kurayev argued for the women’s exoneration, stating that a severe punishment allows the church to “cling to the shoulder of the government,” undermining the Church’s independence from the Russian state. A petition, allegedly drafted by the Church’s fundamentalist wing, has been circulating in Moscow churches urging General Prosecutor Yuri Chaika to investigate Pussy Riot for extremism. A small protest of Pussy Riot supporters even devolved into fisticuffs with Church supporters outside a Moscow court. The relevance of Pussy Riot’s action goes beyond the legality of profane speech. These multi-vocal responses from inside and outside the ROC speak to contests over its place in Russian society and politics. Continue Reading →

The Russian Orthodox Church: Public Protest and Elite Politics

By Irina Papkova

The Russian Duma elections of December, 2011 contained many surprises, starting of course with the nature of the public reaction. On the eve of the election, almost no one anticipated that blatant falsification of electoral results would spark not just widespread indignation but also the largest mass protests the Russian Federation has seen since the early 1990s. Still less did anyone predict that prominent members of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) would add their voices to the social upheaval. For the larger part of the last decade, the ROC had garnered the reputation of an institution closely linked to the upper echelons of power. This image was cemented by frequent joint appearances by high-ranking bishops and politicians, most strikingly exemplified by the role played by the Patriarch in the presidential inauguration ceremonies.

The perception of a church-state ideological juggernaut began to rapidly intensify in 2009, with the election of Kirill I (Gundiaev) to the post of patriarch. His predecessor, Aleksii II (Ridiger), had carefully cultivated an image of a religious leader above the political fray, and had in general steered a course meant to position the ROC as the most powerful social institution in the Russian Federation without necessarily transforming it into a virtual political party. Aleksii died in December 2008 and was replaced by Kirill, who was already well known as a public figure in Russia because of his long tenure as the head of the ROC’s Department of External Affairs. As patriarch, Kirill has waged a campaign to intensify what he calls the ROC’s “mission” in Russian society, through a strategy that has included among other things intense lobbying for legislation favorable to the ROC’s interests, constructing new churches, raising the profile of the church in the media, and fostering active religious mission at such untraditional venues as rock concerts and motorcycle rallies. Continue Reading →