The Russian Orthodox Church is aligning itself with Russia’s hardline foreign policy, reports The Tablet (June 16). Russia has reasserted its power after more than a decade of relative tranquility, most evident in President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to block deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, as well in recent skirmishes between Moscow and former satellite countries, such as Estonia and Georgia. Jonathan Luxmoore writes that the Russian Orthodox Church, far from challenging such actions and thinking, has continuously supported Putin and the Russian state. The church condemned the U.S. missile defense system but said nothing of Putin’s threat to target Russian missiles against Europe and pull out of existing force reduction treaties.
When violent riots by ethnic Russians erupted recently in Estonia over the decision to relocate a statue of a Russian soldier, resulting in attacks against the Estonian embassy, Patriarch Alexi II responded by blaming the Estonians for disrespecting “our motherland.”
Moscow Patriarchate spokesmen have also remained silent on Russian misdeeds in areas from the Caucusus to Central Asia, Luxmoore adds. In dismissing criticism from international human rights observers, the church has claimed that it has developed a “non-Western” conception of human rights that upholds the moral and national traditions of the Orthodox East. Critics fear that the historic concept of sobornost, where church and state work in harmony, is being reborn. This would require minorities to conform to the “general will of the Russian people.”
Luxmoore concludes that “In a world of geopolitical competition and covert threats to security, powerful governments may feel intrusive foreign and domestic policies are justified. But if predominant churches allow themselves to be coopted as tools of such policies, there will be no chance of counterbalancing this with stable democracy, or of allowing respected institutions to modify the control of the state.”
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)