Grigory Lourié: How to Understand the Russian Orthodox Church

Belfry of Our Lady of Vladimir Cathedral, Petersburg, June 15, 2016. Photo by TRR
Belfry of Our Lady of Vladimir Cathedral, Petersburg, 15 June 2016. Photo by TRR

How to Understand the Russian Orthodox Church
Grigory Lourié
Ekho Moskvy
February 24, 2017

There are people whom the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has succeeded in surprising. This group now includes not only its own parishioners but also utterly innocent folks. Their terms of reference for the ROC were at odds with reality. That is the sort of thing that happens with terms of reference, even when they emerged in the pure souls of first-year seminary students or, on the contrary, in the elastic souls of museum directors. It even happens that officials of a secular state, who by constitution are not supposed to have souls at all, conceive false terms of reference for the ROC.

We won’t discuss the question of how the ROC is “actually” organized. Our objective is modest: describing the terms of reference by which we can predict all of the ROC’s actions as a corporation, both internally and externally—meaning what makes it tick.

Attentive analysts have already conceived one model. It is correct albeit too crude, and so it leads to lots of mistakes. It is only around 60% accurate. But we shall start with it, and then we will modify it to make it 100% accurate.

I am referring to the so-called business model, which imagines the ROC as a corporation with a monopoly on the business of religious ritual. Its unattainable paragon is Gazprom. Like Gazprom, it wants to be ubiquitous from bottom to top, from the flats of poor people to the Kremlin and international politics. Like Gazprom, it is involved in the international rivalry over natural monopolies. (The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, its main competitor, grabbed it by the throat and forced it to release Ukraine.) Like Gazprom, the ROC is not in the business of historical preservation. You can put the religious ritual businessman into a museum, but you cannot turn him into a museum curator. The controversy surrounding the potential transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC is on a par with Gazprom’s attempt to build a skyscraper on the spot where the Swedish fortresses Landskrona and Nyenskans had once stood.

The business model, however, is at odds with the ROC’s other qualities. Real money likes silence, but the ROC likes money and hullabaloo at the same time. Its bishops enjoy a luxury worth of African chieftains, not modest millionaires. The inefficiency of slave labor is a scientific fact, but rank-and-file ROC clerics say that slavery was outlawed in Russia in the nineteenth century, but not for Russian priests. Finally, run-of-the-mill businesses do not defend their turf either with religious processions led by storm troopers or round dances featuring “pale boys with burning eyes,” whatever their age or sex.

These things are symptomatic of the emergence of archetypal regressive groups within the business. As described by British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, all three such so-called basic assumption groups find a place in our precise portrait of the ROC.

Screenshot of an advertisement posted on the VK social network page of Andrei Kormukhin, coordinator of the astroturfed Russian Orthodox lay movement Sorok Sorokov (SS), which can be translated as "Multitude." The poster invites Petersburgers to take part in a religious procession at St. Isaac's Cathedral on 19 February 2017. It urges them to "join the right ranks," and not a "faggot" [sic] or people wearing blue ribbons, the symbol adopted by Petersburgers opposed to the Gazprom skyscraper project on the Neva and now plans to hand over St. Isaac's to the ROC. In Russia, "blue" also connotes "gay." Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Screenshot of an announcement posted on the VK social network page of Andrei Kormukhin, coordinator of the fascist Russian Orthodox lay movement Sorok sorokov (SS). (The name of the movement should be translated as “Multitude,” rather than “Forty by Forty” or “Forty Forties,” as you might find in other Anglophone articles on right-wing extremism in the ROC.) The poster invites Petersburgers to take part in a religious procession at St. Isaac’s Cathedral on 19 February 2017. It urges them to “join the right ranks,” and not a “faggot” [sic] or people wearing blue ribbons, the symbol adopted by Petersburgers opposed to the earlier Gazprom skyscraper project on the Neva River and now plans to hand over St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC. In Russia, “blue” also connotes “gay.” Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

The model takes the shape of a living being, consisting of a fleshy body and the two halves of a thin exoskeleton. The body is the leadership from top to bottom, their subordinates, and the few believers who ask the clergy for advice on how they should live. In Bion’s terms, this is the dependency group. Junior members of the group are infantile and irresponsible vis-à-vis senior members, while the latter are narcissistic and sadistic toward their juniors. Sadomasochism provides everyone with a bit of happiness, even the most abject. The narcissism, typical of the group’s leaders, is often coupled with homosexuality. (This is a medical fact.) You cannot do without it, but not everyone can be allowed to engage in it. So it is a product of elite consumption and a means of climbing the career ladder.

The exoskeleton is the only thing visible from afar, from the vantage point of secular society. The skeleton is thin but sturdy, although it looks shabby, since it is constantly exfoliating.

The first section consists of the storm troopers. Bion labels them the fight-flight group.  They are always itching for a fight, and always on the lookout for enemies. There are not enough enemies, so they have fight each other and, sometimes, the leadership. The old layers of chitin thus peel away, even as the exoskeleton accumulates new layers.

Courtesy of slidesharecdn.com

The other section of the exoskeleton consists of idealists. They wait and they hope. They know everything about the leadership, but they believe in the Church. Not, however, in the Church that has canons and the examples of the saints, which show how bad church leaders need to be replaced and, most importantly of all, which oblige the faithful to do this. No, they believe in their own church, where “things have always been this way.” Bion call these groups pairing groups. They resemble married couples who go on hoping that Someone with a capital “s” will be born to give their lives meaning, but for the time being they wait and are barely alive. Some grow weary and leave the group, but they are replaced by new members.

Russia’s cultural figures thus “dialogue” with this combative creature, while the country’s officials stumble over themselves trying to sate its appetites, hoping it will cover their own ugliness with its beauty. You cannot even say who are the most inveterate idealists in this case. Judging by their persistent belief in beauty, it must be the government officials.

2682794Grigory Lourié is a bishop in the Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church. He blogs (as Basil Lourié) on Facebook and (as Bishop Gregory) on LiveJournal. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. For a different perspective on the fascization of the Russian Orthodox Church, see Nikolay Mitrokhin’s articles, as translated and posted on this blog.

Defenders of the Fatherland: “Say When You’ve Had Enough”

"Happy February 23rd!"
“Happy February 23rd!”

Leda Garina
Facebook
February 23

On February 23, female feminists spoke out—finally!—in defense of men.

The Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, Petersburg
The Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, Petersburg

“We think the very idea of ‘defenders’ is one of the pillars of oppression, whether ethnic, gender or whatever other kind. From the time they are babies, men are inculcated with the notion that they must be defenders. Actually, however, they are merely taught to behave aggressively and completely suppress their emotions. And they grow up as people prone to exercise violence and control. They become cogs used by those in power, dogs who have been taught a single command: ‘attack.’

“We believe society must change, that a more humane society is a sign of progress. Armies and armed conflicts must become things of the past, like human sacrifice and the bonfires of the Inquisition. Like the first winged chimeras, which had been built but still could not fly.”

"Say When You've Had Enough"
“Say When You’ve Had Enough”

Photos by David Frenkel. Translated by the Russian Reader

“The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov” (Panel Discussion, Berlinale 2017)

Panelists: Agnieszka Holland (Director), Askold Kurov (Director), Mike Downey (Producer), Dmitry Dinze (Lawyer of Oleg Sentsov), Natalya Kaplan (Cousin of Oleg Sentsov), Sylvia Schreiber (Translator)

Thanks to Alexei Markov for the heads-up

___________________________

oleg-sentsov
Oleg Sentsov. Courtesy of Berlin Film Festival

Berlin Film Review: ‘The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov’
Owen Gleiberman
Variety
February 11, 2017

A documentary about the Ukranian filmmaker imprisoned for his support of Crimean independence is a scrappy testament to the true nature of the Vladimir Putin regime.

It has to rank as one of Donald Trump’s most shocking statements — which is really saying something. Asked by the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly how he could respect Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom O’Reilly characterized as a “killer,” Trump replied, “There are a lot of killers. Boy, you think our country’s so innocent?” Over the last year, Trump has presented himself as a racist, a bully, a manhandler of women, a mocker of the disabled, and a loony-tunes conspiracy theorist. But whoever thought he’d come off sounding like the second coming of Noam Chomsky? The notion that the United States government routinely engages in “killer” behavior commensurate with that of what Russia does is, of course, a left-wing idea. (Just ask Oliver Stone, another Putin apologist who should know better.) But Trump put a new spin on it: Whatever the motivation (his desire to tilt the axis of global power against China? Burying those rumored water-sports videos?), he was so intent to claim that his new BFF Vladimir is, you know…not so bad that he was willing to hijack 50 years of radical academic moral relativism by reducing it to a Trump sound bite.

All of which makes me wish that Trump would sit down and watch “The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov,” a documentary that just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. It’s a peek into how the Russian state actually operates, and though it raises more questions than it answers, it leaves you with a shuddering chill. The central figure, Oleg Sentsov, is a Ukrainian writer and filmmaker known for his 2011 movie “Gamer.” In Russia, it made him a directorial star, but during the 2014 Crimean crisis he became part of the AutoMaidan movement, devoted to keeping Ukraine — and, specifically, Crimea — independent of Russia. He delivered food and supplies to Ukrainian servicemen, but on May 11, 2014, he was arrested and charged with organizing a terrorist cell, plotting terrorist attacks, and trafficking in illegal arms. He was held indefinitely and is now serving a 34-year prison sentence in Siberia. (The movie ends with clips of that Siberian prison. Have you ever seen Siberia? It looks like … Siberia.)

We’re shown footage of Sentsov in TV interviews during his moment of indie-film fame and then, a few years later, speaking from behind bars in the courtroom (yes, there’s a jail cell in court). Tall and husky, with dark cropped hair, popping eyes, and a grin of goofy optimism, he’s the father of two teenagers, and if you were looking for someone to play him in a movie, it might be Bradley Cooper; he has that kind of rubbery resilience. A number of noted directors — Wim Wenders, Agnieszka Holland — show up to testify to his status as a filmmaker.

In “The Trial,” Sentsov embraces his role as a political prisoner, yet the movie reveals what the stakes are: When he talks to his daughter on the phone, we see the price paid by any dissident — not just the personal agony of incarceration, but the ripped bonds of family. Sentsov was subjected to torture in prison, all to produce a confession to activities that never happened. (He didn’t confess.) The reason “The Trial” is a valuable document, even though it’s not an especially good movie, goes right back to Putin. It was Sentsov’s status as an art-house celebrity that made him a target in Russia. The regime arrested many “terrorists,” but he was held up as an example to the elite, intellectual class. The message was: If we can do this to him, we can do it you. The real terrorism came from the government, a way of driving fear into those who might speak out.

Russia swims in a daily ice bath of fake news (and real-news clampdown), which is why documentaries have been some of the only vehicles for revealing Vladimir Putin’s thug tactics. Ten years ago, the barely seen film “Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File” was the first inquiry to amass serious data suggesting that what Bill O’Reilly said about Putin is true. In “The Trial,” we see extended clips of Putin addressing the Sentsov case (a member of the Russian Parliament bows and scrapes before Putin so nervously it’s like seeing an outtake from “The Godfather, Part II”), but Putin, in public, is no glowering fascist. He comes off as impeccably civilized and almost geekishly seductive. He makes you want to be his friend. That, of course, is his version of smoke and mirrors.

Directed and shot by Askold Kurov, a Russian filmmaker as brave as his subject, “The Trial” is a thrown-together movie that doesn’t have much of an arc. It’s 75 minutes long, and to be brutally honest, I would have been just as happy watching Sentsov’s story compressed into a “60 Minutes” segment. Yet whatever its flaws, a movie like this one is necessary. It speaks the truth about the Russian regime — the truth that’s buried by Putin, and now buried by our own president, who only dreams that he could do the same thing to his enemies. More than ever, global film culture needs every documentary that lets you stare into the face of oppression with eyes wide open.

Berlin Film Review: ‘The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov’
Reviewed at Cinemaxx (Berlin Film Festival), February 10, 2017. Running time: 75 min.

Production
A Ceská televise, Prag production in cooperation with the Polish Film Institute.

Crew
Producers: Max Tuula, Maria Gavrilova, Dariusz Jablonski, Izabela Wójcik, Violetta Kaminska.

Crew
Director: Askold Kurov. Oren Moverman. Camera (color, widescreen): Kurov. Editor: Michal Leszczylowski.

With
Oleg Sentsov, Vladimir Putin, Agnieszka Holland, Wim Wenders.

“You Lose . . . Comrade”

Alexander Dugin and John Candy: Not Separated at Birth
Alexander Dugin and John Candy: Not Separated at Birth

Eurasianist leader and self-confessed fascist Alexander Dugin had something he wanted to say to you about Donald Trump and the US presidential elections.

Dugin and his voiceover artists’ delivery and (unintentional) self-parody reminded me of the Second City Television (SCTV) episode in which the lowly Melonville station’s signal is temporarily blocked and taken over by “CCCP1, Russian Television.”

But that was meant to be funny. And it was also meant to parody not so much the actual Soviet Union (although it did a little of that, too, especially in its prescient “vilification” of “Uzbeks”) as it did North American Cold War attitudes and stereotypes of the Soviet Union.

Now what begun as high farce has returned as . . . I wanted to say tragedy, but it’s really the most vulgar of comedies. It’s definitely not funny anymore, though, whatever the real or imagined connections between the Fascist Pig in the Poke and the Kremlin.

Thanks to Comrade Maximum for the heads-up on the Dugin video. TRR

Got It

It’s embarrassing to brag about what a good day I’ve been having when I’m supposed to be all bummed out about the Fascist Pig-Elect’s taking the oath to become the plain old Fascist Pig in the Poke, but it’s true.

I don’t quite get it, but things have been going my way all day.

For example, I lucked out while shopping this afternoon at our neighborhood Auchan hypermarket. They were having a sale on $10,000 packs of hundred dollar bills: 67 rubles 39 kopecks a pop!

I guess Auchan knows something the rest of us don’t know about what’s going to happen to the mighty US dollar when the Fascist Pig in the Poke starts implementing his “economic policies.”

So Auchan decided to unload the wads of US cash they had lying round the store while they were still worth something, even if it was only 67.39 rubles.

Good on them, as the Aussies say.

By sheer coincidence, when my true love came home from work he presented me with a new, totally recyclable wallet, made from a synthetic material called Tyvek. It weighs next to nothing, but now I’ll have somewhere to keep my nearly worthless $10,000 safe.

And it’s embossed with images of Imperial stormtroopers!

If you’ve seen the terrific new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, the best Star Wars movie in 39 years, you’ll know it’s a very timely tale about what happens when ordinary people resist an emergent fascist government: they all get killed.

Like I said, it’s been a terrific day. TRR

Wallet courtesy of newwallet.ru

____________

Mikhail Kozhukhov: A New Year’s Story

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Mikhail Kozhukhov and Valery “Cap” Vostrotin

Mikhail Kozhukov
Facebook
December 25, 2016

A New Year’s Story

The previous text set off a storm of emotions. I was told I should clear out of “our” country, accused of insanity, named every name in the book, given advice (I really love that), and chided, of course, for my “Afghan” past. Since that’s how it’s going to be, here’s a New Year’s story for you on the topic.

I rang in 1989 at the 345th Guards Airborne Regiment, one of the toughest in Afghanistan. Its battalions were constantly sent into combat, and it was the rare operation in which they were not involved. They would return to base flying the regimental flag. That was not in the regulations. The regimental commander, Valery Vostrotin or, “Cap,” as they called him, thought that up. After his first wound in the literal sense, the surgeons sewed him up like an old sock, and he came back “over the river”for a second tour of duty, this time sporting a Hero of the Soviet Union Star. The soldiers adored Cap. His photo, clipped from newspapers, hung over many a man’s cot in the barracks. I had never seen anything like it.

We became friends in Khost, during the same operation [Magistral] on which the plot of the film The 9th Company is based. The 9th Company is part of the 345th Regiment, after all. Valera had commanded it himself once upon a time. Under his command, the 9th had been involved in storming Hafizullah Amin’s palace.

I cannot convey what the New Year’s celebration was like. The airborne troops pummeled the sky with everything that could and could not shoot. The commander made the rounds of all the battalions. As his guest, I tailed him, and then we stayed up and talked all night. It was then that he autographed this playing card “in pledge of [a] long friendship.”

15726417_1141168625952473_4378077886890867005_n

When we said goodbye the next day, I recited him Igor Morozov’s lyrics to the song “We’re Going,” which was gaining popularity but had not made it yet to Bagram Airfield: “From once-conquered heavenly peaks we descend charred steps to earth.” There is a line in that song: “And we haven’t finished our business yet, but we’re going, going, going.”

Vostrotin listened and paused before saying bitterly, “We never had any ‘business’ in Afghanistan.”

By the way, it was Vostrotin who did not storm the Russian White House in 1991. He flew the Volgrad Division, which he was then commanding, to Kubinka Air Base, but when they had traveled as far as the Moscow Ring Road, he stopped, and did not advance any farther.

We had no “business” in Afghanistan. And we don’t have any in Syria.

* “Amongst the people killed on board the plane that crashed were Anton Gubankov, the Defense Ministry’s ‘minister of culture’ and his staff member Oksana Badrutdinova. Really good people… The plane, the ambassador, and dozens of servicemen. And there will be more. We have no business in Syria.”

Mikhail Kozhukhov is a well-known Soviet and Russian journalist and television presenter. In 1999–2000, he served as Vladimir Putin’s press secretary. Translated by the Russian Reader

Farouk Mardam-Bey: To “Leftist” Admirers of Assad’s Syria

mardam-bey-farouk-1-1-710x533
Farouk Mardam-Bey

To “Leftist” Admirers of Assad’s Syria
Farouk Mardam-Bey
Pulse
December 24, 2016

As a Syrian who has always identified politically with the left, I am particularly appalled by those men and women who call themselves left-wingers—and are therefore supposed to stand in solidarity with struggles for justice worldwide—and yet openly support the regime of the Assads, father and son, who are chiefly responsible for the Syrian disaster.

Following four months of intense bombardment by the Russian air force, Bashar Al-Assad’s army, along with Shiite militias hailing from everywhere and mobilized by the Iranian mullahs, have now finished “liberating” Eastern Aleppo. Liberated from whom? From its inhabitants. More than 250,000 inhabitants were forced to flee their own city to escape massacres, as had the people of Zabadani and Daraya before them, and as will many more Syrians if systematic social and sectarian “cleansing” continues in their country under the cover of a massive media disinformation campaign.

That in Syria itself wealthy residents of Aleppo, belonging to all religious sects, rejoice over having been rid of the “scum”—meaning the poor classes who populated Eastern Aleppo—is not surprising at all. We are accustomed to it: the arrogance of dominant classes is universal.

That Shiite mullahs stuck in another era celebrate the event as a great victory of the true believers over Umayyad disbelievers, or proclaim that Aleppo has been Shiite in the past and will turn Shiite again, can also be understood if one is familiar with their doctrine, as delirious as that of their Sunni counterparts.

Finally, that in the West politicians and opinion makers of the far right or the hard right reaffirm, loudly, their support for Assad is also quite natural. Such people have nothing but contempt for Arabs and Muslims, and they believe, today as ever, that these “tribes” must be led with a big stick.

But how could one fail to explode in anger when one reads statements in support of the regime of the Assads, father and son, issued by men and women who claim to stand on the left, and who should therefore sympathize with struggles for justice everywhere? How could one fail to become exasperated when one hears them praise the independence, secularism, progressive character, and even “socialism” of a lawless clan that took power in an army coup more than forty-five years ago and whose only concern is to keep exerting power forever? “Assad forever,” “Assad or nobody,” “Assad or we burn the country,” chant Assad’s partisans. And his “leftist” supporters nod approvingly under the pretext that there is no other choice: it’s either him or ISIS.

And yet the Syrians who rose in 2011 were the first to vigorously condemn the jihadi groups of all sorts and kinds, and in particular ISIS, that have infested their popular uprising after it was forced into militarization. Completely alien to the demands of liberty and dignity of the popular uprising, these jihadi groups focused their attacks principally on the vital forces of the opposition, whether civilian or military, and cracked down on the population in the areas that they managed to control. In so doing, they buttressed Assad’s propaganda inside Syria as well as internationally, allowing him to portray himself as a defender of religious minorities.

The same Syrians who rose in 2011 have moreover often expressed their distrust of those who have pretended, and continue to pretend, to represent them, and who proved to be incredibly incompetent. Hoping for a Western military intervention that was obviously never envisaged by the Obama administration, subservient to this or that neighboring country (Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey), divided among themselves and non-existent on the ground, these self-proclaimed representatives were incapable of addressing the world with a coherent political discourse.

But neither jihadi intrusion nor the shortcomings of the self-proclaimed representatives of the Syrian revolution, nor any argument used to justify the unjustifiable, can invalidate two fundamental facts: that the Syrians had a thousand reasons to revolt, and that they did so with exceptional courage, under conditions of near-universal indifference, countering the ruling clan’s limitless terror, Iran’s imperial ambitions and, since September 2015, a US-approved Russian military intervention that has already killed several thousand civilians.

Is this “Syria of Assad”—where Iran and Russia act as they please, together as well as separately, and whose future now relies exclusively on their agreements and disagreements—independent and anti-imperialist? Let left-wing admirers of the Assad regime read the unconscionable treaty that it signed on August 26, 2015, granting Russia exorbitant privileges as well as complete and permanent immunity regarding all damages caused by its air force.

How can anyone seriously describe as “secular” a regime that, since its beginning and in order to perpetuate itself indefinitely, has striven to poison relations between religious communities, held Alawis and Christians hostage to its policies, presided over the contamination of Syrian society by the most obscurantist form of Salafism, and has manipulated all sorts of jihadists, and not only in Syria?

How “progressive” is it to promote the wildest type of capitalism, impoverishing and marginalizing millions of citizens who barely survive in the suburbs of the main cities? These impoverished Syrians were the main social component of the revolution, and they became the main target of the regime’s heavy artillery, barrel bombs and chemical weapons. “Kill them to the last” demanded the Shabbiha (Assad’s thugs) from the beginning of the uprising, so that the new “progressive” bourgeoisie could securely plunder the nation’s wealth and pile up billions of dollars in fiscal paradises!

If the above is not enough, one can also remind Assad’s “leftwing” supporters of the crimes against humanity perpetrated with complete impunity by Bashar’s father, Hafez, during his thirty years of autocratic rule. Two locations summarize them: the city of Hama, where over 20,000 people, possibly 30,000, were massacred in 1982, and the prison of Palmyra, the equivalent of an extermination camp where the jailers used to boast about turning the men they tortured into insects. It is this same impunity that some on the left alas want to extend to Bashar Al-Assad, the principal culprit responsible for the ongoing disaster with over ten million displaced, hundreds of thousands of dead, tens of thousands imprisoned facing torture and summary executions in jail.

Until the executioners are defeated and punished, Syria’s endless martyrdom risks foreshadowing many others in the world — a world from which Syria will have vanished.

Translated from the French by Joey Ayoub. Photo courtesy of Publishing Perspectives. Thanks to Danny Postel and the rest of the Pulse team for posting this article and their invaluable work in general. 

About Farouk Mardam-Bey

Farouk Mardam-Bey is a Syrian historian, author, and editor who has been living in exile in France since 1965. He was Head of Arabic at the library for the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris (1972-1986), an editor and then director of a French journal of Palestinian studies (1981-2008), and a consultant for the Arab World Institute (1989-2008). Since 1995, he has been director of the Sindbad series, part of the publishing house Actes Sud, which aims at translating Arabic works into French. His co-authored/edited books include the two-volume Itineraries from Paris to Jerusalem: France and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (1992-1993), Being Arab (2007), and Our France (2011). He has also edited and published a number of historical, political, literary and bibliographical texts and translated the works of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish into French.