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Battle of the Comments in the Media - God, homeland, Putin
An article in the news mentioning Russia's president cannot pass without his supporters/worshipers boasting about how their idol brought back Orthodox Christianity into Russians' lives, which was stripped off of all possibilities of being practiced under the communist/atheist Soviet rule. Orthodox Christianity is not only the religion of (true patriotic) Russians but also of several other East and South Slavic people who hold close ties to Russia and whom the Russians consider their "historic allies" and therefore are ready to defend them, love them and cherish them, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until the EU and NATO do them apart. These vows were already broken by certain countries by joining (Greece, Romania, Bulgaria) or expressing their wish to join the EU and NATO (Ukraine). Russia's only "hopes" today are the remaining countries that are neutral or somewhat neutral, such as Belarus (less neutral in terms of Russia's influence) and Serbia (neutral but more pro-EU), among some other ones. For Putin it's all about business. For Lilliputins (patriotic nickname) there's one firm bond that should be in every Belarus', Serb's, Montenegrin's and Macedonian's mind when considering about who to deal business with, and that's the religion they all share together. Regardless of the fact that most of them visit the church regularly on an annual basis. But that's besides the point.
If there's anything that truly connects Russians with the rest of the Orthodox Christendom, that is more attractive than the psalms and prayers of the Holy Bible, it would be the thing that warms them up the best during long and cold winter nights. It's not love, it's not religion, it's vodka. Vodka certainly "talks" and it's more likely to bring together a group of happy nationalists rather than the enormous crosses around their necks or the images of their patriarchs (alongside with national flag and emblem) they had tattooed on their back and chest. Vodka has been used as a tool to keep ordinary people under control, as well as political rivals, for centuries, since Ivan the Terrible, to Peter the Great, to Stalin, to Putin. But for more on that I suggest reading the book that was published this year, Vodka Politics.
Orthodox Christianity has once again lost the battle of becoming a religion that would bring Christians together and teach people the moral values that it's supposed to promote. Instead, it has become, or continued to be, a political tool that manipulates people into acting, living or bringing decisions which would be profitable for one side, and damaging for the other. Like Gazprom's purchase of Serbia's Oil Industry in 2008 for a price way below its real value, which was followed by Russia's cutting gas supplies to not only Ukraine, but several other "Orthodox Christian" countries in Southeastern Europe including Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Moldova. Not to mention the similar scenario a year or two before that, when Russia pushed Belarus to the corner threatening to cut supplies. This eventually forced Belarus to sell 50% of her natural gas company to Gazprom, among other things. And many other disputes before that between Russia and Ukraine, and Russia and Belarus. But hey, that's what Pravoslavie is all about, is it not?
Putin and the far, far right
There's a great phrase in French that goes "Dit moi qui tu hantes, et je te dirais qui tu est." Tell me who you hang around and I'll tell you who you are. How does this apply to the Russian government? Well, quite easily. Take a look at the relations between Putin and the far right wing parties in Europe. If you go on these clerical fascist websites and go through their agenda, you will realize why Putin favors them. Almost all of them are against their country being a part of the EU. Almost all of them are homophobic (exception is Wilders' Party for Freedom in the Netherlands) and all of them are definitely xenophobic whose primary target is the Muslim population. Or just take a look at their opinion on Russia's current anti-EU politics. You will hear only words of praise about Putin and his "boldness" to confront the Western pro-immigration, gay lobbying, communist, capitalist, liberal, free-trade-market, globalizing, spying, conspiring and oil grabbing politics.
Many commentators on English/American media (wherever they're from) however never seem to mention any of those parties in connection to Putin. And my question about their relations always seems to go unanswered. If Putin is truly a great leader and a respectable statesman, why is he holding close ties to (and possibly financing) Le Pen's National Front in France, Hungary's Jobbik, Bulgaria's Ataka (whose benevolent name means Attack), Greece's Golden Dawn, Our Slovakia People's Party, Austria's FPO or Britain's UKIP?
Putin is obviously building these relationships in order to bring down or curb the EU's influence in all of its member states, so that he could exploit them, pretty much like he did with Serbia, Belarus and, up until recently, Ukraine (even though the Ukrainian neo-fascists are his sworn enemies because they want Russia out of their country). He has shown just recently how much he cares about his "historic allies" by shutting down completely the project of South Stream pipeline, which was supposed to additionally supply several Southeast European countries with gas, completely bypassing Ukraine. By doing this, Putin initially wanted to hurt the West whose companies invested in South Stream and who will face a great loss now. But he will also make damage to Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary, who have blindly followed Russia into this abyss and whose economies are now going to suffer because of her. The neo-fascists of course blame not Russia but the West who imposed sanctions to Russia as a reaction to her occupation of Crimea.
Do you think that sanctions and low oil prices will bring Putin down?
It is often said by Putinites that the brilliance of Putin's leadership lies in the fact that he brought back the national pride to the Russians, after the great humiliation that they have suffered when the Soviet Union collapsed. He brought back the faith in everything Russian, boosted the economy, reduced the rate of unemployment, extended the life expectancy, and so on. It is not that uncommon to see positive numbers thrown at you while reading some of these arguments. It's all in there, the numbers in the statistics say it all - Russia is Heaven. And Vladimir is God. But are all Russians allowed to be proud of who they are? Sure, as long as you're straight. The LGBT community in Russia is widely despised and their sexual orientation is described as a sin. Orthodox Christianity can never approve of it. And if the Church can't, so won't the Russians. In today's society this very often means a green light to hooligans and clerical fascists to harass, molest, attack and kill anybody who "comes out". Even those that don't come out in public - there's a number of extreme groups who hunt gay people on online dating sites and set a date in their own apartments so that they could intimidate and torture them for their own pervasive pleasure. This is also backed by the recently introduced law that forbids "gay propaganda". The message the government is sending to the people: you can be proud of who you are, but on our terms.
Can I take the train to there?
In the midst of Russia's secured path to recession some non-Russian commentators will claim that Russia is a wonderful country because when they visited it they "personally had no problems", while characterizing Putin as a great leader. One of them took a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway and witnessed the greatness of Putin from firsthand experience. From his little car window he saw not only the beauty of Russian nature (which is indisputable) but also how well developed country this is. Her villages and towns have "decent hospitals, clinics, schools, colleges, roads, water, electricity, gas, railway stations, infrastructure, airports, factories". Wait a minute, infrastructure you said? At least five of the Russian federal states in Asia don't have railway at all. I have mentioned those five republics and oblasts as a reply to them: Altai Republic, Tuva Republic, Magadan, Chukotka and Kamchatka. The traveler-turned-Kremlin-troll told me that he had no intentions of visiting those remote parts of this huge country. Why should he divert from such a wonderful experience he had on the Trans-Siberian Express and travel thousands of miles to reach some villages that are absolutely irrelevant?
Obviously, ignorance of the existence of different republics and oblasts in Russia and the country's diversity of people is what puts all Russian nationalists (and their foreign supporters) into the same boat. Tuva Republic for example is only about 400 miles away from Krasnoyarsk, which is a stop on the Trans-Siberian route. It is hardly thousands of miles away, and it's located in the South center of Asian Russia, at the northwest border of Mongolia. Why he should have visited it? Because it is certainly a different kind of Russia where Russians don't make the majority, where Russian language is not the most spoken, and where the Orthodox Christianity is not the main religion. For him to broaden his Putinistic views he would have to visit places like that too. Because Russia is not just Moscow, or St. Petersburg, or Trans-Siberian route. And Russia is not just Russians' (or straight Russians') but of all the peoples living there.
Somehow along the way though this republic (among others I've mentioned) was bypassed when constructing railroads in Russia. How come? Tuva people are one of the few ones in that country who managed to preserve their ethnic identity, culture and religion (which, in fact, could be one suggestion to the reason why). So instead of taking over Crimea and supporting separatists in Donbas, a scenario we have already seen before in South Ossetia and Abhkazia (Georgia), as well as Chechnya, Putin should really turn to his own country and, maybe, start building some railways.