Russia III

Yaroslav and Kuzino, June 18, 2014

If one were to judge by the city’s sky line and the countryside, Russians must be a deeply religious people. The landscape is dotted with structures capped with onion shaped domes, black, green, blue and sometimes gold.

As a superstitions people, the Eastern Rite of the Catholic church has been perfect for generations of Russians since the 10th century.

The Russian Orthodox Church has a long, rich, and complicated history. At one time, the ROC was (unofficially) highly instrumental in affairs of State. Just as its western catholic cousins, the ROC was a landowner and major force in local life. Larger monasteries even retained “serfs” (another form of slavery) to work their fields.

After having experienced a mutually beneficial understanding with the Czars, ROC suffered at the hands of the communists. Separation of church and State was a Bolshevik demand and consequently, the ROC lost a great deal of both its influence and its members. To put emphasis on the church-State separation, the communists arrested many ROC priests, killed most of those arrested, and happily confiscated ROC property.

Now most of these ROC churches have become museums or are used mainly on special days. Church attendance is said to be low (estimated at less than 25% of the population).  With Russian everyday life generally better, the role for the Russian Orthodox Church has greatly diminished.  Thank goodness for tourists. 

Russia is a country that has produced many great (and highly talented) artists and scientists. One might ask how this talented output was possible considering serfdom (which ended around the end of the 19th century), the widespread devastation which accompanied World War II, and the Communist period which stunted broad intellectual growth. Some say instead these conditions may have driven the few to great accomplishments.

Russian cynicism over the Communist period can summarized with the following story. A comrade factory worker was asked, “How do you find working in a people’s factory?” The worker answered, “Oh, its quite ok, we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”.

During the communist period, most Russians were treated the same. Consequently, the number of wealthy and privileged were small. With Boris Yeltsin, the transformation of the Russian economy to a “State controlled, free market” began. Today all Russians appear better off and an increasingly large number are really much better off.

The question which lies just below the surface is, what will Russian citizens expect now that it has a form of democracy and capitalism? Will Russia continue to evolve or will it once again fall victim to superstitions and authoritarianism? Are individual Russians ready to cast off the twin shepherds of Church and State and assume the responsibilities of a democratic state?  

If Russian history is a good predictor, the future is not certain. History has shown that the ROC will apply superstitions and guide the common person in a direction that ensures a good future for the ROC. Elected leaders will if given a chance will ensure that they and their supporters benefit in preference to others. Hmmm.

Looking at the streets, one sees youth who appear indistinguishable from youth in the west. Internet and social media are everywhere. One would think it not possible that the public would remain silent and not cry out that the “king has no clothes” if that were the case.  Hmmm.

I am not sure. Russia’s legacy of ROC and authoritarian leaders may prove too tempting during times of stress. Increased suppression of free speech may just seem, during a period of crisis, “sensible”.

Russia has enjoyed much glory and has also endured much hardship over the past centuries. I suspect the average person will be satisfied with current events and willing to take much more time to attain greater economic and political gains similar to what we know in the west.

If so, this might not be an undesirable outcome.


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