Witnesses Against War #22: Church and state, a ‘marriage of convenience’

19 July 2022

[updated 23 July 2022]

Source: Witnesses Against War

Witnesses Against War is an anonymous international group of journalists, writers, historians and translators, who live in Moscow and London. For reasons of security, their project is anonymous. In addition to the above websiste, you can also find them on Instagram  and Telegram.

Professor at the Spanish Universidad CEU San Pablo on Spanish attitudes to the war in Ukraine, the need for opponents of the war in Russia to consolidate horizontally, and the Russian Orthodox Church and its hierarchs.

“In Spain, after the outbreak of the war, a large-scale campaign of solidarity with Ukraine was launched. Of course, on the whole, public opinion amongst Spaniards is on the side of Ukraine. The view of the Spanish media – television, newspapers, periodicals on the war in Ukraine differs little from the pan-European one. Airwaves (state Russian propaganda media) such as Russia Today or Sputnik have been completely blocked. With the outbreak of the war, the Spanish media almost completely ceased to reproduce or refer to Russian propaganda narratives. Media coverage of the situation is entirely in favour of Ukraine, including reports on the bombing, the suffering of civilians, women and children. In Madrid and other cities, after the outbreak of the war, a series of demonstrations in support of Ukraine took place, which were attended by many Spaniards and Ukrainians living and working in Spain. Many Spanish families expressed their willingness to accept refugees from Ukraine, many Spaniards donate funds to humanitarian aid programs for Ukraine and Ukrainians, including volunteer assistance. During the first two months of the war, civilian organisations formed groups that traveled from Spain to the border of Ukraine, primarily to Poland, where they collected refugees from Ukraine, brought them to Spain by car and gave them accommodation. From the beginning of the war, Spain has been ready to accept about 200,000 refugees from Ukraine, but in actual fact, due to the geographical distance of Spain from Ukraine, it has accepted about 60,000.

As for the citizens of Russia who do not support this war, in order to maintain their dissident consciousness under the conditions of a regime whose degree of repression in relation to dissidents is getting stronger all the time, it is necessary to try to avoid individualism. In totalitarian regimes, the authorities try to divide and isolate people with the help of the fear of reprisals, so that one person cannot trust another, fearing denunciations and subsequent repressions. Iniquitous totalitarian power is interested in the atomisation and isolation of dissidents.

Important conditions for the effectiveness of resistance are: the presence of like-minded people and interaction between them, mutual support, as was the case in the communities of early Christians in the Roman Empire. This allows you to more calmly accept what is happening, to more effectively resist it to the best of your ability, to wait for future changes for the better, and to bring them closer as far as possible. Often religious communities can serve as such unifying centres of resistance, which we have often seen in world history in many different countries and political regimes. Religious community in totalitarian countries provides the possibility of permitted communication between people, and helps them to exchange opinions that differ from official state doctrine.

As for the position of the official Russian church, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has two characteristic signifiers, which have turned into problems. The ROC lived for a long time in the conditions of the Soviet totalitarian system that controlled all activities, forms and aspects of a person’s life, primarily their spiritual life. And at the very first stage of its existence, the totalitarian system did everything it could to eliminate the church as an institution that influenced the spiritual life of its citizens, since the Orthodox Church was part of the “old world” that existed in Russia until 1917. During the Second World War, the system needed to somewhat recover the church from the state to which it had been reduced.

And here we encounter the secondary circumstance determining what is happening: the ROC is a national church, which means that the state can control its entire hierarchy and all its hierarchs, especially the Patriarch. And this has made it more than difficult for the church to maintain any independence from secular power in both such a totalitarian system as communism one, and now Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

It is logical that regimes, especially authoritarian ones, and indeed any government in general, always tries to have the church on its side, by buying the loyalty of its hierarchical upper echelons – and, if it is corrupt – well that’s fantastic. The upper echelons are best controlled by being willingly bought with material offerings, and if they are not corrupt, then they nevertheless become dependent through gifts from the state in the form of works of art, patronage of its educational and cultural programs, etc. The state does this to make a clash with the church impossible, and the best way to do this is to control the expenses of the church.

Clearly the fact that the church remained, after 1991, led by hierarchs with a Soviet, minimally-spiritual past, who came from the Soviet church elite, means that the current Russian government is able to maintain and strengthen its control over the church. The current Orthodox hierarchy in Russia is very parochial, very subordinate in the face of civil authority, and, due to all these defects, entirely controlled by the authorities. Thus, in Russia we see a kind of “marriage of convenience” between the secular regime and the church. As for the believers, I believe that in times of war it is important to prevent the splitting up of communities, to preserve them, despite the different views of the members. Wars are like storms and hurricanes – sooner or later they end.”

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