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Thursday, January 12, 2012

De hejchste onn de ellste Foda

Part 2:  Kirill I's warnings resonate in the US, Canada

     As of 07 January, Sophia Kishkovshy, writing in the New York Times (Church Hints it May Serve as Mediator in Russia (p A7), continues her series of articles on the possibility of the Russian Orthodox Church repositioning itself in a middle position between the newly re-elected Putin government and the street protestors demanding an accounting for perceived incidents of potential election fraud.
    In this, Patriarch Kirill I speaks as clearly to members of the United States and Canadian electorates as he does to his fellow Russians.  While many would like to see Kirill’s recent public remarks as supporting one side or the other in this debate, it seems clear that Western observers, perhaps hoping for a public endorsement of the protestors similar to that by members of the British Anglican clergy, are probably reading into Kirill’s remarks a bit much.
    While Kirill has both addressed apparent scandal and corruption within the Russian government, and more importantly, he has quietly allowed other priests relatively free reign in criticizing the government and identifying with the protestors, Kirill is by no means clearly on side or the other.
    Kishkovsky’s 07 Jan article deals less with Patriarch Kirill than with Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin who stated, per Kishkovsky, that if the Russian authorities do not respond to people’s concerns they could be “slowly eaten alive,” (Kishkovsky, 07 Jan).  Kishkovsky also relates that in an essay published 05 Jan, Father Chaplin makes mention of “Russians’ seething fury with endemic corruption, which he attributed to the system established in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union… that the charges of vote falsification in the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections must be addressed and that they were part of the overall issue of corruption,” noting that, “He did not, however, call for a new vote,” (Kishkovsky, 07 Jan).
    Yet Kirill is perhaps justifiably and equally worried about state corruption and the consequences of mass social disruption.  In his 07 Jan Christmas appearance on Russian television, Kirill definitely places himself in a middle position.  Regarding government corruption, he states “The government should, through dialogue and by listening to society, correct the course and then everything will be fine.”  Regarding the opposition protestors, he counters by warning the protestors against repeating the violence of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, “… We destroyed the country, and why did this happen?  Because in general the just protests of the people were cleverly used by political forces fighting for power,” (Huffington Post, 07 Jan).
    Note that there were actually two revolutions in 1917 in the Russian Empire.  The February Revolution which forced the Czar to abdicate in favor of an elected democratic government under Prince Lvov with power held by the elected Duma, and the later October Revolution in which the Bolsheviks overthrew the Duma and established the USSR’s soviet system of government.
  According to the Huffington Post, Kirill notes the place of protests in bringing about the fall of the Soviet Union – a loss of political and geo-social unity in the former Soviet sphere of influence that many Russians are increasingly regretting.
    The Huffington Post continues quoting Kirill, “The challenge for Russia today is for the protests to lead to political change but not to shake the foundations of the state,” (ibid).
    So what does this have to do with voters in the United States and Canada?
    Namely, Kirill is cautioning Orthodox Christians to be aware in their politics.  He does not seem to worry which side or party an individual supports or for whom he or she votes, but rather that the individual remain aware of political and social issues for themselves and do not find themselves being manipulated by those who hold or seek power – whether being used to validate potential corruption and scandal or to be used by those who use the good intentions of others to achieve political and social power to undermine the stability of the elected government and the state system.  In this, Kirill is really just resurrecting the Enlightenment ideals of British political philosopher Thomas Hobbes who both opposed the violence of the English Civil War (1642-51) and stated in his classic Leviathon (1651), “The source of every crime, is some defect of the understanding; or some error in reasoning; or some sudden force of the passions.”
    In short, Kirill chides the Russian government to be responsive to the needs and will of the people and to respond positively when those governed demand an accountability of those in power – returning to his 17,18 Dec sermons, he defended the protests as “a ‘lawful negative reaction’ to corruption,” (Kishkovsky, 30 Dec). 
    These remarks were followed up later by Father Andrei Zuevsky, “As a result of the particular way in which power is set up in our society today, this arrogant attitude toward the people has become the abnormal norm… Those in power are not only haughty, they refuse anyone but themselves the right to decide what is good and what is bad,” (Kishkovsky, 30 Dec).
    In Canada, political commentators have increasing criticized what they perceive as arrogance and a lack of dedication to Canada’s governing principles or the democratic process in general on the part of the ruling party.  Notably, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has seemingly ridden roughshod over democratic commitments in his opposition to the Canadian Wheat Board, his handling of the Afghan War, manipulation of parliamentary schedules and elections, Federalism in Canada or the general accountability of elected officials to the Canadian public in general.  While a certain amount of this criticism may be general politics as usual, his determined opposition to the Canadian Wheat Board and more recently of the American refusal to allow the Keystone Pipeline to be built across sensitive cultural and environmental ecosystems in the United States’ prairies has seemingly realigned Canadian parliamentary debates along lines of basic democratic structure rather than over merely opposing political and social perspectives.
    Similarly, voters in the United States have been treated to a politicized governmental impasse which had its beginnings in the 1994 elections (involving 2012 Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich) and has been increasingly used to disrupt effective operation of government programs in pursuit of divisive and controversially polarizing political aims.  Most recently, the United States government suffered a lowering of its AAA credit rating mostly due to political intransigence on the part of elected officials.  Similarly, members of the American Right have challenged Democratic President Obama’s purported subversion of the democratic process by abusing his right to make controversial presidential appointments without Senate approval during Congressional breaks.  This makes no mention of deeply disturbing questions regarding the lack of oversight over Wallstreet bankers, financiers and corporate bigwigs at the expense of the ordinary American or the political agendas of America’s super-rich in making increasingly de-regulated and massive campaign contributions.
    For his part, Kirill’s statements to the Kremlin could be made just as easily to those who currently hold power in Washington, Ottawa or Westminster.  In fact, while certain socio-economic scandals seem to plague the Russian culture at the moment, it would be impossible to demonstrate clear differences between the excesses of financial and political manipulation in Russia against those in the United States.  How much of the Koch fortune is built on government contracts and exemptions?  Just how much would be permissible for them to spend in pursuit of increasing this fortune through impacting the electoral process? 
    At the same time, news agencies hoping to equate Kirill’s pro-protestors statements with support for world-wide Occupy movements or the Arab Spring are quite a ways off-base.  In fact, Kirill warns directly against the protestors allowing themselves to be directed or used by those who would manipulate media and new communications technologies to gain power, wealth or ratings.

    In a sense, this is still a warning against corruption by those in power – whether the politicians, the super-rich or the media elite.  In this Kirill is championing the individual conscience and the necessity of spiritual or financial self-restraint, as much as political:
    Kirill’s Christmas Speech
Last year was full of trials, and I would like to remind us all again of the fact that the main challenges and difficulties are not of material, but of spiritual nature. While hostilities, and manmade and natural disasters, ruin the world around us, sins and immorality ruin us on the inside, reducing us to spiritual cripples. This is the threat we should be fighting above all. That is why it is important to always listen to one's voice of conscience which cautions us against sinning and align one's actions with the evangelic covenants. Each Christian's duty is to confirm their faith by deeds and actions. There are many challenged, ill and lonely people among us who need help and care. Helping those in need is every Christian's, and on the whole, every person's duty. We must share the joy and grace of Christ's Nativity with all those craving consolation. Each of us can share the light of Nativity with their neighbors, whether near or far: with our colleagues, friends, relatives, people next door.
    In his December sermons, Kirill recalled the 1917 Bolshevik or October Revolution that rent Russian society and the Communists “near-destruction of the church,” (Kushkovsky, 30 Dec), while cautioning against similar political violence or action in Russia today.  He seems especially concerned about the impact of New Media or the Internet on the general republic, sensing its great power to divide rather than to unite, to tear down rather than to build.  Again he almost echoes Hobbes, “We no longer have the right to be divided… The blood that was shed in the 20th century does not give us that right,” (ibid).
    The Internet gained notoriety for helping to fuel and focus the various popular movement revolutions of the Arab Spring.  Noting this, ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has also been criticized for “shutting down” the Internet (ironically a power wielded most effectively by Chinese government officials in “censoring” the Net and now claimed by United States’ authorities for crowd control and emergency management in the USA).
    Occupy movements in the United States and Canada have been criticized for rapidly organizing protests and other events while failing to demonstrate a clear agenda or purpose -- leaving many observers to wonder why the protestors are there.  Russian commentators have questioned whether the “media elite” or even an Internet-saavy Russian Middle Class is not inflaming the passions of the less tech-saavy voters.  United States’ Republicans spent a whopping $12.5 million in television advertising alone just for the Iowa Caucuses.  Much of the Iowa money was spent on attack ads – advertisements designed to stir up controversy or to suggest scandal against a particular candidate rather than to inform the general public regarding the candidates’ positions or reasoning.  Estimates run as high as $8 billion for advertising costs for the 2012 elections as a whole – a measly $37 per eligible voter or $88 per expected voter – or the price Microsoft paid to buy Skype.  The Koch Brothers, as individuals, alone have pledged to spend $200,000,000.00 in 2012 for candidates and legislation they support (read “spending from which they hope to benefit). 
    Interestingly, defenders of the Koch brothers’ political largesse have complained that no attention is paid to the $600 million in charitable donations the brothers have spent over the last decade.  Let’s do some math -- $600 million divided by 10 years is roughly $60 million per year – or approximately the same annual rate they plan to donate to political endeavors (assuming that the charitable contributions were used for non-political endeavors).
    At the same time, liberal political supporter George Soros has been also been known to spend up to $30 million to impact the political process for the Left.
    Political movements are in fact difficult to manage and engage even without attempts of outside manipulation.  Recent debates over religion and the rights of women or those of the vocal LGBT community have come to a head over what appears to be emotionalized, politicized gut reactions by Chicago’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George against abortion and comparing the annual gay PRIDE parade to a KKK protest.  In the former, George made incorrect remarks criticizing politicians honoring a rape survivor (accusing her of abortion) and in the latter, well, no-one is actually sure at all what he meant – only wishing that the Cardinal had chosen rather to keep his mouth shut.  (It seems that a local parish had merely asked the parade organizers to reconsider a proposed time change in order to prevent disruption of parish access to the church for regular Sunday services).
   Patriarch Kirill could use Cardinal George as a poster child for the improper dependence on informal media to create a counter-productive public gut reaction.  George’s explanation, “You say things you live to regret, either because they’re misinterpreted or they are really wrong. … Fear makes for poor speech but that fear is very real,” (Marin, below). 
    George’s well-intentioned, fearful rhetoric has actually threatened to derail both the local parish’s influential LGBT outreach and relations between the church and its gay constituency in general.  In fact, long after Mount Carmel and local PRIDE organizers reached an effective compromise, George’s comments continue to make headlines in the press and on television.  Showing that, as Kirill warns, stupidity begets stupidity, George has opened the way for a seemingly professional organizer, what we once called an “agitator” to call for public protests in front of Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral downtown.  The actual issue has been resolved but now LBGT organizer, Lair Scott is hoping for some media time by organizing the protests and demanding George’s resignation.  According to local gay media, Scott made a name for himself when he demanded that Sesame Street producers script an on-air marriage for “gay” puppet characters Bert and Ernie.  At some point, Kirill might ask what George had hoped to gain by butting into local parish business and how Scott is justifying (let alone paying for) dragging this controversy out.   
    In short, Kirill is not so concerned with who the money comes from or how it is spent as he is concerned that those with money not be allowed to buy votes, do not gain political advantage over the less fortunate and are not allowed to manipulate the political system for their advantage (whether buyer, writer or agitator).  Kirill clearly does not differentiate between those who wield political power, those who wield financial power or those who wield technical or media saavy.  He is merely concerned with the potential abuse of power differentials and the negative impact such abuses have on Truth, on well-being of the less fortunate and on the stability of the state as a whole.  Again, to be clear, Kirill cautions those who engage in rhetoric such as George and Scott as much as those who abuse other sources of power.
    Again and again, Kirill and the Orthodox hierarchy call for dialogue – the main purpose for which the democratic processes of Russia, Canada and the United States were implemented in the first place.  That the main organs of democratic dialogue have broken down in Europe, Russia and North America should be the most alarming observation on his part.  In the Middle East, gains by pro-Democracy movements are threatened and challenged by religious Fundamentalism and political extremism.  While China is rapidly evolving into a pro-Capitalist economy, it remains a non-Democratic state to which most of the democratic nations are now insurmountably indebted.  The more damage participants do to their own democratic institutions and traditions, the more open they become to being manipulated by corruption or being overcome by non-Democratic elements – both internally and internationally.
    Kirill is in effect calling on the politicians in the West and on the electorate to reclaim their rights and responsibilities of dialogue and to exercise these privileges on behalf of the state as a whole and for the protection of the less fortunate as well as the privileged.  It is a good Christmas message.

  • Barry, Ellen, “Memo From Moscow:  A Dilemma for Russian Leaders: to Suppress Protests or Not,” The New York Times, New York, NY, 02 Jan 2012, International Section, p A4.
  • Chicago Sun Times, “Letters to the Editor: Cardinal wrong again on KKK,” Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago, IL, 30 Dec 2011, p 26.
  • Chicago Tribune, “Editorial: The cardinal’s bizarre analogy,” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, 30 Dec 2011, Section 1, p 24.
  • Huffington Post, “Russian Church’s Patriarch Calls for Dialogue with Election Protestors,” Huffington Post on-line, 07 Jan 2011 (08:48), accessed 08 Jan 2012.
  • Kishkovsky, Sophia, “Church Hints It May Serve As Mediator In Russia,” The New York Times, New York, NY, 07 Jan 2012, International Section, p A7.
  • Kishkovsky, Sophia, “Disputed Voting Turns Church, A Kremlin Ally, Into Its Critic,” The New York Times, New York, NY, 30 Dec 2011, International Section, p A4.
  • Lewis, Matt, “Koch Brothers Donate to Charity as well as ‘Right Wing Causes,’”, 02 Sept 2010, accessed 08 Jan 2012.
  • MacColl, Spencer, “Capital Rivals:  Koch Brothers vs. George Soros,”, 21 Sept 2010 (16:14), accessed 08 Jan 2012.
  • Marin, Carol, “Cardinal: ‘I’m very sorry’: Apology for comparing gay movement to KKK,” Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago, IL, 07 Jan, 2012, p 3.
  • Marsden, Rachel, “Total recall:  Putin stymies protesters with subversion strategies,” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, 05 Jan 2012, Section 1, p 19.
  • Sosin, Kate and Baim, Tracy, “Cardinal’s remarks ignite firestorm of controversy,” Windy City Times, Chicago, IL, 04 Jan 2012, p 6-7.
  • Sosin, Kate, “Protest Against Cardinal George planned,” Windy City Times, Chicago, IL, 04 Jan 2012, p 7.
  • Various, “Voice of the People,” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, 08 Jan 2012, Section 1, p 23.
  • Weissman, Robert, “Pity Poor Newt Gingrich,” Huffington Post,, 04 Jan 2012 (11:29), accessed 08 Jan 2012.
  • Zolotov, Andrei, Jr., “Listening to the People,”, 21 Dec 2011, accessed 31 Dec 2011.

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