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Faith-Based Modernization In Russia?


President Dmitry Medvedev and Patriarch Kirill speaking in January.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Patriarch Kirill speaking in January.

It seems everybody is getting into the act with Russia's modernization debate.

The liberal Institute for Contemporary Development (INSOR) says democratization is the key to unlocking Russia's potential. Not so, retorts Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov -- a stronger and even more overbearing state is needed to guide progress and avoid chaos.

And now, it seems, the ruling United Russia party is weighing in. According to an inter-party document unearthed by "Moskovsky komsomolets," what Russia needs is a good strong dose of religion.

Here's the money quote from the document, "The Moral Basis of Modernization," which according to "Moskovsky komsomolets," was discussed by the party this past weekend:

In his address to the Federal Assembly, President Dmitry Medvedev proposed a specific plan to further modernize of the country. Historical experience shows that successful systemic reforms, the development of a corporate culture, and the growth of national wealth is directly related to the conservation of values strong fundamental values in society. In Russia these are based on the ethics of Orthodox Christianity, which are essential for patriotism, communal action, serving the common good.

"Moskovsky komsomolets" commentator Mikhail Rostovsky slammed the notion of a religiously driven modernization as dangerous:

Russia - a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. To survive in its current form, it can only be the case if none of the traditional religions will not be proclaimed the official state ideology. To call for something similar is to place a huge bomb under the country's unity.

Nevertheless, it probably wasn't an accident that the United Russia report on modernization appeared in the media just one day after Surkov had his say on the subject.

In the early days of the debate, the liberals -- led by INSOR -- seemed to be dominating the discussion by pushing democratization as a means of national revival. Surkov's interview and now the United Russia document have now stifled INSOR's ability to frame the debate this way.

And that Orthodox Christianity should be brought into the debate should come as no surprise to anybody. Patriarch Kirill has been steadily beefing up his political role of late, and even met with United Russia this summer to hammer out the Church's role in the party's legislative program.

Even before the conservative push back against the INSOR report, some reform-minded Russians were more than a bit skeptical about its viability (regardless of how much they liked its recommendations).

Here's Masha Lipman of the Moscow Carnegie Center writing in "Yezhednevny zhurnal" on February 12:

Where are Russia's political rulers situated on the pathway to the desired future? Because the political reforms proposed mean a substantial reduction of their authority. No politician will do this voluntarily -- only under tough pressure from social or political forces or under the influence of the most severe circumstances. That is how Gorbachev acted when he began perestroika. But his example can hardly inspire those who are in power today. And indeed Russia's present situation is not as desperate as that of the USSR at the end of the 1990s.

And even if Russian liberals would attain their dream of democratic elections, Lipman writes, they would still remain a minority in Russia's deeply conservative society -- and would likely lose at the polls and be unable to enact their political program:

Let us assume that the progressive minority would be able to unite and transform into a political force, into a coalition of modernizers. But then, after all, the conservative majority -- with its leaders -- would become another political force. And if in fact in our wished-for tomorrow democratic elections are held, then who has the greater chances for victory?

It appears that the modernization debate is being reset before it really even got started.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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