Friday, August 26, 2016


Russian Conservatives Challenge Notion Of 'Universal' Values

Metropolitan Kirill and others believe in the primacy of church and state over the individual.
Metropolitan Kirill and others believe in the primacy of church and state over the individual.
By Robert Coalson
Conservative thinkers in Russia are not celebrating the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead, they are denouncing it as aggressive colonialism, yet another attempt to impose "Western" values on other cultures.

As the newly resurgent Russian state has asserted itself increasingly on the international stage, the conservative political elite has sought to flesh out something of an ideology that justifies the rejection of international institutions and Western criticism of political developments in Russia. In doing so, it has revived the 19th-century tsarist mantra of "Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality."

"I am deeply convinced that the conception of human rights varies from one culture to another, from one society to another, inasmuch as the very concept of the person varies," says political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, who heads the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University and is a leading public proponent of the new Russian conservatism.

In Russian culture, Dugin says, a "collective anthropology" has predominated, meaning that the individual can only fully realize his or her potential when functioning as part of the entire society. The Russian conception of human rights does not include "the right to sin," meaning that society, especially in the form of the Russian Orthodox Church and the central state, has an obligation to protect itself as a means of protecting the rights of its citizens.

Dugin says the Russian cultural tradition on rights and values has more in common with the Islamic tradition than with Western liberalism. "In the Islamic and Orthodox traditions, almost everything corresponds," he says. "We both reject specific aspects of secular, Western, European, individualistic conception of human rights."

In April 2006, the Russian Orthodox Church sponsored the 10th annual Council of Russian People, which adopted a "Declaration of Human Rights and Dignity" that directly challenges the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dugin was an important contributing author of that doctrine, as was Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, who is a leading candidate to succeed the recently deceased Aleksy II as patriarch. "There are values that are no less important than [individual] human rights," the Orthodox declaration asserts. "These are faith, ethics, sacraments, Fatherland."

Earlier this year, a group of influential thinkers who label themselves "dynamic conservatives" published a monograph titled "The Russian Doctrine," which in many ways articulates the domestic and political program of the current Russian government. Like other conservative trends, the book emphasizes that "the individual recognizes himself as an organic part of the social environment (neighbors, co-workers), family (relations), and nation (state and major social institutions); there is mutual nourishment, mutual support between the individual and society."

Preeminence Of The State

It remains unclear how influential the new conservatism is inside Putin's ruling elite. Certainly many prominent figures within Putin's inner circle, as well as Putin himself, are sympathetic to the views of the Orthodox Church.

Vladislav Surkov (right) has been the main government architect of statist doctrine.
Also, chief Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov, who coined the term "sovereign democracy" to describe Russia's political system, has borrowed elements of conservative thinking to argue for restricting the influence of international law, global economic bodies, and Western opinion on Russia's development. In an article published last year, Dugin lauded Surkov's "evolution" from liberalism toward the conservative, state-centered point of view. "For me, the value of statism is absolute," Dugin wrote. "And values like liberalism, democracy, civil society, liberty, the market, and social justice are secondary compared to statism. I am observing Surkov's evolution precisely in this direction."

In practical terms, the ascendant conservatism has meant that Russia has challenged the system of international election monitoring developed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as hopelessly biased. In July, the Russians argued that election monitors must "show respect for the national organs of power, including the electoral organs" of host countries and defer to host governments "in all other questions touching on the sovereignty of the country."

Likewise, the Kremlin has criticized the European Court of Human Rights and has taken steps to make it more difficult for Russian citizens to take complaints to Strasbourg. Last year, then-President Vladimir Putin signed a decree designed to "enhance the protection of Russia's rights" at the court.

On the other hand, the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights continue to hold some sway in Russia. For one thing, the country's 1993 constitution -- particular the enumeration of the rights of citizens -- was clearly drafted in the spirit of the declaration. Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin stated this directly in an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" just last month. "According to the constitution," Zorkin said, "the individual, his rights and freedoms, are the highest value."

What Is Traditional?

Much of the political awkwardness of Putinism over the last eight years has arisen from efforts to superimpose the new conservatism on a more liberal framework that the Kremlin seems unwilling to jettison entirely.

Although the Putin government has consistently followed the line of strengthening the state, one occasionally comes across nods to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, similar to Zorkin's comments. Just this month, the ruling Unified Russia party submitted a draft ethical code of conduct for state officials that says explicitly that officials are not required to obey orders that "are in serious contradiction to the basic human rights laid out in the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Conservatives also have trouble demonstrating that average Russians share their notions of the "national values" of Russian-Orthodox culture. A national poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) this month found that 33 percent of Russians support "the defense of traditional Russian values, national independence, the strengthening of power, and the defense of the interests of Russians," views that VTsIOM researchers summarized as "national conservatism." The study came under sharp criticism for the way the questions were formulated and, in general, VTsIOM has been lambasted for conducting research that confirms the views of its "partner organization," Unified Russia.

Sociologist Boris Chernyakhovsky criticized the study. "The authors of the poll consciously ignored the fact that Russian values, like traditional values, come in various types. There is the tradition of serfdom and the tradition of peasant uprisings," he wrote. "There is the tradition of Russian tsarism and the Soviet tradition.... And there is, incidentally, the tradition of Russian liberalism."

Other polls, including one released in September by the Liberal Mission Foundation, have found that a majority of respondents believe "measures to strengthen the vertical of power...have led to an excessive concentration of power and the bureaucratization of the whole system of governance."

However, Russian conservatives such as Dugin and Metropolitan Kirill insist on the need to respect a culture's historic and moral traditions when forming its laws and state institutions and on the right of each world culture to pursue its own path of development. Otherwise, the potential for clash of cultures always looms, Dugin says.

"If one of us -- either Europe or the West as a whole or Russia -- starts trying to force its conception of human rights on the other, there will be problems," Dugin says.

"Because from our point of view, our conception of human rights is optimal, even universal, unlike the European one. And Europeans think just the opposite," he continues. "As soon as we begin to seriously accent our pretensions to universalism, a conflict immediately arises."

RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Mikhail Sokolov contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
by: John from: Bristol, RI
December 10, 2008 19:50
&quot;For me, the value of statism is absolute,&quot; Dugin wrote. &quot;And values like liberalism, democracy, civil society, liberty, the market, and social justice are secondary compared to statism. I am observing Surkov's evolution precisely in this direction.&quot;<br /><br />A movement toward statism considered an evolution? Couldn't disagree more. In fact this quote has a pre-World War II protectionist ring to it. In my opinion statements like these signal a critical misunderstanding of the word evolution. I suppose Dugin could argue that progressive policies are regressive, I just don't know how well that argument will stick with anyone outside the influence of irrational deliberation.

by: Valeriy from: Switzerland
December 10, 2008 21:28
My Goodness, it all smells of Russian messiahnism. China is going to be the next one to claim it alone owns the proper concept of human rights. <br />Human rights &quot;with a Russian face&quot;. Ridiculous...<br />I guess as long as people are tortured to death or simply killed in Chechnya and Tibet such countries as Russia or China should feel at least embarassed to speak about Human Rights...

by: Sergey from: USA
December 11, 2008 17:58
I do not think it should be just up to a particular culture to define human rights unless we want to accept moral relativism.<br /><br />However, Russian Conservative Orthodox Nationalists, like them or not, got one point right--it's impossible to have rights without responsibilities. They are wrong from a Christian standpoint on trying to conserve state that is above people. From classical Christian and Jewish point of view, individual and state should be under God's law. <br /><br />The trouble with Human Rights Declaration is that it says very little of human beings as moral beings responsible for choices they make (good or bad) and that there should be legal and social norms to restrain misuse of freedom and liberty.<br /> <br />One great British philosopher of Russian-Jewish background Isaiah Berlin articulated very well in his essay &quot;On Liberty&quot; how liberties taken too far without regard to social and moral norms will inevitably clash. &quot;Freedom of wolves means death to the sheep&quot;, he quoted. What we need is to have a declaration of human rights and responsibilities that would take into account great legal religious traditions of Christianity and Judaism (10 commandements for instance)and incorporate it into our understanding of Human rights so we do not confuse rights with mere wishes or privileges.<br /><br />I believe that there should be a broad dialogue between secular humanists and religious people on human rights and responsibilities both in Russia and around the world.

by: Anton from: Auckland
December 13, 2008 01:38
This is a deja vue. If one knows the history of Russia, it is impossible to leave unnoticed the pulsation of its political orientation. There are periods when Russia opens itself to Europe, and there are periods when it closes and isolates itself. This pattern exists for no less than 400 years, and maybe was existing before that time.<br /><br />Russia is definitely not a European country. It never had the problems, Europe had - its territories are vast, its resources are abundant, its population is scattered and its communications and transport infrastructure are poorly developed. Russia is European-type people, living for centuries in Asian-style environment, so as a form of civilization Russia is inbetween Western Europe and Asian cultures. Russians are no more Germans than they are Iranians or Turks, and their way of thinking is synthetic, reflecting Western and Eastern influences.<br /><br />In Russian society there is probably about 10% of people, clearly &quot;pro-western&quot; and about 10% clearly &quot;pan-Slavic&quot;, the rest 80% do not care at all and are happy if they have the living standard they agree to accept. Therefore there would be hardly 10% of Russians who sincerely support &quot;European&quot; values, mentality, human rights understanding etc - and the conservative majority would tend only to use the profits, which can be drawn from this western orientation. If, however, the hard core &quot;Slavophils&quot; offer them the same profits without them supporting the Western way, they would immediately change the sides. Living standard - this is Russia's goal, not the humanitarian perfectuation. Most of Russians are predators by nature, they are opportunistic and take what they can take within one life, carpe diem. Specially now, when &quot;western orientation&quot; threatens them with some foreigners coming and pinching their resources (their! &quot;My ancestors died to conquer them&quot;), they may agree to send to the gallows all human rights prophets.<br /><br />Dealing with Russia without understanding of the mentality of the 80% of its electorate is doomed for failure, as relying on some pro-western 10% like Politkovskaya is the same as to think all Americans share the mentality of Indian tribes.<br /><br />Russia would never be &quot;westernized&quot; unless it is conquered and dismembered first or comes to the same result following long and exhausting evolution - it may take several generations, but may also never happen at all.

by: Anton from: Auckland
December 13, 2008 16:33
&quot;From classical Christian and Jewish point of view, individual and state should be under God's law.&quot;<br /><br />Where does it say? On the contrary, Sergei - Christ was calling for separation of the religion and the state. &quot;Give unto God what belongeth to God, and give unto Caesar what belongeth to Caesar&quot;...<br /><br />It is only Taleban and Iran who are under God's law!<br />

by: Sergey from: USA
December 13, 2008 21:16
&quot;It is only Taleban and Iran who are under God's law!&quot;<br /><br />Islamic understanding of God is radically different from that of Christian and Jewish one, Anton. If you look at history, it is Christian countries, that despite all of their faults (inquisition, anti-Semitism, etc.) eventually became most prosperous ones protecting life, liberty and property. Discussing the influence of Christian and Jewish principles on the development of concept of Human Rights, Rule of Law, separation of powers, etc. deserves a separate forum. For starters, here I would suggest you read how Jewish laws developed from the times of Moses influenced American Constitution.<br /><br /><br /><br />Christianity, of course, inherited much from Jewish Laws (10 commandements and nubmer of other things). <br /><br />Islam is very different despite Koran references to Jewish and Christian tales. I will also try to find good articles on crucial differences between Islamic and Judaic and Christian concepts of God and law.

by: Gabe
February 28, 2009 22:51
I couldn't agree more with the Russian conservatives. As far as I can tell, human rights has only ever been used as an excuse for Western imperialism and cultural hegemony. What right do Western societies have to claim the universality of human rights when the prosperity of European cultures is built on the blood and labor of foreign colonies in Asia, the Americas, and Africa? That's not to mention the massive profits generated by the slave trade and the lands taken from the American natives that went toward building the United States as a world power that we see today.