Monday, August 29, 2016

The Power Vertical

Podcast: Russia's 'Culture Wars'

Gay rights activists take part in a rally against laws restricting the rights of homosexuals in downtown Moscow on March 10.
Gay rights activists take part in a rally against laws restricting the rights of homosexuals in downtown Moscow on March 10.
A global pop star sued for spreading "gay propaganda" in St. Petersburg. A "zombies" march in Siberia banned after being condemned by the church. A call by a militialike group to deploy brigades of Christian vigilantes to patrol holy sites and defend them against enemies of the faith endorsed by a leading Orthodox Church official.

Russia's culture wars are heating up.

An emboldened Orthodox Church has become markedly more assertive in defending what it considers traditional values. Meanwhile, much of Russian society has become more cosmopolitan, more tolerant, and bolder in its own right.

In this week's edition of "The Power Vertical Podcast," I discussed the deepening schism in Russian society with my regular co-host, Kirill Kobrin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Also on the podcast, Kirill and I explore a much-discussed new report on the clans and personalities that make up the current Russian political elite.

The Power Vertical -- August 24, 2012
The Power Vertical -- August 24, 2012i
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Listen to or download the podcast above, or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.


Tags: Vladimir Putin,Russian Orthodox Church,Power Vertical podcast,Russia's creative class,culture wars

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Comment Sorting
by: Mark from: Victoria
August 26, 2012 02:37
This blog should come with some kind of excitement attenuator, that readers could turn down so they don't get too wound up over the professed level of political turmoil. Revolution is always just waiting for that spark to ignite it - the people are always just about to stream into the streets and start hanging civil servants from the lampposts, as Navalny once promised.

None of that is actually happening, I'm afraid. Madonna is in hot water almost every place she goes on this tour, and the Pope's personal spokesman called for her to be excommunicated for her Italian visit, in which she descended on a large cross while wearing a crown of thorns. The group of 10 activists suing her are, to the best of my knowledge, not affiliated with the Orthodox Church. Discrimination against gays is worldwide - it was official government policy that they could not serve in the U.S. military for nearly 20 years. The rest of the world is in no position to be pointing the anti-gay finger.

The Zombie Parade was cancelled because it was unpopular with the public, and the church protested it on non-religious grounds based on complaints from parishioners. The Muslim community and territorial self-government committees also spoke out against it. It was not the Orthodox Church flexing its muscle.

There are between 3000 and 6000 people in a brigade. This is just silly.
In Response

by: Sergio from: The Netherlands
August 28, 2012 14:30
Indeed it is a blog of excitement, but because the potential in Russia for liberty, freedom and development is enormous, and it is being kept at bay by an undemocratic government and old-fashioned autocratic policies. One can be forgiven for wondering how high Russia could rise if it ever really decided to become a modern democratic country.

No, the people are not likely to start hanging civil servants from lamp posts. If things change, it will be -- as always in Russian history -- when some different-thinking figure seizes power, like Peter the Great, Lenin, or Gorbachëv. Which ultimately is indeed sad. When will the Russian people ever understand that Russia is theirs, and they should take responsibility for it?

Madonna is indeed in hot water wherever she goes -- she thrives on such attention --, but the hot water in Russia comes from the Orthodox church, and the reasons are political. Or do you seriously think she'd be worse off if she didn't talk about Pussy Riot, Khodorkovsky, or any other cause of shame for the Russian government? Do you think Rogozin would have sent that anti-Madonna tweet if she had just kept talking about sex? As for those 10 activists suing her, the jury is still out. Considering how things tend to happen in Russia, I would be surprised if they were doing that simply out of moral convictions, with no hidden agenda or support from third parties.

Unpopularity is not a good reason to cancel a parade. And I don't think it was the real motive. Again: if the Zombie parade had been pro-Putin, with the zombies mocking Western leaders -- do you think it would have been cancelled, no matter how religously revolting or physically disgusting zombies may happen to be?

"Brigade" as a metaphor and "brigade" as a military unit can diverge quite a lot. Figurative language does things like that. Silly is as silly does.

In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
September 02, 2012 02:36
"Considering how things tend to happen in Russia, I would be surprised if they were doing that simply out of moral convictions, with no hidden agenda or support from third parties."

Yet you are perfectly prepared to believe Pussy riot are staging their "art happenings" simply out of moral convictions, with no hidden agenda or support from third parties.

Madonna absolutely is an attention-seeker. But western audiences seem prepared to believe she is speaking out in favour of Pussy riot out of some deep empathy with them, rather than as just another attention-getting gambit. I'm glad at least you and I are wise to her.

And evidently it does not matter what the church, the Muslim community and the territorial authority say - you can just blithely dismiss it with an airy, "I don't think it was the real motive". So there's no point in confusing the situation with facts. I wish I could claim such unshakeable moral conviction, but I have to rely on what the papers say.

"Brigade" as a metaphor is meaningless, and can be used to suggest anything from 20 to 20,000. The word is expressly meant to describe a military unit. All such a report would imply is, "I think it's a big number, but I want to make sure everyone understands it's a lot". Are there really thousands of ROC volunteers patrolling the streets and guarding churches? No. Are there any? Not that I've heard, brigades or otherwise.

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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