10/01/2022, 09.36
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The Russian armada of guilt and atonement

by Stefano Caprio

Amid sporadic protest and resistance , resignation seems to predominate in Russia today. Russians are afraid of losing Putin because they do not know what may await them next. Kirill's opacity and Orthodox theologian Georgij Kočetkov's prophecy: "Let each of us learn to live in Christ, so that we are not ashamed of our faith and our lives... We must seek the way of service to God and neighbor, even if there is an enemy before you."


After ten days of mobilization, Russia is permeated by an apocalyptic sense of self-destruction, with clashing feelings of panic and resignation, which makes this whole year of war a huge chasm of society and consciousness, from which it is not known how it will be possible to get out. In addition to the interminable queues of fugitives, whose numbers now exceed those of the soldiers at the front (over 250,000 emigrants are spoken of), there were spontaneous and disorganized protest actions in many cities, with more than a thousand barracks damaged by Molotov bombs and more than two thousand people arrested for sedition and draft dodging.

The most heated and violent demonstrations took place in Dagestan, the southernmost Caucasian republic in the Russian Federation, and also the most affected by losses by fighters in Ukraine. Policemen were unable to disperse the crowd in the square in Makhačkala even by firing into the air, and further resistance is expected in the area and in other outlying provinces of the empire, which had so far sacrificed for everyone. Still, in most regions there was little opposition, and people lined up with bowed heads, perhaps carrying bags full of vodka bottles, the only real weapon of Russian resistance to the blows of fate.

Amid sporadic protests, resignation seems to predominate, a hallmark of the Russian people since time immemorial, and particularly evident in these months of war exaltation, welcomed by the people as a fatal consequence of their historical faults and their own nature irreducible to universal standards. Those who oppose it remain mostly women, deprived of the support of their children and husbands and who have always been the "critical conscience" of the Russian people, while the male population finds no arguments to escape state violence. The limited critical mass of Naval'nyy dissidents has long since been reduced to silence, lager or exile; local protests, for that matter, are easy to control in the peripheries of the empire, according to the ever-valid principle of "divide and rule" inevitable over such a vast territory.

A real revolt, many analysts say, will only be possible in the face of defeat on the ground, when it becomes clear that the war has not fulfilled the regime's dreams of grandeur, leaving the country in international isolation and economic and social stagnation. The classic example is that of February (actually March 8) 1917, the first revolution in Petrograd, when the few soldiers left to defend the institutions decided to leave the field to the women's protest for bread, abandoning the tsar to his fate at the front of World War I, with the armies destined to succumb to the Germans. It was the end of the tsarist empire, although the inability to find an alternative ended up handing the country over to Lenin and Trotsky's Soviets.

Russia's situation is not yet critical economically speaking. Western sanctions will be felt over time with gradual severity, but Russian tables still have bread and vodka, however much this is likely to run out by year's end. The grotesque proclamation of "victory" through the annexation of four small Ukrainian regions is hardly enough to hearten lost spirits, trying wearily to replicate the enthusiasm for the 2014 Crimea recovery. If the Sevastopol peninsula, a classic summer vacation spot, could ignite easy enthusiasms, the territories in and around the Don do not elicit as much satisfaction, and very few Russians can distinguish them on maps.

Moreover, the submission of Russians to Putin is characterized by the anonymity of the ruling class, a very Soviet legacy of the generation to which the current "pseudo-zar" of the Kremlin himself belongs. Putin is not a true "strongman," he is not a charismatic leader, and he does not tend toward the exaltation of the cult of personality in the manner of Stalin. He came to the throne (it seems) a hundred years ago, no longer known whether in democracy or already in autocracy, holder of the Soviet license of the only professional organization of power (the KGB), is a mediocre man in cultural and even religious expression, despite demonstrations of loyalty to the Orthodox Church. His consensus is not with the person, but with the system he identifies as gray, and time with physical weaknesses increasingly liken him to the likes of Brezhnev or Černenko, or the dullness of mediocre czars like Nicholas I or Alexander III, rather than Ivan the Terrible or Lenin. Putin's perpetuity at the helm is a guarantee of the only real quality of power that interests ordinary people: stability, the exclusion of internal conflicts, the guarantee of continuity to stave off revolts and coups, and the uniformity of the political landscape, analogous to the geographical landscape of Russia's endless lands.

Russians are afraid of losing Putin, because they do not know what may await them next, certainly nothing good, knowing what excesses the Russian people are capable of in one sense or another. The Americans are childish, the Europeans are decadent, the Asians are treacherous: we Russians are good and dear, if they let us live in peace, that's what the mass of the population thinks. After Stalin's death there was the convulsive phase of internal struggles in the Politburo, with the group of Molotov, Malenkov and Kaganovič trying to take out Khruščev, who won by sending everyone else to jail or retirement, to endure a convulsive decade, the "Khrushevik spring" later resulting in the long Brezhnev stagnation. These are the atmospheric times of the very short spring and the very long winter, which are reflected in Russian society and soul: it is useless to seek change, we only stir in the mud of the thaw.

The religious aspect of these feelings of passivity and skepticism, for that matter, are also well represented by the opacity of the church hierarchies themselves beginning with Patriarch Kirill, a man of power himself of long standing, and certainly not an example of sanctity recognized by popular devotion. Although a far more established and popular figure than Putin, with a certain ability to educate crowds on the great values of religion, Kirill also belongs to a distant and anonymous elite, unlike the starets who welcome the faithful seeking enlightenment at the end of pilgrimages to the great monasteries. The rhetoric of the "crusades" does not really stand on conviction of faith, on the need to redeem the world from immorality and secularist degradation. Rather, guilt, and the need for one's own redemption prevails.

One of the "alternative" priests still from the days of anti-Soviet religious dissent, 72-year-old theologian Georgij Kočetkov, speaking at a religious festival in 2019 called on all Russians to repentance: "We do not fully realize our faults, because of our duplicity and laziness, our pride and resentment, our lack of lucidity that often becomes intoxication, our hope in nothingness...none of us deny that the results of totalitarianism are terrible, but it is easy for us to shrug our shoulders for the past and not see the faults of the present." Father Georgij's response is disarming: "We chose all this, we let it happen, and now is the time to repent."

Among the sins for which to ask forgiveness, Kočetkov recalls inveterate racism and anti-Semitism, which "makes people everywhere see the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy against us," and the presumption of the superiority of the Russian people over all others, "encompassing Ukrainians and Belarusians, who are not granted the dignity of being autonomous peoples, and appropriating what we want to refer to the Russian world in every other nation." Father believes that an inveterate "Soviet legacy" prevails in all this, polluting every other expression of national consciousness, and that it is high time to seek "a third way," a rediscovery of faith in Christ, not in the greatness of Holy Russia: "that each of us learn to live in Christ, so that we are not ashamed of our faith and our life... when panic spreads, we try to hide behind the stove, but this is not Christian behavior, we must seek the way of service to God and neighbor, even if there is an enemy in front of you: we must learn to love our enemies."

As Father Georgij writes further in his blog, "Russians are all those who love the beauty of Russia and intend to share our responsibility for our history, for our present and our future, for the whole world... true Russians are those who see in their neighbors a Russian man to be loved, to be helped to walk together on the paths of life."

Putin's mobilization is based on the assumption that "there are only enemies around us who want to destroy our country." This could be an opportunity to live the path of conversion suggested by Father Kočetkov: around there are only enemies to love, with whom to build together another future.



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