Happy Ascension Day to my Orthodox readers!
Among those who celebrate today are the Russkies, who have had quite a spring. Last month, thousands of Russians came out to support the Russian Orthodox Church in a massive rally in Moscow. In Forbes, Mark Adomanis registers his dismay at the retrograde Russians: “Tens of Thousands Protest in Moscow in Support of the Orthodox Church - Illiberalism Is Alive and Well in Russia.” I agree with Adomanis that illiberalism is so alive and well in the Russian heart, but I rather find that to be a hopeful sign and a cause for rejoicing.
In case you have not heard, a punk rock group named “Pussy Riot” performed (without permission, obviously) songs on the ambo of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. They were arrested, and a controversy about what they deserve has since erupted in Russia.
Adomanis notes how the Western media have unanimously sympathized with the poor Pussy Rioters, and he joins them:
Just in case anyone doubts where my sympathies lie, let me state unequivocally that, in this instance, the Orthodox Church has acted disgracefully, that Pussy Riot ought to be freed immediately, and that the ‘hooliganism’ section of the criminal code should be modified to make it crystal clear that purely political speech of the sort in which Pussy Riot engaged can never be the basis of a formal charge.
Even, it seems, if free speech involves commandeering another institution’s building without any respect for that institutions’ rules. I wonder if Mr. Adomanis would favor political signs lettered with bacon strips hung on mosques.
But it seems basically impossible to ignore the sharply anti-liberal tinge of the crowd on Sunday and the movement which it represents. Viewed from one perspective, 60 odd thousand people marched in favor of blasphemy laws in the largest and most liberal city in the country. Blasphemy! It is rather hard to square the narrative about a slowly emerging liberal-democratic majority in Russia with what happened this past Sunday. . . . As should be clear from public attitudes about Pussy Riot, which is about as cut and dry a case of freedom of expression as you’re ever going to see, stridently, almost violently, anti-liberal opinions are still incredibly common in Russia. These attitudes are not simply the cruel inventions of the Kremlin or the imaginary artifice of Vladimir Putin: they are the honestly felt positions of many millions of people. It is absolutely possible to change this for the better, Russian society as a whole is certainly more ‘liberal’ than it was 15 years ago, but this cannot be done in one fell swoop, either through holding an election or through replacing a particularly bad politician. Indeed, as I’ve repeatedly said, it is fully possible that a more democratic Russia would be a less liberal one.
Adomanis is Harvard and Oxford educated. As a Greek, he is probably from an Orthodox background. This educated young man, perhaps an apostate, finds it remarkable that people care about the public sanctity of their religion.