Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Kremlin’s Efforts to Promote Devotion to Russia Doing Exactly the Opposite, Moscow Paper Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 9 – In the latest iteration of Viktor Chernomyrdin’s dictum that Russia always tries for the better but things turn out like always, the Russian government is seeking to promote patriotism by means that in fact are contributing to attitudes that threaten to disintegrate the country, according to the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta.”

            The paper says that efforts by the Moscow Patriarchate and its allies in the government are seeking to promote “a universal Orthodox culture” via the schools, but because many experts understand that this won’t “promote inter-religious understanding and patriotism,” Moscow is allowing other groups to promote their views (ng.ru/editorial/2016-08-09/2_red.html).

                Initially, the central government gave these non-Orthodox or non-Russian groups permission to conduct such programs on an experimental basis in just a few schools; but already this fall, these programs are spreading throughout the educational system. And that is the problem, the newspaper’s editors say.

            In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Russia, that means that programs intended to promote integration are having exactly the opposite effect as students in one part of the country learn one set of values while students elsewhere are learning a very different and often completely opposite one.

            Given this situation, the paper says, it would have been better not to have had the Russian Orthodox Church get involved in the schools in the way it has; but the ambitions of the Patriarchate and the willingness of the Russian government to go along with it have overwhelmed good sense. As a result, Russia could be forced to pay a very high price.

            The paper points to several examples of this trend. This fall, all the schools of Krasnodar kray will have special “’Cossack classes’” to promote Cossack as opposed to Russian culture.  There are already in the Kuban, 1700 such classes in which “approximately 40,000” pupils are enrolled.

            These classes promote loyalty not to Moscow but to the Kuban and the Cossacks with their local and even ethnic identity.  The local political authorities are pleased with this because it generates support for them and gives them yet another lever to use in making demands on Moscow rather than showing loyalty to the country as a whole.

            The most disturbing aspect of this program is that “a significant part of the residents of the Kuban do not have Cossack ancestors who in the distant past served in the Kuban Cossack Host” but despite that, the government is promoting Cossack identities among all of them, creating divisions between Russians without such roots and the Cossacks.

            Meanwhile, in predominantly Muslim Tatarstan, the educational authorities are creating ever more kindergartens and schools that follow shariat principles, something that Muslim parents may welcome but that non-Muslim Russian parents almost certainly won’t. And now Kazan wants all schools in the region to decide whether to follow Islamic norms.

            In short, and in a way that was entirely predictable, efforts to promote national unity on the basis of a single religious tradition – Russian Orthodoxy – are now leading to the promotion of other traditions, many of which are not only at odds with the Russian church but also with the Russian state.

            It would have been better, the paper suggests, if Russia had not started down this dangerous disintegrative road; but once again, whatever its intentions were, things are turning out like always -- and that is anything but good for the future of the country.

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