A letter to a friend

Alexander's picture

I don’t know what possessed me. A friend e-mailed me, attaching a recent article by the American conservative pundit Pat Buchanan. The article asks a question that seemingly presupposes a yes answer: “Is God on the side of Putin’s Russia?”

Since such questions unfailingly make me see red, I replied at a greater length than my normal blogs. Not to let all that impassioned effort go to waste, I’m reproducing it here.

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Pat Buchanan is a good man, but either he’s getting too old or, more likely, he suffers from the traditional Western malaise of not being able to see through Russia’s knavish tricks.

Even to ask the question he poses in his piece betokens woeful ignorance liberally laced with wishful thinking.

What exactly does Buchanan chalk up in Putin’s credit column? That he doesn’t allow homomarriage and homosexual propaganda?

This, ipso facto, means nothing in terms of assessing Putin’s regime. If this were a crucial criterion, we’d have to praise, say, Hitler and Osama bin Laden who didn’t favour homosexuality either.

Soviet Russia, incidentally, was the first country to decriminalise homosexuality – in 1917, when the bolsheviks were already murdering people on a scale never before seen in history. Then they recriminalised it in 1936. Are we going to evaluate either period on this basis? Not if we have half a brain.

A Western politician who campaigns for homomarriage is by definition an unprincipled, possibly evil, definitely not very bright, opportunist. But that doesn’t automatically mean that any non-Western politician pursuing a different agenda is on the side of the angels.

So what else? Oh yes, Putin has made a couple of speeches Pope Benedict would have happily signed. That, however, doesn’t make Putin a Benedict clone.

Russia and America are the only major countries that have for centuries been driven by messianic zeal. Old Pat certainly is a great champion of the ‘manifest destiny’ ideology of American exclusivity and he must be detecting a kindred spirit in Putin.

It’s kind of him to explain what Third Rome means, but that claim was based on Ivan III marrying the Byzantine princess Sophia Paleologue just as Byzantium was going to the dogs (or rather to the Turks). Thus the claim that Russia was thenceforth the flag-bearer of Eastern Christianity, and hence the modifier ‘Holy’ often attached to the country’s name.

In practical terms this led to chronic hostility towards the West and occasional attempts to defend Orthodox Christian lands, such as Bulgaria, usually from Muslim attacks.

But this ideology went much further as a unifying slogan, a sort of justification for things like serfdom, deadly famines (on average, one every seven years), general internal oppression. Russia was Holy, God was on her side, so it seemed churlish to complain that 80 percent of the population were slaves in all but name.

I’m not going to go deep into Russian Christianity here. Suffice it to say that it was always tinged with paganism, Eastern Gnostic mysticism and anti-clericalism. In my day peasants still jumped over and danced around camp fires on high holidays. All sorts of diabolic sects, such as the Flagellants and Emasculators, always thrived (Rasputin, for example, was a Siberian Flagellant who quickly developed a huge following among court aristocracy, including the royal family).

One way or the other, it took Russia's ‘holy’ peasants, in round numbers, about five minutes after the bolshevik coup to start looting and destroying churches, and murdering priests en masse. About 40,000 were murdered in all sorts of imaginative ways (I’ll spare you the details) on Lenin’s watch, and Stalin ran the score up to about 100,000. Add to this whole parishes gassed or machinegunned, and you’ll realise that this sort of thing would have been impossible without millions of erstwhile Christians lending a helping hand.

Yet the need for a messianic ideology was more pressing than ever, what with millions being murdered, starved to death or slowly (usually not that slowly) killed in labour camps. We all know what the new ideology was, but bolshevism’s key premise, and promise, was a world revolution.

Lenin banged on about that from the very beginning, saying things like “Soviet Russia won't survive more than 10-20 years unless the whole world joined her.” The world didn’t and Soviet Russia didn’t survive – as a Soviet state. That is, the name and the set of shibboleths remained, as the ideological raison d’être, but in 1937-1938 Stalin murdered most of those who believed in that evil nonsense in earnest.

Instead, roughly at the time of his pact with Hitler, he began to weave the old nationalist strands into the ideology. The Church, along with the Holy Russia bit, had to be taken off the mothballs during the war, when it turned out that the army, mostly made up of those who had lost their families to bolshevik brutality, simply wouldn’t fight for bolshevism.

The catastrophe of 1941, when Red Army soldiers were deserting in droves, the Germans took 2.5 million prisoners in the first two months, and two more million shortly thereafter, spoke volumes. More than 1.5 million ended up wearing German uniforms (under the tsars, not a single serf soldier wore the French uniform in 1812).

The Orthodox Church was legalised, and its hierarchy staffed with priests at least loyal to the NKVD (as the KGB then was), more typically its agents. That provided the carrot, while mass executions both at the front and in the rear acted as the whip. The Soviets executed 157,000 of their own soldiers by tribunal verdicts, and at least three times as many by summary shootings and hangings. Altogether the Red Army suffered heavier casualties to its own side than the British army suffered altogether.

After the war was won at a horrific cost, the Church remained legal – and obedient. The Soviets kept it on tap for future need, which duly arrived when they decided to abandon the communist jargon and present a more civilised face to the West, the better to dupe it.

You’ll notice that, unlike Germany that repented Nazi crimes and thereby at least partially atoned for them, Russia did no such thing. The crimes weren’t repented, which means that all those glasnosts, perestroikas, free markets and democracies were no more than window dressing.

But since Russia can’t be without a messianic ideology, the only one available was the old imperial chauvinism underpinned by the Third Rome effluvia.

Just as 70 years earlier millions of yesterday’s Christians instantly began to murder priests, so now yesterday’s atheists instantly flocked into churches, sporting the same pious expressions they had the day before reserved for party rallies. Russian chieftains, from Gorbachev to Putin, led the way – even though at times they hadn’t been briefed that Russian Orthodox Christians cross themselves from right to left.

The church hierarchy played its part, especially since by now it was fully staffed with KGB/FSB agents. For example, all three candidates in the last patriarchate election fit that description, including the current patriarch Kiril (KGB codename ‘Mikhailov’). Those interested in details should read the two-volume Mitrokhin Archives published in the West a few years ago.

This isn’t to say that there is no genuine Christian revival in Russia. There is, but not within the official Church that’s in bed with the secret police. There exists a parallel, formerly underground, Orthodox Church, but by far the greatest numbers are drawn into various charismatic, and in my view dubiously Christian, sects introduced some 20 years ago by visiting American preachers.

Just as Putin was, is and will for ever remain a KGB thug (he said so himself: “There’s no such thing as ex-KGB. This is for life.”), so will every word out of his mouth be a lie enunciated mostly for the benefit of credulous Westerners, of the kind Lenin called 'useful idiots'.

He is not, as Buchanan seems to believe, a “champion of traditional Christian values”. He is an utterly evil and corrupt tyrant trying to rally the Russian masses to his messianic banners, while at the same time attempting to build some following in the West, chiefly drawn from conservatives who have despaired of their own spivocrats so much that they’ll swallow any canard emanating from the mouth of a KGB thug.

In most immediate terms, Putin is clearly determined to rebuild the Soviet Union in all its past glory, a drama whose first act we’re currently watching with stoic detachment. To this end he has intensified the propaganda effort, of which claims to traditional Christianity are the most important part.

This way he hopes to disarm exactly the same segments of Western public opinion that in the past were staunchly anti-communist. Take care of those, and the lefties will take care of themselves, this seems to be his thinking. So when the final push comes, it’ll seem downright anti-Christian to resist.

To see good men like Buchanan falling for all this evil nonsense is most upsetting. He must be truly desperate, as we all are. But Putin’s kleptofascist regime isn’t the answer. It’s not God but Satan who’s on Putin’s side.

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