Orthodoxy’s Young Street Fighting Men?

31 Aug

Just when you thought Pussy Riot would fade into the media ether (Gazeta.ru removed its “Pussy Riot Affair” link from its main page, after all.), the rage continues–from all sides.  And now there’s plans to form a new Orthodox youth organization. Will it help swell the ranks of the street fighting faithful. Initial signs appear doubtful.

Still, there’s been a burst of Orthodox militancy of late. Here’s a list of recent events: A call for Orthodox believers to form patrol squads to tag along with police to combat “enemies of the faith” (Thankfully, the police declined). The outspoken Father Vsevolod Chaplin blesses the measure, saying that “It’s a step in right direction.” A group of Orthodox activists descends on G-Spot, a museum of erotic art in Moscow, with bricks in hand and threaten its curator, Alexander Donskoi. A similar group of Orthodox, accompanied by a NTV camera crew, no less, burst into Teatr.doc to disrupt a so-called “Eyewitness theater” where a panel of witnesses to the Pussy Riot trial were giving their impressions.

Then there are reports that Alexandr Sidyakin, the United Russia deputy who came up with the law upping the fines on protests, is working on a blasphemy law based on the German and Austrian codices. He later denied that any such law is in the works.

For their part, the so-called “enemies of faith” have not remained silent. On 17 August, the bare-chested activists of FEMEN cut down a cross in central Kiev to protest Pussy Riot’s two year prison sentence. Then ten days later, a previously unknown group, Narodnaya Volia, or People’s Will, the namesake of the 19th century Russian terrorist group, took a chainsaw to three crosses in village of Smelovsky in Chelyabinsk Province and another in the district of Varavino-Faktoriya in Arkhangelsk. According to Narodnaya Volia’s statement:

“The cutting down of the Russia Orthodox Church crosses in the village of Smelovsky, Verkhneuralsky District of the Chelyabinsk Region and in the city district Varavino-Faktoriya in Arkhangelsk is part of our operation against the Russian Orthodox Church called Krestopoval and was carried out by the military wing of our Movement, the flight combat units Neizvestnyye [the Unknown]. . . Russian Orthodox Church signs are a response to the statement on the creation of Orthodox militia, the Russian Orthodox Church’s reprisal of the Russian girls from Pussy Riot, and the insult by Archpriest Dimitrii Smirnov of the prominent Russian revolutionary movement leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. . . We demand the immediate release of the Pussy Riot members. Attacks against the Russian Orthodox Church will continue until our demands are fully met.”

Then there is this week’s Russian tabloid sensation: two women were found murdered in Kazan with “Free Pussy Riot” written on the wall in their blood.  RuNet was immediately ablaze with all kinds of conspiracy theories (Why didn’t initial reports mention the blood tinged “Free Pussy Riot”? The cops must have planted it . . . ) and cries of provocation from Pussy Riot supporters, and their denunciation by Pussy Riot foes (Archpriest Smirnov: “The blood of the murdered women of Kazan is on the conscious of Pussy Riot’s supporters”). The cops immediately dismissed any real connection to Pussy Riot and passed it off as the work of a crazy person.

The police were right: the killer turned himself in and revealed that his Charley Mansonesque scrawl was meant to throw off the cops.

Sill, the discourse on Pussy Riot gained new intensity.

And now Vedomosti reports that there are plans to create the All-Russian Association of Orthodox Youth. Interesting timing. Actually, the idea seems that have been in the works as Putin was asked about it at this year’s Seliger summer bash. He supported the idea as long as it didn’t become “a new quasi-Orthodox Komsomol.” Wouldn’t that be ironic if it did?

The Pussy Riot Affair only gave the idea of a Orthodox youth organization more purpose. According to Vadim Kvyatkovskii, the meeting’s coordinator, Pussy Riot showed that missionary efforts among youth require intensification. Surveys have shown that youth tend to support Pussy Riot more and often have negative views of the Orthodox Church. That said, Pussy Riot bogey-women have the potential to draw religiously inclined youth into defending the faith. During the trial, the church affiliated group Georgievtsy increased its membership from 400 to 600. Even United Russia’s youth wing, Molodaya gvardiia is looking to get into the act. It’s leader, Maksim Rudnev, said that there is room to work with Kvyatkovskii’s new Orthodox youth organization.

But perhaps its too soon to lump Kvyatkovskii’s group in with the Orthodox fanatics. Pussy Riot may spark new earnest, but not militant urgency. One sign of this is that Kvyatkovskii has ruled out the idea of his new youth group joining the Orthodox patrols. When asked about his position on the matter in an interview on Slon.ru, he responded:

Militias are a form of united citizens, but no more. In general, I don’t know of a single such voluntary patrol really existing. I know that where were several PR efforts, but I am not confident that this most effective way to unite youth. For example, we have young guys actively participating in helping Krymsk. This experience showed them that such volunteer groups now have much more demand. We aren’t very close with the tendencies toward some conservatism. On the contrary, we talk about the openness of the church and our activities, and we are prepared to make steps towards any interested people. Therefore we are not close or interested in the idea of a street patrol as some kind of watchdog.

It seems that in the search for new militants, Russian Orthodoxy’s street fighting men will have to look elsewhere.

Picture: Ridus