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The Patriarch's Russian Civilization Project
Hegumen Filipp Ryabykh: Russian Elites Should Perceive Ukraine, Belarus and Other Russkiy Mir Centers as Equal Partners

Russian Orthodox Patriarch KirillLooking back over the past year on Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve, it is clear that developing his concept of Russkiy Mir, or Russian World, has been one of the key priorities of the very active Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. In 2010, he made three trips to Ukraine and a trip to Kazakhstan and in November delivered another speech on his vision of a Russian civilization and post-Soviet integration. He outlined a vision that is noticeably different from various Kremlin policies in what is known here as the "near abroad," and even from the concept of Russkiy Mir espoused by the leading figures of the government-funded Russkiy Mir Foundation. This concept has drawn much criticism, mainly in Ukraine.

In late November, Russia Profile and the Russkiy Mir Foundation co-sponsored a round table at the Los Angeles convention of the American Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies on whether Russkiy Mir should be seen as a neo-imperial or post-imperial idea. For that conference, Russia Profile Chief Editor Andrei Zolotov Jr., interviewed Patriarch Kirill's key aide in this field of activity, Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church Relations Hegumen Filipp Ryabykh.

R.P. Father Filipp, why has it become necessary for Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church leadership in general to develop a specific ideology for post-Soviet integration?

F.R. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and other post-Soviet countries started to actively search for new methods of development. On one hand, they all declared the desire to be democratic. On the other hand, there was a demand to formulate ideas and weltanshaung that would be based not only on the values that had already been tested in the West, but also on the ideas and values that connect their peoples to the past ­ all the way back to their origins.

These issues were, and still are, actively discussed in Russia, Ukrainia and Belarus as well as elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Many ideas are being expressed in this regard, many voices can be heard. And the Church ­ as one of the main spiritual forces in the post-Soviet space, or we can call it Historical Russia ­ has also worked actively in this regard. The first serious steps were two documents: the Basis of the Social Concept adopted in 2000, in which the Russian Orthodox Church attempted to systematize its views of social processes, and the Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights adopted in 2008.

These deliberations and their codification have allowed us to make further generalizations. One of these generalizations was manifested in Patriarch Kirill's speeches at the congresses of Russkiy Mir last year and this year, as well as his trips to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and elsewhere, where he spoke extensively on the ideas of Russkiy Mir.

R.P. So, what is Russkiy Mir, according to this concept?

F.R. In short, the idea of the Russian Church is the following: a historic, civilizational community has been formed that shares certain values and, even more importantly, a certain experience of embodying these values, as well as symbols and symbolic acts associated with this specific experience of these values.

Indeed, there are certain universal principles, according to which societies are built and individual lives are organized: human rights, freedom and dignity are universal notions. The values that the Patriarch proclaimed in his speech on November 3 ­ the values of religion, interreligious peace, family, solidarity, conciliarism (sobornost), hard work and creativity are also characteristic of any human society. But the way in which certain societies realize them, the way they were embodied throughout history and what kind of symbols have been associated with them, makes up the individual characteristic of a certain community. It is on the basis of these factors that a community can be defined. It can be organized in various ways. For example, Historic Russia has taken various forms since its inception in the 9th century: there was a period of feudal division, it existed in various small states ­ Muscovy , the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Turkey ­ and then there were large united states ­ first the huge empire with its capital in St. Petersburg, then the Soviet Union. Today there is a new reality and new subjects of global politics and international law. And the Holy Patriarch's idea is that we can accept the current forms of political arrangements, the sovereignty of the post-Soviet states, but we should nonetheless acknowledge the existence of this value-based community, and each nation can use this common resource in order to most successfully implement the projects of its national development.

The relationships within this civilization are a very important aspect of this concept, because both Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union have been justly criticized for the concept of a strong central authority and strong subjugation of the periphery to the center. Perhaps such centralization was justified in a certain historical period, due to the large territorial expanse and for other reasons. Today we see that such centralization is not necessary. Moreover, we see that in the modern world, the more stable and sustainable systems are the ones that are based on several centers of decision-making that coordinate activity. They bear responsibility for a certain territory and build such a relationship among themselves that allows them to coordinate their activities and develop a common course. Such is the model on which the European Union is built. The modern theory of integration says that the integration process significantly strengthens the internal, unique potential of each part.

The issue of integration has been much discussed in the post-Soviet space, and the question that always arises is which model to choose. Many people see the basis of a common civilization, but the question remains how to build the relationship in a correct way? Here, the Holy Patriarch says very clearly that there should be several strong subjects in this integration process, and the relations among the subjects should not be based on the dictate of one party over the others, but on the basis of an equal partnership.

Such a relationship is in fact deeply rooted in the consciousness of a Russian person. The concepts of Sobornost and Mir, building relations on the basis of accord are highly prized in the Russian system of values. Moreover, unlike other Orthodox countries, Russia attempted to create a system of secular government patterned after the Church Councils ­ the Zemskie Sobory. Such practice began under Ivan the Terrible and then actively developed under the first Romanovs. We don't know what Russia would have been like if this trend had not been replaced by enlightened absolutism, which was imported by Peter the Great from Western practices of the time.

So, there are historical prerequisites for the type of relationship in which several centers ­ Kiev, Minsk, Chisinau, Astana ­ could have participated as equals in the process of promoting an integrated whole that could have been quite competitive in the world, given its large accumulated potential.

The Russkiy Mir project is not closed to outside experience and influence. The Church's human rights document shows that the church is open to ideological notions that are close to ours but have been understood differently. But the Russian Church is asking others to treat with care that which has already grown on our soil.

R.P. Let's not forget that this concept has faced serious criticism, first of all in Ukraine, primarily on the basis that in the majority of post-Soviet countries ­ perhaps more so in Ukraine than any other ­ the post-Soviet national idea was based more on a post-imperial negation of what each area had had in common. The Patriarch's first Russkiy Mir speech in 2009 was perceived by critics as a slightly modernized Russian imperial idea.

F.R. Perhaps it will be difficult to persuade someone who believes that this is a neo-imperialist idea otherwise. The Ukrainian criticism of any proposals coming from Moscow is usually connected with the history and experience of Western Ukraine. This Ukrainian region was subjected to the very harsh colonial policy of Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Such a policy based on confessional and ethnic differences led, in my opinion, to a resistance mentality. This resistance mentality of Western Ukraine was communicated to Eastern and Central Ukraine, which has a different experience. Russia, even when it was building an empire, never considered Ukraine to be an object of colonization.

Ukraine was always considered the cradle of Russian civilization, and Moscow and St. Petersburg were considered the successors of Kiev. The mistake, perhaps, was that the role of Kiev was not emphasized enough. For Moscow Russia, the "Little Russians" were always our teachers, the middlemen between Russia and the West, the people who interpreted, converted some Western ideas and implemented them on Russian soil. They were always welcomed in Moscow and they stood at the root of the St. Petersburg tradition. As Russia moved its center to St. Petersburg and became closer to the West, the role of middlemen moves mainly to the Baltic Germans and, to a lesser extent, to Swedes, Finns and Estonians. In St. Petersburg Russia, Kiev was indeed humiliated. But the "Little Russians" were always part of "us," never part of "them," those who had to be colonized .

R.P. What about the contemporary Ukrainian state? What kind of role is it supposed to play in this integration according to the patriarch's concept?

F.R. It has to begin with the intellectuals and the political elite of Ukraine, who consider themselves successors of Kievan Rus and should realize their role in continuing this idea. It can mean that modern Ukraine could initiate some projects in the field of integration, in protecting Russkiy Mir and its values in the international arena.

I'll give you a fresh example of what could be Ukraine's role. There is a UNESCO World Heritage Convention that follows World Heritage sites. Ukraine proposed to look at how the World Heritage sites that are also religious objects are being preserved. There was a UNESCO conference in Kiev on this matter. Recognizing that this is a problem for Ukraine ­ how to preserve the cultural sites that are active religious sites ­ they have done something that is very important for us also, and for other post-Soviet states in which all of these facilities had belonged to the state and the question is now whether they should or should not be transferred back to the Church.

R.P. And what would you say to the Ukrainian elite who are convinced that they are the only successors to Kievan Rus, while Muscovy is an Asian power that stole the name of Rus? Obviously, this concept of Russkiy Mir would be an irritant for them.

F.R. I consider this idea to be a positive one. For me, it is the first step. If even in this way the political elite considers itself to be connected with ancient Rus, it's good. In Russia, for example, there is no such understanding of a connection to ancient Rus. In Russia, very few people believe modern Russia to be a successor ­ or even the sole successor, as Ukrainians believe ­ to ancient Rus. An important step in that direction has been the designation of the Day of the Baptism of Rus as an official holiday ­ after Ukraine, which was the first to do it.

There is a huge amount of work ahead ­ especially for Russia to recognize itself not as the successor of the Soviet Union, not as the successor of the Russian Empire, but to see that the root of our civilization is on the bank of the Dnieper. Only when several heirs to ancient Rus appear can a real dialogue begin. If only one heir is concerned about the inheritance, as we know from legal practice, he gets everything. If there are several heirs, there is a discussion, there is a conversation. The outcome is unpredictable ­ the heirs can quarrel and hate each other, but there is nonetheless a chance that they may realize that not one of them, but all of them are the heirs.

R.P. Why is Moldova considered part of the Russkiy Mir? That's quite a debatable notion.

F.R. Yes, indeed, if we look at the language and the tradition, this question can be raised not only regarding Moldova, but also about Kazakhstan and countries other than Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. Here we need to consider not the root of the tradition, but the period when the values of Rus were expanded, when Russian influence was felt on a wider geographical scale. And the fact is that at a certain moment in history, part of Moldova became connected to Russia and was thus protected from the domination of a foreign faith. It is in a way similar to the connection between Russia and Armenia.

Armenia is a completely different civilization. But due to the fact that a part of Armenia was at some point saved by Russia, helping to protect its culture, very solid ties have emerged between the Russian and Armenian cultures.

Such cases make the Russkiy Mir more complex, but they only underscore the idea of the Holy Patriarch that that Russkiy Mir does not mean domination by Russian culture. Russian culture can let various peoples communicate with each other, but it is not being imposed as something compulsory and exclusive. In both of his speeches on Russkiy Mir, the Patriarch has said that preservation of the cultures, languages and faiths of the nations of Russkiy Mir are important for Russkiy Mir. It is not limited to Orthodox Christians. It incorporates other faiths, other languages and other cultures.

Due to the Kievan tradition, which incorporated many tribes, Russkiy Mir has developed certain "social technologies" that allowed for the coming together of people of different languages, faiths and cultures. It has a tradition that today Western Europe is attempting to develop, with great effort and tension.

It has to be said that one cannot be a leader or offer some ideas until these ideas have matured inside. I am convinced that Russia can offer something to its neighbors only when it has achieved something inside. If the idea you are offering is only for the sake of politicking, and you have no idea how to implement this idea in your own house, it will be perceived as nothing more than a diplomatic game. So, the development of Russkiy Mir idea will always be connected with the internal development of each of the parties.

For example, Kazakhstan has successfully preserved the bi-cultural character of the country and managed to develop, while preserving the multiethnic pool of the nation. Today Kazakhstan's experience is in demand in the modern world, which is being shaken by many interethnic and interfaith conflicts. So, when Kazakhstan holds a congress of world religions today, it has something to offer.

The equality in Russkiy Mir ­ the way I see it ­ is that you don't receive directives from the center, but everyone can generate ideas that can be useful. One should learn to accept reasonable, sober proposals from one's partners. It is one of the tasks for the Russian elites ­ to perceive the centers of Russkiy Mir as equal partners.

R.P. One criticism I have heard of the Patriarch's concept of Russkiy Mir is that it is excessively religious and centered on the Orthodox Church. For example, Vyacheslav Nikonov, who heads the Russkiy Mir Foundation, says that whoever considers himself or herself to be part of the Russkiy Mir, is Russkiy Mir. If not ­ not. Period.

F.R. It is not a coincidence that the Patriarch has used the word "civilization" as a synonym for Russkiy Mir. The term "civilization" is a novelty in modern political discourse, and many people dislike it, preferring to speak about the "dialogue of cultures" and not the "dialogue of civilizations."

In my view, the notion of "civilizations" makes it possible to overcome the breakup between various spheres of life that emerged in the modern era.

It is only natural that the Russian Orthodox Church speaks about the role of the Orthodox Church in Russian civilization, but does not diminish or silence the role of other religions and denominations that are traditional to the Russkiy Mir ­ Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, as well as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. This year, the Holy Patriarch also mentioned secular ideologies as one of the strains characteristic of Russkiy Mir. That means that, for example, the Communism that appeared on Russian soil as a development of nihilism is also part of Russkiy Mir. We can evaluate it in a negative or positive way, but we cannot say that it is something alien to us. If it happened in our history and involved us, it is part of our heritage, part of our civilization. We can and should have discussions within Russkiy Mir about various episodes or elements of our heritage, we should by no means say that everything in it was good, but these should be our own discussions ­ discussions, which would, in a way, manifest a belonging to Russkiy Mir.

Leo Tolstoy, for example, definitely belongs to Russkiy Mir. He grew out of the Russian Orthodox tradition. He disagreed with it, and argued with it, and we continue to argue with him to this day, but he is part of Russkiy Mir.

We agree that everybody who considers himself to be part of Russkiy Mir, is Russkiy Mir. The Russian Orthodox Church only says that, due to history and what it has done over the centuries for the creation of the Russkiy Mir, due to objective conditions, it has a special place in it. But it does not say that it excludes others.

R.P. There is a strong stereotype, which is also rooted in history, that, especially in the field of foreign policy, the Russian Orthodox Church always acts as an instrument of the Russian state. In regard to the Russkiy Mir concept, to put it primitively, who is the master and who is the servant?

F.R. One should stop thinking about Russia in the framework of these stereotypes ­ that everything here is under the control of one center named the Kremlin. There are various forces acting in Russia.

Of course, the Church does not live on the Moon, separately from what is going on in Russia. But it is nonetheless an autonomous actor, which is able, both spiritually and intellectually, to produce independent ideas and offer them to society and political elites and thus participate in a broad discussion with authorities and the people.

Trying not to offend anybody, the Patriarch said in his speech this year that the Russian Church began to speak about Russkiy Mir, or Russkaya Zemlya, which is a more historical term, not in 2000, not in 1991, but since the moment it emerged. It is laughable to speak about some "order" coming from today's Kremlin, when the Church has spoken about it for centuries.

But it is very important to distinguish between various visions circulating in today's Russia. There is a set of ideas, with which the Russian Church disagrees, but it attempts to correct then through dialogue, not confrontation.

The Russian Church disagrees with the vision that Russkiy Mir is Russia ­ the Russian Federation ­ and some satellites around it made up of Russian communities in the "near abroad" and "far abroad," that are supposed to orient themselves towards the Russian Federation, be loyal to the Russian Federation and support its political course both domestically and internationally. In the economic field, it would be support of modernization, new technologies and foreign investment in Russia on the part of the Russian diaspora who have capital or technologies. In this way, Russkiy Mir is seen as Russia-centric, while the Russian Federation is seen as the only core of Russkiy Mir. According to this vision, if you are part of Russkiy Mir, you are supposed to dedicate all your energy and resources to helping the Russian Federation.

Such a concept suffers from being utilitarian and, in some ways, authoritarian: if you are part of Russkiy Mir, you should serve the Russian state.

On the other hand, the Holy Patriarch sees Russkiy Mir as a wider integral space, and people are expected to serve the development of this integral space as a whole and each of its countries in particular. The Russian Federation already occupies a special place in it because it is the largest and economically the mightiest country of Russkiy Mir. But it is not the only subject of Russkiy Mir. And if there is a small Russian community somewhere in Scandinavia or Latin America, it is not an object of Moscow's actions, but a subject of relationships within Russkiy Mir. If we consider Russkiy Mir to be a global phenomenon, which it became due to 20th century migrations, its preservation and development are seen as everybody's task. And everybody should contribute to it according to his or her talents, capacities and resources. When we look at Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan as the largest partners in Russkiy Mir, it is a completely different view of Russkiy Mir that goes beyond the Russian Federation. Russkiy Mir is not equal to modern Russia.

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