The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Putin Takes Russia to Church

In St. Petersburg, police are cracking down more than usual. New noise restrictions make ”yelping”, “moaning”, and “stomping” illegal after 11 p.m. This year the city also banned lesbian and gay “propaganda” and shut down some theater performances deemed inappropriate.

Measures like this echo a shift around the country, where all sorts of officials have been jumping to demonstrate their commitment to the Orthodox Church after Putin shifted in this direction. The FT reports:

Mr Putin has championed this agenda since coming to office again, with speeches about Orthodox values as the bedrock of a society. He also supported the prison terms handed down to Pussy Riot, the feminist punk rock group jailed for “religiously motivated hatred” after performing a protest song in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Mr Putin’s United Russia party is pushing legislation through parliament that would prohibit blasphemy.

One important signal to the political elite, according to experts, was the appointment of Vladimir Medinsky as minister of culture. Mr Medinsky is a historian and publicist who is highly regarded in nationalist and religious circles for his debunking of liberal “myths” of Russian history in his positive treatment of authoritarian rulers from Ivan the Terrible to Joseph Stalin.

“Medinski was a very positive choice, painted in very bright ideological colours and is a very clear signal to the elite,” says Yevgeny Nikiforov, head of Radio Radonezh, a radio station devoted to promoting the Orthodox Church. “Everyone knows who he is and what his appointment means.”

The sudden embrace of the Church has been a classic strategy for Russian rulers facing tough times since time immemorial: Even Stalin embraced the Church after the Nazi invasion. And Putin’s adoption of the strategy has officials all over the country obediently following his lead. Even for those who weren’t offended by other evidence of the Church’s hypocrisy, this is sad news, especially for those in St. Petersburg who have a habit of stomping late at night.

Published on October 24, 2012 7:00 pm