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Is faith the brand new divide between Russia and the west?

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Good morning and welcome to the Europe Categorical Weekend e-newsletter. I’m again to debate one of the vital fascinating questions from the previous seven days: the function of faith in Europe’s sharpest political controversies. Thanks for voting in last week’s poll: greater than 80 per cent of you are feeling Germany shouldn’t be doing sufficient in response to the struggle in Ukraine.


I belief it didn’t escape your consideration that Pope Francis printed a message this week to mark the forthcoming Second World Day for Grandparents and the Aged.

Francis didn’t blame Vladimir Putin for unleashing the violence in Ukraine (“a pope by no means names a head of state,” he said last month). Nor on this event did he criticise Patriarch Kirill, the top of the Russian Orthodox Church, for supporting Putin’s invasion.

Two weeks in the past, nonetheless, the Argentine-born pope spoke out in uncompromising language towards the struggle. Francis stated the atrocities in Ukraine, attributed to Russian forces, recalled the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s. He additionally warned Kirill to not flip into “Putin’s altar boy”.

These remarks drew a scolding rebuke from the Moscow patriarchy, underlining that Putin’s struggle has uncovered sharp variations between the Roman Catholic Church and the official Russian department of Orthodox Christianity.

How a lot brighter issues seemed in 2016, when the pope and Kirill held talks and embraced one another within the Cuban capital of Havana. This was a truly historic meeting — the primary between the leaders of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox institutions because the creation of the Moscow patriarchate in 1589.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill embrace in Havana, Cuba, in February 2016
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill embrace in Havana, Cuba, in February 2016 © Gregorio Borgia/Pool/AP

However now Francis has called off a second assembly with Kirill that had been pencilled in for subsequent month in Jerusalem. The estrangement between the 2 leaders may hardly be extra acute. What does this inform us about the best way that the struggle is entangling faith with Russian-western geopolitical rivalry?

Within the first place, it shouldn’t shock us that the Russian Orthodox Church — apart from some very brave low-ranking priests — is firmly at Putin’s aspect. As in different Orthodox nations, spiritual religion in Russia has deep historic ties with nationwide identification and state authority.

Bar chart of Percentage of Russians, survey conducted June 2015 - July 2016 showing About 100mn people in Russia identify as Orthodox Christian

However the second, extra vital, level is that, underneath Kirill, the church hierarchy is taking on cudgels on Putin’s behalf and arguing that Russia is defending Orthodox Christianity towards a godless, degenerate west.

That is greater than mere propaganda. For Kirill, it’s a sacred trigger. For Putin, it’s a political mission that, he calculates, will achieve power from the lengthy Orthodox custom of nurturing an obedient patriotic citizenry.

In a perceptive article for the New Statesman, Rowan Williams, who served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, wrote:

Vladimir Putin sees himself because the protagonist in a battle for the survival of an integral Christian tradition as absolutely as Islamic State casts itself because the defender of Islamic cultural purity . . . 

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow made it clear in a unprecedented sermon delivered on March 6, the day earlier than Orthodox Lent started, that he regarded the Russian marketing campaign as a struggle to defend Orthodox civilisation towards western corruption, of which homosexual satisfaction marches have been singled out because the main symptom.

In taking his stance, Kirill sees eye to eye with a number of descendants of well-known Russians from the entire spectrum of tsarist and Soviet historical past.

Pyotr Tolstoy, the great-great-grandson of Leo Tolstoy, creator of Struggle and Peace (and a strict pacifist in his later life), growled in an Italian newspaper interview that Russia should “completely de-Nazify” Ukraine and never cease the struggle till its armed forces have reached the Polish border.

Then there’s Vyacheslav Nikonov, grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov, Joseph Stalin’s overseas minister and a person with a lot blood on his palms through the mass Soviet repressions of the 1930s. “That is really a holy struggle we’re waging and we should win,” Nikonov says.

That is the kind of hyperbole to which we’ve change into accustomed within the Putin period. But the religion-inflected tensions between Russia and the west are actual. On Friday, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, steered that western provides of weapons for Ukraine’s self-defence were justifiable underneath the Church’s doctrine of a “simply struggle” — an argument sure to go down badly within the Kremlin.

Notable, Quotable

These with coasts and seaports can import oil by ship from anyplace on the planet, however there are nations that don’t have sea coasts. We’d have one if it hadn’t been taken from us — Viktor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary

Right this moment I’ve chosen this eye-catching assertion which my colleague Val additionally flagged in Thursday’s edition of Europe Express. Right here Orbán infuriates Croatia by lamenting the “loss” of Rijeka, as soon as a part of the Habsburg empire and now in Croatia. It’s a uncommon instance of two nations within the EU squaring up in a historic dispute over territory.

Tony’s picks of the week

  • Don’t miss this gripping account by Clive Cookson, the FT’s science editor, of Nasa scientists who’re testing new spacecraft to stop asteroids from placing Earth

  • Securing entry to very important minerals and metals is a strategic crucial for the EU, write Tobias Gehrke and Mart Smekens in a coverage temporary for the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based think-tank

tony.barber@ft.com

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