Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

200 years of cultural and political change

In the USSR, the Communist leaders proudly pointed to former churches that had been turned into museums, warehouses, and grain terminals. These examples demonstrated the official atheism of Marxism-Leninism.

But the Communism, a product of Western political culture never fit well in Russia. The populist belief was that Russian culture (and political culture) was unique and the only true one (exceptionalism).

Peter the Great
The conflict between the Russian traditonalists (Slavophiles) and those who wanted to modernize and westernize Russia (Zapadniki) has been going on for at least 200 years. Peter the Great was one of the most famous Zapadniki. The last of the Romanov Tsars, who opposed democracy and Communism, were among the most famous Slavophiles.

In the current politics of Russia, Putin has appealed to the Slavophile populists to maintain his power. His open Christianity and his efforts to include the Russian Orthodox Church in the power elite demonstrate these efforts. Twenty-first century Zapadniki find themselves isolated, censored, and jailed.

Over 2,000 People Rally Against Russian Cathedral Handover
Over 2,000 people rallied in St. Petersburg on Saturday to protest plans by the city authorities to give a landmark cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church amid an increasingly passionate debate over the relationship between the church and state.

"We won't give St. Isaac's to the church. We want to save it as a museum," Boris Vishnevsky, a local official, told protesters in central St. Petersburg…

A few dozen counter-protesters gathered in the same place to support the plans. "The return of the cathedral to the church is a return to our national roots," said Yelena Semyonova, 52, a professor…

St Isaac's, one of the most visited tourist sites in Russia's old imperial capital, has been a museum since 1917…

The handover has been seen as part of the growing power of the Orthodox Church and a trend of social conservatism in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has appealed to traditional values as opposed to Western liberalism to help tighten his grip on society.
See also: "Slavophiles and Zapadniki"


Slavophiles and Zapadniki
The Slavophiles and Zapadniki were two contrasting Russian philosophical camps that took shape in the early 19th century. Fierce debate raged between the two sides as each addressed a very important question; what path should the nation of Russia take in its development, and what was its place in world history?… Today, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the debate has gathered new interest as a new Russia once again searches for its identity in relationship to its neighbors in an ever changing world…

The debate between the two sides continued to develop throughout the 20th century and continues to be applicable to the political environment of contemporary Russia. Modern-day westernizers trumpeted the fall of the Soviet Union to be the ultimate confirmation of their philosophy. However, as Russia continues to develop its new identity on the world stage, it is impossible to ignore certain elements that bear a resemblance to the Slavophile doctrines, such as the belief that Russia’s destiny is unique among the nations of the world and the resurgence of the Eastern Orthodox Church…

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