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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
June 27, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Are Russia’s Old Believers Set to Become a Political Player – Or Are They Being Played?
Staunton, VA, June 27, 2016 -  For the first time since the Russian Orthodox Church split into the official and Old Believer trends over the reforms of Patriarch Nikon in the 17thcentury, representatives of “practically all” heads of the latter have met together in Moscow and decided to cooperate as far as relations with the Russian state and compatriots abroad are concerned.

The leaders of the Old Believers say, Pavel Korobov writes in Kommersant, that “it is time” for them to make their presence known and to create an organization which will allow them to “develop common answers on various questions that will be useful to society and the state".

Whether that will put Russia’s roughly two million Old Believers and their leaders at risk of being used by the state as the Moscow Patriarchate has been remains an open question, but this shift in the position of the Old Believer leadership from standing in isolation to the state, to cooperating with it at home and abroad compels one to ask it, even though Korobov doesn’t.

The Kommersant journalist reports that the representatives of the Old Believer churches assembled in Moscow not in a church but in the Moscow House of Nationalities, a government institution, for a conference entitled “The Old Believers, the State and Society in the Contemporary World.”

Metropolitan Kornilii told Korobov that “the conference is an historic event because for the first time in the entire history of the Old Believers, representatives of various trends of the old faith have come together to discuss the state of [their fellow believers] not only in Russia but in the entire world.”

“We are thus making the first steps in joint work,” the metropolitan of Moscow and All Rus said. “Together we must begin to defend the ideals of the old faith in a rapidly changing world.”

From 1650 to 1905, the Old Believers were officially considered schismatics. The official Russian Orthodox Church continued to view them that way until 1971 when a council of the Moscow Patriarchate lifted the denunciation that earlier Patriarchal leaders had passed on the Old Believers. Nonetheless, relations between the two trends have not been easy.

For example, even now, the Old Believers are not defined by either the Patriarchate or the Russian state as “a traditional religion” of Russia and are thus not represented on church-state councils. Whether this meeting will open the way to a change in that is far from clear but remains unlikely in the short term, given continuing Old Believer hostility to the Patriarchate.

At least potentially, the Old Believers could play an important role not only because of their numbers in Russia but also because of the existence of Old Believer communities in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Poland, Belarus, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, the US, Canada, as well as “in Latin America and also in Australia,” Korobov notes.

At their meeting in Moscow, Old Believer leaders took a position that may lead to a rapprochement with the Putin regime if not with Patriarch Kirill. They pointed out that “no missionary activity of the synod church in the past or oppressions over the entire history of Old Believers has taken from it as many sons and daughters … as the global consumer society.”

One Old Believer leader, Patriarch Aleksandr, told the meeting that “in order to meet the challenges, the Old Believers must broaden their educational work and ‘bring the Old Believer faith from the periphery of public life and not allow it to be converted into a folkloric reservation.”

Metropolitan Kornilii echoed the patriarch. He said that Old Believers “plan to create an all-Old Believer public organization” that will not focus on doctrinal issues but rather “develop joint decisions on issues useful to society and the state and present them in the court of public opinion and to the authorities.”

Some steps in this direction have already been taken. Earlier this year, the three largest Old Believer communities established a working group for the coordination of Old Believer positions regarding social and political questions, a step the leadership believes will help them advance their cause with the state.

Korobov quotes Roman Lunkin, the president of the Russian Experts’ Guild on Religion and Law, about the prospects for the Old Believers in this regard. “The potential of the Old Believers in the development of cultural and social ties with compatriots abroad is very large and will be welcomed.”

“Obviously,” Lunkin said, “the Old Believers can’t compete with the official Russian Orthodox Church [but] they can become strong players in church-state relations.” Thus they are certain to be the focus of greater attention by the government authorities than they have been in the past.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Primakov Offers Five Lessons Today’s Russian Leaders Aren’t Following, Bordyugov and Rybakov Say
Staunton, VA, June 27, 2016 - Yevgeny Primakov died a year ago and most remarkably has continued to be treated in an unalloyed positive way in Russia. That sets him apart from almost all other Moscow figures of the last 30 years and suggests that his approach has some important lessons for current Russian leaders, according to Gennady Bordyugov and Aleksandr Rybakov.

Writing in Tribuna, the head of the International Association of Researchers on Russian Society and the advisor to the Moscow Center for International Trade list five such lessons, the result of their work compiling a ten-volume collection of Primakov’s works.

Primakov’s first lesson, they suggest, is that it is not only necessary but possible for those in senior posts to “follow the same moral norms that are obligatory for everyone else.” Such officials are not exempt from those norms as some PR and political technology types now often suggest. Russians felt that was true of Primakov; they do not see the same in others.

His second lesson, the two analysts say, is that Primakov never had a permanent suite of followers who moved with him as he advanced from one position to another. Instead, he shifted “like a knight” alone and only then formed a team from those on the staff of the organizations and structures he headed.

According to Bordyugov and Rybakov, only “the weak and those lacking in self-confidence” need to have staffs who go with them wherever they do. “The strong and independent,” they suggest, “do not need such entourages.” Instead, they are accustomed to forming them anew and taking responsibility as a result.

Primakov’s third lesson is that “everywhere he turned up, he intentionally began to assemble around himself those who agreed with them or to make those who didn’t earlier into his supporters.” That ensured that he was part of the structure he headed and trusted as such rather than an outsider who brought his senior staff and imposed himself and them on it.

That approach had a further advantage: it ensured the formation and maintenance of “a social consensus on vitally important issues of the development of the country, and that in turn means a method of gaining the trust of the population.” Primakov did so; more recent Russian leaders have not behaved in the same way or gained the same level of trust.

Primakov’s fourth lesson is that “a politician of high rank is required to be far-sighted and precise.” That means he is cautious and careful and acts only after reflection thus not creating problems that could have been avoided and that he is then forced to return to in order to solve.

And Primakov’s fifth lesson, Bordyugov and Rybakov argue, lies in the real meaning of what many now call the Primakov Doctrine. Many say that it means extracting the maximum useful for Russia out of any situation. But in fact, the two analysts say, it means much more than that rather banal idea.

Yes, they write, Primakov certainly believed in extracting maximum advantage, but he also believed that it was absolutely necessary to do so by taking into consideration the interests of partners, the balance of forces in any particular place, and the creation or maintenance of “a parity of interests of the leading world players.”

“Primakov knew,” Bordyugov and Rybakov write, “that with concessions and compromises it is possible to achieve a great deal. He understood that the interests of the country will only really be secured” when one approaches issues carefully and does not behave “like a bull in a china shop.”

And they conclude with obvious regret and some hope: “How useful it would be if even a small part of the experience of this Primakov diplomacy were to be absorbed and adopted by those who now, by their clumsy actions, create for [Russia] problems and then try heroically to overcome them!”
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Lack of Solidarity Among Russian Opposition an Ominous Echo of 1937, Pavlova Says
Staunton, June 27, 2016 - The reaction of many Russian opposition figures to the arrest of corrupt figures today eerily and ominously echoes the reaction of many ordinary Soviet citizens to the arrest and then execution of many corrupt officials in the late 1930s, according to Irina Pavlova, a US-based Russian historian.

And the fact that opposition leaders today welcome such arrests in much the same way that Soviet citizens approved analogous events in 1937-1938 not only strengthens the regime in power but opens the way to even more ugly manifestations of its power over society, she argues.

The historian says that she was shocked in a negative way by Gary Kasparov’s reaction to the arrest of Kirov governor Nikita Belykh for corruption. Kasparov called him “a gauleiter,” a view that other “representatives of progressive society share.” Some dispute this notion at the margins but “the main thing in this is the completely absence of solidarity.”

If one looks carefully at what is going on in Russia today, one sees that there is “a campaign of repression against local bureaucrats which in essence recalls the campaign of the Great Terror, as Yekaterina Schulmann pointed out yesterday on Ekho Moskvy.

That is exactly what occurred in 1937-1938, Pavlova says. And she suggests that Russians today should reflect on the words of Soviet writer Aleksandr Gladkov in his notes about events at that time lest they fall into the same trap many Soviet citizens did then.

“Progressive [Russian] society is talking a lot about Nikita Belykh only because he came out of its milieu,” she points out. It has largely ignored what has happened to or what may happen to the leaders of other regions under Putin. And like its Soviet predecessors, such Russians today are reacting “as a rule with satisfaction” rather than fear and anger.

In the 1930s, ordinary people and members of the intelligentsia expressed “satisfaction” or even “joy” about what they described as “the only just sentence” by Stalin’s tribunals of regional and local officials whom many in the population had every reason to hate but who were less of a threat to them than Stalin himself.

In his diary, Gladkov wrote: “I am far from the high political circles and cannot judge about the political and moral level of such people as Pyatakov, Sokolnikov, Radek and the others … Let’s allow that they are scoundrels. This smacks of the settling of accounts. Doing that is a human characteristic but not where this smells of blood.”

Pavlova points out that “repressions against elites and local bosses today is only the visible part” of what is going on. The persecution of “so-called extremists, especially in the provinces is an invisible campaign which in practice does not fall into the field of view of progressive society except for particular cases.”

Some will respond that “the Great Terror and today’s campaign are incomparable in scope.” But scope is not the only measure, she says. Rather one must focus on what is going on and what its consequences will be for the future of the country. And those are “obvious: the further strengthening of the powers that be and the consolidation of the people around [them].”