Our Prime Minister has been leading the charge against Putin’s land grab. In this Mr. Harper is to be commended for doing best what Harper does: calling out the world from moral torpor to assert the supremacy of right. So ten points to our Prime Minister. Yet his assertion that Putin is acting out of a Cold War mentality is, I believe, in error. The Crimean incident is produced from a deeper well of history than the Cold War, which was the temporary arrangement between victorious parliamentary capitalist powers and the victorious communist power to divide the world among them, 1945-1990, after the defeat of national-socialism. Matthew Fisher in the Post quotes Harper saying:
“We simply, as a world, cannot afford the risk of Europe going back to being a continent where people seize territory, where they make claims on other neighbouring countries, where the bigger military powers are prepared to invade their neighbours or carve off pieces,” Mr. Harper said.
However much I agree with the Prime Minister, and I do, this is not the whole story. Something much larger is going on My take on Putin is to listen to what the Russian leader says he is doing, rather than to what westerners say he is doing. In that regard Father Raymond de Souza provides a deeper insight into the Russian psyche than any understanding predicated in Russia as an old failed-communist state. It is to Russia as the only Orthodox Christian political power of consequence that we must refer.
“To understand the reason behind [the referendum result] it is enough to know the history of Crimea and what Russia and Crimea have always meant for each other,” Putin said. “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.” In 988, Vladimir was baptized in the Crimean coastal city of Khersones (Chersonesos) and the date marks the beginning of Russian Christianity. After his baptism in Crimea, Vladimir’s family was baptized in Kyiv. Russia thus finds its cultural and national roots in the baptism of Kievan Rus’. When Putin says it is Orthodoxy that unites Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, he is placing himself in a line that stretches back a millennium to events that took place not in Moscow, but in Kyiv and Crimea — hence the importance of Ukraine in Putin’s politics.
This struggle between Latin Christendom and Orthodox Christendom goes back a thousand years. I do not say that the struggle is religious in origin, though it may be. I mean only to say that the antipathy to the West in Russia is of long standing.The divisions between us are not of recent invention. The myths that animate Russian culture centre on the resistance of Orthodoxy to the pretensions of the Roman Church (i.e. the Papacy) to Christian supremacy, as much as they do the resistance to Islamic oppression from the Tatar Mongols and the Turks. This brings me to the demographic catastrophe besetting Russia. Every year Putin loses hundreds of thousands of Russians from failure to reproduce, from premature deaths, from abortions. The Russian birth rate is collapsing. Something must be done to make Russians want to breed; and belief is the main reason why people bring forth children into the world. If that need to believe is to be animated once again, the only reasonable candidate for the task is the Orthodox Church. It is both the tool at hand and is fully embedded in Russian national consciousness. What, you ask, is the relationship between fertility of civilizations and faith? Is that not a stretch? Not if you read “How Civilizations Die: and Why Islam is Dying Too”, by David Goldman, who makes a persuasive case that it is religious faith that peoples the world, and that nothing else suffices. Goldman cites the United Nations population division statistics (at p.233) to show that Russia’s population decline from its 2010 level to what it will be in 2100, on constant fertility, will be 53.3% – more than half of the current population. Imagine a Canada where the prediction of Canadian population would go from 33 million now to 16 million 90 years from now. Goldman invites us to think about larger issues than our hedonic culture allows. As he writes:
“The problem of cultural survival, – the possibility that a people (or a majority of a people) might cling to a backward or even barbaric culture, because that culture offers them a bulwark against mortality, – does not occur to Enlightenment political philosophy”
Tsar Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has a much much larger problem to address that western economic sanctions. He has to rekindle religious faith in a land from which it was excluded by force of arms, massacres, prison camps, and relentless materialist propaganda (à la Dawkins backed up by secret police) for eighty-five years. he has to get Russians breeding again, and that means to stop drinking, smoking and carrying on, and turn to producing babies in stable families. It is a huge turnaround. It can only begin with the restoration of faith in themselves, in their Church, and in their God. Putin intends just that.