Does Ukraine Harbour „Small Fascisms“?
News item: Motorola interprets evangelical mission work
M o s c o w – Fascism is being rehabilitated in Eastern Europe. The process got serious when the new Croatian state began to rehabilitate the “Ustasha” movement after 1991. A rediscovery of the anti-Soviet “Forest brother” partisans in the three Baltic countries followed. The trend reached a new peak when the Ukrainian minister president, Arseny Yatsenyuk, announced on German TV on 7 January 2015 that “all of us still clearly remember the Soviet invasion of Ukraine and Germany. That has to be avoided. Nobody (meaning Putin) has the right to rewrite the results of WW II.” Translations of the Ukrainian text vary, but it remains clear that Yatsenyuk was expressing regret for the victory of the Red Army in Ukraine and Germany in 1945. The wrong power – namely the USSR – had won the war in the East. He was thereby reusing an argument prevalent even before 1939: The Western powers should be joining with Germany to eliminate the Bolshevist threat in the East. Those who thought so during the 1930s included Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and the British King Edward VIII.
But Eastern Europeans don’t necessarily mean German Nazism when they go about rehabilitating a fascist past. Many “small fascisms” had partnered with Germany, for ex. Italy, Croatia, Latvia, Slovakia and Western Ukraine. Germany did not wage its war alone.
Western media reassure that pro-fascist forces won only 5.4% of the vote (“Right Sector” plus “Svoboda”) during the elections of 26 October 2014. But how water-tight is the barrier between fascism and the country’s other political players? Yatsenyuk’s statement would seem to indicate that small fascisms exist alongside the big-time fascism of Dmytro Yarosh. Do fascist and officially non-fascist parties receive sustenance from the same ideological sources? The dividing line between fascism and non-fascism appears hard to locate.
Political developments since 1990 have redrawn the map regarding the traditional dividing lines between conservative and liberal politics. Both the French rightist Marine Le Pen and the Putin administration applauded the victory of the Greek party Syriza. The radical leftist Syriza itself is in coalition with a small party of the radical right. Conservative Hungary expresses sympathy for Russia. It took months for me to discover that the website “Antiwar.com” defines itself as conservative. Conservative US-politicians Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul clearly belong to the group attempting to understand the reasoning behind Russian foreign policy. Yet Hillary Clinton, Obama and German parties from the centre and left (SPD, CDU and Greens) support Kiev. The new division is probably best described as the difference between interventionist and isolationist. In Germany, the Greens have become interventionist, yet the Left - gathered around the party by the same name – remains essentially isolationist.
It would be unfair to accuse the Baptists and Charismatics in Ukraine of fascism. They are better described as non-liberal, ethically-conservative democrats in the Western mould. But there is a fly in the soup: In March 2014, the Greek-Catholic Yatsenyuk founded jointly with the Baptist Turchynov the “People’s Front” party. That party is now ruling in coalition with the smaller Svoboda party.
Fascist forces have proven to be the best fighters in Eastern Ukraine. Protestants are essentially along for the ride. They indeed may be patriots, but Protestants have not reacted to Kiev’s latest mobilisation wave with enthusiasm. Their young men belong to the many taking refuge in neighbouring countries. This reticence is most likely due to a pacifist heritage and the fact that the Ukrainian war is a fraternal one. I have not yet noticed doubt among Protestants as to whether the existing government is at all capable of achieving the longed-for goals of democracy and prosperity.
Russia - the shining light of Christendom?
It wasn’t difficult for official Russia to come out of the sad case involving Paris’ satire weekly “Charlie Hebdo“ smelling like roses. On 19 January, hundreds of thousands gathered in Grosny (Chechnya) to march under the slogan of “We love the Prophet Mohammed.” Orthodox clerics marched along. I know of no case in which Russian Protestants claimed the “Je suis Charlie” call for themselves. The Russian state has instead repeatedly appealed for respect for all major religions and pointed out that offending religious beliefs is prohibited by Russian law. Yet the West had in this instance, in the name of freedom of speech, defended obscenity and the right to insult the religious feelings of others. The same had occurred in the case involving the girl music group “P*-Riot”. Traditional Christian values and morality rate higher among Russian believers than press freedom.
Yevgeny Bakhmutsky, a Baptist pastor in Moscow, wrote on precisely such terms: “Obviously, freedom of expression has come to dominate over moral and ethical values in French society. Yet I would recommend the French that they remember not only Voltaire, but also Blaise Pascal, Louis Pasteur and many others. For them, religious and moral values were very important factors in life.”
Of course, the terrorist acts in Paris received no blessing from the Russian mainstream. One of the first letters of condolence arrived from Vladimir Putin.
Russia is celebrated by some Russian media as a bulwark of the Christian West, as the historical “Third Rome”. While the West does nothing to defend itself against the anti-religious slander of a “Charlie Hebdo”, Russian Orthodoxy is not afraid to stand tall in the defence of historic Christian values. Official Russia wants to defend motherhood, morality, loyalty and love of the motherland while attacking social experiments such as the re- interpretation of homosexuality. The USSR was once a global contender for the highest number of abortions annually. Yet in his first speech ever before the Russian Duma on 24 January, Patriarch Kirill called for dropping state-funded abortions and forbidding surrogate motherhood. Such policies have also found their supporters in the West. Dubious anti-gay activists as well as American evangelicals such as Franklin Graham und Pat Robertson have expressed sympathy for the Kremlin’s policies on the family.
Yet the Christian faith can hardly be described as a major factor shaping the eastward, Euroasian about-face of the Russian government. More decisive are geostrategic and economic interests. But this reorientation has created an ideological vacuum into which Russian Orthodoxy is willingly sucked.
National Bolshevists and similar nationalist movements without traditional ties to the Orthodox faith tend to regard it as little more than a convenient accessory. Without any noticeable spiritual conversion, they have begun equating the Orthodox faith with love for the motherland. When Patriarch Kirill presented communist party boss Gennady Zyuganov with an order on the occasion of his 70th birthday last June, he expressed the hope that Zyuganov would “contribute to the moral transformation of society”. Yet there exist of course many sincere, Orthodox believers - some indeed may be members of the communist CPRF. A third of its members are said to belong to the Orthodox church.
The droves of mostly-young, Western-oriented and secular consumption advocates are in any case a more numerous ideological force than the Orthodox. Yet the current tensions between East and West have diminished their popularity.
1. After the flight of West-Ukrainian forces from Donetsk airport, a report from the legendary pro-Russian officer „Motorola“ (Arseny Pavlov) surfaced on “Youtube” etc. on 22 January. In the film, Motorola brandishes a solar-powered player with inspirational recordings from Dr. Charles Stanley. Stanley is founder of “In Touch Ministries” and Senior Pastor of Atlanta’s „First Baptist Church“. According to this officer, all of the fallen, West Ukrainian soldiers were outfitted with such a player. Motorola, clearly no specialist on evangelical affairs, interpreted Stanley’s call to stand strong with the prospects of a glorious place in paradise in the case of death as an attempt to “zombify” troops. Motorola meant apparently that they were being pumped full of death-defying courage.
Despite possibly laudable intentions, this episode leaves Russians and Eastern Ukrainians with the impression that the USA is rounding out the military outfitting of pro-Kiev troops with a spiritual and ideological one. The Atlanta mission can of course easily rejoin that it would also offer its services to the other side if given the chance.
2. One can speak of a stalemate in the current discourse between the Protestants of Russia and Ukraine. A conversation of Protestant church leaders from Russia with Protestant and Orthodox ones from Ukraine took place in
Wuppertal/Germany from 20 to 22 January. Host was – as had been the case in Oslo in mid-September – the national Bible society.
The Wuppertal gatherings will be remembered for their modesty. Except for the Methodist bishop Eduard Khegay, all Russian participants were related to the Charismatic-Pentecostal “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE)
or the „All-Russian Fellowship of Evangelical-Christians” (VSEKh). ROSKhVE-Bishop Sergey Ryakhovsky was represented by his primary aid, Bishop Konstantin Bendas. As had been the case in the strictly-Protestant conversations in Jerusalem on 10 April of last year, neither the Lutherans nor Baptists of Russia were represented – the Baptists were not even invited. Yet Valery Antoniuk, head of the large Ukrainian Baptist Union, was present. The official communiqué on the event made no concrete statements on the topic of peace
The conversation between the leadership of the Russian and Ukrainian Baptist unions in Minsk on 27 November also did not lead to recognizable, positive and concrete results.
3. In Crimea, both Russian Lutherans and the aforementioned ROSKhVE have established new structures aligning themselves with the Moscow-led churches. Seven of eight Lutheran congregations intend to join the Russian church. That re-shuttling appears to have run into difficulties among Baptists: Nearly half of their 60 congregations continue to prefer relations with Union headquarters in Kiev.
4. On 21 January, US-General Ben Hodges handed out medals as thanks to injured Ukrainian soldiers in a Kiev hospital. According to reports, these medals – also called “coins” – are now being transferred into concrete merit on eBay. Russian Protestants are astonished and amused that the US would so brazenly announce its support and participation in the struggle of the West-Ukrainian forces.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 31 January 2015
A journalistic release under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #15-01, 1.590 words.