One of the benefits the restoration of Christianity has brought Russia is that almost all Russian politicians can say that God is on their side,
The Church hasn’t been especially helpful, however, in inculcating the lesson that, for more than a thousand years of European history, the real fight hasn’t been between God and the Devil, but between those on earth – crusaders or infidels – who wield the bigger guns; God never backed the losers, nor the Devil the winners.
When President Vladimir Putin issued the first of his national election-campaign speeches last week, you can believe that God was on the side of all the things the president and his men are standing for. They are for doubling Russia’s GDP in 10 years. They are also for more competition in the marketplace; less bureaucracy in administration; more flexible and predictable taxation; more effective ministers; and greater parliamentary influence over government.
It doesn’t require much religion to understand that nowhere in the president’s call to arms was the old-fashioned attack on the Devil. In the days of then-President Boris Yeltsin, that was invariably the Communist Party and their fellow-travelers in parliament who formed the obstructive majority in the State Duma. Facing growing electoral support for left-of-center critics, Putin chose to position himself closer to them than to their targets, with just the slightest of objections to “unclear ideological positions and insincerity” in politics. “Those who are not afraid to call business robbers and bloodsuckers,” Putin added, “are not ashamed to lobby the interests of big companies.” If this is the toughest Putin intends to be on the Communists , it is also a hint that the Devil (read: donations from Yukos) might have corrupted the Communist leadership and that Putin is on their former path .
In the old days, it was sometimes possible to avoid a fight by arranging a disputation between advocates of God and advocates of the so-called heresy to allow the logic of the arguments to prevail. Since the Russian media are virtually closed to the left, and it has been reduced to an ineffectual minority in the Duma, the only serious disputation of this kind that takes place in Russia is the concealed faction-fighting behind the walls of the Kremlin. It is, therefore, from Putin’s speech-making that the keys to the disputation must be sought. And, there is the notable fact that Putin not only omitted mentioning the Yeltsinite Devil, he also omitted to identify any other.
When he proclaimed himself for the God of GDP growth, he could have warned against the scourge of oil-exporting economies, when concentration of revenues in the oil sector cripples diversification of industry and growth of employment. All Putin said was that unemployment in Russia is on the rise , and that the proportion of Russians in poverty remains unchanged.
When the president spoke for the God of competitiveness, he could have railed against the increasing concentration of corporate capital. But, then, how could he explain the fact that he himself encouraged the sale of the state shareholding of Slavneft to Sibneft and Tyumen Oil Co, (TNK); approved TNK’s sale to British Petroleum; and encouraged Sibneft’s merger with Yukos? And the two touchstone words for the Devil Russian voters all understand were missing from the speech – “oligarch” and “corruption.”
Back in France in 1209, when Raymond VI realized he had no chance of winning a disputation with Pope Innocent’s men in a civil conflict masquerading as a religious one, and when he calculated that what the crusaders were really after was his castles, his tax revenues, his wealthy towns and industries, the count contrived the idea of accepting all of Innocent’s demands and renouncing the heresies of which he was accused. He then proposed joining the crusade himself, ensuring that its target would be the dominions of his neighbor and cousin, Raymond-Roger Trencavel, viscount of Beziers. This was a temporary success, at least for the count of Toulouse. When Beziers fell, the commander of the crusaders ordered everyone in the town to be slaughtered. Asked how the crusaders should decide how to tell the faithful Catholics from the heretics, he said; “Kill them all. God will recognize his own,”
In the Russian crusade since 1991, this policy has been that of the so-called “reformers” now in the Union of Right Forces. Former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, ex-Yeltsin favorite Boris Nemtsov and Unified Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais and their henchmen still favor the approach. Several of the oligarchs who have financed them continue to use these tactics as they raid those sectors of the economy that are not yet under their control. Before last week’s speech, the president was lobbied by some members of the Duma to pronounce himself against such tactics and the banners under which they fly. He refused to do so.
Was this because the president accepts that election campaigns are always pacts with the Devil? If so, there is plenty of time still, along with the example of Raymond VI’s tale, to judge which side God will end up on and at what price. Bear in mind, though, what the medieval politicians understood better than the theologians: The price is paid on earth now, not in heaven later.