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Jottings 16: updates on Religion & Crimea

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- some more reasons to take note of the religious aspects of the Ukraine / Crimea / Russia situation ]
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It’s not as though I can keep on top of the situation, but I can at least jot down for you some URLs that will exphasize the significnce of religious feelings and structures in the events unfolding…

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Cover, Mara Kozelsky, Christianizing Crimea: Shaping Sacred Space in the Russian Empire and Beyond

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Mara Kozelsky, in her book illustrated above, appears to be the go-to person for detailed background. Her Washington Post blog post, Don’t underestimate importance of religion for understanding Russia’s actions in Crimea gives us a quick overview:

Orthodox Christian nationalism has been on the rise in Russia from the collapse of the Soviet Union. The close relationship between Russian church and state is everywhere evident, from the persistent refusal to allow the pope onto Russian soil, the ejection of the Salvation Army from Moscow in 2001 and the subsequent restrictions placed on Protestant missions. Patriarch Kirill has inserted himself more visibly in Russian politics than his predecessor, Patriarch Aleksei. The prosecution of Pussy Riot for performing in an Orthodox church as well as dismaying anti-homosexual legislation reflects a new stage in the evolution of Russia’s deeply conservative Orthodox identity. As the so-called “Cradle of Russian Christianity,” Crimea fits into this trajectory too.

Theocratic notions of Russian identity date to the Byzantine theory of Symphonia, in which the church and the state should ideally function as distinct but harmonious entities. Early Russian Tsars who portrayed themselves as divine right rulers, and Russian state theorists promoted Moscow as the Third Rome. After the fall of Rome to Visigoths and then Byzantium to the Ottomans, it was left up to Russia, according to this idea, to preserve the one true faith. As Western governments separated church from state, Russia moved in the other direction. Nicholas I (1825-1855), the Tsar famous for suppressing the Hungarian Revolution and fighting the Crimean War, summarized Russia’s church-state identity in the phrase “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality.” This trinity became the guiding concept of Russian national identity through the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Crimea sits at the heart of both the Third Rome idea and Nicholas I’s nationality platform, because it was on the peninsula that Byzantium passed the mantle of Orthodoxy to Russia. In the ancient Greek colonial city of Chersonesos, the Byzantine emperor baptized the Kyivan Rus Prince Vladimir. Prince Vladimir’s conversion has been described by an early Russian nationalist as “the most important event in the history of all Russian lands,” because the conversion “began a new period of our existence in every respect: our enlightenment, customs, judiciary and building of our nation, our religious faith and our morality.”

As you’d expect, there’s more.

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Picking up, we have a Religion News Service piece from Sophia Kishkovsky: Ukrainian crisis may split Russian Orthodox Church:

Russia has prided itself on its revival of Orthodox Christianity after decades of Soviet persecution, but a war with the Ukraine could splinter the Russian Orthodox Church.

That church has its roots in Kiev, where Prince Vladimir baptized his people as Christians in 988, an event viewed as a cornerstone of Russian and Ukrainian identity. It has even deeper roots in Crimea, where, according to legend, Vladimir was himself baptized by Byzantine emissaries.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which has 12,500 congregations, is the largest of three Orthodox churches in Ukraine.

But while it has some degree of autonomy, with a Synod of Bishops that elects its own members, the church’s leader, currently Metropolitan Onufry of Chernovtsy and Bukovina, although elected by the synod, has to be approved by Moscow.

In his sermon at the end of the service at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on Friday (March 14), Kirill, who has been known for his support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested that Ukraine has a right to self-determination.

But he also stressed that it must not be trapped into a spiritual division from Russia.

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And you may or may not have seen this already, but there’s also a potential jihadist angle to complicate things even further, as explored almost a week ago in a Financial Times piece by Guy ChazanTatars warn Russia risks provoking jihadi backlash in Crimea:

Mustafa Jemilev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said a number of militant Tatars had approached him to say they would fight the Russians.

“We have Islamists, Wahhabis, Salafis … groups who have fought [with the opposition] in Syria,” he said in an interview in Simferopol, the Crimean capital. “They say: ‘an enemy has entered our land and we are ready’. We can’t stop people who want to die with honour,” he said, making he clear he did not endorse a jihadist campaign.

The warning underscores the potential dangers facing Moscow as it tightens its grip on Crimea. A referendum on whether Crimea should become part of Russia has been scheduled for next Sunday. Annexation of Crimea would not only exacerbate the east-west crisis triggered by Russia’s occupation of the peninsula, but could also deepen ethnic and religious divisions in Crimea itself, increasing the risk of communal strife and even armed conflict, local leaders say. Opposition to Russia is most intense among the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim minority who number about 280,000 and make up roughly 12 per cent of the region’s population.

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h/t Cheryl Rofer

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Go or No Go?

Friday, March 14th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- from the Crimea to jihad, via "perhaps the most famous move in the history of go" ]
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As usual, my interest here is not in the geo-polemics of the affair, which I leave to others, but in the formal properties of the presentation. In this case, the form in question is a type of map I’m inclined to call a surround, threat or seige map depending on circumstances. Here, juxtaposed as is my style, are two versions:

Zen posted the upper image on this blog earlier today, and I saw it around the same time I found the lower image in my Twitterfeed.

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What each of these maps shows is an area x surrounded by the forces of y, with different emphases in the two cases — and note the ironic caption of the second!

What they remind me of is a Go board, in which each side is, so to speak, surrounding, threatening or besieging the other, simultaneously.

In 1846 in what I gather is one of the classic games of Go, a youngster named Shusaku played against a renowned master, Gennan Inseki, st one point in the game making a single move — which gave its name to the game as a whole — known as the ear-reddening move:

marked black stone is the famous ear-reddening move, perhaps the most famous move in the history of go

Note how distant that move is from other pockets of play, and how central to the game as a whole.

As Arno Hollosi and Morten Pahle at Sensei’s Library describe the Ear Reddening Game

This move is called the ear-reddening move. Gennan’s disciples were watching the game and not one of them doubted that Gennan would win. But a doctor, who also had been watching the game, thought that Gennan would lose. When pressed for an answer he replied: I don’t know much about the game, but when Shusaku played B1 [ie: the marked move] Gennan’s ears flushed red. This is a sign that he had been upset.

B1 is a profound move having influence in all four directions. It expands black’s moyo at the top, it helps the four black stones below, it reduces the influence of white’s strong position to the right, and it also has an eye on white’s moyo on the left side. In short B1 is the central point for attack and defence.

Eventually Shusaku won this game by 2 points after 325 moves.

Gennan’s disciples read, or attempt to read, the board: the doctor reads the mind in a rush of blood to the ears.

That too is an interesting move — in another game entirely.

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In an article in tomorrow’s The Economist subtitled To understand war, American officials are playing board games, brought to my attention today by PaxSims, we find this comment –

Board games can also illuminate the most complex conflicts. Volko Ruhnke, a CIA analyst, has designed a series of games about counterinsurgency. For example, Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? (sold by GMT Games of California) models “parallel wars of bombs and ideas”, as one reviewer puts it, on a board depicting much of Eurasia and Africa.

— fascinating to me because “wars of bombs and ideas” are what we have, and while a whole lot of effort goes into modeling “wars of bombs” it’s my impression that “wars of ideas” get far less attention.

Something I hope, in my own small way, to rectify.

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But to get back to borders and surroundings?

The issue is a perennial one. Only today I was reading David Cook’s Understanding Jihad, on page 29 of which we find that the concept of the jihadist martyr as occupying the uppermost layers of paraise in the afterlife was extended, as time and events progressed, to include those who merely lived in (dangerous) border territory:

Cities are also associated with privileges of this nature — for the most part, cities in dangerous locations, such as those close to the Byzantine border, along the Mediterranean Sea (subject to regular Byzantine raids), in northern Persia facing the mountainous and unconquered area of Tabaristan, and in Central Asia. In all cases, those Muslims who guard the frontiers are assured either the rank of martyrs or the privileges of intercession after their deaths. It seems clear that the issue of intercession was a very powerful incentive for people to live in what would otherwise be undesirable locations.

Plus ça change…

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A Brief Comment on Ukraine vs. Russia

Friday, March 14th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a "zen"]

Russia, borrowing a tactic used by the Soviets with unruly satellites, has massed a fair amount of troops on the eastern border of Ukraine under the guise of “military exercises”

This has spurred much commentary and articles, hawkish and dovish, about what America or NATO can do or not do, as in the Carlo Davis article in The New Republic magazine or Condoleeza Rice writing in WaPo.

In my view, neither America or NATO or even Russia are not the crucial in this moment. The major variable here in deciding what the US should do or not do in terms of policy and strategy are the Ukrainians.

The overriding question is political: Are the Ukrainians willing to fight and kill Russians to preserve their national independence? That’s the key. Are the security services and Ukrainian military loyal, not just to the government but to the idea of an independent Ukraine? Arguably, the behavior of the chief of Ukraine’s Black Sea fleet makes this questionable – is he indicative of his generational cohort’s attitude or not? All the military and IC capacity in the world on paper matters little if the Ukrainian military and security agencies opt for “neutrality” between Moscow and Kiev. And if they are indeed loyal then Putin’s saber rattling will require a tenfold increase in troops to move into Eastern Ukraine and he can expect that his pipelines will be destroyed, buildings in Moscow and St. Petersburg blown up and his officials at risk for assassination as Ukrainian infiltrators are about as easy to distinguish from native Russians as Canadians are from Americans.

If Ukraine is serious about fighting then the US and its Western allies can have a rational planning session about what concrete measures will make their fighting capacity more effective and make Russia’s secondary costs high enough to give Putin pause without triggering a direct military clash between NATO and Russia (why we are surprised and chagrined that NATO is not a good for preventing problems which *by design* it was not created to prevent or solve escapes me).

The best options until we have some clarity on Ukraine’s real intentions are to strengthen Ukraine’s new government by helping it take measures that increase its stability and legitimacy in the eyes of wary eastern Ukrainians and the world community while making it clear through a united western front that Russia’s economy will suffer if it invades Ukraine – this means the EU and states like Britain and Germany will share in the pain and not off-load the crisis onto America alone while cutting lucrative side deals with Putin ( the Europeans initial preferred course of action and one doomed to be as fruitless as Putin leading the diplomatic charge to reverse an American seizure of Baja California from Mexico).

Europeans allegedly wanted Ukraine in the EU, now they need to roll up their sleeves and accept significant costs of engaging in counter-pressure. Rhetoric is not enough.

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Religion in [and wrt] the Crimea — a tad more

Friday, March 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- is anyone taking religion seriously yet? ]
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Icon of the Theotokos of Kazan, Moscow


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Amir Taheri isn’t the most reliable source I can think of — but his piece today on Asharq al-Awsat, The Black Madonna and the Russian Problem, certainly began with a whiff of holy smoke — in this case mixed incense and cordite, I suspect:

Last month, when Vladimir Putin ordered that the Black Madonna of Kazan, the holiest icon of the Russian Orthodox Church, be flown over the Black Sea, many believed he wished to secure blessings for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

It was the first time the icon, or rather a copy of it, since the original was stolen and possibly destroyed in 1904, was deployed to bless a peaceful enterprise. Over the centuries, the “Black Virgin” has been taken to battlefields to bless Russian armies fighting Swedish, Polish, Turkish, Persian, French and German invaders. Stalin sent it to Stalingrad in 1943 to ensure victory over the German invaders under Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus.

With Putin’s troops in control of Crimea and threatening to move further into Ukraine, we now know that the icon was brought in to bless a military operation this time as well.

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A more reliable source, especially when it comes to matters of Christian iconography, would be Peter Berger, whose 2011 article Our Lady of Kazan and American Pluralism adds valuable background to the icon, and to the sinfonia of church and state in Russia which it in some sense embodies:

The icon of Our Lady of Kazan (also known as the Black Virgin of Kazan) is one of the most famous in Russian Orthodoxy. One of the Virgin’s two feast days coincides with the Day of National Unity. This is appropriate. Kazan occupies an important place in Russian history. Its conquest and destruction in 1552 eliminated the last stronghold of Mongol power in what since then has been southern Russia. The Mongols of that region, descended from the mighty Golden Horde, had long before converted to Islam. Thus the conquest of Kazan (which was followed by a massacre of its civilian population) is also a highly symbolic marker of the conflict between Orthodox Christianity and Islam, which still reverberates today along the southern perimeter of the former Soviet Union. The association of the Virgin with national unity is symbolic as well. It evokes the so-called sinfonia—the close unity of church and state—which characterized Russia from the beginning of its national history to the Bolshevik revolution. It would be an exaggeration to say that the Putin regime has once again established Orthodoxy as the state religion, but it has come close to doing so. Thus Our Lady of Kazan again bestows legitimacy on the Russian state, including its foreign policy, which has been supported by the Patriarchate of Moscow. The state in turn has supported the policy of the Patriarchate to re-assert its authority over previously independent Russian Orthodox churches abroad.

Read the whole thing for further background…

I leave the political implications to others better suited than myself.

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Blog-friend Tim Furnish and I both noted this recent piece by Philip Jenkins, The 160-Year Christian History Behind What’s Happening in Ukraine, which as Tim noted “is well-worth factoring into analysis of the Crimean situation”:

Many educated people have at least heard of the great struggle known as the Crimean War (1853-56), although its causes and events remain mysterious to most non-specialists. If the conflict is remembered today, it resonates through the heroic charitable efforts of Florence Nightingale and the foundation of modern nursing. Actually, that earlier war deserves to be far better known as a pivotal moment in European religious affairs. Without knowing that religious element, moreover — without a sense of its Christian background — we will miss major themes in modern global affairs, in the Middle East and beyond.

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But then as Gary Sick — heh, I know, not one of Zen‘s favorite characters — says he was told by a friend in the State Department during the Iran hostage crisis:

You know, whoever took religion seriously?

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On trial in Egypt: then and now, etc.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there shall be no caging of free speech, right? ]
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I was struck by the resemblance between these two photos of defendants in Egyptian courtrooms –

— one of Ayman al-Zawahiri on trial shortly after the Sadat assassination [upper panel, above] the other of al-Jazeera journalists on trial today. While there’s a great deal of difference between the defendants in the two trials, and while we’re familiar with prisoners at the bar behind bullet-proof glass from the cases of Adolf Eichmann [below, upper panel] –

— and the Pussy Riot grrls [lower panel], conditions for the defendants in Egyptian trials seem to have deteriorated from cages to chicken-coops over the years.

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Source:

  • Al-Jazeera photo MT @marcellehopkins: Surreal photo of @AlJazeera journalists in #Egypt courtroom cage today. #FreeAJStaff
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