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A Byzantine vision for Russia
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Interessante pezzo sulla mentalità russa: il patriarca Tichon, confessore di Putin, sarebbe il produttore di un film su Bisanzio, con molti agganci all'attualità

The views of a ruling elite's inner world are often hard to penetrate. This is especially the case with the Russian elite. Still, it is possible to glean something of Russia's geopolitical vision as held in the mind of former president and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

This is because Putin, and very possibly most of the Russian elite, has a peculiar spokesman - Arkhimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, superior of the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow.

Tikhon befriended Putin a long time ago, becoming, according to rumor, his confessor, and he continues to be close to Putin. When Putin laid flowers on the graves of post-revolutionary emigres whose remains were recently returned from abroad, Tikhon was among the few who accompanied him.

The Russian elite's views on the present are often shrouded in historical allusion. The past has become politicized; a special government commission was recently formed to fight "falsification of history".

Of the myriad historical books and, especially, historical movies that have been produced with direct encouragement from the government, none provides as comprehensive a vision of Russia's global role as the movie The Fall of an Empire - the Lesson of Byzantium. It was produced by Tikhon about a year ago and remains relevant in providing an inside view of Russia's elite. [1]

The widely acclaimed movie on the surface deals with the Byzantine Empire, which collapsed under the pressure of the Ottoman Turks in 1453, after 1,123 years. Still, the allusion to the present is clear; and viewers cannot doubt that the movie is not about the distant past, but rather about Russia today.

The point of the movie is that the Byzantine Empire was a great Orthodox civilization that was not just the equal to the Orthodox West but superior to it in its cultural splendor and economic development.

The empire prospered when it maintained its attachment to Orthodoxy and the social-political system that rested upon it. A strong central power controlled both political and economic life. It was Orthodoxy that instilled Russians with a sense of love for their state. The mighty state was able to fend for itself and fought successfully against Muslims - that is, until it engaged with the West.

The Westerners were not Orthodox, yet the Byzantines regarded them as Christian brothers and took their polite and friendly gestures at face value. This was a grave illusion. The Westerners deeply hated the Byzantines as Orthodox, and their smiles were just a mask. The smiling masks worn during a Venetian carnival in the movie are a symbol of the West: external friendliness covering a predatory nature.

Dreaming about fighting a common enemy - Islam - the Byzantines cooperated with the Western Crusaders. But, instead of fighting the Muslims, the Crusaders in 1204 ransacked Constantinople (Istanbul), the empire's capital, from which they took immense riches that later became the financial foundations of European economic development.

The economic and political blows, however, were not the most dangerous. Most detrimental for the empire was the spiritual and social degeneration that followed. The influence of Orthodoxy went into decline as Western creeds gained ground. As a result, individualism spread, and the state started to lose its grip over the economy.

Even more dangerous was the development of the narrow ethnic nationalism of various ethnic groups of the empire who forsook their trans-ethnic Orthodox imperial identity. Weakened from all sides and betrayed by the West, the Byzantine Empire collapsed, and the Muslim Turks took over.

The strong implication of the movie is that the ultimate danger is seen as coming from the East, from both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds, the only force that could engulf Russia and erase it completely from the surface of the Earth.

The West is of hardly any help, though while the Muslim challenge is open, the Western danger is more subtle. An excerpt from the movie, "The West's vengeful hatred of Byzantium and her successors is entirely inexplicable to the West itself; it goes to some deep genetic level, and - as paradoxical as this may seem - continues even to the present day."

The message is that for Russia to survive, it should return to its primordial values: Orthodoxy and strong power. Surrounded on all sides, Russia should deal with its enemies in the same way as they once dealt with it: Russia should use the West against the East, and the East against the West.

By Dmitry Shlapentokh associate professor of history, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Indiana University South Bend. He is author of East Against West: The First Encounter - The Life of Themistocles, 2005.

Source >  Asia Times | September 8, 2009

1. To read the text of the film, click here:  http://vizantia.info/docs/27.htm

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