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Editorial: spin doctor's spiritual mission

13.08.12 22:22    By Gazeta.ru editorial

Editorial: spin doctors spiritual mission

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Deputy Prime Minister, the government's chief of staff Vladislav Surkov has recently received some new responsibility. He was ordered to curate the government's work with religious organisations, with the order signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev himself. It used to be that the "social" deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets managed the government's relations with religions.

Surkov has already curated relations with religious organizations when he worked in the Presidential administration (1999 - 2011).

His chief responsibility at the time, though, was to control the political system by the shaping elections and creating 'decorative institutions' of the so called "Sovereign democracy" (quasi-parties, including the United Russia, pocket parliament, Public Chamber etc.), that acted in place of the natural institutions of the democratic state.

The return of the religious responsibilities to the former chief Kremlin image-maker, spin doctor, and master of back door games had to be approved by the Kremlin, even though Surkov is now working in the weak, and not exactly influential, government of Dmitry Medvedev.
It's just that for now in the Presidential administration there are no people who can formulate and execute politics concerning religious organizations and turn the growing scandals with their religious flavour into the "right" publicity, positively influencing the government's approval ratings. That's probably why the Kremlin has decided to use Surkov for his best trait – as a political deceiver. But not in the whole political system (it's Putin's administration that manages the system, no one will allow the person from Medvedev's government to do so), but on a narrower field that, because of the power's inadequate reactions, has become a hot spot.

Official representatives of traditional religions are hurrying to approve the new mission of Vladislav Surkov. The church's spokesman, head of the Synodal department of the Moscow Patriarkhate for relations between the Church and the public, Vsevolod Chaplin, said he had hoped that the deputy prime minister's wisdom, flexibility, and creativeness would allow him to further find real resolutions of the difficult religious and public issues. "Vladislav Surkov has much experience in dealing with this issue. Mr Surkov is interested in it and not only professionally, but personally, too. I was always happy that, while discussing the relations between state and Church, we have not only resolved practical issues, sometimes quite complicated, but have had dialogues about the fate of our state and the world, and have discussed the place of religion in public processes," Chaplin said.

"I have known Surkov for many years, we worked together few years ago, I think this appointment is a good decision by our country's management. I am sure that as a specialist on religious organizations he will benefit Russia," said the chairman of the Spiritual Departmment of Muslims in the Chechen Republic, Sultan Mirzayev.

But the nature of the problems that Surkov will face (they are not religious, they are political) makes us wonder if this new spiritual mission can be successful.

This problems can't be solved by the "power vertical's" usual methods: neither the appointment of "our" man to a certain position nor the PR-campaign being run to discredit opponents will help. This is a schism in values and a public confrontation.

On August 17, members of the feminist punk-group Pussy Riot will be sentenced after their punk-prayer in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow during the presidential campaign. They were arrested, accused of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and kept in custody for more than 5 months. The Prosecutor has demanded 3 years imprisonment for each of the feminists, and this case has caused controversy all over the world and strife in Russian society.

People have started to openly accuse the Orthodox church of collaboration with the government instead of keeping church neutrality, and accusing them of denying true Christian values. The accused girls have become symbols of resistance to the current political system.

Pop-stars and politicians all over the world are defending them, they are on covers of influential magazines and in the TV news segments. No other trial of Putin's era has had such notoriety, even Mikhail Khodorkovsky's case and the destruction of YUKOS.

The government also has problems with Muslims. On July 19 Tatarstan's Mufti Ildus Faizov's car was blown up, the same day his deputy, Valiulla Yakupov, was shot and killed. Both were considered active fighters against Wahabiism and other forms of radical Islam. The government never considered Tatarstan as a region where the Islamic radicals could organize acts of terrorism or where radicals had any influence at all. On the other hand, the government doesn't deny that the Wahhabi are strong in our North Caucasus republics.

In this situation, Surkov's skills would be just enough to nullify the political consequences for the government from the growing political strife, taking the form of a religious schism.

That is, if the government doesn't deliberately escalate the situation and deepen the schism, and by doing so finally pushing the thinking part of the nation away and at the same time burying our last chance for the country's modernization. If this comes to pass, Surkov won't have to work with religious organizations (who are already insensibly loyal to the government), but instead he'll have to formulate the nature of the new regime that will replace the "Sovereign democracy."

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