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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Christian Green Party To Be Born In Kremlin

Here is the latest submission in the long search for a post-Soviet Russian national idea: a combination of Christianity and ecology.

A group of low-profile businessmen, self-styled ideologists and second-tier officials from the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church are working hard to create what they see as a Christian ecological movement.

If successful, the organization ambitiously called the All-Citizens Christian Union may lend some of the ideology that has been lacking in Russian political "centrism" and thus help build institutional public support for President Vladimir Putin.

So far, however, even the organizers of the potential Russian answer to a European Christian-Democratic party appear disappointed with their achievements. Both the presidential administration and the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church have given it only qualified support, taking a cautious wait-and-see approach.

The Union's inaugural congress is planned for Wednesday in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, but contrary to expectations, Putin will not attend, said one of the organizers, Yury Pimoshenko. Patriarch Alexy II, who organizers claim has blessed them, also was unlikely to attend.

Still, although there are already more than 60 dwarf political parties and public organizations that claim to represent the Christian component in society, the All-Citizens Christian Union is the first to have some support from both the Kremlin and the Patriarchate.

It appears to be a trial balloon for a conservative non-communist party - a void in the Russian political spectrum.

Organizers of Wednesday's congress expect to fill the 6,000-seat hall but they have more humble expectations of what they will achieve.

The congress is expected to do nothing other than adopt a short resolution, which would support the program in general terms and the "policies of the state and Putin personally in the consolidation of society and particularly the revival of spiritual values," Pimoshenko said Monday at a meeting of the organizing committee.

"Now we are presenting the program, we are not presenting the [high-profile] personalities," said chief ideologist Igor Podzigun. "Speaking in business terms, it is a marketing step - it will either work or it won't. Much will depend on the congress."

Podzigun stressed that the Union will not start life as a political party. But if the ideology is well received and the movement takes off, it may eventually become one.

The organizers are little known on the political scene. Podzigun served as a commercial director of ORT television until 1998. Pimoshenko, who has been the new organization's liaison with the presidential administration, heads the lobbyist Union of Workers of Innovation Enterprises, which dates back to the era of cooperatives in the late 1980s. The financial backing is provided by Ivan Mazur - chairman of the board of Rosneftegazstroi, which builds oil and gas pipelines, particularly in eastern Siberia, Yakutia and the Caucasus. In his other life, Mazur said he is a professor of engineering ecology.

The Russian Orthodox Church is represented by moderate cleric and writer Hegumen Ioann Economtsev, who heads the department of religious education and cathechism and has written extensively on ecological matters.

Higher players, if there are any, are so far in the shadows. One of the Union's documents lists an assistant to the head of the presidential property department as a member of the organizational committee, and a source close to the organizers said that the presidential representative in central Russia, Grigory Poltavchenko, is also involved.

The vague but ambitious program appears to be a compilation of environmental concerns and often misused Christian and sociological terminology. It speaks of a "spiritual man" who needs to build a "spiritual democracy" to achieve the harmony of the individual, state and environment.

"The goal of the All-Citizens Christian Union is to organize a transforming dialogue between society and the government authorities, among people of various national cultures and religious beliefs, among various social groups in order to unify the creative forces in the cause of the ecologically coordinated forming of Russia," the published manifesto proclaims.

While in the beginning it speaks of an "open society," by the end it hails the "Russian paternalistic state."

A priest who asked not to be named said the program was "complete New Age, not Christianity." He said the "ecological" component may eventually give way to a more coherent Christian ideology, which would be conservative but not aggressive.

Podzigun asked not to be judged too strictly, saying the drafters "had nothing to copy from - there is no such thing anywhere in the world."

But he said the movement may do what Fatherland-All Russia or Unity have failed to do - develop an ideology for the ruling regime. "We have created an ideology for Russian centrism," he said proudly during an interview last week. "There is Fatherland - does it suit you? There is Unity - does it suit you? We are in a difficult position, but we may become a broad, active movement. Our problem is - we either accomplish it, or we don't."

Mazur of Rosneftegazstroi said Monday that he needed the movement "to promote ecology."

"We will bring together Christian moral norms, ecological ethics and culture, and it will give an impulse to the movement," he said.

Alexander Morozov, a political analyst who also writes on church issues, said Monday in an interview that the goal of the Union is to create a moderate, non-communist conservative movement that would appeal to many people's conservative mentality and at the same time serve as a basis of public support for the Kremlin and the church. Only then does it have a chance of moving from the margins to the mainstream.

"One should not forget that Putin had long worked in Germany, and he knows well the CDU," Morozov said. "As far as conservative political practices are concerned, he cannot but sympathize with it. If there was something on the political field in which Putin would be able to recognize familiar traits, he would certainly find it useful."

Podzigun claimed that the group already had local branches in 55 of Russia's 89 regions. Last week, it received official registration from the Justice Ministry.

The idea to translate the growing religious belief in post-communist Russia into an institutionalized public movement and potentially a political party is tempting, but incredibly hard to realize. Polls consistently show that people's faith makes little or no difference in the decisions they make in the polling booths.

Russia's predominant confession, the Orthodox Church, is deeply rooted in the Byzantine monarchist tradition and has little history of living in a democratic regime. Many analysts are skeptical whether the creation of a religion-oriented political party is at all possible on Orthodox soil.

"One has to keep in mind that, unlike the West, Russia has a Byzantine tradition of the church's subjugation to the state, and not vice versa," political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov was quoted in Vremya Novostei newspaper as saying. "That is why the church's political role in Russia has always historically been smaller than in the West. Neither during the pre-revolutionary Dumas nor in post-perestroika years did religious parties ever play a substantial political role. That requires a completely different political culture, as, for example, in Italy or Germany. But not in Russia."

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a Moscow Patriarchate official in charge of relations with public and political organizations, said the church will cooperate with the Union, as with other groups.

"It will be one of many public organizations that are created on the basis of Christian self-identification," Chaplin said. "The Church will cooperate with it. But one cannot talk about any exclusive support, especially of political support, the more so since this organization does not intend to run in elections."