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    Due West: Conviction Politics in Russia

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    The audience was small and the location in central Moscow - a Christian cultural center - probably not the most glamorous. But that did not stop Mario Mauro from giving a sparkling performance on his favourite subjects: persecution of Christians around the world, aggressive secularism in Europe, and the way forward toward closer spiritual bonds between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

    The audience was small and the location in central Moscow - a Christian cultural center - probably not the most glamorous. But that did not stop Mario Mauro from giving a sparkling performance on his favourite subjects: persecution of Christians around the world, aggressive secularism in Europe, and the way forward toward closer spiritual bonds between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

    Mauro, one of the most outspoken members of the European People’s Party group in the European parliament, is serving his third term there under constant attack from the left and secular liberal factions for his views, which stress equal adherence to Christian teachings as well as to democratic principles.

    As Mauro himself likes to say, the founders of modern Europe like Robert Schuman or Alcide de Gasperi, were practicing Catholics and saw European unity not only as a practical political arrangement but as a spiritual endeavour based on Christian understanding of humanism, freedom and responsibility.

    Listening to the Italian MEP I could not help thinking that there are no Christian politicians in Russia. There seem to be very few secular liberal politicians either.

    The left can boast of a couple of people who seem to have certain sincerely held convictions, like the firebrand leader of the Left Front movement Sergei Udaltsov. But turning my mental gaze towards the dominant United Russia party, I could not find anyone who could have been called a “conviction politician.”

    “Conviction politics” – i.e., those that are dictated by the politicians’ firmly held political beliefs – are a rare thing in Russia. That is not to say that there are no politicians with ideas – there are plenty. But conviction politics is distinguished by a set of beliefs and attitudes that are a product of a coherent view of the world and human nature. It frequently (but not necessarily) flows from deeply held religious beliefs.

    Margaret Thatcher is a classic example of a conviction politician on the right; assassinated Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme is one on the left.

    Hardly any politician qualifies as Russia’s answer to Thatcher or Palme. Strangely enough, even the icons of recent Russian history, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, would probably not fit into this select category. The late Andrei Sakharov would have, if he had lived long enough.

    Among modern-day Russian leaders, jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky comes closest to displaying the unique combination of well-grounded philosophical foundations and practical ideas about the future of Russia – but he himself continues to claim that he doesn’t want to go into politics.  In the meantime Russia seems to be in dire need of exactly this kind of leader: bold, devoid of cynicism, but at the same time firmly grounded in reality.

    My explanation for this is Russia’s tragic twentieth century history. For seventy years the country was isolated from the currents of ideas that swept through the Western world: positivism, existentialism, libertarianism, Christian democracy and modern day social democracy.

    All these trends developed without touching Russia in any meaningful way. The twenty years since the collapse of Communism is too short a time for these ideas to have sunk in and take on a meaning of their own in the Russian context. The Kremlin-sponsored cynicism of the last decade did not help either.

    The deeply held belief that all politics are dirty and that politicians everywhere are on the take and on the make is widespread and benefits the Russian ruling class.

    However the recent wave of pro-democracy demonstrations that swept through Russia, if anything, revealed the society’s hunger for people with convictions. The protest movement was formed in opposition to this all-prevailing cynicism and craves those who could not only raise funds and organize rallies, but formulate the wholesome worldview that would stand opposed to the tired Kremlin clichés like “stability” and Soviet-style “great power” ambitions.

    There is definitely room here for Russia’s nascent Christian democrats in the Mario Mauro vein, social democrats like Palme or Pierre Trudeau or conservatives of the Reagan-Thatcher variety. Conviction politics will change Russia’s politics irrevocably the moment it emerges there.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

    What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.

    Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

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