Voices from Russia

Friday, 6 June 2008

People in Lvov applauded Yuri Shevchuk when he said that Ukrainians and Russians are Brothers

Deacon Andrei Kuraev (1963- ) gave an interview “on the fly” to Interfax-Religion correspondent Yelena Zhosul at the airport in Moscow whilst he was on his way to board a flight for Kharkov in the Ukraine.  As the rumble of jet engines sounded in the background, he shared his impressions of his participation in the all-Ukrainian rock music tour in honour of the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia.

Yelena Zhosul

Your missionary rock music tour has already visited some 15 cities in the Ukraine. What are your first impressions of this?

Deacon Andrei Kuraev

Actually, we were all over the entire western Ukraine and received a very warm welcome there. It surprised us that we were accepted so nicely. We observed a sharp difference in how the people treated us and how we were treated in the media. On the one hand, there were nasty press conferences, with insulting questions, and what commentary they published along with it! The crown jewel of them all came from a chippie at one of the Ivanovo-Frankovsk TV stations. They said, “Shevchuk and Kuraev are a part of a geopolitical plot cooked up in the Kremlin, and they are being used instead of tanks to take away our land”. So, one has the dirty commentaries in the media and the Internet concerning our visit, but, the mood of the ordinary people was completely different.

When the mayor of Ivanovo-Frankovsk banned our concert and my lecture, all the thousands of people who wished to hear us went over to the next town we were appearing in. Wherever we went, we received a warm welcome. The people in Lvov applauded when Yuri Shevchuk said that Ukrainians and Russians are brothers, that we must be united. I never heard anyone yell out, “Moscow is a den of gangsters”, during any of my lectures, although that’s what they reported. Well, I’ll tell you that in Lvov the kids came up and gave me roses after my talk. The next day, a group of students stopped me on the street and said, “It doesn’t make sense to us that, if we’re from Lvov, we have to hate Russians. This just ain’t so”.

Generally speaking, our rock tour was able to convey its spirit. It’s our answer to the provocative remarks of some Ukrainian “intellectuals” who declared that the Russian language was the speech of gangsters and crime. (In 2004, 12 Ukrainian authors wrote a collective letter in support of presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko saying that that Russian was “the language of gangsters and grifters”: Interfax) We decided not to argue with such sorts and we didn’t let anybody harass us, but, we just came and put on our show. Clearly, Yuri Shevchuk isn’t a Mafioso, and I hope that I’m not part of the underworld, either.

Yuri Shevchuk (1957- ), Russian rock star, leader of the band DDT. A personal friend of Deacon Andrei and a good Orthodox Christian.

Yelena Zhosul

How do you explain this vast difference in the attitudes of the officials and media, on the one hand, and the reactions of simple Ukrainians, on the other?

Deacon Andrei

Thank God, most people have good-sense. Normal people react in a straightforward way. If you’re good to them, they’re good to you. Because they don’t have an ideological programme, they lack bias. If there was a concert or lecture containing hatred, they would certainly respond in kind. However, since we stayed away from such, we always received a good word in response, which is normal. But, the journalists were different. They considered themselves soldiers defending an invisible front line, and that caused us some problems. In the end, though, it turned out to be unimportant.

Yelena Zhosul

Can I assume that people in the eastern Ukraine accepted you with more understanding?


Deacon Andrei

I must admit that was an interesting contrast in the welcome we received in the western Ukraine as compared with our welcome in the eastern part. There were more protestors and more embittered eyes in the crowds in the east. I should mention that there were many more drunks, especially in Dnepropetrovsk, where the entire concert area was simply encircled by beer tents. We also encountered Satanists and pagans amongst the audience.

For example, here’s something that happened on the day we left the western Ukraine to go to Vinnitsa. At the end of the concert, Yuri Molchanov, one of the main producers of the “Enter” musical TV channel, spoke glowingly of Grand Prince St Vladimir and the Baptism of Russia. Well, some shaven-headed skinhead punk faced the crowd, with his back to the stage, and he gave an indecent gesture… he demonstratively pointed one finger into the air and said, “That’s where I’m sending all of you”… We saw such shenanigans in every city, and the farther east we went, the more frequent they were. However, I have to admit that this gave me the idea to address the theme of paganism in my lectures.

Yelena Zhosul

Did a lot of people come to the rock concerts?

At a DDT concert

Deacon Andrei

I couldn’t count the number of the people in the crowd, but, it’s obvious that we got no less than 10,000 people in the audience in each city. Most of the concerts were held outdoors in open areas, and only once did we use a stadium as the venue. It was strange, sometimes, though… in Dnepropetrovsk, we were encircled by beer tents, whilst in Zaporozhe we were set up in one of the parks, where even smoking was forbidden. You see, Yushchenko just issued a decree prohibiting smoking in the parks. The cops busted the kids who tried to smoke during the rock concert.

Yelena Zhosul

What are you up to, now?


Deacon Andrei

We’ve been in the far west of the country, in Uzhgorod, to the far east, in Lugansk. Now, we’re going back, to the central parts. We’re appearing in Kharkov, Poltava, Sumy, and Chernigov. We’ll take a month’s break in June, and then we’ll go to the Ukraine again, but, from the south to the north. We’ll start in the Crimea, passing through Odessa, Nikolaev, and Kherson on the way to Kiev. By the way, it’s interesting to note that only one other city than Ivanovo-Frankovsk banned us… Sevastopol. The city officials didn’t confirm their agreement to our concert in July. You see, it all depends on how heavily the city government is connected to the official ideology. In Sevastopol, the mayor isn’t elected democratically, he’s appointed by Yushchenko in Kiev. Therefore, over the past two years, the Sevastopol city government has tried to sever all cultural connections with Russia. In the past, the rock group Alisa was forbidden to perform and I had trouble arranging some of my earlier lectures. The situation is truly bollixed up there.

However, our rock tour shan’t confine itself to the Ukraine. Our basic idea is to use the means of “people diplomacy” to convey our ideas of the united sources and general roots of the Slavic peoples. We plan to continue our tour through Moldavia, Byelorussia, and Russia. Our break in June is due to the fact that we want to spend time in planning for the continuation of the tour after we’re done in the Ukraine. Thus far, all the rockers involved, including DDT, have refused all contracts and invitations until November so that they’re free to go on the road with us. It would be a great idea to fly to Chukotka in August, and then go gradually through the entire country to Moscow, so we can complete the tour on 4 November, the Day of National Unity, the main holiday in Russia. True, thus far, no potential sponsor has answered the patriarch’s appeal. Remember, His Holiness blessed our tour. Unfortunately, at present, all our plans are up in the air.

Yelena Zhosul

Did you intend to take your tour to Russia, Moldavia, and Byelorussia from the very beginning, or didn’t you think that far ahead then?

The Russian hard-rock bank Alisa in concert. Konstantin Kinchev (1958- ), the front-man, is a friend of Deacon Andrei and a dedicated Orthodox Christian.

Deacon Andrei

No, it just came out of my head. A very interesting thing occurred; the idea grew faster amongst the rockers. Take note of the anniversary, the 1,020th, not the 1,025th. It’s an anniversary that’s not usually celebrated. We’re not comparing it with the millennium celebrations in 1988. Yet, there were young rockers in Kiev, who weren’t able to celebrate in 1988, because they weren’t in the church yet, so, they wanted to repeat the holiday. They floated their idea past Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, and he passed it on to Patriarch Aleksei. His Holiness, I understand, passed it on to President Putin. In his turn, Putin passed the idea to Yushchenko. In this odd way the Ukraine created a state commission for the celebration of this anniversary. True, we don’t cooperate with it, in the first place, because we represent the people, not the state. Secondly, we refuse to cooperate with them because it is “ecumenical”, and it allows all possible kinds of schismatics to be part of it.

At the same time, we must stand aloof, and say bitterly, “Why does the Ukrainian state celebrate our general holiday and why do we find that we don’t feel a part of their plans?” Recently, there was a show on Ukrainian national TV where the audience chose the 100 most outstanding Ukrainians. They chose Prince Yaroslav Mudry as the winner. This is strange because Prince Yaroslav didn’t use the word “Ukraine”, and he didn’t consider himself a “Ukrainian”. Nevertheless, the Ukraine has the right to consider him to be one of their own. Likewise, Russia won’t reject the Kievan period of our history, for it’s our common baptismal font.

However, the purpose of our tour is to create a festive mood on the occasion of this anniversary. We don’t try to force an energetic Orthodoxy on people who are used to a quiet, domestic, and monastic-like Orthodoxy. Simply put, we show that it can be energetic for the youth. We show that it is possible to be Orthodox without being a pensioner at the same time. We’d like to present this same opportunity to Russian young people.

Yelena Zhosul

Now that half of the Ukrainian tour is over, where you disappointed in what you had to contend with?

Deacon Andrei

This tour has been extremely interesting. You see, I understand how this changes the entire church. Ten years ago, when I first starting going to rock concerts, of course, many said nothing, but, they pointed their fingers at me in church. Oh, there were so many who posted on the Internet about the sorry behaviour of Deacon Andrei.

Today, my work has the blessing of the church, and, indeed, some of our metropolitans give sermons at rock concerts. Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev did so at our rehearsals in Kiev last year. During our tour, Metropolitan Nifont of Lutsk, Metropolitan Iriney of Dnepropetrovsk, and Bishop Panteleimon of Ivanovo-Frankovsk preached from our rock stage. In all the other cities, the bishops sent their priests to give a message to the audience at the concert.

This means that there are changes happening in the church. In one city, I shared the stage with a local priest, but, I said nothing, for it was simple to look from the stage to the audience. We were standing quietly in the corner, and I whispered in his ear, “Father… THIS is your flock”. You know, it seemed to me that he shuddered. Could it be…? This was the first time in his life that he realised that his flock was not only the grannies at services, but, all the people in town. Here were young people, perhaps, even with a glass of beer in hand. This change is very important for the church itself. It is a reshaping of its pastoral and missionary vision, which, I hope, shall result in many clergy going beyond the curtain that separates parish life from the ordinary life of our cities surrounding our churches. I believe that’s going to be one of the main changes that we’ll see. This is actually happening.

Finally, there is another meaningful result, which, undoubtedly, occurs in the kids of rockers. A battlefront of the Enemy is closed down. They don’t think that the church is their foe, for it’s the church that gives them this holiday. They don’t feel obligated to be at war with Christianity. When the Enemy’s battlefront is eliminated, it shall be easier for them to think about God, and their paths shall be smoothed. I think that the shifts and consequences of this in the church shall be very serious. That is why it is desirable for us to take our tour beyond the limits of the Ukraine.

Yelena Zhosul

In the light of your experiences, what do you think of the invitation by Viktor Yushchenko to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to visit in July during the celebrations in honour of the 1,020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia?

Deacon Andrei

The only thing I can do is to shrug my shoulders cynically and say, “How strange is the Ukraine’s fate as it faces again and again the same choice as it did in other centuries. Shall it be under Russia or shall it be under Poland and Turkey?” Nowadays, increasingly, the Ukraine becomes a suburb of Poland in the political and economic sense, and in church affairs, we see this strange delusion to be subordinate to the Turkish Patriarch. In the days when the Metropolitans of Kiev were appointed in Constantinople, and Constantinople itself was the centre of a powerful Orthodox empire, it was natural to depend on the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Now, to do so, to put it mildly, is a bit odd.

27 May 2008




Fr Georgi Ryabykh Supports the Establishment of a Memorial to the Victims of the Communist Repressions

Don’t Let it Return! 

Yefim Tsvik



Fr Georgi Ryabykh, the acting secretary of the MP Department for External Church Relations, welcomed the proposal of well-known public and cultural figures to establish a memorial to the victims of the Stalinist repressions. “For many years, voices in the Orthodox Church in Russia stressed the necessity to memorialise those who suffered from the arbitrary acts of the Soviet state under Stalin”, he told our InterfaxReligion correspondent on Thursday. This was in reaction to the idea to create a national memorial-museum complex in honour of all the victims of the communist repressions. Amongst those who signed the appeal proposing the establishment of such a memorial were Bella Akhmadulina, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Mikhail Gorbachev, Daniil Granin, Boris Strugatsky, Ludmilla Ulitskaya, and Yuri Shevchuk. In Fr Georgi’s opinion, “It’s impossible to hush up the truth and to refuse to judge this evil unambiguously, for it did take place in our past. Otherwise, we become complicit in those crimes”. He isn’t surprised that the Western world is ever more inclined to place the entire burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Soviet régime on contemporary Russia. Fr Georgi thinks that contemporary Russia “lacks a systematic and well-worked-out concept of memorialising the millions of victims repressed under the Communist experiment. Russia doesn’t merit such an attitude, as its people were the first victims of the Soviet ideology”, he emphasised, and, he further said that “if we don’t want a repetition of such tragedies in future, and if we don’t want a false image of Russia to spread in the world, we need to give a right assessment to the past and pass this assessment on to new generations of Russians”.

To further this end, Fr Georgi believed that it’s necessary to go even further than the proposed memorial. He thinks that we should conceive an integrated plan using various measures and programmes to perpetuate the memory of this Russian historical tragedy through the media, in classroom instruction, and in the establishment of regional museums and memorial complexes. “Probably, mass graves stuffed with the bodies of those tortured and shot in the repressions are found everywhere in Russia. Therefore, museums and memorials should be placed throughout the entire country. They mustn’t simply be places of mourning for the lost. They must also be monuments to their podvig {an almost untranslatable word, “exploits”, “heroic acts”, and “feats” are very weak analogues: editor} and to the resilience of the Russian national spirit. They must inspire us to create the best that life can offer, and instil in us respect for the individuality and rights of man”, he said. A special place in these memorials should be given to those podvizhniki {those who perform a podvig, see above: editor} who suffered for the sake of Christ. Fr Georgi reminded us that, since the 1990s, dates for the regular commemoration of those who suffered in those times were placed in the Church Calendar of the Moscow Patriarchate. “I’m convinced that the memory of the victims of the repressions must be an inherent and integral part of the common national memory of Russia”, he emphasised.

5 June 2008



Editor’s Note:

For shame, Interfax! Only the first paragraph was translated in the English version on their website, whereas the rubber doesn’t hit the road until the last paragraph.


If what Fr Georgy says doesn’t move you, especially the last paragraph, you have no soul. Glory to the fallen. Sympathy to their loved ones. They transmitted to us a message of hope and belief in the human spirit and in decency. We can never repay such fully.


They all had faces… they all had names. No one is forgotten… nothing is forgotten.


Arseny Roginsky is certain that Public Opinion is in Favour of Removing Lenin’s Body from Red Square

Filed under: politics,Russian,Soviet period — 01varvara @ 00.00

Arseny Roginsky, head of the organisation Memorial

Arseny Roginsky, head of the organisation Memorial does not agree with the opinion of Communist leaders that Russian society is not ready to bury Vladimir Lenin. “Whose heirs are we? A thousand years of Russian history lies behind us. In the context of this history, to keep this dictator’s mummy in Red Square is utterly reprehensible, for he was a man who took us down the path of violence and repression”, Mr Roginsky told Interfax on Thursday. In his opinion, “Lenin, Stalin, and, indeed, all others who perpetrated terror, should be removed from Red Square and buried in an ordinary cemetery, where their admirers can bring flowers. They should not be honoured as part of our venerable history with a grave by the Kremlin walls”.

Mr Roginsky went on to say, “What does Lenin’s mummy symbolise in Red Square? When his body was placed in the mausoleum in the 1920s, it was a symbol of the Communist idea and the creation of a new and just state. Today, it’s a symbol of the blind alley where this Communist idea led us”. He admitted that Lenin was “a prominent revolutionary”, but, he further stressed that the founder of the Soviet state was “the man who introduced the idea of violence as the basis of rule in Russia. It seems to me that the removal of his body and its ordinary burial shall mean that we reject this heritage and it shall return us to the normal path of Russian history. I am sure that our society understands this”.

5 June 2008



President Medvedev Believes that it is Crucial to Protect Moral Values on the Russian Internet

Filed under: Dmitri Medvedev,internet,moral issues,politics,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

President Dmitri Medvedev (1965- )

President Dmitri Medvedev believes that growing number of Internet users in Russia aggravates the problem of preserving cultural and moral values in cyberspace. Speaking with German politicians and businessmen in Berlin, Mr Medvedev noted that number of Internet users in Russia reached 30 to 35 million people last year, compared to about 3 million in 2000. “Such a situation highlights not only the idea of media freedom, as today its freedom is guaranteed by contemporary digital technologies, and no one can shut them down, but, also, the problem of preserving moral and cultural values on the Internet”, he emphasised. In Mr Medvedev’s opinion, this situation is nothing out of the ordinary not only in Russia, but, in the whole world and is a serious challenge facing all of us. He also noted that, at the present time, the world was verging towards absolute media freedom thanks to the technological progress and booming possibilities of the Internet.

6 June 2008



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