Friday, October 2, 2015

Jean-François Colosimo on the Russian Church and Russia's Intervention in Syria

French original here. A brief but fascinating discussion of just war theory in the Russian philosophical tradition can  be found here. Jean-François Colosimo is most recently author of  Les hommes en trop : La malédiction des chrétiens d'Orient.

For the Russian Orthodox Church, the intervention in Syria is a "holy war". 

The spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church describes Russia's military engagement in Syria as a "holy war". 

Reacting to these remarks, the Orthodox philosopher Jean-François Colosimo recalls Russia's role as protector of the Orthodox Christians of the Middle East.

What statements?

"The fight against terrorism is a holy war and today our country is perhaps the one that most actively fights against it," declared the spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, Vsevolod Chaplin, as quoted by the Interfax news agency.

In passing, he also described the Russian military intervention in Syria as "in accordance with international law, with the mindset of our people and the particular role that our country has always played in the Middle East."

For his part, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in a statement also expressed his support for the Russian strikes in Syria. "Russia has made a responsible decision in using its armed forces to defend the Syrian people who are beset with misfortune," he declared.

But the patriarch assured that he is praying "that this local conflict does not become a great war, that the use of force does not cause the death of civilians, and that all the Russian troops return home alive."

What context?

"Chaplin is prone to making outrageous statements!" The warning of Jean-François Colosimo, Orthodox theologian and philosopher and director of Editions du Cerf, regarding the remarks of the Russian Orthodox Church's spokesman is clear.

This expert familiar with the Russian Church regrets the use of the concept of "holy war" by the Church. According to him, it is a "motif of identity", suggesting that the Russian Church has not learned from its experience of martyrdom. "This is a theological disaster, a fundamental error," he sighs.

In his view, the statement is nevertheless in line with the "symbiosis" between the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate in the domain of foreign affairs.

"Patriarch Kirill was himself the minister of foreign affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate before 1990," says Colosimo, stressing that he dedicated himself at that time to uniting the Russian Orthodox communities abroad, creating an extensive cultural network abroad, a network that the Russian state does not possess.

The director of Editions du Cerf explains this support in terms of history. "Since the 19th century, all Russian foreign policy has been based on access to warm water. And this requires the protection of the Greek Christians of the Middle East, that is the Orthodox," the Latin Christians of the Middle East traditionally being under the protection of France.

What future?

Putin's Russia has kept strong contacts in the Middle East, particularly in Syria which is home to the largest Greek Orthodox community in the Middle East, unlike Iraq, where the Christians are mostly Chaldeans and so Catholics. "The current Patriarch of Antioch who lives in Damascus has made several trips to Russia in recent months," explains Jean-François Colosimo.

Moreover, if Russia is defending the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis,  it is in order to oppose Saudi Arabia: first of all because Wahhabism (and therefore Salafism, the basis for jihadism) is infiltrating more and more into the Caucasus and secondly, because Saudi Arabia is supported by the United States.

"Russia is the enemy of the friends of the United States, and vice-versa," Jean-François Colosimo continues. Defending this axis is even more important at a time when thousands of young Russians are signing up for jihad in Syria and Iraq, and not only from the Muslim republics."

"The challenges and interests of Putin's Kremlin and those of the Orthodox Church are distinct but inseparable," says Colosimo.

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