Heavy breathing this week from London's Daily Mail, which has denounced American political commentator Patrick J. Buchanan as a toady of Vladimir Putin. Yes, GetReligion readers you read that correctly, while he has escaped the pinko, secret traveler and useful idiot sobriquets due to the march of history, the Daily Mail nonetheless is calling Pat Buchanan a Russkie stooge.
The lede of the April 5 story entitled "Pat Buchanan claims GOD is on Russia's side and that Moscow is the 'third Rome'" pulls no punches. Not only is God on Russia's side, but so too is GOD.
Conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan insists that God is now on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side. The bombastic pundit's claims in a rambling diatribe posted to a conservative website that Russia is the 'third Rome' and the West ‘is Gomorrah.'
‘Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity,’ Buchanan wrote in the op-ed published by Human Events, adding that his recent speeches echo those made nearly 20 years ago by Pope John Paul II -- in which the pontiff also criticized the West.
The article proceeds to summarize,with evident distaste, Buchanan's April 4 syndicated column "Who's Side Is God on Now?"
Not quite a tabloid, or "red top" in British newspaper parlance, the Daily Mail straddles the line between respectable and hysterical journalism. This story leans to the hysterical side -- to the delight I'm sure of Buchanan, for whom this is great publicity -- but to the detriment of those seeking to understand what is happening in Russia today.
The story has undergone revisions since it was first posted online. The first printing called the former Nixon speech writer a "bombastic preacher," though subsequent editions were changed to "bombastic pundit." What has not been updated, however, is the Daily Mail's claim that Buchanan is making the claims about God and Russia -- when it is quite clear when reading the original piece Buchanan is reporting on what Putin believes to be Russia's mystical destiny.
Buchanan's voice comes toward the end of his piece when he laments a world where the leader of Russia has donned the mantle of Christian morality. Good Catholics once prayed for the conversion of Russia, but today they should pray for the conversion of America.
In this week's Crossroads podcast, Issues, Etc., host Todd Wilken and I touched upon the poor job Western reporters have made in covering the deeper currents of the Russia-Ukraine clash. And, while being blissfully unaware of Buchanan's column and the Daily Mail's coverage, we spoke of the "Third Rome" and the belief held by many Russians (including Putin it seems) that Russia has been given a mission from God to renew and redeem the world.
The GetReligion piece "No peace in our time for the Ukraine" was a "got news" story -- that is a GetReligion category of a religion related news story that has somehow been overlooked by the media.
The Western press has done a good job in reporting the words of John Kerry, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and other Western leaders. Putin is painted by most newspapers as a villainous KGB thug. However, the enthusiasm shown towards then new leaders of the Ukraine has been tempered by frustration with their inability to govern their country.
All of interest to a degree, I concede, but not of significant importance. The deeper currents of religion, ethnicity and national identity, I told Todd, were not being given a proper hearing. Without the context of historical background, of the five hunded year clash between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, of the battle between the Westernizers and the Slavophiles, it was not possible to understand what was happening, beyond the level of caricature (Putin bad, protesters good).
The religion angle as essential to understanding this dispute, yet it was not being addressed by the Western press. In my GR piece I reported on Russian and Ukrainian newspaper articles that presented harsh denunciations by local church leaders of their opposite numbers. I wrote:
Reading the statements from the Russian Orthodox Church published in the Moscow newspapers and the statements of the Catholic leaders published in Kiev quite clearly demonstrates the religious dimensions of this dispute. Putin’s Moscow is the inheritor of the civilizing mission of Holy Mother Russia while the Catholic Church is the bulwark standing fast in the face of the Asiatic hordes.
Church leaders have picked up the tempo in recent days. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Cyril I (or Kyrill or Kirill, which means Cyril) offered his strongest critique of the unrest in the Ukraine last week, comparing it to the October Revolution.
In an interview with Interfax, Cyril stated:
"Most of us can hardly imagine what revolution is. The latest events in Ukraine, terrible pictures of the revolutionary uprising in the capital, people killed, distraught spiritually and consciously - all this helps us to understand what happened in Russia back then," the patriarch said to a small crowd following a prayer service he conducted near the relics of Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and All Russia in Moscow's Donskoy Monastery on Monday.
During the 1917 events "life was destroyed and this was accompanied by outrage and terrible injustice under slogans for achieving justice," Patriarch Kirill said.
Putin may well deserve his reputation of being a thug. But Pat Buchanan's observations about the turmoil in the East are on target.
Western leaders who compare Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria, who dismiss him as a “KGB thug,” who call him “the alleged thief, liar and murderer who rules Russia,” as the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins did, believe Putin’s claim to stand on higher moral ground is beyond blasphemous.
But Vladimir Putin knows exactly what he is doing, and his new claim has a venerable lineage. The ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers who exposed Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy, was, at the time of his death in 1964, writing a book on “The Third Rome.”
The first Rome was the Holy City and seat of Christianity that fell to Odoacer and his barbarians in 476 A.D. The second Rome was Constantinople, Byzantium, (today’s Istanbul), which fell to the Turks in 1453. The successor city to Byzantium, the Third Rome, the last Rome to the old believers, was -- Moscow.
Putin is entering a claim that Moscow is the Godly City of today and command post of the counter-reformation against the new paganism. Putin is plugging into some of the modern world’s most powerful currents. Not only in his defiance of what much of the world sees as America’s arrogant drive for global hegemony. Not only in his tribal defense of lost Russians left behind when the USSR disintegrated.
He is also tapping into the worldwide revulsion of and resistance to the sewage of a hedonistic secular and social revolution coming out of the West.
For Western ears, whose world view arises from a secularist enlightenment based notion of democracy and social order, these claims are hard to hear. That does not make them false.