Religion, geopolitics and agents of influence: situation in Eastern Europe was analyzed in Switzerland
The first panel dedicated to hybrid war and media propaganda was opened by the religious scholar, Director of the Center for Religious Security, RISU editor Dmytro Horyevoy. He presented the topic of the Russian Orthodox Church's geopolitical influence on Ukraine. The reporter provided the analysis of the Moscow Patriarchate's activity in Ukraine, citing the facts of the calls for non-resistance to the aggressor, separatism in Donbas, collaboration in Crimea, disruption of mobilization, attempts to disrupt the ratification of the EU Association Agreement, highlighted the use of religious authority to legitimize the annexation of Crimea and occupation of Donbas, failure to determine the nature of the war in Ukraine – whether it is the war of aggression or a defensive war, despite the explicit rules of the social concept of the UOC (MP).
Koba Liklikadze, a journalist of RFE/RL's Georgian Service presented an account of the issue of Russian propaganda. He spoke about the Russian-Georgian war and the propaganda that accompanied the conflict, gave examples of both Russian propaganda and misinformation by Georgians, who indulged in wishful thinking to prevent panic among the civilian population. He gave an outline of the West's policy of "non-provoking Russia", which led to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. He provided an example of double standards in the war with Georgia – if the independence of the Ossetian people in South Ossetia was recognized, why had Russia not recognized the independence of much larger North Ossetia?
The activities of StopFake were accounted for by its Spanish version editor Alina Mosendz. She provided examples of organized counteraction against fakes about Ukraine, which range from the materials that the Ukrainian language was artificially created in the 19th century by mixing Polish and Russian, to the statements of Russian political figures about Ukraine as a failed state. She also made it clear that the West is not fully aware of the scale of Russian aggression, providing a clear illustration. "Russia has occupied more Ukrainian lands than the whole territory of Switzerland," the researcher said.
The conference participants also took interest in the phenomenon of "the Kyiv Patriarchate atheists". During the discussion, it was explicated that the Tomos and autocephaly were perceived by society as a political event, as a decrease in Russia's influence on religious processes in Ukraine. This is confirmed by the coverage of the Tomos campaign by the secular media. Basically, they maintain critical stance towards religious topics and avoid them in every possible way, fearing clericalization, but they supported autocephaly and positively covered this process, also because it was perceived as a political struggle between Ukraine and Russia.
The second panel on geopolitics and Orthodoxy was opened by the theologian, Archimandrite Cyril (Hovorun). He spoke about political Orthodoxy and non-Orthodox coercion. The latter is precisely the watershed between the civil religion, which freely offers itself, and the political religion, which aggressively imposes itself. He also stressed that conservatism and anti-modernism in Orthodoxy are not a doctrine, but only a theologoumenon – that is, a private theological thought, optional for all. He noted that one can always find anti-Semitism in political Orthodoxy, which is an echo of an ancient Church heresy – Docetism.
According to Fr Cyril, political Orthodoxy is not an abstract, theoretical construct. It has quite a powerful practical dimension because the first two wars in Europe in the 21st century was waged just between the Orthodox countries. He also explained that the ideology of the "Russian world", which is promoted by Patriarch Kirill, is based on the theory of civilizations of Huntington, ironically adding that in fact no one carefully and thoroughly reads Huntington in the Moscow Patriarchate.
Hovorun noted that the Ukrainian autocephaly was the least political of all the previous ones, because previously the Tomos had been granted by a stroke of the Emperor's pen. However, it cannot be said that the Ukrainian autocephaly is not completely non-political.
Professor Lucian Leustean from the UK has problematized the issue of theological understanding and the difference between this understanding and the practice of charity. How can we explain the relative passivity of the Orthodox Churches in charity? Professor Leustean referred to the role of the Orthodox Church in overcoming the refugee crisis. He gave specific examples of charitable activities of the Church, assistance to refugees, as well as talked about social programs that are being implemented by religious organizations.
The conference was concluded by Professor Paul Kolsto from Oslo who delivered a report on Vladimir Putin's "crusade" for "traditional values" against Europe. He referred to the formation of the idea of Russia as a defender of traditional values at the beginning of his third presidential term. He also outlined the role of Orthodoxy in the formation of the idea of "decaying West" and Russia as an Outpost against European values. Professor Paul explained why and how Russia influences right-wing political groups in Europe. Basically, the radical right forces perceive the traditional values that Russia allegedly protects in Europe as the foundations of the national character of the state.
During the conference, a presentation of the book by Tetiana Derkach "Russian Church in Hybrid War against Ukraine" was made. The book provides a detailed account of the private military campaigns of the Moscow Patriarchate in all regions of Ukraine, as well as their ideology, public actions and participation in the annexation of Crimea and in the occupation of Donbas. The material was collected by the author by OSINT method on the basis of open data and is replete with evidence in the form of links to online resources.
The main organizer and moderator of the conference was the research fellow of the University of St. Gallen, Tornike Metreveli.