Vladislav Inozemtsev
Vladislav Inozemtsev
Economist, Director of the Centre for Post-Industrial Studies in Moscow
Spirituality and reality: why traditional values do not rescue Russia.

A talk about spiritual values – a convenient propagandistic instrument, which allows masking social policy failures.

Fierce arguments about the film “Matilda,” dedicated to events that took place more than a century ago in the life of the heir to the throne, pour light onto one of the main problems of the country – the catastrophic slyness of the debates about the “spirituality”, which allegedly constitutes the foundation of our national identity.

In the recent years, this topic has been practically completely monopolized by the red-tape “patriots” and the men of the clergy. It is common belief that a great deal of the Russian societal problems originates from the “corrosion” of “traditional Russian spiritual and moral values,” which constitutes a serious challenge to national security (see “The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation”).

“Raising” the levels of morality and spirituality, the very things that are immeasurable in their essence is almost called the most important task of the state. Nevertheless, despite having more than 26,000.00 Orthodox churches opened over the last 25 years, and teaching the subject of “the foundations of Orthodox culture” in schools along with the ever strengthening fight against the pernicious influence of the West, the situation would not improve. On the contrary, on many levels, Russia looks many more times worse than the most “immoral” of modern societies.

Lagging behind the “ones with no soul”

Recently, the head of Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) Anna Popova has pointed our attention out to the problem of HIV spreading in the country, providing information that the number of people infected with the virus in certain regions has already exceeded 1% of the population. This statistics is unlikely to be accurate: every year less than 20% of Russians take the HIV test, and almost all of those who do, are the very same people who would have done it already in the previous year as well.

In the summer of 2016 in Novosibirsk, an express rapid-result test among those citizens who had not been previously tested for the virus revealed that almost 5% of the people are the infected. However, the Russian “experts” continue to proclaim that the epidemic mostly affects marginal groups of the population, and that “the countries of the West use this issue as an element of their information war against Russia.” Nonetheless, regardless of whatever kind of “war” this is, the statistics indicate a threefold increase in hepatitis C infection, and a 30 – fold increase in syphilis infection cases just in the years of 2001-2015. The death rate from AIDS disease in “moralistic” Russia in 2016 piqued from 25 thousand to 30 thousand people. Meanwhile, it was less than 500 people in the largest country of the EU – Germany, for example.

The situation with drug addiction looks the same. The number of registered drug addicts in the country in the year of 2016 was 640 thousand and it has more than doubled in comparison with the year of 2006. The leadership of the State Drug Control Service stated in 2014 that more than 70,000.00 of young Russian drug addicts die every year. In Holland, where most of the light drugs are legalized, between 100 and 150 people die from drug addiction every year, which is almost 60 times less per 100,000 people than in Russia, and these are just the numbers – not the “propaganda war”.

Family ties

It goes without saying that while we are talking about spirituality, it is difficult not to touch upon interpersonal and family relationships. As of today, Russia remains one of the countries where women are most vulnerable to domestic violence in the family (in certain cases domestic violence has been decriminalized this year, mostly in the instances of women being beaten up). Overall, about 40% of violent felony offenses in the country have been and continue to take place in the families, and the probability for a Russian woman to be killed by her husband is five times higher than that one of an average generic female resident of any EU member state, and, it is almost 20 times higher than that one odd of an average Dutch or Austrian woman.

Against the background of the fight opposing the propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relations,” the authorities do not really pay too much attention to the fact that the number of divorces per 100,000.00 people in Russia is 2.5 times higher than in the EU, and the ratio of pregnancies ending up in abortions comprises 31, 6% versus 11.4% for the entire member states of the EU, and 3% for Austria and 1.5% for Poland. One can carry on with the examples.

In general, Russian society remains extremely prone to violence and a low assessment placed on the value of a human life. Surprisingly, this is typical of church officials as well. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, for instance, argues that “the world not last for long, and that, thank God this time the world is not bound to last either,” suggesting that “there is no need to fear that by the will of God, or at least by God’s consecration a large number of people is being killed, or will be killed.” Despite the fact that the number of policemen in Russia continues to be one of the highest in the world, we leave Germany far behind in the number of murders committed per 100 thousand people almost ten times.

Substitution of concepts

It goes without saying that Russia’s problems by far are not limited to the ones that I’ve described above. I have just accentuated the attention on those ones that are most prominently protruding, and the ones that make our lives in the society significantly different from the reality of social systems, those ones that our homeland propaganda refers to as “the ones with no soul” and “lost.”

Without refuting the importance of the moral standards for any society, I would like to express a serious doubt that modern Russia’s strategy of keeping quiet about the problems (as it is happening in the case of HIV and other infections), putting emphasis on prohibitive measures (as it is happening in the fight against drug addiction), withdrawing from the regulation of the family relations matters (as it is happening in the case of decriminalization of violence), and the instigation of contempt and fanning the flame of hatred (against external opponents, people of unconventional behavior, members of the opposition) is capable of  leading us towards some serious positive changes.

Using postulates to justify the need to support “the priority of traditional Russian spiritual and moral values and the observation of the behavioral standards based on said values,” the Kremlin in many respects relieves itself from the responsibility for the negative trends which are emerging in the country. One needs to launch counter actions in order to stand up against them and not embark on rhetoric.

As a matter of fact, the talk about spiritual values becomes not just a good propaganda instrument, which makes Russia in an apologue of the “island of morality”, but it also does, in case of necessity make every person responsible for his own problems, since it looks like as if the problems do not stem from the failed status of the policy of the government, but are rather caused by a man’s personal behavior. Forcefully ascertaining the quasi-religious point of view (and this is precisely what the ideology of “traditional values” is) the Russian authorities, in my opinion, are forgetting about two fundamental points:

On the one hand, religious piteousness itself (and “traditionalism”) do not necessarily simplify the socialization of an individual person. On the contrary, they frequently become an instrument, to which a person resorts to justify his antisocial deeds, while both hoping for forgiveness from above and also believing that his faith is by far more important than his actions. Endless sociological studies in the United States have demonstrated, for example, that as far as the numbers of murders, rapes, robberies, divorces, cases of teenage pregnancies, are concerned ten of the most religious American states are in the lead and are way ahead in this respect of the ten most secular states by 2-7.5 times, and, they do not lag behind in any of the antisocial indicators display either.

On the other hand, objectively so, perpetual discourse on spirituality brings to bear a sense of its real existence, which is in dissonance with the antisocial phenomena. That is naturally paired with a deliberately reduced attention to the latter (and in case this does not work out, then one can call that type of attention “intrigues/plotting” and “libel”). This, in its turn, creates a decrease in the scale of state efforts targeted at overcoming the real, not illusory, problems that Russian society is facing.

As of today, one can state that being oriented towards “spirituality” has not produced the expected results in Russia and that one should probably follow the path that is more typical for the civilized countries. In the United States, where in the year of 2015 there were 39,500 cases of HIV infection detected $27.4 billion are allotted annually to combat the disease, which when compared to the 86,600 new cases of infection detected in Russia in 2016 and $600 million in funding allocations speaks for itself.

It is necessary not to decrease, but rather to attract perhaps even grander attention to the problems of domestic violence, perceiving it as the most unnatural, and therefore as the most dangerous type among all kinds of violence that exists in society. One most likely should adopt European experience of working with drug addicts, reducing the hype around the consumption of light drugs, while at the same time strengthening the efforts in fighting against heroin-containing substances and the synthetic ones.

One can propose a lot of other measures, but it is absolutely obvious that if Russia wants to survive, one ought to stop considering cathedrals and prayers as the most effective means of opposing the negative trends and cease to declare any objective information on existing problems as plotting schemes of the enemy. And, yes, one should stop having his heart from melting in awe and admiration at our spirituality, simply so because of that said spirituality proper, somehow cannot be detected at all…

This article first appeared at the RBC site.