Religion and Politics

Ethnoreligiosic Rose of the Kremlin A Harbinger of Intellectual and Moral Decay

Published on: June 18, 2024
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Moscow with view of the Kremlin
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The aggression by Putin’s regime towards Ukraine, coupled with the religious dimension from the Russian Orthodox Church, has been thoroughly explored, offering diverse interpretations of varying quality. Regardless, these explorations undeniably prompt a reevaluation of political and religious alliances in today’s sociopolitical framework, modernizing the approach to the issue primarily rooted in medieval forms of that relationship. This marks a crucial juncture for observation and spiritual reflection for those of us professionally engaged with this challenge as well as for the global society. We find ourselves in a historical moment characterized by a continuous rise in ethnonationalistic and religious fundamentalisms, posing a serious threat to stability and peace in numerous contexts. My argument here moves in the same direction, adding another useful and necessary framework for consideration: the ethnoreligiosic one.[1] This further sharpens the focus toward understanding the connection between the liturgical and ethnonationalistic aspects, which somehow eludes almost all analyses concerning the link between Putin’s and Kirill’s agendas.

Ethnoreligiosity is a phenomenon that arises at the intersection of ethnototalitarian ideology and ethnoclerical aspirations. Ethnototalitarianism is an ideology that views a certain ethnicity as a unique political entity, believing that it should live within one homogeneous and sovereign state, regardless of whether individuals of that ethnic group are part of another state’s population. The tendency, therefore, is not merely the establishment of an ethnically profiled state but rather ensuring conditions where all individuals within the community not only identify as members of the same ethnic group but also think in the same organic, totalitarian manner.[2] Such a state thus loses its civic character and becomes what is referred to as a homeland or fatherland, an intangible sacred place surrounded by the walls of narrow-minded ethnonationalistic orthodoxy. Therefore, ethnototalitarianism tolerates no opposition to its views, and citizens, as a democratic, constructive-critical category, are exclusively perceived as enemies of the order.

The religious current that supports this ideological framework can be termed “ethnoclerical.” The key components of this construct are ethnonationalism and the concept of an ethnonational church, which represents an attempt to revive the premodern role of the religious organization, which was, alongside the dynasty, crucial for preserving a certain group identity, including an ethnic one.[3] Over time, the religious institution has increasingly become a primary driver of the formation of ethnic sentiment. With the modern reinterpretation of its role, ethnoclerical structures have emerged, actively shaping the sociopolitical landscape of a community. These entities endeavor to establish a church with a pronounced ethnic identity, urging state officials to play an active role in promoting an ethnonational church and endorsing the ethnic-religious concepts embedded within these ideological frameworks.[4] For this reason, ethnoclericalism treats religious pluralism and secularism with suspicion, considering them heretical and fundamental causes of social divisions.

In this blend that could be described as a vulgar amalgamation of the ethnic and religious aspects of human life, a trend emerges of the religious institution sacralizing ethnonationalistic myths, creating religious fervor solely rooted in ethnonationalistic principles. Essentially, this means that members of the religious community still perceive it as a religiously profiled unity while it is fundamentally embedded in the ethnonationalistic agenda. Therefore, it’s crucial to recognize that although there’s a resemblance, this isn’t about ethnophyletism but ethnoreligiosity. Ethnophyletism favors the nation over faith, whereas ethnoreligiosity takes a more extreme stance by prioritizing a particular ideological framework within a nation above faith. Put differently, merely identifying as an Orthodox Russian isn’t enough here, for one must align with the sacralized Putinist ideological stance as well. When such a connection is achieved, the ethnoreligiosic way of perceiving the world begins to manifest fully, primarily by establishing a fundamentalist worldview and delineating external and internal enemies. In other words, this worldview is characterized not only by irrationalism, whereby the ethnoreligiosic community refuses to acknowledge factual reality, but also by antirationalism, actively resisting factual reality and projecting its cognitive and spiritual constraints and antagonism onto those with differing perspectives. In this regard, perceived external enemies are symbolically transformed into “evil spirits” that can be legitimately eliminated, for this act is not viewed as a crime but as a sacred ritual of “cleansing” one’s living space. Meanwhile, concerning internal enemies, individuals are classified according to ethnonationalistic criteria as loyal or disloyal and according to religious criteria as orthodox or apostates, with the unquestionable aim of their annihilation, too.

The ultimate reach of this worldview is the formation of a narrative of “woundology” and the utilization of evil memory ideology. Woundology describes the psychological state of a person who, based on their own trauma, evokes sympathy from others to influence their emotions and behavior, making this construct a plausible tool for social manipulation.[5] On the other hand, evil memory combines the manipulation of historical memory with religious justification to more concretely achieve certain political goals, making it a quite powerful ideological concept because religious memory, unlike political memory, is much more resistant to social changes.[6] In summary, religious memory bolsters political ideologies by intertwining them with ethnonational myths and past events depicting the suffering of a particular community. This leads to a swift narrowing of the understanding of the conflict’s root causes and fuels increased intolerance and violence against others. The ongoing conflict is metaphorically shifted from the present to historical periods, asserting that the suffering of a specific group happened in the past, and now is the moment for retribution and settling scores.[7] The culmination of this “woundological-evil memory-construct” manifests in portraying one’s suffering and identity in parallel with Jesus, simultaneously identifying one’s perceived mortal enemies as Jesus’ tormentors. This embodies the ethnonational-religious vulgarization discussed here, encapsulating the ethnoreligiosic phenomenon in its most extreme form.

The worldview I have described is reflected in the sacralization of Putin’s agenda by certain segments of the Russian Orthodox Church under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill. While in theory, Putin’s political ideology may have elements of imperialism framed within the concept of symphonia, in practice, it predominantly manifests as a purely ethnonationalistic agenda with an ethnoclerical undertone.

Firstly, this is evident because the economic status of the Russian Federation hardly qualifies it as prosperous, let alone imperial, and its agenda aligns more with ethnototalitarian than with imperial ambitions. What other interpretations, for instance, would justify the argument for safeguarding Russians and Russia by occupying the territory of another independent state solely because of the presence of a Russian minority there?

Secondly, the Russian Orthodox Church, aspiring to take an ecumenical role akin to the Church of Constantinople, has narrowed its focus to serving the interests of the Russian ethnic identity, particularly those associated with the pro-Putin ideology. This aligns perfectly with the narratives that have emerged in recent years from various spheres closely associated with the Kremlin, including various political, social, cultural, and religious circles. It’s crucial to understand the agenda contained in such rhetoric undeniably holds an ethnoreligiosic nature, beginning from the war-leading thesis that Ukraine was artificially created, severed from the “spiritual essence” of the Russian state, Russian church, and Russian people, and that it’s now the duty of the regime to rectify this historical injustice by annexing Ukraine back to its ancestral lands, both politically and ecclesiastically.[8]

This narrative forms a core aspect of the prevailing ethnonationalistic-religious discourse, prominently championed in Putin’s famous essays as the driving force behind the ongoing conflict.[9] This driving force is rooted in ethnonationalistic mythology with religious undertones and revolves around the concept of the “Russian world.” While this concept has largely remained dormant as a cultural notion in recent times, it’s now suddenly awakened as a militant notion by the force of intense artillery barrages across Ukrainian territory, suggesting that the “Russian world” is essentially wherever Russian tanks are present. The dramatic nature of these battles is further intensified by the victimological narrative, portraying Russia as bravely resisting the rotten and decadent West and its imperialistic ambitions. Essentially, it is argued that Russia is combating genocidal policies against Ukraine’s Russian population, with the victims being attributed to the Russian authorities in the Kremlin.[10] Furthermore—and within this context where drama evolves into ethnoreligiosic fervor guided by interpretative concepts like woundology and evil memory—it is asserted that Russia, despite Western lies and manipulation, continues to make sacrifices for a free world striving to evade oppression. Here, Russia is depicted as leading a “holy war” against godless Satanist forces in Ukraine, aiming to safeguard Christianity and traditional values, a role it sees as historically ordained.[11]  

This openly demonstrates the ethnoreligiosic nature of these theses, where it’s also important to note that “Nazis” are essentially a translation of “Satanists” from religious to political discourse. In any case, the message is clear: all who oppose this discourse must be purged in a “great cleansing ritual.” This encounter between ethnototalitarian ideology and ethnoclerical aspirations lays the groundwork for a kind of “Holy Russian Empire of Ethnoreligiosic Character” that is emerging before us. But, regardless of the outcome of this war—whether Putin’s ideology will be defeated entirely or Ukraine will be divided akin to some Dayton Agreement like Bosnia—the foundations of the mentioned empire will forever be based in the mass graves of people from Ukraine and Russia (and beyond), and by the dungeons where dissenters to this sacralized Putinist ideology met their demise, while the crimes committed will characterize the borders of this empire long, long, long after its collapse.


[1] See my Ethnoreligiosity in the Contemporary Societies of the Former Yugoslavia: The Veils of Christian Delusion (Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2022).

[2] See Dejan Jović, Rat i mit: politika identiteta u suvremenoj Hrvatskoj (Fraktura, 2017), 292–93, 310–23.

[3] Perica, Balkan Idols, 214–15.

[4] Perica, Balkan Idols, 214–15.

[5] Myss, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, 21–23.; Myss, Anatomy of the Spirit, 208–9.

[6] Ibid., 288–89.

[7] Ibid., 288–89.

[8] See the EUvsDiDiNFO website

[9] See Putin’s essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” published on the Kremlin’s website in July 2021.

[10] See, e.g., the EUvsDiDiNFO website

[11] See, e.g.,. https://euvsdisinfo.eu/satans-little-helpers/, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/kremlin-evokes-satan-in-support-of-the-war/, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/lighting-fire-to-emotions-with-lies/, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/the-gory-z-war-against-the-godless/

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About author

  • Branko Sekulić

    Branko Sekulić

    Lecturer at the University Center for Protestant Theology “Matthias Flacius Illyricus” (Zagreb)

    Branko Sekulić received his master’s degree at the Theological Faculty “Matthias Flacius Illyricus” in Zagreb, Croatia (2011), at the Ecumenical Institute of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine (2016), and obtained a certificate in peace education from the Center for Peace Studies in ...

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