Russia and the West: the dialogue of peoples in search of answers to the civilizational challenges

Speech of Patriarch Krill at the World Russian People's Council, 01.11.2016

Your Eminence and Grace, honorable participants of the World Russian People's Council, dear brothers and sisters!

I would like to warmly welcome all of you to this 20th session of our Council. The Council has traversed the same not-so-straight path that our people and our country have traversed over these twenty years. Today, as always, during the Council we will try to discuss the issues which our people care about the most. Certainly, there are many such questions on our agenda. Hence why it will be difficult to choose what are perhaps the most important, the main ones. After long reflections, the Bureau and the Presidium of the Council have taken the decision to discuss the theme “Russia and the West”, what is happening today in relations between us, and look at the problem of Russia and the West not so much from the position of a short-term political agenda, which can lead to some wrong conclusions, but to try to look at this problem in terms of worldviews and from a historical and spiritual point of view. 

When relations between Russia and the West and even the phrase “Russia and the West” are discussed, two types of associations usually arise. The first one concerns the notion that Western society has always been a medium of progressive ideas and achievements associated with comfort, material wealth, and technological progress. The Russian model is lagging behind in the development of this. In this view, in order to stand on the “right” track, Russia needs only to adopt the social, political, and economic trends which characterize the life of the West. In other words, Russia needs to copy existing models and study the trends in the development of Western society. As history shows us, such an approach of “catching up” can hardly be one that meets our national interests. Moreover, the very principle of “catch-up” a priori implies backwardness. If we catch up, we will always be lagging behind. Hence why, in this approach, which presents the Western model as an ideal and an example to be developed, there is something dangerous for the development of Russia. 

The second point expresses the idea of a supposedly implacable, innate antagonism existing between these two worlds: the civilization of the Russian world and the civilization of the West.

The supporters of both models, in order to prove their correctness, can and do bring forth a sufficient number of historical examples. However, these examples can have a sort of contradictory character. 

There are some examples in which the assimilation of Western civilization’s achievements beneficially influenced Russia. In particular, we should recall the “golden” Pushkin century of Russian culture and, of course, the impressive achievements in the 18th century, in certain periods of the 19th century and at least in the beginning of the 20th century.

However, we must remember that alien ideological models and political models that do not take into account national specificities and spiritual and cultural context, when blindly transplanted onto Russian soil, often, or rather almost always have resulted in massive upheavals and tragedies, as already happened in our country at the beginning and the end of the last century.

Throughout the history of relations with the West, there have been moments of open armed confrontation, when resisting aggression was a matter of life and death for our people. Thus it was, for example, in 1612, 1812, and 1941, when we were defending our right to life, liberty and independence.

Confrontation with Russia often led to disastrous consequences for Western society. Confrontation exacerbated existing contradictions, led to great economic and political losses, as well as loss of reputation, and most importantly, cost considerable human losses.

It is important to understand that what we call the “Western World” in general is far from being a homogeneous substance. There are transnationalist globalists, Christian traditionalists, nationalists, Eurosceptics, and the left. Today, it is important to clarify: what Europe is being discussed? There are many “Europes" today. One has religious values, while another has narrow national values, and the third is globalist. We need to understand how to relate to each of them.

Therefore, both of these two models (catching up and confrontation) that describe relations between Russia, the USA, and European countries no longer correspond to the real spiritual and cultural situation in the whole world. I think that it is very important for us to understand this and determine our future relations with the West on this basis.

The second important point which needs to be mentioned is the feeling of a deep crisis of identity affecting Western society. At the heart of this crisis is a contradiction of the spiritual order. On the one hand, there are globalist tendencies actively promoting the idea of ​​deliberate secularism and utilitarianism, while on the other hand, all these factors come into contradiction with the national and cultural traditions on which Christian history and Christian spiritual roots are based.

As a result, this modern social model is less and less capable of reproducing itself. It can no longer follow the ideals that were inscribed on the banners of the bourgeois revolutions of the 16th-19th centuries. The words "brotherhood" and "equality" have long disappeared from the liberal political vocabulary despite the fact that they once occupied a central place. In turn, a number of clarifying definitions for the word “democracy” have appeared which testify to the problems with democratic institutions and principles. The situation with human rights is the same. In some parts of the world, no one notices their violation, while in others, people pay close attention and even magnify such. 

However, there are some signs that suggest a possible, gradual change in worldview coordinates. In particular, these processes are already quite evident in a number of European countries, where there is a social demand for returning to moral values, including Christian ones.

The other important aspect of cooperation is cultural exchange. The main thing here is the reasonable separation of true values ​​from false ones.

God created man free. Every single person, just like whole nations and groups of peoples, are free to choose their path, their own way of cultural creativity, development, to speak in their own religious language, and have their own path of working with God. The freedom granted by the Creator to us excludes the presence of a single, alternativeless way of development by which some nations prosper while others lag behind.

Therefore, it would be correct to speak not about Russia and the West’s conflicting paths of development, and not about Russia catching up in its development, but it would be better to acknowledge the parallel path of the development of our societies in line with the great Russian scientist Nikolai Danilevsky. In this case, parallel does not mean isolated. Parallel insists on identity and the right to the existence of two paths of development.

Based on such Christian principles of the Divine world order as freedom and love, we should affirm the equal dignity of all cultures and civilizations, excluding any attempt of dictating and imposing unilateral political norms and cultural standards, and strive for understanding and equal, mutual, and enriching cooperation.

The foundation of relations, between both individual human beings and human communities, should be based on cooperation and collaboration, but not to the detriment of their interests and without new dividing lines and forged labels such as “civilized world”, “barbarian world”, “axis of good” or “axis of evil.”

We face common challenges, but at the same time we perceive them differently. Certainly, we are united by the fact that mankind is threatened by international terrorism and the perspective of weapons of mass destruction spreading. The risks of global epidemics, the emergence of new types of deadly viruses, as well as natural disasters and man-made disasters are also our concerns.

At the same time, we, representatives of the Russian world, call for paying attention not only to changes in the external conditions of our existence, but also to internal changes affecting the human soul.

We are, of course, saddened by the possibility of species disappearing, the fate of our “smaller brothers”, and the possible extinction of the biodiversity created by God. At the same time, the extinction of peoples, languages, cultures, and the world’s ethnic and cultural diversity is no less alarming.

We believe that the problem of inhumane attitudes towards unborn children entailing mass abortions, the destruction of the institution of the family, the erosion of basic moral values, and the aggressive attack on traditional religious cultures, must not be removed from today’s agenda. All these consequences are expressed in policies pursuing large-scale and targeted de-Christianization.

The moral foundations of human existence are being undermined before our very eyes and this threatens the dehumanization of the world. It is no coincidence that futurologists are raising the topic of the post-human being, and transhumanism, the doctrine of the advanced resolution of human nature and the emergence of a new class of intelligent beings, is becoming more popular. 

Finally, we can’t help but discuss the problem of uneven socio-economic development largely induced by unfair international economic relations.

This is the difference between the two approaches towards a wide range of global issues. However, the issue is that, unfortunately, this difference is becoming increasingly worse every year. The reason for such is the growing gap of values between Russia and Western countries, which was not even to such an extent during the Cold War.

At that time, the West was still united and did not question the Christian foundations of its identity. In the USSR, despite the self-declared atheism of the Soviet state, Christian values and traditional ethics largely dominated and were formulated in Christian society, which was so clearly represented in Soviet cinema and our Soviet literature. Thanks to this common base of values, dialogue was possible that lasted decades despite the differences between ideologies and economic models. The very fact of holding such dialogue contributed to the resolution of many problems. I am sure that, in the end, this ultimately helped prevent a Third World War. 

Here I would like to add a few words about the external activities of the Russian Church at that time. You know that our Church was actively involved in the so-called “ecumenical movement” and held dialogue with Western Christians. But why was dialogue possible? We saw in Western Christians, because of their ethical position, like-minded people. We saw that the Western Christian world undoubtedly shared the same values concerning the human personality, family, relationship to God, nature, and man, and this established the prerequisites for dialogue. Today, this common platform of values ​​has been destroyed because a significant part of Western Christianity is revising fundamental evangelical moral positions in favor of the “powers that be of this world.” Therefore, dialogue has been halted with the exception of our relations with the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church - thank God that it always has been - remains faithful to the values of the Gospel despite enormous pressure from the outside world. Today, our external, inter-church, and inter-Christian relations include virtually no dialogue with Western Protestantism. This speaks to the fact that new dividing lines have appeared that are not only inter-confessional, but of a clearly civilizational character. 

The de-Christianization of Europe and America has put common values into question, which took place during most of the 20th century. This fact leads to total misunderstanding and mutual deafness during discussions on the most pressing issues when one side indignantly asks: “How can you publicly insult the religious feelings of millions of people?”, and the other one asks another question with no less indignation: “How can you infringe on someone's right to freedom of expression?”

It must be admitted that the invasion of taboo in especially delicate spheres, including in the sphere of religious feelings, complicates understanding not only between the European and American elites and Russia, but also other world cultures based on traditional religious ethics and, first and foremost, the Muslim world. Massive informational invasion largely provokes and stimulates the growth of Islamic radicalism, which justifies its aggressive actions by pointing to the secular politics and spiritually unprincipled, and in their view, hostile actions of Western society.

Therefore, the challenge of international terrorism, which is close enough to the positions of Russia, the US, and European regions, should be discussed in connection with the problem of the destruction of traditional moral and ethical standards. The question arises: “Is the challenge of radical Islam a response to radical secularism?.” And if the global extremist activity of radical Islamists is due not only to ideological reasons, but also to many others well known to politicians, scientists, and all who study the problem of modern terrorism, then, at least, as a trigger, as an argument for recruiting honest people, the reference to godless and dehumanized Western civilization is undoubtedly used. There is no other way to encourage an honest Muslim than to tell him to fight against the “civilization of the devil.” Therefore, it is necessary to consider both of these phenomena in conjunction. Terrorism is an absolutely unacceptable method that causes huge suffering for completely innocent people, and radical secularism excludes any other point of view and suggests that the whole world should be built on the model defined by the elites of some countries.

The growing value gap between civilizations is alarming. If understanding is not achieved, then we cannot offer acceptable answers to the challenges of the present time. The further deepening of contradictions threatens to become an insurmountable ideological chasm.

However, the opportunity to continue dialogue and “build bridges” does not seem so hopeless today. Many facts suggest that the fundamental rejection of traditional spiritual and moral values, ​​on which Western elites insist, does not find broad support among people. We know that, besides the official view presented to us by the media, there is another America and another Europe.

Within American and European societies, there is a pronounced desire to preserve their Christian roots and cultural traditions. This pursuit is reflected in religious quest, artistic creation, and everyday life.

Thus, new hopes arise together with new threats. The Havana meeting with Pope Francis showed the great interest in dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church from the side of the Catholic world on an entire range of issues that we are discussing today.

Meanwhile, in my opinion, the most acute conflict of our times is not the one claimed by the American philosopher Samuel Huntington’s in his “clash of civilizations”, and not the struggle of religious and national cultures with each other, as the those in power often want to introduce, and not even the confrontation between East and West or North and South, but the clash between the transnational, radical, and secular globalist project and all traditional cultures and all indigenous civilizations. This struggle is taking place not only at the borders separating countries and regions, but also within countries and peoples, including our country. Here there is a collision of two worlds, two views on rights and the future of human civilization.

The real alternative to this process is not a “war of all against all” and not plunging the world into chaos or civil strife in individual countries, but a new dialogue between peoples carried out on a fundamentally new basis. This dialogue aims to restore the unity of values on the basis of which every civilization, including our Russian one, can exist and retain its identity.

Only through such dialogue can we find answers to the questions of how to defeat terrorism, how to protect the traditional family and the right of unborn children to life, how to ensure migration balance, how to combat hunger and disease, and how to respect the beliefs of others, while understanding that freedom should have moral limits.

I believe that the World Russian People's Council can make a significant contribution to the development of this new dialogue of peoples. I am convinced that it ​​is possible to successfully overcome the existing civilizational challenges only on the basis of eternal spiritual and moral values.

I sincerely thank you for your attention and wish you God's help in the work of the Council and in working for the sake of true peace and justice on our planet. Thank you for your attention.