Z. Bogumił u.a.: More than Alive

More than Alive. The Dead, Orthodoxy and Remembrance in Post-Soviet Russia

Bogumił, Zuzanna; Voronina, Tatiana
Eastern European Culture, Politics and Societies
Lausanne 2023: Peter Lang/Bern
246 S.
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Nataliia Sinkevych, GWZO

This anthropological study, published in the series "Eastern European Culture, Politics and Societies", offers an interesting perspective on the religious and social aspects of remembering the dead in post-Soviet Russia. The main sources of the study were collected during the authors' field research in 2014-2019. The book uses a bricolage research methodology, resulting in a multidisciplinary, multimethodological and metatheoretical approach to the topic. Considering death as an internal part of society and working with the concepts of cultural and social memory, as well as places of memory (understood as a process undergoing dynamic change), the authors aim to trace how different groups of Russian people refer to Orthodoxy in their memory of the victims of wars and repressions of the bloody 20th century.

The first part of the book is devoted to the authors' theory of grassroots Orthodoxisation. Here, the authors argue that living with death was an immanent part of the Russian culture before the 1917 revolution. Not only did Russians commemorate their dead, but there was a tradition of caring for them. Those who had been murdered and whose names were unknown were buried by the church only on special days, and their graves were perceived as dangerous. The revolution of 1917 brought about a radical change in the culture of remembrance. A rapid increase in the number of victims of the Revolution and the Second World War led to the appearance of a large number of mass graves, which were sanctified by the new regime and became sites of remembrance. In contrast, those who fought against the revolution were excluded from social memory: their graves were kept secret. Although the Orthodox Church was not completely excluded from funeral and commemorative practices, its influence was remarkably constrained. The change of political regime in the 1990s brought back the presence of religion in the cemeteries and changed the politics of memory: while the cult of the Second World War was repeatedly questioned, the victims of the Soviets were met with social interest and sympathy. Some of them were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church and given the status of new martyrs. However, the Church's efforts to introduce sacred rituals into the sphere of commemoration were unsuccessful. These are the main statements of the authors that shed light on the historical background of commemorative practices in contemporary Russia. Although they are generally convincing, an important scientific concept of dvoeverie (double-belief) 1 is missing here, as well as a special theological attitude of Orthodoxy towards the dead 2, which should also have been mentioned here.

The next chapters of the first part of the book focus on the following memorial complexes: Nevsky Pyatachok, Victims of the Leningrad Blockade and Butovo Shooting illustrate the au-thors' concept of the grassroots Orthodoxisation of the memory of the victims of the Soviet and Nazi regimes. They emphasize the great attention paid by researchers to human remains, while the state authorities and the Russian Orthodox Church are more interested in narratives than in bones or soil. The link between Russian nationalism and Orthodoxy in the narratives of the victims is also underlined.

While the first part of the book focuses on the process of grassroots Orthodoxisation, the second part aims to show how the Russian Orthodox Church transformed this process into a new up-down dimension, seeking the compromise between the variety of interpretations of the Soviet past that exist in Russian society and the creation of official Orthodox narrative. As a result of the well-known entanglement between the Church and the Russian state, the boundary be-tween religious and political memory disappeared, creating a common narrative and the state historical mythology of Putin's regime. The hierarchy of the dead, secular anniversaries and the development of the Orthodox historical narrative into a national one were specified.

However, distinguishing between Orthodoxy as a powerful political organization and as an institution that regulates social life, the authors argue that neither the Russian state authority nor the Orthodox Church of the Muscovite Patriarchate were the initiators of the process of "Orthodoxising" the memory of the murdered in contemporary Russia; long before this process began, some civil activists began to use Orthodox symbols and rituals that were prescribed as the traditional way of dealing with the dead. The Russian Orthodox Church has only been involved in this process since the beginning of the twenty-first century. The enthronement of Kirill Gundiaev in 2009 marked an important stage in the politicization of the Church's commemorative policy, which was gradually incorporated into the concept of 'Saint Rus'. Here, the chronological continuation of the theme is highly desirable, since the beginning of the Russian war against Ukraine led to the appearance of new "heroes" who died in the "special military operation". Their commemoration and portrayal as martyrs for the sacred idea of the "Russian word" encourages Russians to participate in the crimes of the Putin regime on the territory of Ukraine. Although the book was published in 2023, it remains silent about these events.

1 Stella Rock, Popular Religion in Russia. Double Belief and the Making of an Academic Myth, London 2007.
2 Robert H. Green, Bodies like Bright Stars. Saints and Relics in Orthodox Russia, DeKalb 2010.

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