Russia: land of bizarre martyrs and unusual saints

Saint Gudkov: voting or blessing?

Russian Orthodoxy (not unlike the other saint-heavy brands of Christianity) has its share of unusual saints. St Ioann, who had himself buried in the ground for 30 years. St Prokopii of Ustyug, the ranting holy fool. St Nicholas the Passion-Bearer, or Tsar Nicholas II, who… well, who was a disastrously inept tsar.

However, it seems that modern Russia is eager to create its own secular equivalents. So, we have the Pussy Riot punk-rock band-happening, turned from marginal purveyors of discordant shock-rock into a trinity of philosopher-poets courtesy of a heavy-handed and neo-Inquisitorial trial and two-year sentence that even had Medvedev suggesting probation would be more appropriate.

Latest to the pantheon is Gennady Gudkov, the 11-year KGB veteran and since then successful dealer in non-state protection, stripped of his mandate to the Duma for — maybe — doing something that numerous of his colleagues do with impunity. In the process, he has been transmogrified into a self-sacrificing martyr, a saint whose years as a loyal member of the Just Russia pseudo-opposition (which for most of its life existed simply to grant legitimacy to the United Russia one-party state) has become a contemplative forty days in the wilderness — the Temptation of Gudkov — from which he emerged cleansed and focused.

I am, of course, being facetious. I have considerable respect for a man like him who, knowing he had much to lose (and also how vindictive the regime is to those it feels have broken from the pack), was still willing to make his voice heard. But considering how Gudkov can now become a symbol for a fraction of the elite who hitherto had been largely silent — the siloviki who are not necessarily at home with the hipsters and liberals but who dislike the current direction of policy from a practical, pragramatic and even nationalist perspective — his persecution and virtual beatification may prove yet another blunder. It may intimidate some people today and tomorrow, but it does nothing to reconcile them to the regime. If anything, it simply opens the cracks in the elite that little bit wider (something, I should add, I discuss in my Siloviks & Scoundrels column in the Moscow News here).

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