“Russia is changing”

Ivan Lupandin, Catholic, philosophy professor in Moscow, analysed the situation of the Country and East-West relations

Russian president Vladimir Putin is back in the Vatican to meet Pope Francis. The meeting is scheduled for Wedsneday June 10. The previous meeting had taken place November 25, 2013. A private audience after such a short time triggered various questions, given the current circumstances whereby Western leaders strive to preserve constructive relations with Russia (as shown in the latest G7 in Bavaria). Moreover, there is news of new clashes and deaths in Ukraine’s eastern borders, a conflict that caused ecumenical distance separating Kiev, Moscow and Rome. The international press depicts the Russian president as a despotic, aggressive monarch, while Russia is undermined by a serious economic downturn also caused by EU sanctions. An “internal” interpretation of the situation came from Ivan Lupandin, Catholic philosophy professor at the faculty of Human Sciences at the Physics and Technology department of the State University of Moscow. Sarah Numico interviewed him for SIR Europe. An item of concern shared by Putin and Pope Francis is the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. But there also is Ukraine… Do you think that both themes will be addressed on June 10? “Relations with the Vatican have started to improve since Stalin’s death. At the time, Cardinal Mindszenty was in prison, and so was bishop Slipyj and hundreds of priests and Catholic bishops. Under Kruscev’s ‘kingdom’ USSR-Vatican relations underwent significant progress, as shown with the presence of two Orthodox dignitaries at the Second Vatican II as observers. In exchange, Paul VI had promised Soviet leaders that Communism wouldn’t have been officially condemned during the Council. But there were no summits of USSR leaders and the Popes of Rome. The first meeting occurred in 1989, between Gorbaviov and John Paul II. Also president Putin met John Paul II in June 2000, soon after his first election as president of the Russian Federation. There was also a meeting with Benedict XVI. Now Putin met Francis, an opponent of US-style capitalism. Naturally, the persecution of Christians of the self-proclaimed Islamic State will be matter of debate. As for Ukraine, the Vatican’s position is to stop the violence and respect the peace agreements of Minsk. I hope that president Putin and the Pope will find points of agreement on this painful issue”. What are your expectations, as Catholic and Russian, towards this encounter? “I hope it will pave the way for a better understanding between the Russian Orthodox Russia and the Vatican. The ‘extremists’, among Russian Orthodox, who define Catholics as ‘heretics’, as probably biting their tongues: the authority of the Russian president is high”. From a Western perspective, Russia is seen as a Country in which democracy and many freedoms are at risk: how would you describe the state of freedom and democracy in your Country? “I lived in the years of Breznev and Andropov, when prominent dissidents such as Sacharov and Solgenitsin were expelled from the Country or sent in exile. Now there are streets in Moscow named after Sacharov and Solgenitsin. Also the Internet has changed a lot. On Facebook there are open discussions on hot issues and there has been no attempt of censorship. However, if the standard of democracy is the recognition of same-sex marriage, we’re lagging behind. But as Christian I say: ‘thanks God!'”. From the Russian and Orthodox standpoints Western Europe is the land of religious and moral disintegration. What is the situation in Russia? “Religious and moral disintegration is a sign of the times and a global phenomenon. Nothing can be done before global changes, whether these are ecologic or demographic crisis or the spread of atheism. In the Gospel of Mathew, Jesus invites us to be patient and not loose our courage when he says: such things must happen, but the end is still to come'”. To which extent does the Russian population support Putin and his policies? “I’m not a sociologist and I cannot give a scientifically grounded interpretation to this regard. On Facebook there are many bitter comments against the President’s policies, although I don’t know to which extent they represent the real public opinion. As Christian, all powers come from God. At personal level it makes my heart warm to know that our President was born on October 7, when the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Rosary”.

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