I mean Russians. Yesterday I argued that they are the only country in the world that dared to challenge current demoniac model of development and reject rights and liberties that everyone else takes as universal. They seem to be going back on democracy, feminism, homosexuality and everything else that is supposed to grow according to the prevalent world view.
The situation isn’t so black and white, of course, within Russia there’s a very wide range of opinions on each and every issue. Women equality, for example, was in many ways greater in the Soviet Union than in the rest of the world and they are not going to curb women’s rights to education and careers, yet at the same time they manage to keep them “in their place”, never as truly equal to men.
Maybe I’m indulging in wishful thinking but their moral standards regarding women’s behavior are also much higher than in the west, even though the right to divorce has never been in question there even in communist times.
Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that my opinion of Russia is close to the reality. What should we do about it? What should be our reaction as devotees?
It’s a tough question, it takes us into “enemy of my enemy must be my friend” territory. It would be a very uneasy alliance at best and the west has a lot of bitter experience with nurturing groups like Taleban or now ISIL just because it was expedient at the time.
There’s also the fact that we, as ISKCON, are children of liberal democracy ourselves, we don’t do very well in dictatorships or tightly controlled societies, Russia itself being a prime example. We need people to have certain liberties and freedoms or otherwise they would never take up our lifestyle in big numbers.
We talk about varṇāśrama and kings and demonize democracy but every time we run into a an actual leader who takes responsibility for well-being of his citizens we face serious restrictions on our movements. We can’t proselytize, can’t preach in the open, sometimes can’t collect donations, can’t challenge the society in any way.
Maybe we should remember that saṇkīrtana movement started with civil disobedience and a show of force in front of Kazi’s house in Navadvīpa. We ARE revolutionaries at our core.
Even Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī started a rebellion against social norms of his time, going along with “varṇāśrama” as it exists in Kali yuga never did us any good, we always make enemies there.
We need freedom, rights, and liberties to survive. We need state’s protection from inevitable prosecution. This was the message delivered to Gorbachev in the late eighties and it worked wonders in Russia.
So, can we support modern day Russians in their drive to build a new model for society? On the surface of it – yes, surely.
When they talk about curbing spread of homosexuality, we should support them. What else can we say?
However, Russians, afaik, are traditionally big on abortions, we obviously can’t support that.
They are also avowed meat eaters, vegetarianism and veganism are as alien to their culture as free and fair elections. Speaking of elections, my impression is that they accept them as necessary evil, they just want to get a ruler they would put a trust in, doesn’t really matter how. In the west it’s the process that’s important, the elections, in Russia it’s the result. Putin is a “good” leader already so there’s no need to vote anymore.
We should also support their proposed role for women – as subservient to their husbands, and we should support procreation as their primary responsibility. This whole pro-Russian argument started with demographics, remember?
The choice is very simple – either we bind women to marriage and make them bear as many children as they can, or we let them shackle up with anyone they like and stay for only as long as it pleases them, as they do in the west now.
Theoretically, the second choice is a demoniac one and should be rejected but practically it’s a matter of never dying debate even within ISKCON. Unlike in India, divorce is a big part of our life and there are lots of devotees arguing for it. Our main difference from materialistic westerners lies in reasoning, not the outcome. We advocate abandoning our spouses for allegedly hindering our spiritual progress but, tbh, we apply this argument only when sex turns bad, never when we are in love. There’s a certain whiff of hypocrisy there.
We don’t practice what we preach in this regard, our support here would look shallow. I also think that fertility rates among the devotees are lower than in the rest of the society and we expand only by attracting new people, not by procreation. If we were a country we would face the same demographic problems as everyone else, and we would be “solving” them by immigration, which leads to dilution of our standards as we have no choice but to accommodate newcomers.
Historically, we still can’t accept sex life as compatible with devotional service. We need to put so many restrictions around it and then spend so many hours on seminars trying to answer simple questions that don’t even come to mind of anyone outside ISKCON. I’m not saying I know the answers, I’m just pointing out that this is the area where we, as a society, still feel very uncomfortable.
Maybe we aren’t as mature as Russian policy makers yet. They have decided to sacrifice their country’s reputation and turn themselves into pariahs on the world stage but they think it is all worth it. We, otoh, still dither on the issue, still neither here nor there, even if our actual obstacles are completely different.
Maybe we are not meant to be a “society” at all. We come together to practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness, to spend remaining years of our lives in preparation for return to the spiritual world, we don’t plan on staying here. We don’t need to become “sustainable”, it’s a material concept, we need to become Kṛṣṇa conscious and leave as soon as possible, we can’t care less what happens after us. We take people and send them up to Kṛṣṇa, we don’t try to keep them here living comfortable lives.
What about varṇāśrama then? Hmm, what about it? We don’t need it, building it is not our goal, it’s only a tool. If we can find a way to keep people chanting 24/7 we would immediately start preaching against following their varṇāśrama duties – abandon all varieties of dharma and all that.
And then there’s a question of co-existing with Russian Orthodox church. They are not our friends, to put it mildly. They want us gone, forbidden, banished without a trace, and they have pretty solid reasons for it, too. We don’t accept their reasons, of course, and demand our liberties and rights, but from the church’s pov we are indeed a nuisance.
Orthodox church plays a big role in forming this new Russian identity. Even Russian atheists don’t deny church’s role in shaping the Russian psyche and setting morals and rules of conduct. Church is an integral part of Russian history, it’s what has defined Russians for a thousand years. Believe it or not but it sets the norms of social behavior.
Church sees it as their social mission, as their obligation to society, and they rightfully think that this mission’s success depends on widespread adoption. They, like Kṛṣṇa taught in Bhagavad Gīta, want the society to become resolute and single-minded. In their eyes they see us and all the other sects and movements as making the society bahu-śākhā, having various branches, which makes people avyavasāyinām.
Prabhupāda translated it as “those who are not in Kṛṣṇa consciousness” but literally it means the opposite of vyavasāya-ātmikā from the same verse – not having determination. In Russian context it might very well mean “those who are not on the same page”, so they don’t want us there.
All said and done, I think we should express support for the kind of ideas Russians are trying to promote but we should keep in mind that their potential success would still be very limited from Kṛṣṇa consciousness perspective. We should admit to ourselves that as soon as they purify people enough to accept our message we will snatch them from under their noses and turn them into dhoti wearing renunciates. We kind of accept their goals but our goal is higher and they might not like us for exploiting their success to our own ends.
Well, maybe we should finally learn to be humble and extremely grateful so that even Russians see us as their well-wishers and not as enemies. I don’t think we are up to it yet and I would not even dream of demanding this attitude from our Russian devotees but I think that it still should be our ideal response to the situation.