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The Religious Roots of Russia's Mistrust towards the West

There is something in the Russian collective memory which causes Russian mistrust towards the West. Does this mistrust have religious roots? 

This article from our archives was first published on RI in November 2014

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

I wouldn't completely disagree with some of the points made in the article "Anti-Western Sentiment as the Basis for Russian Unity," heavily criticized by fellow RI contributor Eric Kraus.

Russian identity has a deeper anti-Western sentiment than implied by the recent rise of anti-Western sentiment among Russians, primarily caused by what is perceived as US and NATO aggression.

<figcaption>St. Alexander Nevsky stopped the absorption of Russia into Catholic Europe and thus saved the Russian Orthodox faith</figcaption>
St. Alexander Nevsky stopped the absorption of Russia into Catholic Europe and thus saved the Russian Orthodox faith

So what is one of the main causes of Russia's historical mistrust towards the West?

For centuries, the Vatican tried to convert Russian Orthodox Christians to Catholicism. And they succeeded in doing so with Orthodox Christians in Western Ukraine and in parts of the Western Balkans. Even today, Vatican zealotry is alive and well. The Vatican is trying to achieve a "church union with Orthodox Christians," of course under the primacy of the Pope.

Foreign invaders - the Vatican together with Swedish and Polish forces, Napoleon, Hitler and NATO - were seen as violent symbols of Western civilization.

However, Russian identity is not formed as a reaction or historical reflex to Western expansionism. In its nature, Russian culture is not anti-Western or based on antagonism towards foreign civilizations or concepts.

Many Russians would argue that Russian identity belongs to a different civilization "code" as a successor of the great Byzantine tradition and civilization. That's the reason the Russian Empire was for centuries considered the Third Rome. Orthodox civilization differs from its Western counterpart in terms of values, tradition, religion, and so on. 

Just read Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. Huntington claims that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. Many would argue that this is exactly what is happening in today's world. Most of the recent conflicts have either religious or cultural causes. In addition, bloody civil wars in the Balkans and now in Ukraine have had strong religious and civilizational dimension to them. 

Let's not forget that many American and European Christian conservatives support Putin because of his Christian vision and pro-family values. Maybe they are fed up with their own governments' openly anti-Christian and anti-family approach to social issues?

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