Irish Crimean: On Russian Forthrightness


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August 24, 2017 – Fort Russ News – 

Op-ed by Padraig Joseph McGrath – “The Irish Crimean”

In most western countries, we’re familiar with street-preachers. But yesterday, for the first time, I witnessed a Russian variation on this theme – a bus-preacher. I jumped on a bus to Belogorsk where in the minutes before the bus embarked, a Christian missionary got on, and started delivering a spiel about salvation to the passengers.

But this guy was not just your garden-variety street-preacher. His spiel wasn’t all just bluster and pious sentimentality. He actually knew his stuff. He referred to the writings of various Byzantine and Hellenized early church fathers, most particularly Gregory the theologian. Most of the passengers on the bus emitted little or no response, but at the end of his spiel, something happened which surprised me – the passengers began to applaud.

To give some context to this, 57% of Russians identify as Orthodox Christians, but most are not particularly devout. Many are occasional rather than regular church-goers. So while it would be reasonable to suppose that a lot of people on the bus broadly shared this young gentleman’s worldview, they probably did not share his level of devotion.

Having spent a few years here, and having developed some sense of what makes the people tick, I can speculate that, even if most of the passengers agreed with the young missionary’s worldview, that was not the central reason why they applauded. Whether they agree or not, Russians just respect and admire forthrightness. Within reason, Russians would applaud ANY person who was willing to stick their neck out and profess to the world something which they sincerely believed – within reason, it would not matter so much what the propositional content of the person’s worldview was. Russians just respect and admire sincerity and forthrightness.

That helps to explain why the general standard of conversation here is so good. Russians disdain banality, and there’s absolutely zero horizontal censorship. When I lived in Lexina, before the referendum and the Crimean re-unification with Russia, I used to go out to the balcony to smoke. Between the apartment-blocks, there were benches where grandmothers used to sit, energetically discussing history and alienation and partisan resistance. The proximity of the apartment-blocks worked like an echo-chamber. Everybody within a radius of 200 metres could clearly hear this furious debate between these grandmothers. The air was thick with down’n’dirty political discourse. And, as I was smoking and listening to these grandmothers express their opinions to the whole neighbourhood, it made me chuckle to myself, thinking “Western liberals think that self-expression is suppressed here.”

Padraig McGrath was born in the Republic of Ireland in 1973. He has lived in Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic, and has published journalism and commentary on social and philosophical issues for a number of media for 15 years. He moved to Simferopol, Crimea in December 2013, 3 months before Crimea’s re-unification with Russia, and still lives there.

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