Staunton, July 20 – Belgorod Oblast, a Russian region on the border with Ukraine that seldom attracts much attention except for its governor’s close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, is the model for the entire Russian Federation, according to Aleksandr Prokhanov and other members of the influential Izborsky Club.
Yevgeny Savchenko, a member of the Agrarian Party who has remained in office since 1993 by fending off challenges from the KPRF and LDPR, has more thoroughly integrated church and state than perhaps any other regional head, an approach he calls “the solid society” that clearly struck a chord with Izborsky Club members who recently visited Belgorod.
The current issue of “Zavtra” gave each Izborsky Club member a chance to comment on what he saw in Belgorod and why the system that Savchenko has built there, one quite different than what now exists in other Russian regions, ought to be extended to the entire country (zavtra.ru/content/view/na-zemle-belogorya/).
Prokhanov, chief editor of “Zavtra” and president of the Izborsky Club, said that the most striking and important aspect of life in Belgorod was the way in which the Russian Orthodox Church and its values have been boosted and thoroughly integrated into all aspects of public and private life.
That combination, he said, is producing “people of a new type, a new generation” which will be the leaders of the Russia of tomorrow not only as travelers, military officers, artists and theologians” but of the Russian state, people “for whom the dominating principle will be the formula ‘Love the People, and Fear God.’”
Aleksandr Notin, head of the Pereprava NGO, said that Belgorod had managed to preserve the best of Russian life despite the cataclysm of the last few decades and that its combination of religion and hard work deserves to be better known rather than subject to “an information blockade” as it has been.
Notin points out that the major reason for Belgorod’s success is that the governor introduced courses on Orthodoxy in the schools ten years ago and promoted the idea that “a believer bears responsibility before eternity and before God … Such an individual cannot steal … and this new Russian man … will transform Russia.”
Aleksandr Nagorny, a political scientist who serves as vice president of the Izborsky Club, commented that he was struck that “Belgorod has practically not changed in comparison with the Soviet past” but nonetheless appears “very young and dynamic” because new technologies are being constantly introduced.
What one does not see he continued, “are drunks, poor people and workers from Central Asia. The oblast is developing as an ethnic Russian oblast which accepts people from other regions but all of them work within the framework of the laws” which the Belgorod government has established.
Valery Averyanov said that Belgorod was a success because more than 90 percent of its people are Orthodox ethnic Russians and because the governor works closely with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church there, Metropolitan Ioan, who has served as bishop there since 1995, only two years after Savchenko became governor.
Ioan has restored the pre-1917 tradition of organizing meetings of the faithful on a wide variety of subjects and including officials in such sessions to ensure that communication goes in both directions. That, the churchman says, has contributed to a stable society, “capable of resisting outside winds … crises, and epidemics.”
Mikhail Leontyev, for his part, stressed that those who say the oblast is “an Orthodox preserve” are wrong. “In reality he said “it is not a preserve but rather a farm for raising a constructive Orthodoxy,” one that promotes “traditional values” and economic progress at one and the same time.
Mikhail Delyagin, Maksim Shevchenko, and Valery Korovin each expanded on these observations. Maksim Kalashnikov summed up the discussion by saying that Savchenko’s commitment to the population and to its housing needs represents a marked contrast to the current Moscow leadership’s profligate waste of money on the Sochi Olympiad and football contests.
“The main thing,” this Izborky Club stalwart said, is that “the Belgorod approach be spread across the entire country.”