Just when you thought you’d seen enough of writer, producer and documentary maker Louis Theroux his brother Marcel pops up in Russia in a programme about Putin’s Family Values. There are two narratives here, one which we in the West will no doubt be familiar with. Tatanya is the Russian matriarch who opens her heart and opens her home. She has adopted 48 children and is currently fostering another 28. Six-year-old Kostya, for example, was abandoned on the streets by his alcoholic parents and brought to Tatanya three days later to care for him. Five-year old Kolya has a bad squint and even worse temper tantrums. He was adopted by a family with his other three siblings, but returned to Tatanya. Kolya really wants to go to Kindergarten with the other children and the camera follows him there with Tatanya. She complains she doesn’t get enough money from the state to feed the kids in her care. From what we see the house is dilapidated, but the kids playing in the basement seem happy (there’s no way of knowing if they are unhappy).
Ivan Osaki is a Patriarch of the Russian Orthordox Church in Cossack County near the River Don, on the borders of the Ukraine. He is the face of Russia Putin wants the West to see. He lives in a palatial home with his 18 children, their ages ranging from seven to thirty-three. He also has 25 grandchildren, and his sons are also Patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church. His lifestyle is sponsored by the billionaires who cashed in on the breakup of the Soviet Union and ‘liberalised’ its assets. They include Konstantin Maleeov a banker with Kremlin connections, who has also set up Russia’s first Christian TV channel. Alexander Dugen a Putin cheerleader and—for the moment—a supporter of President Trump’s conservative values. Ivan Osaki’s wife, Nadeszhda, jokes that she went on maternity leave twenty-eight years ago and has been pregnant pretty much every year since then. Her services to the Russian state has been rewarded with Order for Parental Glory.
My reading of this is Russia’s population has been shrinking since the size of the economy halved with liberalisation and the gap between the rich and poor was once those in the Kremlin drove a Skoda and had six times the income of their comrades. Now there’s a unhealthy Western-style gap between rich and poor, with the latter choosing to have fewer children. The Order for Parental Glory – for good parents – has similarities with the Cross of Honour the Nazi Party gave to mothers who produced four or more children. The annexation of parts of Ukraine because the so-called majority of their citizens speak Russian has similarities with the Anschluss between Austria and Germany and the annexation of countries bordering the enlarged state. But you’d need to go back to Tolstoy’s War and Peace and read Nicholas Rostov’s sycophantic ravings such as ‘Oh God, what would happen to me if the Emperor spoke to me?’ thought Rostov, ‘I should die of happiness’, to appreciate the mind-sets and public pronouncements of Patriarch’s like Osaki that call Putin their father.
The strong man isn’t a uniquely Russian trait. The moron’s moron in the Whitehouse plays the same role. And both strong men seek to turn back the clock and put women firmly in their place. In America Trump seeks to appoint judges that will repeal Roe v Wade and take all federal funding from clinics that sanction abortion. Maleeov’s Christian commentators on television call for the sanctity of private property, no interference from the state in family life and compare abortions to the practices of Nazi doctors in the Death Camps. Money talks and conservatism speaks very loudly, women are not only different from men, they are lesser than men.
Yuval Noah Harari epigram in Sapiens about the crime of married rape, for example, being an oxymoron ‘as illogical as saying that a man stole his own wallet’ sums it up exactly. The proposed bill to decriminalise domestic violence in the Russian Duma supported by Maleeov was passed into Russian law. Men, of course, don’t get off Scot free. It will cost them around 5000 roubles (£70) if they are found guilty of beating their wife and 7000 roubles for beating their children. Harari cites precedents from among other books the Bible, if a man meets a virgin and rapes her he must pay fifty shekels to the father of the virgin and then marry her. Nobody can argue with the laws of the bible or the laws of the market. Both are God given. The world is becoming a much smaller and harsher place for poor women.