As the “power vertical” is consolidated in the post-Soviet space, most nonstate institutions are getting weaker, with one interesting exception: the national churches. In early 2011, the patriarchs have a spring in their steps, writes senior associate for the Caucasus with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Thomas de Waal in The National Interest.
The phenomenon is strongest in Armenia, Georgia and Russia. The Armenian Catholicos, Karekin II is not just the leader of the Armenian Gregorian Church but of Armenians worldwide. But he exercises the enormous influence he has fairly quietly. Ilia II of Georgia (who has been patriarch of Georgia since 1977) and the patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I, are more visible and both are shrewd political figures.
You could say that these two patriarchs are possibly the only untouchable figures in their two countries. In an opinion poll for NDI last April Patriarch Ilia II won an astonishing 90 percent approval rating, easily making him the most popular figure in Georgia—and comfortably outstripping President Mikheil Saakashvili who earned a positive rating of 58 percent.
Last year the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I, was in seventh place in Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s traditional list, compiled by experts, of Russia’s one hundred leading political figures—no mean feat for a nonpolitician. Ahead of him were only Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev and their closest allies. Behind him in the list were Russia’s defense and foreign ministers and Alexei Miller, head of Gazprom.