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14 May, 2014  ▪  Stanislav Kozliuk

Oleh Pokalchuk: "The piety of the today's rich is an old criminal tradition"

A sociopsychological analysis of the "nomenclature continuity" and top officials depicted on icons

Nigh on every year television and photo reports in Ukrainian media are brimming with faces of domestic politicians and important businessmen as they attend churches of various denominations. The Ukrainian Week talked to social psychologist Oleh Pokalchuk about the origins of the habit to publicize the allegiance to a religion shared by many politicians and officials, as well as their penchant for being depicted on icons.

UW: Why are the rich of the '00s so religious? Some donate to churches, others build cathedrals or buy icons. What do they need all that for?

– I'd say, it's an old criminal tradition. It has nothing to do with Christianity. They think that through formal activity for the benefit of the church they accomplish a certain act of clemency. Moreover the extent of each particular crime has to be compensated by the proportionate contribution into the church business. For instance, you murder someone, you give part of the money to the church. You steal something, you donate the church, say, an icon. So it's the tradition of paying a tithe from the particular crime committed. At the same time it doesn't preclude the existence of those that steal from the church. I think when the rich are donating something to the church, they are stealing from it on a higher level.

UW: As far as politicians and icons are concerned, when top state officials are depicted on icons as saints, what is this indicative of? Is this a kind of narcissism?

– I don’t think the politicians are the ones depicting themselves like that. I'd say, it is a certain kind of perversion and servility. A person given such an icon cannot refuse the present. There'll always be a few asinine clerics to consecrate it and provide a certificate. It's a kind of a bribe, or an addition to one, for which "we were treated nicely". The psyche behind the acceptance of these is in the pleasure from seeing your subordinates bend over backwards. The fact that they're lacking a morsel of morality or sense goes without saying, otherwise they wouldn't be who they are in the fist place.

UW: Is this a part of their worldview?

– The worldview in which they are in the centre of the universe, the gods of the world. And their entourage by basking in the sunshine of this vanity and delusion is making this worldview a reality.

UW: Can this be considered a certain "nomenclature inheritance"?

– Only in case this person demonstrates allegiance to the system, and declares succession while taking the throne. The versed in knew: the Donetsk mob will first put "Papa" on the throne and then Sasha, and life will be peachy (Oleh Pokalchuk is referring to former president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and his older son, the entrepreneur Oleksandr (Sasha) Yanukovych who made a notable fortune during his father's term – Ed.).

UW: Today's oligarchs, the likes of Akhmetov and Kolomoyskyi, are they practicing Christians?

– No. First of all the term "practicing" itself cannot be used to describe a Christian. One can practice yoga or diving. But a Christian is supposed to be a member of a communion, and then it's a practice that pervades you 24/7. That's Christianity. What we have in 98% cases in the society in general is ritualism, namely the compliance with certain rituals and the public expression of allegiance to certain cultural traditions. The majority has no clue what Christianity is and probably never opened a bible.

UW: Is it a tribute to tradition?

– It appeared as a protest behavioral model in USSR, a legal kind of dissidence. "I'm a communist, but I do go to church to commemorate my relatives once every three years and to realize my inner resistance".  When it comes to the rich, they need to label themselves religious to belong with the majority. Realizing that it really is complete bull from the standpoint of the paradigm in which they made their fortune, they'd be happy not to do this. But they keep practicing the ritual just like the red leaders followed all the communist rituals, attended meetings, the May Day, party plenums, reading the Pravda newspaper. It's a quasi-religion of a kind. Except it has more formal features that, of course, discredit the religion itself. It's an element of mimicry, if you will. Like a camouflage denoting an allegiance to a certain security force. Now there's a parallel of clear-cut idiocy in both cases. Take green camouflage, for example. It's complete nonsense to use it for disguise in urban environment where the coloring of the surroundings is completely different. Yet people are steadfast about putting it on and calling it "camo wear". But they're actually un-disguising themselves! And now every man and his dog are wearing it to show how super militant they are. It's the same with the religious types. They furnish themselves with icons, build churches, some even do that right inside their mansions to save themselves some walking, they buy own priests. Now that an old Russian upper-class tradition, where they don't become a part of a Christian communion and instead put on this religious camouflage to show that they are closer to God than everyone else. Like they have a master key, a back door or some kind of a special access code.

UW: So the politicians and top officials shouldn't declare their religious allegiance?

– I'd say it is impermissible for politicians to publicly display their allegiance to any denomination or religion. That is western standard of behavior. In the USA for example, state officials, in particular judges, are not allowed to give interviews, as they are functionaries and any kind of publicity demands opinionated statements, bias. Which is impermissible as it would disrupt their area of responsibility. Same goes for Ukrainian society, as the religion and church are in a state of complete chaos, and God help us maintain unity as we get through it and not to arrive at a split. Declaring religion may cause discord. Besides, when a politician pledges allegiance to a certain church, as someone who studies religion I assure you: any question about the perception of the world would confound that politician in a matter of seconds. There are questionable areas in every religion that require additional explanation and special knowledge. That's why when a person pledges allegiance to a certain denomination or a religion even out of best of intentions, any journalist or a provocative person would be able to make that person look stupid in no time. It's a vulnerable position, especially from the PR standpoint.

So if some public figure is attending church, it is fine, as it is a personal matter. Religion and family are absolutely private areas. Unfortunately we put officials and politicians in the same basket with celebrities. The latter made it their trade. They expose certain parts of their body, tell the stories of their divorce and marriage, it's a kind of business. That's what they sell, and people buy that. It's a separate area of public life. And we're putting politicians on the same plane as the personalities of the aforementioned segment of public life, which is unacceptable because it devaluates the entire essence of statehood and civil service. And believe me, the celebrities are gaining from not hiding anything and exposing all their good sides and bad sides. But officeholders do have something to hide and they have nothing to gain from exposing it, that's for sure.

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