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The Last Man in Russia

British journalist Oliver Bullough describes a Russia that is destroying itself from within.

(Page 2 of 3)

By the early 1970s Father Dmitry had inspired a miraculous movement and created an all-faiths brotherhood.

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“Father Dmitry and his friends were together, and they were not afraid," writes Bullough. "In the words of Andrei Amalrik, one of the founders of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a prolific writer, ‘The dissidents accomplished something that was simple to the point of genius: in an unfree country they behaved like free men, thereby changing the moral atmosphere and the nation’s governing traditions.’”

The church transferred Father Dmitry further out of Moscow to hamper his influence.

Meanwhile, the KGB, having infiltrated Father Dmitry’s flock, had begun to intimidate some of the congregation, which started to fray at the edges. In 1980, Father Dmitry was arrested and brought to the Lubyanka headquarters in Moscow.

“Father Dmitry had thought he had been serving his nation by spreading trust, and fighting abortion and despair, but, in doing so, he was defying the state," Bullough writes. "And that was not allowed. That was why he had to be crushed. His fate parallels the fate of his whole nation. Through the twentieth century, the government in Moscow taught the Russians that hope and trust are dangerous, inimical and treacherous. That is the root of the social breakdown that has caused the epidemic of alcoholism, the collapsing birth rate, the crime and the misery.”

Finally, after being promised state-supported power and state-provided comfort, Father Dmitry completely caved in, and when the KGB invited him to announce on TV the folly of dissidence, he did.

“He admitted being a tool of the West working to destroy the Soviet state," writes Bullough. "This was not like the show trials of the 1930s. He did not look traumatized, thin, pale or disoriented. On the contrary, the most shocking thing was that he looked himself.”

Father Dmitry betrayed his followers and fellow priests, and became an enthusiastic spokesperson for the government. Even before the USSR’s fall in 1991, he became a stooge for nationalist politicians, encouraging anti-Muslim policies and the usual anti-Semitism that has always brought out the worst in Russians.

"He had resisted anti-Semitism and hate he had been brought up with, the hate under Stalin, the hate under Hitler, and the prejudice from his spiritual children," writes Bullough. "But this was too much. He had already been lured into humiliating himself on television by an appeal to his patriotism. Once he had given in to that, it was a short step to join the KGB’s paranoia and start seeing the plots they saw.”

While reading Father Dmitry’s alternately pathetic self-reproaches and weaselly justifications for his recantations, Bullough reports, “His guilt was so huge that it seeped off the page.... It was the torment described by Father Dmitry, and his knowledge that he had betrayed everyone and everything he loved, that was making me feel sick in sympathy.”

Most of Father Dmitry's congregants, seeing their spiritual hero crumple, gave up the fight, just as the protesters in 2011 that began standing up to Putin’s threatening fists are, for now, warily standing back while the Russian president attempts to beat down the blogger Alexei Navalny and other opposition. Bullough has tracked down some of those past and present brave souls who have stood up to the monstrous pressures and violence; doing so, Bullough has renewed his own and our faith in the tradition of Russian dissidents’ remarkable integrity.


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