Russian Christian entrepreneur Konstantin Malofeev has turbo-charged the World Russian People's Council (WRPC), building its regional chapters and bringing Russia's political elite to its events.
Successful businessman and philanthropist Konstantin Malofeev is a highly visible public figure in Russia, and for over a decade he has been urging his country to adopt a more overtly Christian national ideology. Since the beginning of the military conflict in Ukraine, his ideas have been rapidly gaining traction among Russia’s political elites. See here for our recent profile about him.
Last month Malofeev co-presided over the World Russian People’s Council annual congress in Moscow, together with the head of the Russian church, Patriarch Kirill, where his many years of Christian activism revealed remarkable success.
At the congress, the most influential political leaders in the country filled the front rows, and one after another made remarkable pro-Christian speeches in a way that would have been unthinkable just a year ago. They included the heads of the major minority parties in the parliament, the deputy head of the ruling party, one of Mr. Putin’s most powerful deputies in the administration, Sergei Kiryenko, and other political luminaries, including the head of the Donetsk region, Denis Pushilev, which recently joined Russia after a referendum.
In his report at the congress, Malofeev reeled off what he had managed to accomplish in building out the WRPC over the past three years, and the list was impressive. This mostly consisting of starting and re-energizing WRPC chapters in many of Russia's most important provinces (equivalent to US states), where local activists gather to promote conservative Christian values, activities, and fellowship, which often include cultural and sporting events. It became clear from his report that he had transformed the organization over the past years.
Malofeev's report at the recent WRPC congress detailing its growth over the past years. (In Russian)
All this activity is in fact chronicled on the WRPC website (only in Russian), and on Malofeev’s and the WRPC’s Telegram channels, which frequently features him criss-crossing the country attending WRPC events and making speeches, almost as if he was running for public office.
Malofeev discussing the results of the recent WRPC congress on his own TV channel, Tsargrad. (In Russian) (Backup link)
Another reason for Malofeev’s rapid ascent in Russian political affairs was the assassination attempt against Alexander Dugin, in which Dugin’s daughter, Darya perished. Dugin and Malofeev have been close collaborators for 8 years, and are so closely associated in the public eye that the plot was seen as much a move against Malofeev as against Dugin. That tragic event dramatically raised the profile of, and sympathy to Dugin and Malofeev, and in its aftermath, both have taken on a much more high profile role, frequently appearing on national TV, and in key political meetings with Russia’s top leaders.
Malofeev and conservative Christian political philosopher Alexander Dugin at a WRPC event in Krasnodar, in Russia's south. (Backup link)
The ramifications of Malofeev’s achievement are unprecedented in Russia. As we explained in a related article about the rise of Christian alternative media in Russia, two years ago, Russia barely had any kind of organized Christian political organizations, and very little media, but first the governments’ handling of the covid crisis, and now the war, has caused a robust Christian civil society response, mostly in the form of conservative Christian media which is having a dramatic impact on Russian domestic and foreign policy.
Malofeev’s success with the WRPC mirrors that development. In past years the WRPC has been a footnote in the political calendar, with few people paying much attention. It was considered a church event, and major political figures didn’t pay it much mind. The WRPC did not hold is annual event in 21 and 20 because of covid, and this year, it has emerged from its low-key past and recent slumber to be one of the premiere political events of the year.
Part of the WRPC’s rise is also connected with the increasing importance of the head of the Russian church, Patriarch Kirill, who has emerged as one of the most powerful voices in Russia speaking almost on a weekly basis to the Russian public about how to understand the conflict in Ukraine. In this role, he vies with Putin in significance, because Putin addresses the nation far less frequently, whereas Kirill does so usually weekly, and often more often. Patriarch Kirill has far more influence in Russia than equivalent Christian leaders in the West.
What is clear is that as Russia breaks with the neo-liberal West, it is in need of a narrative, worldview, and national ideology which comprehensively address what Russia is living through, and facing, and that Russia’s Orthodox Christian native faith is naturally filling that role, without anyone guiding that process from the top.
And this is a triumph for Mr. Malofeev, who has been arguing for precisely this these last 10 years. Over the past 8 years since he launched Tsargrad, his successful national Christian TV channel and news site, his quest often seemed quixotic, with Russia’s elites seemingly not responding to his prodigious activism and public pronouncements.
In the past 9 months however, it seems that all those years, and a good chunk of his substantial fortune, which he spent over those years testifying to his Christian convictions have finally given fruit.
A small final linguistic comment: the name ‘World Russian People’s Council’ is a literal translation from the Russian, but it is one of those cases where the English rendition does not convey the sense well in Russian, for lack of good equivalents. In Russian the name is Vsemirnii (Worldwide) Russkii (Russian) Narodnii (People’s) Sobor (Council).
In Russian, the term ‘narod’ has a completely different connotation than its English equivalent, ‘the people’. ‘Narod’ means Russia’s historical native population, implying ‘ethnic Russians’, as they make up 80% of the population, so this term evokes a much more nativist meaning, similar to the German word ‘volk’, i.e. the people who embody the ethnic heart and heritage of the nation. The word ‘sobor’ means ‘council’, but in a Christian sense, a gathering of Christians, as in the Council of Nicea. Sobor also means ‘cathedral’, as in a major Christian church, a place where many Christians gather. There is another Russian word for ‘council’ when meant in a secular sense: ‘sovet’, so the use of ‘sobor’ in this case is indicating specifically that it is a Christian organization. A more precise translation of the name of the organization would be ‘World Russian People’s Christian Council.’
There is also a nativist hint in the choice of the word ‘Russkii’, as opposed to the frequently used ‘Rossiiskii’. The first means ‘ethnically Russian’, the second, ‘citizen of Russia.’ So in Russian, the name clearly conveys a nativist, Christian organization, which is completely lost in the English rendition.