Russian President Vladimir Putin projects an image of strength and unflappability on the global stage. It's a projection that has infected the confidence and ambitions of many of his people. This is particularly the case with the country's religious communities, most notably the Cossacks, an ultra-conservative faith-based group that dates back to the 15th Century. Putin's Pride: Cossacks and the Church examines the rising influence of this religious group in Russia, and how their embrace of the president is proving mutually beneficial.
The Cossacks were essentially banned during the reign of the Soviet Union. But many previously outlawed traditions have made a comeback in modern-day Russia, including the Russian Orthodox Church. Today, these organizations are viewed as essential components to instilling a strong sense of pride, patriotism and loyalty to the president. The Cossacks are now one of Putin's most ardent and valuable constituencies.
Tradition brings a sense of comfort, stability and normalcy, especially in the aftermath of tremendous conflict and violence.
Among a string of daily military-style drills, government funded Cossack schools teach these old traditions on a daily basis and inspire the students to look upon their president with great reverence. The elites view the economy as strong and have enduring faith in their leader. Putin frequently lures them with incentives for their continued support, including his construction or restoration of over a thousand Cossack churches every year for the past decade.
The film contends that Putin is well aware of the value of this support and has positioned himself as the great champion of the orthodoxy. Conversely, these ultra-conservative groups enjoy a dominant voice in their government. They actively step in to support police efforts to squash public protests. They work to suppress political candidates who dare to oppose Putin's policies. They take to the news media to ostracize homosexuality as a sin. One popular television host even offered free plane tickets to the U.S. for the homosexual populations in Russia. They've also made strides in terminating public educators who might harbor more liberal views.
Putin's Pride: Cossacks and the Church is an instructive portrait of the support systems that help the Russian president maintain such an iron grip over the hearts and minds of his countrymen.