Russian Orthodox clubs offering young men an alternative masculinity?

The growing number of militarized Russian Orthodox organizations and clubs for young men have replaced the far-right violent groups of earlier decades, serving to temper their radical tendencies, even as these clubs are put to use by the government and political leaders, writes Victoria Fomina (University of St. Andrews) in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (online in December). The growth of militarized Orthodox organizations has catered to the drive to strengthen masculinity and connect it to Russian Orthodoxy and has largely eclipsed the radicalized, neo-Pagan groups of the 1990s that also linked masculinity with military service (which in actuality was often marked by draft evasion). By the mid-2000s this focus on masculinity and military service had acquired a strong Orthodox orientation, with young men with a background in martial arts and paramilitary training drawn to these Orthodox clubs.

Source: Center for East European and International Studies (ZOiS), Berlin.

In drawing on interviews with members of a Moscow-based military-patriotic club, Fomina finds that the potential for violent action in such organizations, such as vigilantism, is real. But she writes that the media coverage of some violent acts by these organizations “belies the fact that the vast majority of Orthodox military-patriotic organizations remain within the bounds of legality and that their appeal lies precisely in their capacity to offer young men a regulated space to enact militant-masculine subjectivities, while staying safely within the confines of rhetoric and practices acceptable to state authorities.” The Orthodox masculine influence has already introduced a conservative sensibility into the Russian army, as reflected in its rejection of hazing culture and “search for a more ‘socially acceptable militarism’ compatible with middle-class values and aspirations,” Fomina writes. But this rise of Orthodox clubs for young men has also in turn influenced the “militarization of church activities and institutions, creating a mutually reinforcing dynamic that has cemented the dominance of a more militant Orthodoxy,” even if it is not conductive to radicalization.

(Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute,