By Paul Goble
For more than two centuries, Russians have taken it as a fundamental truth that Peter the Great built his capital in St. Petersburg as a window on Europe to integrate Russia into Europe. But now, in yet another rewriting of Russian history in the Putin era, Patriarch Kirill has offered an alternative explanation.
The Russian churchman says that the tsar “recognized that the capital would be an advance post of Russia in the West. He knew well that enormous influence, cultural and anti-cultural and pseudo-spiritual would come from there, from the West” (t.me/rotondamedia/4953 and holod.media/2023/09/12/kirill-petr/).
The tsar also knew, Kirill continues, “how under the guise of liberating the holy places the crusaders came who stole the holy land” and that “Peter did not believe in the goodness of the neighbors” of the city and even recognized that “Petersburg could be occupied by a foreign force.”
The outrageousness of Kirill’s argument and even more the unfortunate direction it suggests Russia is moving under Vladimir Putin helps to explain the appearance of a manifesto by the European Petersburg social-political movement, a manifesto that stands in opposition to everything Kirill and Putin are about.
Below is an informal translation of the text of this manifesto which has been signed by some of the leading intellectuals and activists of the northern capital (t.me/evro_piter/10 reposted at region.expert/eu-spb/):
“St. Petersburg is a European city. St. Petersburg was originally created as an integral part of centuries-old European civilization. St. Petersburg was conceived as part of a necklace of European capitals. St. Petersburg was brought to life by Europeans from different countries and cultures. These natural facts have been confirmed throughout the 320 years of our city’s existence. Difficult. Controversial. Bright. But always meaningfully European.
“St. Petersburg is impossible without Europe. In urban planning, Peter the Great laid the gene of European identity in St. Petersburg. The basis of St. Petersburg’s Europeanness can be destroyed and turned to the east only by destroying the city. By destroying its spirit. Its walls. Its meanings.
“A city of all religions. The city of all Russian revolutions. A city of blockade suffocation. A city of freethinking. A city of creation. A city of the most important universal human meanings.
“The aggressive, unjustified war unleashed by Putin against Ukraine and its European choice has deprived St. Petersburg of hopes for any further integration into European civilization. All modern European connections restored and acquired by Leningrad-Petersburg from 1953 to 2021 were destroyed in a year and a half of a monstrous, senseless war.
“Without a European future, we will lose St. Petersburg. We will lose our city.
“We will lose as an informal community of people. We will lose the historical heritage of our ancestors. We will lose as a unique socio-cultural phenomenon.
“This cannot be allowed.
“With this manifesto we declare civil, intellectual and moral disobedience to the policies of Russian President Putin. With his policy, he is purposefully destroying everything European in St. Petersburg, destroys the destinies and meanings of future St. Petersburg generations.
“We are creating a broad socio-political coalition ‘European Petersburg.’. The goal of the coalition is victory in the first democratic elections and the return of St. Petersburg to the European choice originally laid down by the city’s founder.
“We invite like-minded people to join our manifesto. At the same time, we remind you of the danger of the repressive millstones of Putin’s power.
“The Tsar Carpenter, having created St. Petersburg, cut a window to Europe. Gave our city the granite identity of northern European cities. Putin cannot be given the chance to destroy the historical purpose of our city. Spirit of St. Petersburg. Walls of St. Petersburg. Meanings of St. Petersburg.”