27 May 2016

Social Orthodoxy blooming, root and branch

Times are hard for many Orthodox countries, and also for so many of the ordinary people therein. Greece has been riven by economic and social disaster ever since the meltdown of 2009: ballooning deficits, sky-high interest rates, mass unemployment, an austerity-heavy structural-adjustment scheme that hasn’t worked. The social ills that have come with it – poverty, substance abuse, radicalism and street violence – have been pronounced as well. Syria has been beset by a bloody civil war which has basically turned into the Assad-led Syrian government fighting various factions of politically-radicalised Sunni terrorists. The Ukraine has degenerated into a completely dysfunctional and corrupt mess, with Crimea having rejoined Russia and the Donetsk Basin still wanting to secede, street gangs and far-right pro-Kiev paramilitaries committing horrendous violence in the east of the country, and Orthodox churches loyal to Metropolitan Onuphrius and the Moscow Patriarchate being torched. And Russia has been blamed by the West for practically everything that has happened both in Syria and the Ukraine, and is currently suffering from artificially-low petrol prices combined with sanctions from the West.

But amidst all this doom and gloom, there is actually quite a bit of hope. Orthodoxy has had to get socially and politically creative. Two examples of this creativity have shown up in my e-mail and Facebook news feeds of late. Firstly, in Greece, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) has been funding a markedly-distributist solution to the economic travails of Greece’s unemployed men: worker-owned agrarian cooperatives, at this point aimed at creating economies of scale in production of food.
Worker cooperatives, or co-ops, formed to help small farmers and other trades by providing training on farming or industry-related techniques and training to improve their yields and profitability, also help by providing support networks, help small producers bring products to market at scale and create meaningful, sustainable jobs and income for underserved families. As part of the "Give for Greece" program, IOCC is providing assistance to co-ops made up of farmers, fisherman, bakers and agricultural product producers who play a pivotal role in revitalizing Greece's rural communities.

One of the biggest obstacles to their success however, is the lack of funds needed to expand their businesses and employ more people. IOCC and Apostoli, the humanitarian arm of the Church of Greece, are helping 24 co-ops in northern Greece succeed with assistance to increase their production and profits. They are receiving agricultural and business training, as well as funding to buy supplies, equipment and machinery needed to sustain and grow their operations. In return, participating co-ops donate a portion of their products to local social welfare institutions such as orphanages and elder care homes.
Additionally, the Russian Orthodox Church has released a working document with strong bearings on the questions of political economy. They’ve come out stridently swinging, much as they have done before (I took special pleasure in noting), against racism and phyletism, against laisser-faire economic theories, against crass consumerism, against modernisation theory, against the financial exploitation of Third World resources, against usury and against debt-based checkbook monetary systems (and in favour of an international system for control of interest rates, which to my reading looks suspiciously similar to a Safety Fund). At the same time, though, the document is critical of mass migration, and sceptical of the effects mass migration has on local cultures and economies. An interestingly-balanced document; one which displays a few of the strengths of nuanced Orthodox thinking on the relationship between the nation and the state.

Please do have a look at the excerpt translations provided at Katehon, gentle readers. I must confess, reading the document (both in translation and a little bit in the original) warmed the contrarian cockles of my left-wing Tory heart. Axios! I look forward to seeing the full final version when it is finally released by the Danilov.

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