Sopho Kirtadze

Traditional Values: does Kremlin-promoted morality have much to do with beliefs?

Moscow says it has an alternative to the concepts of “freedom” and “democracy” propagated by the West

What brings together bearded Orthodox priests, one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest advisors, and dozens of ultra-conservative activists from North Main Street, Rockford, Illinois to the streets of Tbilisi, Georgia?

On the anniversary of a brutal attack against gay-rights activists in the Caucasian capital, several hundred people gathered for the World Congress of Families, an international society working to defend the “natural family.” The annual conference was held in a former Soviet country for the first time this past May in symbolic acknowledgment of Russia’s expanding global role in rejecting progressive reforms in favor of “traditional values.”

Traditional values has turned into a blanket term for an anti-liberal agenda: from homophobic laws to restrictions on contraception, abortion access and sex education; a push for religious education in public schools; bans on expletive language, nudity or sexuality on television or in some cases, art; and laws decriminalizing domestic abuse. Russia faces formidable social challenges such as the world’s fastest growing HIV-positive community or the world’s highest abortion rate, and the government’s response has been to embrace “traditional values” and increase funding for their protectors: the Church and its auxiliaries.

This conservative agenda corresponds with the Kremlin’s political goals of boosting its population and presenting a foil to “western decadence.” Reforms in the name of protecting the feelings of believers are tools for banning religious minorities from Russia, closing international art exhibits and pressuring human rights organizations to shut down.

But traditional values extend beyond domestic politics. By building a new multi-million-dollar cathedral yards from the Eiffel Tower in a city where other Orthodox churches stand empty or by sending government advisors to anti-gay conferences on its borders, Russia also uses “traditional values” slogan to reassert its geopolitical might. The term has become a major tool in Russia’s soft power arsenal, an alternative, Moscow says, to the concepts of “freedom” and “democracy” propagated by the West.

Has this rhetoric been effective? And do Moscow-backed ‘traditional values’ have much to do with beliefs?

Follow this current to find out.

The story you just read is a small piece of a complex and an ever-changing storyline that Coda covers relentlessly and with singular focus. But we can’t do it without your help. Show your support for journalism that stays on the story by becoming a member today. Coda Story is a 501(c)3 U.S. non-profit. Your contribution to Coda Story is tax deductible.

Support Coda

Coda Story

Coda tells you stories you never heard before, shows you connections you never knew existed and the nuance and complexity of the world


The Big Idea

Shifting Borders

Borders are liminal, notional spaces made more unstable by unparalleled migration, geopolitical ambition and the use of technology to transcend and, conversely, reinforce borders. Perhaps the most urgent contemporary question is how we now imagine and conceptualize boundaries. And, as a result, how we think about community. In this special issue are stories of postcolonial maps, of dissidents tracked in places of refuge, of migrants whose bodies become the borderline, and of frontier management outsourced by rich countries to much poorer ones.
Read more