A Russian Religious Revival?

churchMany Russian Orthodox churches are stunningly beautiful both inside and out, but the number of Russians who attend church services regularly and make an effort to observe the tenets of the faith is actually quite tiny. Photo of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki Church in Kolomäki, St. Petersburg, by the Russian Reader

There Are No More than One to Five Percent Genuine Russian Orthodox Believers in Rostov Region
The Heads of Most So-Called Believers Are Filled with a Mishmash of Christianity, Superstition and Paganism  
Sergei Derkachov
donnews.ru
January 11, 2019

Despite the robust building of churches in Rostov Region and the Russian Orthodox Church’s growing role in civic life, the number of practicing Russian Orthodox Christians in the region is still quite small, according to police statistics. Moreover, genuine Orthodoxy has a worse time of things in Rostov Region than in Russia as a whole.

There are no official statistics of how many people in Rostov Region identify themselves as Russian Orthodox. However, we can make a rough estimate based on other statistics. Thus, a couple of years ago, Merkury, Metropolitan of Rostov and Novocherkassk, said that, during the 2014–2015 school year, 72% of pupils in Rostov-on-Don schools elected to study “Foundations of Orthodox Culture.” In 2015–2016, the corresponding figures were 74.4%; in 2016–2017, they were 80.8%.

Recently, donnews.ru wrote about a public opinion poll conducted among Rostov-on-Don residents in 2017. 65.6% of those surveyed identified themselves as Orthodox, 29.2% as atheists, and 2.8% as Muslims.

In other words, the vast majority of people in Rostov consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians. However, practicing believers, meaning people who go to churches and attend church services, at least during major church holidays, is considerably  smaller.

Police tallies of the numbers of people who go to church on Christmas and Easter are basically the only way to estimate the real numbers of practicing Orthodox believers in the regions and Russia as a whole, since those who identify themselves as Orthodox but do not attend church regularly usually think it necessary to go to church on the main Christian holidays.

According to the Rostov Regional Office of the Russian Interior Ministry, approximately 42,000 people attended Christmas services in 2019, meaning a mere one percent of the region’s population. A similar figure was reported by the police in 2018. In 2017, approximately 50,000 people attended Christmas services in Rostov Region. The highest number of attendees, 80,000 people, was recorded in 2015.

2.6 million people went to Christmas services nationwide. Based on the current estimated population of Russia, this leaves us with less than two percent of the total population. In Rostov Region, however, with one percent of the population attending church services, this difference is more arresting. Curiously, according to a poll by VTsIOM, 72% of Russians observed Orthodox Christmas. Clearly, what this meant in the vast majority of instances was just another big holiday feast.

According to Russian sociologist Nikolay Mitrokhin, author of The Russian Orthodox Church: Its Current State and Challenges, although the number of churches has increased, the number of believers in Russia has basically remained the same.

“People who attend Christmas services in various regions account for around two percent of the entire population. This gives you a sense of the size of the Russian Orthodox Church’s current impact. In recent years, seventy to seventy-five percent and, in some cases, eighty percent of those polled have identified themselves as Russian Orthodox. And yet the number of people capable of dragging themselves to church on the most important holiday next to Easter is within the margin of statistical error,” says Mitrokhin.

The figures are much better for Easter. According to police statistics, 4 million to 4.3 million people on average go to church on Easter. The Interior Ministry did not supply figures for 2017 and 2018 in Rostov Region. In 2014, 135,000 people attended Easter services; in 2015, over 260,000 people; and in 2016, 326,000 people. In this case, however, we should take two important factors into account. First, the difference in weather conditions: Easter usually falls on a Sunday in late April or early May, whereas Orthodox Christmas is fixed on the calendar: the night of January 6 and the wee hours of January 7. Second, in the case of Easter, the police count not only people who attend church services but also people who stop by church only to have their Easter dinner delicacies blessed.

Generally, the number of people who go to church once a year on Christmas and Easter is many times lower than those who identify themselves as Russian Orthodox in opinion polls. It is also worth noting that a considerable segment of the populace persists in visiting cemeteries on Easter, deeming it almost an obligation or an Orthodox tradition, although the Church has designated a different holiday for the purpose, Radonitsa, observed during the second week after Easter.

This points to Russian Orthodoxy’s other major probem: the populace’s spiritual illiteracy. In 2012, Boris Dubin, head of sociopolitical research at the Levada Center, claimed that, according to their surveys, only forty percent of Russian Orthodox believers in Russia believed God existed. Thirty percent of the faithful were sure, on the contrary, that God did not exist. Only twenty-five percent of Russians observe the Lenten fast, according to annual polls by the Levada Center. In recent years, however, the Great Fast has been treated by some people as a diet that has no ideological and religious implications. People also often equate giving up one or two food items with keeping the fast.

The minds of most Orthodox Russians are filled with a mishmash of Christianity, superstition, and paganism. Even Metropolitan Merkury recently said Russians are “complete spiritual illiterates and devoid of religious education.”

“Our people do not have a clue about Holy Scripture, sacred history, and the deeds of Russian saints. They do not link these things together into a single whole,” he said.

The well-known Russian priest and writer Andrei Lorgus commented on these circumstances a year ago on his Facebook page.

“Every year, during Easter and Christmas, I look at the Interior Ministry’s tallies. Of course, they do not match our own estimates, which are based on records of parishioners. You could say that the holiday pool [sic] of Orthodox in Russia is less than 3.5%. We have even had people who were not baptized attend holiday night vigil services. So, the Church in Russia is numerically no more than three percent. There are three percent of us! Are there too few of us? Considering our tragic history, it is hard to say. But when perestroika kicked off, and the Church was restored to its rights, we expected more. As someone who was a neophyte in the 1980s, I am disappointed. Or, rather, I was disappointed, but I am not disappointed anymore. Indeed, there was no way there could have been more, despite the huge efforts and sacrifices that were made.”

Finally, Patriarch Kirill himself recognizes the small number of true Orthodox Christians in Russia. During a sermon delivered on November 24, 2018, at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Kaliningrad, he drew the flock’s attention to the difference between statistics and reality.

“Although statistically the majority of Russians now say they belong to the Orthodox faith, statistical belonging and actual strict observance are different things. We must work to make our people practicing Russian Orthodox Christians, to make people feel with their minds and hearts how vital it is to be with God, to make them feel the power of prayer, to make them feel how prayer closes the chain through which communication between them and God is effected.”

According to the patriarch, the Russian people are still only at the very start of their spiritual rebirth.

Thanks a billion to Nikolay Mitrokhin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Conservative

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It is almost as funny to read that Putin and his fellow gangsters in the Ozero Dacha Co-op and its subsidiaries are “conservative” as it is to read that Putin is utterly powerless (“impotent”!) to reign in his underlings or do much of anything else.

Even in the frightening, undignified mess in which Russia now finds itself, people want to make more of the mess than saying that, when push comes to shove, it is a vast criminal conspiracy that can only be laid low by an equally vast popular resistance, if only because that might commit them to do something about it.

It sounds much more dignified to say the county’s elites, including two “former KGB officers,” President Putin and Patriarch Kirill, who were trained to lie through their teeth, gull the gullible every chance they got, and pretend to be “communists” and “internationalists” and “democrats” and “conservatives” and “Russian Orthodox” and “nationalists” as the situation demanded, have taken a “conservative turn,” than to say the country has been taken over by a band of greedy, unprincipled liars who will not balk at any trick or power play to increase their dominion and grab more money, land, oil companies, yachts, real estate, and other goodies.

It is the same thing with my favorite bugbear, Russia’s completely nonexistent “senate.” Russia’s upper house of parliament is called the Federation Council, and its members are sinecured rubber stampers, not “senators,” but that was what they took to calling themselves (or a spin doctor like Vladislav Surkov told them they should call themselves) a few years ago, and so nowadays almost everyone, including the entire domestic and foreign press corps, part of the leftist commentariat, and even some perfectly sensible, educated people call them that, too.

But they are not senators, if only because there is no senate in Russia. More to the point, Russia’s unsenators are well-connected, highly paid sock puppets who could no more act independently than I could fly to the moon under my own power.

Likewise, a perpetual, self-replicating mafia dictatorship has about as much to do with real conservatism as my dog has to do with the Shining Path. And that is the thing. Given its sovereign wastefulness, major league legal anarchy, hypercorruption, and sheer absurdity, the Putin regime is an exercise, mostly improvised, in a new kind of radical governance by “former KGB officers” and their gangster friends, not in conservatism.

The “conservatism” is a put-on, just as Putin’s public support of democracy was a put-on when he worked as Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak’s deputy in the early 1990s. Then he was the Smolny’s bag man. Nowadays, he has moved up in the world considerably, but he has basically not changed his profession. TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

Common People

Patriarch Kirill Sees Russia’s Future in Unity of Common People and Elites
Vera Kholmogorova
RBC
November 1, 2017

Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, outlined his vision of Russia’s future. According to the patriarch,  it consists in the complementarity and unity of the elites and common people. 

Patriarch Kirill. Photo courtesy of Valery Sharifulin/TASS

The unity of the common people and elites is the future of Russia, argues, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. He discussed this during a meeting of the World Russian People’s Council, reports our correspondent.

“Russia is now looking for a vision of the future. I think the vision of the future is a vision of the common people and a vision of the elite achieving complementarity. The elites and common people should be indivisible, a single principle and single whole,” he said.

The patriarch stressed, however, it was “impossible to artificially appoint an elite.” According to him, it had to be educated,” just as the common people had to be educated.

“If we do not educate our own common people, others will develop them,” warned the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch Kirill also said Russia had “acquired immunity to all forms of political radicalism” in the one hundred years that had passed since the events [sic] of 1917.

“Russia has enough strength to remain an island of stability. Our society is now consolidated. The tragic civic split [that existed in 1917] does not exist,” he stressed.

According to the patriarch, “we can rejoice in unification and reconciliation” and “be an example and support for all those who want to survive the current global crisis.”

“The common people are not naturally inclined to revolution,” he argued.

The 21st World Russian People’s Council was held on November 1 in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. The event’s stated topic was “Russia in the 21st Century: Historical Experience and Prospects for Development.” It was attended by Patriarch Kirill, clergymen, MPs, and public figures.

 

 

Should You Sue for Wages?
Russians Don’t Believe They Should Fight for Their Labor Rights: How Wrong They Are
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
November 1, 2017

Economic turmoil has not only made Russian workers uncertain of the future but also indifferent to violations of their labor rights, e.g., wage arrears, increases in the length of the work day, and the absence of holidays. Workers rarely file complaints with courts and oversight bodies, fearing not only a negative reaction from management but also closure of their companies due to inspections by the state. However, in some cases, appealing to the courts for help is a quite effective means of defense.

According to a survey conducted in June 2017 among 1,600 workers over the age of eighteen in thirty-five Russian regions by the Center for Social and Political Monitoring at RANEPA’s Institute of Social Sciences, violations of labor rights are not uncommon. In practice, nearly half of the workers surveyed (42%) had encountered them. The most common violations were wage arrears (24.1%), changes in work schedules (22.5%), and failure to provide paid leave or refusal to pay it (13.1%).

Meanwhile, the apathy of workers who encounter violations has increased. The percentage of those who did not seek redress for violation of their rights has increased from 49.7% of those polled in 2006 to 54.4% of those polled in 2016–2017. Workers have lost faith in nearly all means of rectifying situations. The percentage of those who complained to management had dropped from 41% to 36.7%; to a trade union, from 8% to 5.1%; to the courts, from 7.4% to 4.1%; and to the civil authorities, from 6.7% to 2.9%.

The unwillingness of employees to protect their rights reflects the idleness of most Russian trade unions, but it does seem to make sense to appeal to the courts, at least in the case of nonpayment of wages.

According to the Supreme Court’s ajudication department, the number of such complaints has been constantly increasing. In 2007, there were 350,242 such complaints; in 2013, 459,016 complaints; and in the first six months of 2017, 243,861 complaints. Moreover, in the absolute majority of complaints (95.7–97.5%) the courts have found for the plaintiff. The situation is the other way around when it comes to suits against unlawful dismissals. In 2007, the courts ruled for plaintiffs in 10,525 of 17,934 lawsuits or 58.7% of all cases. In 2013, plaintiffs won 7,124 of 14,953 lawsuits or 47.6% of all such cases. In the first six months of 2017, the courts ruled in favor of plaintiffs in 1,748 of 4,316 lawsuits or 40.5% of all cases.

The results of the survey reflect the growing apathy of Russians in crisis conditions and fear of losing their jobs, explains Andrei Pokida, director of the Center for Social and Political Monitoring and co-author of the study. Some workers fear a negative reaction if they hang dirty laundry out to dry. If they do complain, they complain only to management. Other workers fear a complaint filed with state agencies could lead to an inspection, resulting in the closure of the company for violations. The reluctance to defend their rights is also caused by a lack of legal literacy among many workers and low incomes. Not all of them are capable of putting together the paperwork for a lawsuit, the services of lawyers are expensive, and many workers simply believe violations are the norm, explains Pyotr Bizyukov from the Center for Social and Labor Rights.

Translated by the Russian Reader. The emphasis in the first article is mine.

Keep It Like a Secret

Delovoi Peterburg, a business daily, has just published its ranking of Petersburg’s alleged ruble billionaires.

It is no surprise that Putin’s cronies Gennady Timchenko (I thought he was a Finnish national?) and Arkady Rotenberg topped the list of 304 capitalists, with alleged net worths of 801.5 billion rubles and 294 billion rubles, respectively. (That is approximately 11.8 billion euros and 4.3 billion euros, respectively.)

Screenshot, from Delovoi Peterburg, showing Putin cronies Gennady Timchenko and Arkady Rotenberg in the number one and two slots of the business daily’s 2017 ranking of Petersburg’s ruble billionaires

There are lots of other pals of Putin and Medvedev in the top fifty, but I was disappointed to see the personal fortunes of my own favorite Russian super villain, former head of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin, had faded a bit in the past year. He has dropped to the number twenty-six spot in the ranking, claiming a net worth of a mere 37.07 billion rubles, which means that in Old Europe, where Yakunin is now dispensing Russian softpowerish wisdom to decision-makers and academics via his newly opened Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, in Berlin, he would be a regular old euro millionaire, with a measly net worth of 548 million euros.

But we should recall the exposés of Yakunin, his family, and their weath, carried out by the only person in Russian unfit to run for president, Alexei Navalny, and his Anti-Corruption Foundation. In short, Herr Doktor Yakunin, who once had himself declared among the twenty-two “foremost thinkers in the world,” is very nimble when it comes to parceling out his assets to family members for safekeeping, so to speak, and then hiring “cleaners” to make his deservedly bad reputation go away. So who knows how much he is really worth.

Screenshot, from Delovoi Peterburg’s website, showing Yakunin’s number 26 spot in its list of Petersburg’s ruble billionaires.

Another thing that struck me when I surveyed the list was the signal lack of women among the city’s ruble billionaires. Women appear on the list only towards the very bottom, which means they are not really billionaires, but dollar or euro millionaires, at most, and maybe not even that. And there are no more than ten such women in a list of 304 names.

So, the Delovoi Peterburg ranking is not only more evidence of Russia’s extreme wealth inequality—which is a matter of elite practice, if not of explicit government policy—but of the fact that this extreme wealth inequality has an even more extreme gender bias.

Even if Putin crony and Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin had named his newish Berlin think tank the “Vladimir Putin Institute for Peace and Freedom,” this would have had no effect, I am afraid, on all the decision-makers and academics who are prepared to rush into Yakunin’s embrace at the drop of a hat, forgiven, as it were, by the squirrelier name he has has chosen, Dialogue of Civilizations.

Yesterday and today, DOC Berlin has been holding a bang-up conference, dealing, like all conferences these days, with the centenary of the October Revolution.

The conference is entitled “Inequalities, economic models and Russia’s October 1917 revolution in historical perspective” and features some speakers whose names you might recognize, people you would never have suspected of wanting to shill for the Putinist soft power machine.

Speakers:

Georgy [sic] Derluguian, Professor of Social Research and Public Policy, New York University Abu Dhabi

Michael Ellman, Professor Emeritus, Amsterdam University

Domenico Nuti, Professor of Comparative Economic Systems, University of Rome “La Sapienza”

Vladimir Popov, Professor, DOC RI Research Director and a Principal Researcher in Central Economics and Mathematics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Beverly J. Silver, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, Director of the Arrighi Center for Global Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA

Andres Solimano, International Center for Globalization and Development

Vladislav Zubok, ProfessorDepartment of International History, London School of Economics, UK

Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor,  Department of Sociology, University of California-Los Angeles, USA

But they are there, holding forth on “revolution” on the Putinist dime, while Yakunin, who clearly loves these powwows (there are tons of videos from past DOC gatherings on YouTube and elsewhere in which this is appearent), and is eager to show he is running the show, laughs his silent “former KGB officer” laugh.

While you are at it, check out this rogues’ gallery of useful idiots. Even if you have only a few toes in the world of academia, as I do, you will immediately recognize several of the people serving Yakunin on his think thank’s “supervisory board” and “programme council.”

Screenshot from the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute website
Screenshot from the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute website

But what about the quality of the research supposedly underway at this so-called research institute? Here is a little sample, the abstract of a paper, downloadable for free, entitled “Church and politics: Russian prospects,” written by someone named Boris Filippov.

The paper is an attempt to make a brief overview of the Russian Orthodox Church’s state in the Post-Soviet Russia. Author notes, that the Church’s role in building civil society in Russia is potentially very considerable, since the Orthodox community’s ability to self-organize is rare for the post-Soviet Russia. He provides abundant empiric material illustrating Christian Orthodox community’s high capacities to contribute to building a prosperous society, for, as he shows, believers have gone much further on the way of consolidation than Russian society as a whole.

Is everyone who is speaking at today’s conference in Berlin and everyone who serves on Yakunin’s supervisory board and programme council kosher with obscurantist Russian Orthodox nationalism masquerading as scholarship? Do all of them know that “Russian Orthodoxy” (as interpreted by Patriarch Kirill and his intemperate followers) is now being used in Russia as an ideological battering ram to quash dissent and difference and reinforce Putin’s seemingly endless administration, as “Marxism-Leninism” was similarly used in the Soviet Union?

Do they know that their generous benefactor Vladimir Yakunin, in one of his other guises, wholeheartedly supports just this variety of aggressive Russian Orthodox nationalism?

The merging of political, diplomatic and religious interests has been on vivid display in Nice, where the Orthodox cathedral, St. Nicholas, came under the control of the Moscow Partriarchate in 2013.

To mark the completion of Moscow-funded renovation work in January, Russia’s ambassador in Paris, Aleksandr Orlov, joined the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, for a ceremony at the cathedral and hailed the refurbishment as “a message for the whole world: Russia is sacred and eternal!”

Then, in a festival of French-Russian amity at odds with France’s official policy since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the ambassador, Orthodox priests, officials from Moscow and French dignitaries gathered in June for a gala dinner in a luxury Nice hotel to celebrate the cathedral’s return to the fold of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Speaking at the dinner, Vladimir Yakunin, a longtime ally of Mr. Putin who is subject to United States, but not European, sanctions imposed after Russia seized Crimea, declared the cathedral a “corner of the Russian world,” a concept that Moscow used to justify its military intervention on behalf of Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine. Church property from the czarist era, Mr. Yakunin added, belongs to Russia “simply because this is our history.”

—Andrew Higgins, “In Expanding Influence, Faith Combines with Firepower,” New York Times, September 13, 2016

This entry has the title it does, not because I wanted an excuse to insert a recording by a beloved band of my salad days, which I did anway, but because when I draft editorials like this on Facebook, as I often do, I usually endure stony silence from my so-called friends and readers after I post them. It is not that they are usually so garrulous anyway, but I do know they read what I write, because they are capable of responding enthusiastically to other subjects.

Writ large, this stony silence is what has helped Vladimir Yakunin operate his Dialogue of Civilizations hootenanies (usually held annually in Rhodes until the recent upgrade and move to Berlin) under the radar for nearly fifteen years with almost no scrutiny from the western and Russian press and, apparently, no due diligence on the part of the hundreds and maybe thousands of non-Russian academics, politicians, experts, and other A-league movers and shakers who have attended and spoken at these events.

So can we assume, for example, that Georgi Derluguian, Anatol Lieven, Walter Mignolo, and Richard Sakwa (I am only picking out the names of scholars with whose work I am familiar) condone the Kremlin’s occupation of Crimea, the Kremlin’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin’s downing of Flight MH17, the Kremlin’s repeat invasion and wholesale destruction of Chechnya, during the early day of Putin’s reign, and the Kremlin’s extreme crackdown on Russian dissenters of all shapes and sizes, from ordinary people who reposted the “wrong” things on social networks to well-known opposition politicians, journalists, and activsts shot down in cold blood for their vocal dissent, including Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov, and Stanislav Markelov, a crackdown that has been intensifying with every passing year Putin has remained in power?

A resounding “yes!” would be refreshing to hear, but we will never get any response from the members of Vladimir Yakunin’s semi-clandestine fan club. It is their dirty little open secret, and only someone who is uncouth, someone unfamiliar with the ways of the world’s power brokers and their handmaidens and spear carriers, would even think about asking them to reveal it. TRR

 

“Extremism” Ruling Against Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Popular Will?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Was it the “popular will” that 500 hectares of land be reclaimed in the Neva Bay right off Petersburg’s Vasiliyevsky Island and developed into densely built high-rise estates, causing untold amounts of environmental and aesthetic damage? No, it wasn’t. In fact, locals were bitterly opposed to the project and they mounted a loud resistance back in the day. But their will was roundly ignored by Petersburg city hall and developers. Under the present authoritarian regime, “popular will” is a friendly phantom, at best, an irritant, at worst. Photo by the Russian Reader

The Russian Supreme Court has gone ahead and banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses and ordered their property confiscated. This is a colossal insult to hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Russian citizens. A huge new underground has been generated. Massive crackdowns for their faith, new political prisoners, and mass immigration are around the corner. The Russian authorities and Moscow Patriarch Kirill, who is personally responsible for this operation, have curious ideas about the joy of Easter.
—Nikolay Mitrokhin, Facebook, April 21, 2017

Perhaps this is what is most disheartening about the recent legal battle. The state may be the central actor, but its actions reflect the popular will of Russians who, by and large, have decided that Witnesses have no place in their society.
—Emily Baran, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Spells End for Russia’s Religious Diversity,” Moscow Times, April 24, 2017

When did Russians decide this? Did they hold a referendum recently? Are most Russians even aware of how the Justice Ministry has used the Russian Supreme Court to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremists,” allegedly, at the insistence of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Kirill? I very much doubt it.

Professor Baran only mentions actions by state or quasi-state actors, such as the central press in Soviet and post-Soviet times. Yet they were and have been somehow acting on behalf of the “popular will,” a symbiosis she makes no real attempt to prove in her op-ed piece for the Moscow Times, as quoted above.

As for real popular sentiment, I imagine there are as many Americans as Russians who have reflexively negative attitudes toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just think of all the jokes about JWs you have heard in your lifetime that cast them in a negative or ridiculous light, or how many times you have seen their likenesses figuring as the villains on TV medical dramas who refuse proper care for desperately sick children? Then why aren’t they banned in the US? At worst, the American “popular will” sees them as outsiders and obscurantists, at best, as an annoyance.

I can imagine that tenure-track professors in the US have a hard time understanding how disempowered and disconnected the grassroots are in a country that now has the world’s largest income inequality gap, and a long, brutal history of minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, getting hammered by the powers that be while putative “majority” either did not mind, looked the other way or did not even notice.

But does Tennessee, where Professor Baran teaches, have an utterly different history when it comes to protecting the rights of its minorities?

The Russian Supreme Court’s decision to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses extremist is completely despicable in every possible way, but Russians who bother to care about minorities and “minority” interests (like the environment, civil and social rights, corruption, labor rights, migrant rights, and historical preservation and sound urban planning) are often too few and far between to fight every battle and put out every fire. And many of those fighters are themselves currently under the state’s gun. The same Justice Ministry that has gone after Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses like a pit bull has also been branding NGOs, research institutes, and grassroots organizations “foreign agents” like it was at a fire sale.

That is no excuse for the judicial execution the Russian state has just performed on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it was a decision made at the top by the political, ecclesiastical and judicial elites, including the ROC’s Patriarch Kirill. It was not the state’s response to a nonexistent, utterly imaginary “popular will.” {TRR}

Russian Supreme Court Looks Set to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses

Hearing of the Justice Ministry’s case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Russia in Russian Supreme Court, April 5, 2017, Moscow. Photo courtesy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Russia

Supreme Court Refuses to Recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses as Victims of Political Repression
Court Examining Justice Ministry’s Suit to Have Organized Declared “Extremist”
Yelena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
April 5, 2017

The Supreme Court has begun its consideration of the Justice Ministry’s suit against the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The ministry has asked the organization to be declared extremist, to ban its work, and to close it.

The Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia had tried to file a counterclaim, asking that the Justice Ministry’s actions be declared illegal. It also asked the court to rule that the ministry’s actions against the Jehovah’s Witnesses were political repression and to throw out the Justice Ministry’s suit. However, the judge refused to take the counterclaim into consideration.

The Justice Ministry has filed its suit to close not only the Administrative Center but also all of the religious organization’s branches and affiliates in Russia.

“The true goal is political repression against religious organizations, in particular, the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” said a defense counsellor.

He recalled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were also banned in Soviet times. In the early 1990s, however, the authorities admitted that members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been victims of political repression, and they were subsequently rehabilitated.

Three hundred and ninety-five local chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have asked to be named co-defendants, since their work would be stopped if the Administrative Center were deemed an “extremist” organization. Each of these chapters, which could be deemed “extremist,” has the right to ask Justice Ministry officials why they want to ban them, said a defense counsellor. The court turned down the request. They also requested the case files from administrative cases, in particular, cases in which the authorities claimed to have seized “extremist” matter. A defense counsellor said there were witnesses who had seen matter that had previously been recognized as “extremist” planted in places where searches had taken place. This motion was also denied. The next hearing in the case will be on Thursday.

In October of last year, Moscow’s Tverskaya District Court issued a warning to the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for “extremist” activity. In January of this year, Moscow City Court upheld the legality of the warning. In March, the Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court asking that the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia be recognized as an “extreme” organization and that its activities be banned after inspections allegedly revealed violations of anti-“extremist” laws. At the same time, an order was issued to suspend the work of both the Administrative Center and all local chapters until the court had made its final decision. In turn, the Jehovah’s Witnesses indicated the ban would affect four hundred registered local religious organizations and 2,777 religious groups in Russia, amounting to 175,000 followers. The Supreme Court had already upheld the closure of local chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol, Belgorod, Samara, and other cities.

___________________

Nikolay Mitrokhin
Facebook
April 5, 2017

Today, a trial began whereby the Russian authorities intend to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The whole world understands it is shameful to persecute people for religious beliefs, but not the Russian authorities, who habitually could not care less about their reputation. If we speak in terms of the “public good,” then in the coming years, as terrorist attacks continue, crime rates remain high, and corruption has become total, law enforcement agencies will be busy “interdicting” the religious activities of the organization’s 170,000 active members. (This figure does not included the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of sympathizers, family members, and people involved in some way.)

There is no doubt the entire attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been undertaken by Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov to curry favor with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. It could be stopped with a single phone call. And yet this ban won’t really help the ROC in any way. Moreover, it will cause it serious problems, which even part of the church leadership understands. However, Kirill and his ideological confederates, having long ago taken the bit between their teeth, are speeding the church’s carriage over bumps and gullies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

St. Isaac’s Cathedral Belongs to All Petersburgers

Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Winter View of the Bronze Horseman with St. Isaac's Cathedral in the Background. Image courtesy of Artnet
Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Winter View of the Bronze Horseman with St. Isaac’s Cathedral in the Background. Image courtesy of Artnet

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
January 14, 2017

I realize everyone is already sick to death of the topic of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and that today is a weekend day to boot. But I’ve been mulling this text over in my head for three days and struggling with the desire to write it down. I’ve been persuading myself there are lots of smart people aroiund who will write what needs to be written. But I can’t get the arguments out of my head, so I’ve given in to my desire.

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Folks, especially non-Petersburgers, who note melancholically, “Just give it back to the Church. Can’t you spare it?” really amuse me.

Well, no, we can’t spare it.

1. The ROC [Russian Orthodox Church] is not the Vatican, and all comparisons of St. Isaac’s Cathedral with St. Peter’s Basilica are irrelevant in this context. The ROC not only doesn’t know how to preserve architectural landmarks. It doesn’t want to preserve them. It wants to use them, and it preserves them the same way you maintain your apartment, for example. Imagine you’ve decided to put in parquet floors or throw out old furniture. Who is going to stop you? It’s your own business. You can figure out yourself what’s best for you: the new parquet or the old linoleum. This is basically how many church leaders and believers look at it. They believe an icon, however timeworn and whatever the destructive effects shifts in humidity, vibrations, etc., have on it, it should be in a church, not in a museum. Yes, it is has to be handled carefully and respectfully, yet it can be carried in a outdoor religious procession and venerated by parishioners kissing it. If something has happened to it, it means it was God’s will. A new copy of the icon will have to be ordered. I’m not exaggerating. I’m trying to explain that notions of “humanity’s heritage” and “universal value” are empty phrases for most members of the church community. They don’t understand how church property can be the business of unbelievers. Moreover, from their perspective, the right government should be Orthodox. It should maintain churches the way it maintains hospitals and schools.

The problem is not that we know of numerous cases in which the ROC has treated architectural landmarks and museum communities barbarically. The problem is the Church’s leadership has not publicly condemned any of these incidents. It doesn’t condemn them, because it doesn’t consider them important or it even approves them. So it will happen again and again, and heritage preservation authorities are basically powerless.

This is an answer to the exclamation, “Give back to the Church what was taken from it in 1917!”

Parents are given the right to raise their children. But if they treat them irresponsibly, hit them, don’t get them medical care when they’re ill, don’t feed them, etc., society acknowledges the need to restrict the rights of such parents. A hundred years ago, however, this would not have occurred to anyone. But our notions of violence, the value of human life, and children’s rights have changed. Our notions of culture and its right to protection have also changed. The ROC does not guarantee the safety and security of architectural landmarks in the sense regarded as normal in modern society. We cannot hand architectural landmarks over to the Church, at least not until the Church changes.

2. Why should the ROC be the main user of St. Isaac’s Cathedral? If we leave aside money and “historical justice,” the only reason could be to hold services on a full scale—not in the chapel, but in the central nave, for example, with the museum closed on feast days and so on. But think about it. Since the Patriarch can force [Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko] to give back a church, then of course the Patriarch could also obtain the best conditions for church services. Meaning this is not the issue.

The issue, of course, is money and “status.”

So we have a public museum. We know everything about it: how much money it earns, how much money it spends and what it spends its money on, and how much it pays in taxes. And we have the Church. We don’t know anything about it, and that will go on being the case. No, we do know one thing: it doesn’t pay taxes. So we won’t be able to find out whether the Church has the money for routine repairs and restoration work or not. Going back to my first point, the Church might not think that restoration is necessary. So the city will always have to have the necessary sum of money for repairs on hand. Plus there are the taxes, the taxes the cathedral museum pays now and won’t be paying in the same amount after the cathedral’s transfer to the Church. All this means that the “free” entrance with which the church community has been tempting us, will be free for everyone except Petersburgers. Every Petersburger will pay (via the city’s budget), regardless of whether he or she has visited the cathedral or not.

It would be nifty, beautiful, and right if entry to St. Isaac’s Cathedral were free to everyone. But we can’t afford it. A normal family doesn’t sell its only home to buy a Mercedes to show off to the neighbors, but drives a car it can afford or takes public transport. Similarly, Petersburgers cannot afford, for the time being, We should recognize this and live within our means.

P.S. I’ve come across a reference to Clamoring Stones: The Russian Church and Russian Culture Heritage at the Turn of the Millennium (2006), a book by the archaeologist and art historian Alexander Musin. It is about how restitution of church property has taken place and the consequences this has had for Russia’s cultural heritage. I haven’t read it yet. I haven’t even found where I can buy it. But I think it’s a must read. (Here’s a review.)

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Hundreds Protest Giving St. Isaac Cathedral To Russian Orthodox Church
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
January 14, 2017

Several hundred people rallied outside a St. Petersburg landmark cathedral on January 13 to protest plans to give it to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The local governor this week announced the city was transferring the iconic St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Orthodox Church, sparking a rash of protests in the former imperial city.

Protesters flocked to Isaakiyevskaya Square near St. Isaac’s to protest the move on the evening of January 13. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been an important museum since Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. More than 3.5 million tourists visit it every year.

“The Church should know its place!” one placard read.

Police confiscated one poster but did not otherwise block the protest.

TASS reported that activists have gathered as many as 160,000 signatures on a petition to revoke the local government’s decision to give away the cathedral.

The signatures include people from Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and Krasnodar as well as St. Petersburg, TASS said.

The church takeover of the landmark is part of a growing trend toward social conservatism in Russia. President Vladimir Putin has appealed to traditional values and urged citizens to eschew Western liberalism.