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

Old King Coal Was a Merry Old Soul

Miners outside King Coal's offices in Gukovo. Photo courtesy of Caucasian Knot
Miners outside King Coal’s offices in Gukovo. Photo courtesy of Caucasian Knot

Miners in Gukovo Reject Governor’s Figures on Wage Arrears Payments
Caucasian Knot
October 6, 2016

About 100 miners have picketed outside the offices of the former coal mining company King Coal. The protesters claimed that reports they had been paid 20 million rubles in back pay were not true.

Caucasian Knot has previously reported that, on September 30, Vasily Golubev, governor of Rostov Region, stated the Regional Development Corporation had paid off 20 million rubles in back pay owed to miners working for the King Coal group of companies. The governor said the remaining debt was 270 million rubles.

The picketers, who gathered on October 5 outside King Coal’s offices in Gukovo, were outraged at the inaction of officials and information disseminated by the authorities, which they called “false.” In particular, they were upset by Governor Golubev’s announcement that miners had been paid 20 million rubles in back pay.

vasily_golubev_2013
Vasily Golubev. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“What 20 million?! At twelve o’clock on October 3, we were paid 17,604,000 rubles,” said Nikolai Nadkernichny, a co-coordinator of the protest. He cited information from the Gukovo Territorial Committee of Trade Union Organizations.

“The governor probably rounded the figure. Well, he did a good job of it. Would that our pay were rounded up this way,” he added.

Nadkernichny doubted the governor’s claim that the remaining wage arrears amounted to 270 million rubles.

“On January 1, 2016, the wages owed us amounted to 319 million rubles. Even if you substract 20 million, you still don’t get 270 million,” sad Nadkernichny.

According to him, 200 people were still employed by King Coal in payroll and collections, accounting, and security. They were not being paid, so the actual amount of wage arrears was even higher.

Dmitry Kovalenko, an activist, reported that, on October 3, 406 workers at the Zamchalovo Mine, 93 workers at Tunneler LLC, and 279 workers at Rostovgormash had received payments.

According to Kovalenko, workers in the above-named organizers had not [sic] been paid for almost two weeks. Only at the Diamond Coal Company were workers being paid.

The protesters were also outraged that Mikhail Tikhonov, Rostov regional minister of industry and energy, had skipped a meeting with them scheduled for last Friday (September 30) and had kept brushing them off.

“His press office said he was in Moscow, but on Friday he was shown [on TV] at tube-rolling mill in Taganrog. The minister is obviously avoiding us, because this summer he promised 1,000 tons of сoal allowances [for heating and cooking] by October 15, but so far we have received only 100 tons,” said Nadkernichny.

“We are waiting for a reply from the President to the registered letter we sent him on September 23 after his community liaison office refused to take it. But so far there has been no response,” said Nadkernichny.

Caucasian Knot has also reported that properties (two administrative buildings and the right to lease the lot were they are located) owned by Diamond Coal Company JSC, a subsidiary of King Coal, had been put up for auction. The starting price for the properties was 50 million rubles.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Go to Caucasian Knot’s special page on the Gukovo wage arrears protests for this and earlier reports on the conflict.

Regime Cracks Down on Protesting Krasnodar Farmers

“They Have Really Gone After Us”
After returning to Krasnodar Territory, participants of tractor convoy feel the heat from the very people against whom they complained
Anna Bessarabova
Novaya Gazeta
August 28, 2016

The farmers after their tractor convoy was dispersed. They have been sentenced to three to ten days in jail. Not a single independent human rights activist came to their court hearings in the village of Kazanskaya. Photo courtesy of Anna Artemieva/Novaya Gazeta

The farmers were threatened during the convoy. We will stage a second Novocherkassk massacre for you and dice you like cattle in a slaughterhouse, they were told by security officers, who after the protest was dispersed have been zealously carrying out checks of their homes and farms.

Around thirty FSB officers raided Nikolai Borodin’s farm in the village of Kazanskaya, which they turned upside down. The tax inspectorate has been looking into property owned by the relatives of protest leader Alexei Volchenko. Other men have been interrogated by the prosecutor’s office. Nina Karpenko escorted her driver Seryozha Gerasimenko, a young fellow with three small children, to the detention center. He has been jailed for three days. The other men were also issued misdemeanor charge sheets: the authorities even went to the trouble of delivering the documents to their homes. The hearings took place on the weekend (Saturday) in the Kavkazsky District. Sergei Gorbachev was jailed for five days, Slava Petrovsky, for four days, Andrei Penzin and Semyon Smykov, for three. The rest of the protesters are waiting their turn.

“Nearly everyone in the villages has been paid visits by prosecutors and police,” farmer Ludmila Kushnaryova told Novaya Gazeta. No one knows what they are looking for. Or what the charges will be, either. The pressure has not stopped.”

“I cannot believe this is happening to us, in our country. We had no idea it would be so frightening,” said Nina Karpenko. “They have really gone after us. The deputy chief of the district traffic police escorted my tractor drivers and me to the hearings. He followed us for 250 kilometers. Whatever for? There were two people working in the courthouse on Saturday: the judge and the chairman. Didn’t they have anything else to do?”

Nikolai Maslov and Oleg Petrov, two convoy participants jailed for ten days, have been transferred to Novocherkassk.

“Dad called early this morning. He said everything was alright. But who knows. Maybe he just didn’t want to scare us?” said Igor Maslov, worried about his father. “We still haven’t found lawyers for them. How much do you think they’ll gouge us?”

Alexei Volchenko’s colleagues and friends have been looking for him. He has not been answering calls to any of his phones. He is not to be found in his home village. He has disappeared. The last thing the farmers heard was that Volchenko had been fined in Rostov Region. He made it back to Kuban, where he was detained again and sentenced to ten days in jail in Ust-Labinsk. The authorities are now, allegedly, preparing to charge him with extremism.

The Russian government, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the Russian Investigative Committee have been pretending nothing is happening in Kuban. The official TV channels have been airing election campaign spots about the ruling party’s ability to listen to people, but they have not aired any stories about the events in Krasnodar Territory.  They have maintained their silence for a week.

Alexander Popkov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, Boris Titov, federal commissioner for the rights of entrepreneurs, former Federation Council member Ivan Starikov, and Russian Federal Public Chamber chair Georgy Fyodorov have promised to help the participants of the tractor convoy.

“Obviously, the farmers have committed no offenses, and the wild imitation of law enforcement involving riot police and arrests for a ‘rally’ in a cafe are aimed at suppressing a peaceful and reasonable protest campaign,” said lawyer Alexander Popkov. “The first thing we are going to do is file appeals, and then we are going to see whether there is any point in beating our heads against the courts in Russia or whether we should immediately file a class-action complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.”

“I have been in contact with the farmers, their wives, and their children. They are drafting an appeal, and next week we plan to hold a big press conference in Moscow,” Ivan Starikov informed Novaya Gazeta. “Their problem needs to be solved systemically. People’s land shares are being confiscated, and there are around 300,000 victims of this practice nationwide.”

According to Valentin Pyshkin, attorney for convoy participants Nikolai Maslov, Oleg Petrov, and Sergei Vladimirov, the farmers have filed an appealed against the court decisions that sentenced them to ten days in jail.

“But we won’t get an answer earlier than Monday,” the lawyer explained. “On August 26, I was not admitted to the Novocherkassk detention center and allowed to talk with my clients, because, you see, according to their internal regulations, prisoners are entitled to representation by a lawyer only from two to four in the afternoon. It is an odd rule. But at four o’clock I had a court hearing in Aksai. Rustam Mallamagomedov from the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) was on trial. On August 24, he had gone to the police station on his own to find out what had happened to the detainees, and the police didn’t let him back out of the station.”

Truckers Ready to Fight for Farmers 

Andrei Bazhutin, chair, Russian Association of Carriers (OPR):

“We arrived from Petersburg to Moscow, where we were getting ready for a car convoy through Siberia. We learned about the arrest of the tractor convoy on the morning of August 23 and changed our plans. We went to support the tractor drivers. We were stopped by police for eight hours on the Moscow Ring Road, and eight hours in Voronezh Region. Along the way, we were written up for violating Article 20.2 of the Misdemeanors Code [“Violation of the established rules for organizing or holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket”  — Novaya Gazeta], but they did not stop us from traveling further.

“By the time we got to Rostov, two of our activists [who had been with the tractor convoy from the beginning — Novaya Gazeta] had been sentenced to ten days in jail, while another two had been fined 10,000 rubles. Now we are here in Rostov: we have four big rigs and some cars. We are working with the lawyers and human rights activists and trying to help the guys out. We think it is necessary to gather journalists and advance on Krasnodar Territory to draw attention to these court hearings. Center ‘E’ [the Interior Ministry’s Center for Extremism Prevention — TRR] has intimidated everyone here.

“We have also contacted the miners on hunger strike in Gukov and agreed to support each other. Our demands will be voiced at their next picket too.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Read my previous postings about the protest by Krasnodar farmers and the regime’s crackdown against it.

Polite Farmers Are Dangerous Farmers

Court Orders Arrest of Tractor Convoy Organizer and Participants
Lenta.ru
August 28, 2016

Alexei Volchenko, leader of the Polite Farmers movement. Photo courtesy of Nikita Tatarsky (RFE/RL)
Alexei Volchenko, leader of the Polite Farmers movement. Photo courtesy of Nikita Tatarsky (RFE/RL)

The Kavkazsky District Court in Krasnodar Territory has ordered the jailing of Alexei Volchenko, leader of the Polite Farmers movement, and eleven other participants of a planned tractor convoy to Moscow. Quoting Olga Golubyatnikova, a member of the Krasnodar Territory Public Oversight Committee, the news website Caucasian Knot reported the arrests on Sunday, August 28.

Volchenko will spend ten days in jail for not authorizing the convoy with Krasnodar Territory authorities. The other farmers will spend between five and ten days in jail. According to Golubyatnikova, the leader of the Polite Farmers admitted his guilt “due to pressure from the police.” According to her, Volchenko said at his court hearing that a policeman had threatened to charge him with extremism.

Golubyatnikov also reported that Volchenko would be serving his administrative arrest in the Ust-Labinsk detention center.

On August 25, the Askay District Court in Rostov Region ordered three of the participants in the tractor convoy jailed for ten days and fined eleven others, ruling their actions an organized political rally. The farmers themselves claimed they had not organized a political rally but had simply been attending a meeting with Leonid Belyak, deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, and Andrei Korobka, deputy governor of Krasnodar Territory.

On August 24, the Rostov Regional Prosecutor’s Office organized an inquiry into the legality of the farmers’ protest.

The Krasnodar farmers’s convoy set off on August 21. Fifty people in seventeen tractors and several passenger vehicles left the village of Kazanskaya in Krasnodar Territory’s Kavkazsky District and headed towards Moscow. They had planned to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to solve the problem of the courts, which, in their view, issued unjust rulings [sic]. On August 22, the activists were invited to meet with Kuban authorities and temporarily halted the procession. On August 23, they were detained by police officers.

Translated by the Russian Reader

See my previous dispatches on the ill-fated Krasnodar tractor convoy: