Russia: A country of religious freedom?

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of California Santa Cruz]On: 18 November 2014, At: 22:23Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    The European Legacy: Toward NewParadigmsPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cele20

    Russia: A country of religious freedom?Anatoly KrasikovPublished online: 23 Jun 2008.

    To cite this article: Anatoly Krasikov (1998) Russia: A country of religious freedom?, The EuropeanLegacy: Toward New Paradigms, 3:2, 39-43, DOI: 10.1080/10848779808579876

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  • Russia: A Country of Religious Freedom?*

    ANATOLY KRASIKOV

    Considerations of the former executive secretary of the Council for cooperation with reli-

    gious associations at the President of Russia.

    Is Russia today a country of religious freedom? Up to now the response to this ques-tion seemed evident. The breakdown of the totalitarian atheistic regime opened the way toa rapid rebirth of spirituality in Russian society. The restoration of destroyed churches andthe building of new ones started. Religious literature appeared in bookshops. Church ser-mons became an integral part of radio and TV programs. The cooperation between reli-gious associations and the state involved such areas as spiritual education, charity, peace-making, science, culture, protection and restoration of historical monuments, and care ofthe moral condition of society.

    The constitution and laws of the Russian Federation proclaim clearly the secularcharacter of the state, ideological variety, separation of religious associations from thestate, and their equality before the law. Any restrictions of the rights of citizens because oftheir religious affiliation as well as the propaganda of religious superiority are prohibited.

    The Russian Orthodox Church uniting the majority of believing Russians expressedclearly, on its part, its unequivocal position against becoming a state church. Since in thiscase "sooner or later the Church would become a department of the State," as His HolinessPatriarch Alexy II indicated. Other confessions of course have also no claims to be statechurches.

    While being separated from the state, however, the religious associations of the coun-try are never separated from the people. But at the same time they do not identify them-selves with a certain movement or party as such. In this respect it is remarkable that theoverwhelming majority of Muslim communities refused to support the political organiza-tion named "Union of the Muslims of Russia."

    In a special decision of the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, it hasbeen clearly said that Orthodoxy had no preference for a "certain state system, a certaindoctrine among those existing or some concrete public forces and their leaders includingthose in power." The decision of the Council was to restrain the zeal of some excessivelypoliticized priests who forgot their pastoral duties and rushed into the struggle among par-ties under the most various banners, from the ultrarightist to the left-extremist ones. Onecan say (in this case unfortunately) that this document has become especially importanttoday when some representatives of the clergy go far beyond what their priesthood permitsthem to do.

    *Reprinted from Russkaya Mysl 4416 (March 7-13, 1996), with the permission of Madame Irina IlovaiskayaAlberti, Editor; La Pensfe Russe/Russkaya Mysl; 217, rue du Fauborg St. Honort; 75008 Paris; France.

    The European Legacy, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 39^13,1998

    39

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  • 40 O v . ANATOLY KRASIKOV

    Not only the decisions of the councils of the Orthodox Churches and those of otherconfessions, but even the constitution of the Russian Federation, are being violated. Andthose who are to observe it first of all, i.e., the representatives of the state themselves, donot appear in a favorable light. In the last months, laws roughly violating the Constitutionof the country were adopted in more than a dozen of Russian Federation members, amongthem in the regions of Tula, Tyumen, Tver, Kostroma, and in the territory of Khabarovsk.And in one casein St. Petersburgthe arbitrariness of local legislators has been stoppedby the resistance of the executive authorities.

    The wave of legal nihilism finally reached the capital. V. Shumeyko, recently Chair-man of the Upper Chamber of the Russian Parliament, spoke publicly in favor of the ":fu-sion of two streamsthe streams of the State and the Church." Various versions of thesame idea are pushed forward by other political leaders who often belong to opposed po-litical groups. All of them try to use for purely momentary political goals the religious feel-ings of the faithful and the interest of religious associations of the country in cooperatingwith different layers of the society. This is evident, in particular, from the speeches of someparty leaders at the "Third World Russian People's Council," which took place some timebefore the December 1995 elections of the State Duma.

    The representatives of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) were especiallyactive in this area. For the discussion in the Duma, they presented the draft law proposingto "create within the Government of the Russian Federation a Holy Synod consisting of rep-resentatives of the hierarchs of the religions of native peoples of the Russian Federation."

    YELTSIN AND THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

    At the beginning of his rule, President Boris Yeltsin had a different position regard-ing issues of various confessions of the country and then instructed the Government "tocarry out the gradual transfer of cult buildings, premises and adjacent territories as well asother property of religious destination to religious associations for their ownership or use."(Let us notice that this decision of the state leader is often hampered on the local level, be-cause of the opposition of functionaries and various commercial structures.)

    Yeltsin, to his credit, resolutely stopped the attempts of the Supreme Soviet led byKhasbulatov to adopt a discriminatory law violating the rights of the faithful and the in-ternational obligations of Russia. The personal contribution of the president to the protec-tion of religious freedom in Russia has been highly appreciated not only in our country,but also far beyond its borders. This has been stressed, in particular, at the European sym-posium "Two Millenniums of Christian Culture," which I had the chance to attend inRome in 1993.

    The movement forward along the way chosen at that time by Boris Yeltsin, contin-ued: the council for cooperation with religious associations was created, with Orthodox,Old Believers, Protestants of various denominations, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, andJews becoming members of this Council.

    The main goal of creating this structure for directly communicating with the Presi-dent was to give a chance to the religious associations to formulate not only separately butalso together their recommendations to the head of the state on various issues of the in-ternal and external policy of the state, without abolishing or replacing at the same time the

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  • Russia: A Country of Religious Freedom? 41

    bilateral dialogue of the President with different religious associations, including the Rus-sian Orthodox Church.

    This has been an unusual, truly unique reform sui generis. Nothing of that kind hasever taken place before in the history of our country. After nine centuries of state religionand seventy years of state atheism, the relations between state and church received indeeda constructive character of partnership.

    The Council for cooperation between religious associations and the President ofRussia became part of a harmonious trilateral system formed by the Council and two statestructures: the Government Commission on Religious Associations and the responsibleCommittee of the Duma. The Government Commission is led by the Deputy Prime Min-ister and includes representatives of various ministries and administrations. The Commis-sion considers various concrete issues, including those linked to the restitution and resto-ration of church buildings and property in conformity with the 1993 decision of the Presi-dent. The responsible Committee of the Duma consists of deputies and participates inelaborating legal measures concerning the relations between the state and the church. Thereligious confessions have no representatives either in the Committee of the Duma or inthe Government Commission, but such representatives may be invited to their meetingswith the right of a deliberative voice.

    The President decided not to appoint a permanent chairman of the Council. It wasdecided (and mentioned in the rules) that the members of the Council would elect one ofthemselves to chair the meetings. At that time, the President did everything to avoid thetransformation of the new organization into an appendage of his administration staff. Helimited the participation of the state in this Council to two representatives. Those were oneof the President's personal assistants and the executive secretary of the Council. While pre-paring for the first meeting, the majority decided that it should be chaired by the represen-tative of the Russian Orthodox Church. The religious leaders were to decide themselveswho would chair the following meetings.

    Unfortunately the opponents of cooperation of religious associations and the stateon the basis of equality did not cease fighting. They did not give the Council a chance tomeet even once after it has been formed by the head of the state and received from himinstructions in the form of rules approved on August 2,1995.

    And all this took place in spite of the careful preparation of the meeting, in spite ofthe formulation of the preliminary draft agenda, and in spite of the fact that all the speak-ers were already appointed and the documents multiplied and sent to the addressees. Theissue of the new law on the freedom of conscience and religious associations that was dis-cussed in the State Duma had to be the central theme of the discussion. Of course, it wasnecessary to find out first of all what the ideas were of the leaders of Russian religious as-sociations concerning this issue.

    NEW DRIVING BELTS?

    But it seems that from the very beginning somebody in the top strata of power reso-lutely decided to undermine the decision adopted by the President in August. As a result,the work of the Council was limited to bilateral and multilateral meetings and correspon-dences of various confessions with the President and among themselves. It seemed for a

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  • 42 < ^ ANATOLY KRASIKOV

    certain time that we could resist the pressure of those for whom the faith of our citizens isonly a means to achieve purely secular goals. In March, however, the Council changed. Inearly 1996 when the plan to reorganize radically the Council became known, I warned thestaff of the President's assistants that I would not be able to participate in their realization,and I presented my petition to be dismissed from the functions of the executive secretaryof the Council.

    What happened in March 1996?

    1. More than a dozen representatives of civil authorities were introduced into theCouncil for cooperation with religious associations and the President of the Rus-sian Federation. Those were several deputy ministers, other functionaries, andofficials from the member territories of the Federation who were selected basedupon unknown criteria. In practice, this means that henceforth the President isto cooperate not so much with religious associations as with state officials.

    2. Before the reorganization, the representatives of the governmental staff couldparticipate in the discussion of concrete issues in the Council only with the rightof a deliberative voice. Now all the officials included in the Council have the rightof a deciding voice and the right of veto. As a result, they can stop the transfer ofany joint proposal of the confessions to the President if somebody's narrow bu-reaucratic interests are in disagreement with this proposal for some reasons.

    3. As I mentioned above, the representatives of the confessions of Russia supposedthat in this Council there would be no permanent chairman, a kind of "chiefprocurator" like the official placed above the church bishops in the Holy Govern-ing Synod in the Russian Empire. In March 1996, the state unilaterally decided toabolish the right of the religious associations represented in the Council to deter-mine themselves who would be responsible for the organization of their jointwork.

    4. Without preliminary consultations with the leaders of the confessions, the Coun-cil has been headed by its permanent chairman, today's chief of the administra-tion of the President, N. Egorov. Under the auspices of N. Egorov, the Council liasbeen reorganized. Before this the working staff, formed within the administrati onto help the confessions maintain contacts with state structures, has been de factodestroyed. Among eight members of the Department for Coop...

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