ENGLISH VERSION: The "holy" and the "anti-religious". Persecution of the faithful in present-day Russia: ideological motives, methods and principles of victim selection. Report of Alexander Soldatov read by him at MHG conference
Moscow Helsinki Group has traditionally been focusing on the defense of the rights of the faithful subjected to persecution in both the Soviet Union and the present-day Russia. The current situation is aggravated by the fact that the state is no longer anti-religious or atheist. On the contrary, it patronizes the so called “traditional confessions” and imposes restrictions on all others, although the RF, according to its Constitution, is an ideologically neutral country that recognizes the equality of rights of all religious associations. However, in the Law on the Freedom of Conscience dated 1997 some sort of exceptional position was granted to Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. Representatives of these “traditional” religions are among the members of various quasi-federal and public organizations that have access to the funds distributed from the state budget.
The law enforcement practices and the political realities are such that the Kremlin, the courts, the force authorities and the local government officials directly interfere with the religious lives of the citizens, allot taxpayers’ money to some religious organizations while cancelling the registration of some other religious organizations, use such insulting terms as “sect” or “schism”, “protect” the religious feelings of the followers of the Moscow Patriarchate for a tiniest reason and injure the religious feelings of nonconformists in the rudest way. Basically, the present-day Russia possesses a number of essential features of a priest-ridden state where the general repressive policy clearly contains a sub-category of repressions based on religion or faith. In this context I regard atheism as one of the faiths the adherents of which have recently been subjected to repression.
In the last few years a number of articles legally substantiating the persecution for faith have been introduced in the penal and the administrative codes. First and foremost, it is Article 148 of the RF Criminal Code “Violation of the Feelings of the Faithful” that appeared in the aftermath of the Pussy Riot case. The classification criteria in this article are formulated so vaguely that any citizen of the country may fall under its provisions. For example, a criminal case against atheist Victor Krasnov was instituted under this article in Stavropol on the basis of the phrase “There is no GoT” (meaning God) left by him on a social networking website. Articles 280 and 282 of the RF Criminal Code – incitement of hatred or enmity and extremist activities – are the favorite articles of the law enforcement officers. The Law on Countering Extremist Activity adds fuel to the flames and may be extrapolated on the majority, if not all, of the citizens of the country due to the legal uncertainties it contains.
I would like to specify several risk groups the members of which are most often subjected to repression for the reason of their faith. It is particularly remarkable that some of these groups profess quite “traditional” Orthodoxy or Islam, but they do it outside the confessional structures that have the reputation of “official” or pro-Kremlin ones. It means that even the conventional discriminatory division of religions into “traditional” and “non-traditional” in the RF does not work when the state clericalism goes even further.
First significant risk group is made up of Muslims whose confessional structures does not imply a strict vertical hierarchy that exists, for example, in Orthodoxy. Due to the morbid fear of the Islamic State (banned in the RF), Wahhabites, Salaphites, caliphate supporters, Islamic separatists in Caucasus, Tatarstan and now in Crimea, pan-Turkism etc. the Russian law enforcement agencies toughly suppress various forms of independent Islamic activity. Works of Said Nursi, a relatively liberal Muslim theologian have been banned in the RF for about 10 years, and some people who have studied them are now in the places of detention. Most often the independent Muslims are convicted for involvement in the activities of the semi-mythical Hizb ut-Tahrir Party the existence of which becomes known to the convicts only in the course of the investigation. Any meetings of Muslims held outside mosques arouse suspicion among the authorities, such meetings are often dispersed and those who take part in them are unjustifiably detained. Police raids are regularly carried out in legally operating mosques as well. It may be assumed that such nervous attitude of the authorities towards Muslims and continuous growth in the number of their unfairly victimized brothers in faith fuel radical sentiments among the faithful in response.
Federal List of Extremist Materials that already contains more than 3,500 texts, images and videos is a major tool of repression. Criminal liability is stipulated for the storage of such materials “for the purpose of distribution”. Naturally, the fact of such “purpose” is established by a repressive agency. Muslim texts, including those that have no signs of extremism at all, make up almost half of the materials mentioned in the list. Quite a few Christian texts are there as well, including some articles published on Portal-Credo.Ru.
Second risk groups is Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) feared by the authorities due to their clearly expressed refusal to have any relation to politics (they refuse to serve in the army; vote in the elections, take any vows or oaths, honor national symbols, celebrate national holidays etc.). In the USSR they were characterized as an “anti-Soviet fanatic sect” and in the Third Reich they were sent to concentration camps. As for the JW in Russia, the authorities decline the relevant decisions of the ECHR, institute criminal proceedings for their collective prayers and Bible readings (as was the case in Taganrog), dissolve their local organizations by way of planting “extremist literature”, all of their magazines and brochures being recognized as such. Threat is hanging over the JW Administrative Center, and the court of the town of Vyborg examines in all seriousness the case of the recognition of the Bible in whole as “extremist”, and it does so only because the Bible is being distributed in the new translation made by JW. All this takes place in spite of the law on the ban on the recognition of the holy scriptures as extremist inspired by Ramzan Kadyrov, Governor of Chechnya, adopted in late 2015 and largely publicized by the Russian mass media. JW’s traditional street and flat preaching have almost been brought to an end due to police violence.
Other risk groups include Scientologists (ban imposed on the activities of their Moscow church), Mormons, Pentecostals, other Protestants, Hare Krishna followers, pagans (organizations banned); and at last – the “alternative” Orthodox communities, i.e. those not subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate. The blasphemous “relics case” in Suzdal that ended in the brutal confiscation of the holy relics in an Orthodox temple by special task force with the temple being desecrated fully demonstrated the hypocrisy of the official rhetoric about the “traditional” nature of Orthodoxy. Incidentally, from the viewpoint of Orthodox canons the Suzdal community is considerably more traditional than the Moscow Patriarchate. Last year Bishop Alimpiy (Verbitsky) of the quite traditional Old Believers Church which does not belong to the pro-Kremlin Moscow Metropolitanate of the Russian Old Believers Orthodox Church had to leave Russia. He was accused by the Federal Security Service Directorate of the City of Ryazan of… expressing sympathy for Ukraine. The hysteria and even the psychic inadequacy of the authorities seem to aggravate when one sees their absolute repressive indiscriminateness demonstrated in their attacks against the fake and burlesque Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Crimea has become a new problem area. Incompliance of the procedure of its annexation with international laws has naturally resulted in the emergence of a special “zone of lawlessness” similar to Chechnya where international mechanisms of human rights protection do not work. Catholics enjoy the relative freedom of practice in the internationally recognized part of the Russian territory whilst in Crimea the activities of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) are practically banned. Four out of five UGCC temples have been closed by the authorities and the fifth one, located in Simferopol, is now threatened with closure. Almost all Islamic educational institutions are closed, and the activities of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People that has been taking care of the restoration of mosques are banned. Midnight raids on the houses of Muslims with confiscations of Islamic books and various threats have become everyday occurrences. Situation is even tougher in the Donbass regions supported by Russia but controlled by terrorist groups where signs of religious war are clearly visible (“Russian Orthodox Army”, “established church” in the “constitutions” of the “republics”, executions of Protestant pastors, desecrations of the temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, shutdowns of Protestant prayer houses etc.).
Ideological motives for the persecution of the faithful in the RF are very simple. These are: pathological “verticality” that does not allow any uncontrolled forms of public activity, including religious one; mistrust towards international religious institutions; fear of “double loyalty”; Soviet-era revenge-seeking princilples and stereotypes that hinder the comprehension of religious sentiment and, consequently, religious freedom; attitude towards religion as a form of “patriotic” ideology that had replaced the Communist one but essentially remained the same. This ideology is intensively supported by the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. They willingly adopt the Soviet-style methods and slogans in the struggle against their religious rivals thus generating some kind of chauvinistic authoritarian/clerical “symphony of powers”.
"RELIGIOPOLIS", May 16, 2016