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Russia: The Orthodox Church And The Kremlin's New Mission

  • Victor Yasmann

Patriarch Aleksy II (epa) At a recent convention, Russian Orthodox Church and political leaders spoke of their vision of Russia redefining its place in the world. But is it a vision everyone agrees with?

In particular, the 10th World Council of Russian People, an umbrella organization of national patriotic and public organizations, focused on two topics: the Russian Orthodox Church's interpretation of human rights and Russia's mission in the 21st century.


The council, created in 1993, brings together Russians from home and abroad and is under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.


'Russia's Uniqueness'


Opening the council on April 4, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksy II, set the anti-globalization and anti-Western tone of the event. He spoke of the "unique" historical coexistence of different confessions and nationalities in Russia. And he also questioned the concept of Western human rights.


Addressing the conference the next day, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that "Russia's uniqueness" should be defended amid the "drive of globalization." Lavrov said that Russia should transform itself into an "independent force in international politics, which fits in with its national and religious uniqueness."


Lavrov's comments were supported by many leading Russian public figures attending the convention. Some went as far as calling for a new historical mission for Russia. For example, First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska said Russia should carry out a "mission of preserving harmony between East and West."


Metropolitan Kirill, one of the church's leading ideologues, stressed another aspect of this "mission," saying some Orthodox states have already entered or will enter the European Union. In an article published in "Izvestiya" on April 5, Kirill wrote that Russia is already today "part of the general European space, at least as far as rights are concerned." That gives him the necessary grounds to call for more influence vis-à-vis the EU.


As a result, the council adopted a concluding document, calling for Russia to become "once again one of the most powerful states."


The theme of Russia's new mission in the world is in keeping with President Vladimir Putin's plans to transform Russia into an "energy superpower."


But a new poll suggests that there might not be so much popular support for the idea of Russia having a new historical mission. According to a survey carried out by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion VTsIOM in March and published on the pollster website wciom.ru, most Russians are lukewarm about the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church's new vision in foreign policy.


Thirty-four percent of respondents said they want Russia to regain its superpower status; 38 percent want Russia to be among the 10 most influential countries in the world; only 14 percent agree Russia should be a regional power; and 7 percent say Russia should back away from any global ambitions at all.


Only 11 percent want Russia to be a world center of power regulating conflicts or a bridge linking Europe and Asia, or developed with developing countries. The same percentage of respondents believe that Russia should reoccupy the former Soviet republics, but the majority believe that Russia's power should be based on economic might.


Universality Of Human Rights Questioned


Also on the agenda were discussions about the Western concept of human rights. In UN documents, human rights are natural and inalienable rights of every person from birth. But the Russian Orthodox Church contends that human rights are granted by God or by state and therefore are not inalienable.


Metropolitan Kirill, the author of the Russian Orthodox Church's human rights declaration, said that Russian clerics reject the concept of "moral autonomy" and do not consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN in 1949 to really be universal as it originated in the West.


Kirill also condemned homosexuality, abortion, gambling, and euthanasia and said the Russian Orthodox Church does not accept the liberal thesis that "human rights prevail over the interests of society."


He said that church believers and atheists have a very different understanding of notions such as "human dignity" and "rights and freedom." Sliska, speaking at the convention, accused the West of "imposing on the world the values of Western society."


The council adopted six "Russian Declarations of Human Rights." The declaration stated that"there are values that are no less important than human rights, they are: faith, morality, sacred objects, the Motherland." The document stressed that one should not allow a situation under which the concept of human rights suppresses faith and moral traditions.


The most striking provision of the document says that "freedom of choice leads to self-destruction and damages human dignity." According to the document, the church itself will be the arbitrator of good and evil: "it is the religious tradition [that is designed] to distinguish between the good and the evil."


The council perhaps shows how the Russian Orthodox Church is positioning itself to be the "ultimate guide"that the Communist Party once was in the Soviet Union. In a welcome statement to the council, President Putin endorsed that role.

RFE/RL Russia Report


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