Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Russia

Plights Of Blogger, Pussy Riot Highlight Church's Political Ambitions

Maksim Yefimov, a 35-year-old blogger, fled to Estonia.
Maksim Yefimov, a 35-year-old blogger, fled to Estonia.
By Claire Bigg
Maksim Yefimov had long been a thorn in the side of the authorities in Russia's northwestern Karelia Republic.
 
But it was a seemingly innocuous tirade against the Russian Orthodox Church that eventually got him in legal hot water and forced him to flee the country.
 
In April, shortly after three members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot were detained for performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin and the church in a Moscow cathedral, Yefimov went on trial on similar charges of inciting religious hatred.
 
The two trials unfolded as the Russian Orthodox Church launched a campaign against what it describes as "persecutors," and both cases are widely seen as highlighting the increasingly blurred lines between church and state.
 
Yefimov -- a 35-year-old opposition activist, rights campaigner, and blogger -- is certain the Moscow Patriarchate had a hand in his prosecution.
 
"Since the Russian Orthodox Church and the authorities are one and the same, this criminal prosecution was in the church's interest. Of course the church is behind this. Why should they like it when people criticize it and point to its violations of the law, of moral norms?" Yefimov says.
 
'Dressed-Up Beardies'
 
Like Pussy Riot, Yefimov criticized the Russian Orthodox Church's increasing coziness with the Kremlin.
 
In the blog post that prompted the charges against him, he blamed the church's resurgence for the "total corruption, oligarchy, and the absolute power of security services" in Russia, calling Orthodox priests "dressed-up beardies" and accusing them of using public funds to build churches.
 
He faces up to two years in jail.
 
The blogger, who was not detained during his trial, fled Russia in May after investigators asked that he be placed in a hospital for psychological examination -- a move denounced by veteran rights campaigner Lyudmila Alekseyeva as "absolutely illegal."
 
Yefimov now lives at an undisclosed location in Estonia, where he has applied for political asylum. Russian authorities have placed him on the international wanted list.

Many Russians, including devout Orthodox Christians, share Yefimov's sentiments and accuse the church of joining forces with the Kremlin to counter an ongoing protest movement against Putin's 12-year rule.

Aleksandr Cherkasov, a board member of Memorial, Russia's largest human rights group, says the "authorities have exhausted all their others resources, both ideological and organizational."

"In the Pussy Riot case, the defendants were found guilty of inciting hatred against Christian believers and not against Putin, whom they mentioned personally [in their performance]. This amounts to using the church for political goals. This bodes ill for the authorities, and, unfortunately, for the church too," Cherkasov says.

With more than 80 percent of Russians describing themselves as Orthodox Christians, the Russian Orthodox Church holds appeal as a power base.

Clerics have had significantly more success in bringing out crowds than pro-Kremlin youth groups, which have struggled to drum up popular support over the past year. In April, some 50,000 faithful attended a prayer service in defense of the Russian Orthodox Church, led by Patriach Kirill at the Moscow cathedral that Pussy Riot had chosen for its performance.
 
Three members of Pussy Riot received two-year jail terms.
Three members of Pussy Riot received two-year jail terms.
Boris Dubin, a sociologist at Russia's independent Levada polling center, says Putin's regime is using the church to fill an ideological vacuum. "For most Russians the church is part of the image of Russia as a great power, and the majority of people are nostalgic about this image," he says. "The secular authorities use this image of the church to consolidate itself since it has no serious ideas or programs."

Formally, the Moscow Patriarchate denies any involvement in politics.

Orthodox Church officials, however, have publicly supported the legal onslaught against Yefimov and the Pussy Riot trio, who were sentenced this month to two years in prison.

During the presidential campaign earlier this year, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, described Putin's years in power as "a miracle of God" and urged Russians to stay away from antigovernment protest rallies.

But it is Vsevolod Chaplin, an influential archpriest, who has spearheaded the Patriarchate's push to regain its historical status at the side of the Kremlin. Chaplin has openly called for an end to official secularism, defining the Russian Orthodox Church's goal as "the unity of church and authorities."

Skeptical Public

He has also led efforts to counter what clerics claim is a coordinated campaign of attacks unleashed against the church by the Russian opposition.

"On the one hand, there are attempts to step up such actions with the goal of changing the balance of forces in society, of imposing an ultraliberal agenda, of forcing people to accept what they do not wish to accept," Chaplin tells RFE/RL. "On the other hand, society is finally coming to its senses and understands that offending people on ethnic, religious, or social grounds poses a grave danger to society."

Chaplin has actively lobbied for Pussy Riot to be jailed, accusing the group of "satanic rage" against the church and calling on Russians to combat "heresy." And he recently called for the formation of vigilante Orthodox patrols in all Russian cities to defend churches from attackers. He has also backed prosecutors' attempts to send Yefimov to a psychiatric ward.

Despite its recent muscle-flexing, the church may face an uphill battle to impose itself on the political scene. According to an August poll by the state-run polling agency VTsIOM, 75 percent of Russians think the church should stay out of politics.

"People accept the church, and in some instances embrace its image. But really, they would like to just get on with their daily life without any interference by either church or government," Dubin from the Levada Center says.

Emboldened by the prosecution of Pussy Riot and Yefimov, however, the Russian Orthodox Church seems more assertive than ever.

Chaplin this week suggested toughening legislation and enhancing the authority of law enforcement agencies to further crack down on anticlerical behavior.

The church's supporters in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, have also been active. A bill criminalizing "blasphemy" is currently in the works.

"Punishment should be inevitable, including for the hate speech that takes place on the Internet. This is very, very important. Not a single offending comment against Orthodox Christians must be left unpunished," Chaplin says.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
August 31, 2012 21:00
So ? He isn't a Putin oppositor

but in any case he is persecuted ? Incredible !
In Response

by: Frank
September 02, 2012 12:50
Comes across as BS.

The openDemocracy propaganda site ran an article by Yefimov shortly before the above RFE/RL piece.



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