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Tatar Activists Upset Muslim Olympians Blessed By Russian Patriarch

KAZAN -- Some Tatar journalists and activists are protesting the blessing given by Russian Patriarch Kirill to Muslim members of the Russian Winter Olympic team at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior last week, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reports.

Several Muslims -- mainly ethnic Tatars -- on Russia's Olympic team were present in the church when the blessing was given by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church after a welcome letter from President Dmitry Medvedev was read aloud by one of his aides inside the church.

Rimma Bikmukhamedova of the Kazan-based "Irek Maydany" ("Freedom Square") newspaper, who writes mainly on religion and tolerance issues, told RFE/RL that the event orchestrated by the Orthodox Church was a public-relations stunt used to promote the church.

She said it is hard to imagine the reaction in Moscow and elsewhere if Kurban Berdyev -- the coach of Russia's champion soccer club Rubin Kazan and a practicing Muslim -- would bring all of his players with their different religious beliefs to Kazan's Qol Sharif Mosque to be blessed by the imam.

Nail Nabiullin, the chairman of the Tatar youth center Azatlyk (Liberty), told RFE/RL the ceremony at the Moscow church violates the Russian Constitution because it mixed state with religion.

He said "It is on the one hand a mockery and on the other hand a dangerous trend since the government and Orthodox Christianity are having a joint event, which contradicts the constitution."

Tatar youth activist Tabriz Yarullin told RFE/RL that the Muslim athletes who attended the event are the first ones who should be faulted since it was them who decided to attend the ceremony. He said they could have refused to go, even if there was great pressure on them to attend and if such a refusal would have possibly hurt their athletic careers.