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In Russian Village Bearing Name Of God, Hell Raised Over Condom Factory

  • Tom Balmforth

Protesters also oppose the location of the factory, on the grounds of a shuttered brick factory in the vicinity of the Bogolyubsky Monastery. They say it backs onto a school as well.

MOSCOW -- Plans to build a factory manufacturing condoms in a Russian village that bears the name of God are facing spirited resistance from local believers.

The factory near a monastery in the village of Bogolyubovo, situated about 180 kilometers northeast of Moscow in Russia's Vladimir region, was envisioned by local authorities as an opportunity to create 200 jobs.

But with construction under way, members of the monastery's congregation are opposing it on religious grounds.

On December 4, dozens of Orthodox activists -- an estimated 120 according to local media -- rallied outside the local government administration to demand construction be stopped, the latest salvo in a confrontation that began last month.

Dressed in fur coats and hats, the crowd of mostly elderly women chanted prayers, gripped icons and a large wooden cross , and held aloft colorful banners with slogans like "No condom manufacturing on a holy site!" and "Mother of God, save us from desecration!"

The dispute over the factory, which if completed will also manufacture diapers and adhesive bandages, came to national attention on November 22 when a small group of Orthodox believers submitted a petition against its construction. Bergus, the firm that owns the factory, said it was too late to change the plans, but agreed to meet the group on November 24.

Even this concession raised eyebrows at the influential Kommersant business paper, which saw the factory through the lens of Russia's drive to replace imports with local production. "What is surprising is not the protest of believers, but the fact that the owner of the enterprise and local authorities entered into talks with them," it wrote on December 5.

Pavel Spichakov, the managing director of KIT, a holding company of which Bergus is part, said the resistance encountered was "completely unexpected."

"I thought they would support the creation of jobs and tax revenue for the village," Spichakov told RFE/RL's Russian Service on November 26, two days after the meeting with the group.

Surreal footage of the meeting was posted online by local journalists. It shows activists opposing the use of condoms against sexually transmitted diseases, among other things. "Purity is the instrument against ugly diseases," one attendee is seen saying. "From Bogolyubovo, we should spread purity and holiness!"

Protesters are concerned that any personal hygiene items produced in their village of 4,500 might bear its name -- which translates roughly as "God Lovers. " The village carries the name of 12th-century Russian Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky, who built the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl, a UNESCO protected site.

Several banners at the December 4 protest played on the names of the village and its region: "Russia is from Bogolyubovo" and: "Vladimir is not Sodom, and Bogolyubovo is not Gomorrah!"

Protesters also oppose the location of the factory, on the grounds of a shuttered brick factory in the vicinity of the Bogolyubsky Monastery. They say it backs onto a school as well.

Kirill Vasilyev, a journalist for the local news site Pro Vladimir who has covered the standoff, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that 15-20 active people were driving the protest.

"And many of them are not residents of the village of Bogolyubovo," he claimed on November 26. "They are from the monastery's congregation. Among the congregation there are many Muscovites, people from other regions."

Vasilyev claimed that the activists intended to collect the signatures of the majority of the villagers in order to stop the factory, but was skeptical they would manage that. "The people who we met on the street and the workers of the enterprise are either neutral or else say they are pleased that new jobs are being created."

"There used to be a brick factory here. It closed. People ended up without work. They have to travel to Vladimir now," he said, referring to the regional capital. "It's not far [it's 12 kilometers], but it's still not nice, according to them."

The Russian Orthodox Church has publicly remained neutral in the dispute, declining to support a side in what it sees as an issue that should be resolved locally. The church permits its adherents to use condoms, while noting, however, that "the deliberate refusal to have children because of selfish urges devalues marriage and is undoubtedly a sin."

Tatyana Fadeyeva, a Russian Orthodox activist leading the protest, opposed the factory on a number of points. "Why are condoms manufactured? To plan families. With the situation today our demography is not in the best shape. So such manufacture will not improve our demographics."

Asked about the jobs that would be lost if construction of the factory was halted, Fadeyeva said, "Then let's make a candy factory, let's make a factory for souvenirs, toys."

She said the village could also do more to take advantage of the "5 million, I think" people who pass through every year. "Let's do something that is spiritually good or good for our children."

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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