RUSSIA: What Will Putin's Religious Policy Be?

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 10 May 2001

A draft religious policy will be ready for consideration by the Putin administration `by the end of the academic year' - mid-June 2001 - an employee of the religion faculty of the Russian Academy of State Service (RASS), an official body responsible for drawing up government policy, told Keston News Service on 15 March. In mid-April, however, a source close to RASS revealed to Keston that although the policy was complete and had already been received by the presidential administration, it had not been adopted and would `not even be considered in the near future'.

RASS religion faculty employee Veronika Kravchuk told Keston on 15 March that her department's policy was not for release prior to its adoption and publication. However, she confirmed that its main concept was that `Russia is a secular state', reflecting the constitution and international agreements. She believed Russia should hold to the principle of secularity, `despite attempts by clerics (`klerikaly') - the Church, I mean - to create a pro-Orthodox state'.

The head of the faculty, Nikolai Trofimchuk, was among religious studies specialists recently appointed to the presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations - a move apparently intended to balance secular and religious interests when the Council discusses the new religious policy later this year.

Unlike Kravchuk, Trofimchuk favours state support for the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) as a counterweight to the `negative impact of foreign religious organisations and missions' cited in Russia's National Security Concept, which Putin signed soon after becoming acting president in January 2000. Echoing the concern of fellow RASS employees that the activity of American Protestant missionaries in Russia's Far East is part of a US plan `to wrest away from Russia the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and after that all of the Far East' (see KNS 19 July 2000), Trofimchuk's recent book `Expansion' argues that domestic policy on freedom of conscience `should take into account the geopolitical aspects of missions', since these advance the `geopolitical plans of the states which carry the cost of supporting both missions and missionaries'. Trofimchuk suggests politicians should recognise that it is `entirely realistic' to form a corresponding `pro-Russian lobby' - particularly in the former Soviet bloc - orientated towards the ROC. `The state should seek forms or methods which would more resolutely defend the ROC's interests.'

When journalist Aleksandr Tyakhta of the religious newspaper NG-Religii expressed astonishment that Trofimchuk had openly told Church and government representatives at a 17 November 2000 meeting to discuss church-state relations that the state should support ROC missionary efforts, Trofimchuk responded with a half-page article, published in the same paper in March. Lifted almost entirely from `Expansion', the article repeated arguments that the state should support the missionary activity of the ROC, `whose traditions are an integral component of the culture of Russians (`rossiyan').'

Trofimchuk's article aroused strong and unusual criticism in the NG-Religii Internet forum. On 28 March one reader suggested he `must be afraid of something: perhaps those who entrusted him with writing the concept of church-state relations?', since he replied to Tyakhta's brief comments at such length. On 30 March another reader, Sergei Khudiyev, complained that Trofimchuk `is not concerned that foreign missionaries distort the truth about God or lead people astray from the path to salvation, but with how their activity is not in the interests of our state'. Khudiyev argued that `we must hold to the divinely revealed truth INDEPENDENTLY of whether or not the state approves it'.

If the RASS draft policy has indeed not been adopted for being either too crudely pro-Moscow Patriarchate or, conversely, secular - and Anatoli Krasikov, chairman of the Russian branch of the International Religious Liberty Association, commented to Keston on 27 March that Putin wanted `to have his cake and eat it' when it came to having either a secular or Orthodox state - what form could an alternative concept regulating church-state relations take?

For Kravchuk the optimum model `wouldn't be like in the USA', but would be closer to the co-operational system of Germany. Interviewed by Keston in January, Mikhail Odintsov, head of the department for religious and national issues within the apparatus of Russia's plenipotentiary for human rights, proposed an arrangement whereby the constitution would work on the level of the citizen, a law on religion on the local level `for societies of people united by a religious principle', while regional administrative institutions of different confessions would need a special relationship with the state. `Here we can talk about a system of concordats,' he suggested. (END)