Is Russia undergoing an American-style culture war or are the conflicts embroiling the former Soviet Union over sex and other cultural issues more homegrown?
In the Journal of Church and State (summer), international relations specialist John Anderson casts doubt on the idea that Russia has been strongly influenced by either American or global currents; in fact, he writes that there is “little evidence that a conservative Christian movement might emerge in Russia or that these issues enjoy the same political salience in Russia as they do in the United States.”
But events and controversies taking shape since the 1990s in Russia might seem familiar to Americans. Creationism has been taken up by Russian evangelicals and even some Orthodox leaders as they battle with government schools over the role of religion, church leaders have fought museums over allegedly sacrilegious art displays, and there have been growing church-state attacks—with approval from President Putin and other higher-ups– against gay rights. The first case stems from public suspicion about evolution (a 2009 survey found more Russians supporting the idea of teaching creationism along with evolution than Americans).
Anderson argues that the material on creationism used by Russian proponents may be linked to similar movements in the West, particularly the U.S.
But the key creationist activists have become “invisible,” with little access to Russian elites recently and there is no Russian “heartland” to draw on for mass support as is the case for American creationists: “In addition, a strong materialist scientific tradition broadly supported by the political elite makes it hard to see this issue gaining traction in the political arena.” The protests against offensive art displays did gain strong support from church leaders, but the Russian argument against perceived sacrilegious art was also “located in the rejection of individualism that prioritized personal choice above all else and in an appeal to traditional and national values.”
As for gay rights, Russian leaders did appear to “have picked up some of the language of conservative Christian communities in the West, with their emphasis on opposing the `propagation’ or `propaganda’ of sin as somehow normal,” Anderson writes. While there is an “internationalization” of anti-gay discourse, there is little interest from the Orthodox Church in building coalitions with other religious communities; it is more likely that the conservative religious agenda is promoted by the leadership of a church whose preferred modus operandi is working through a close relationship to the state.”
(Journal of Church and State, www.oxfordjournals.org)