Since Vladimir Putin’s reelection in 2012, there are increasing signs of a close coordination between the Moscow Patriarchate and the government in areas of social and security policy, writes Kristina Stoeckl (University of Vienna) in the Swiss monthly Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (October).
But the ongoing debate in Russia regarding who uses whom cannot easily be solved: does the Russian Orthodox Church exercise a strong influence, or does the government control the Church? Stoeckl lists four areas in domestic policy in which church and state have interacted. First, the reform of the juvenile court system as a consequence of ratification of the European Charter in 2009: what seemed to be a non controversial topic became a political issue after representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church warned against the implementation of foreign legal models, suspected of being imposed upon Russia by “international organizations.”
Regarding legislation on homosexuality (for banning public propaganda, such as gay prides), the Moscow Patriarchate supported the new law and political advocates of the law used Russia’s Orthodox traditions to justify it. Similarly, the Moscow Patriarchate supported (indirectly) the law requiring organizations getting money from abroad to register as “foreign agents.” Finally, following the infamous Pussy Riot case, a new law against offending the feelings of believers was welcomed by the Patriarchate.
In matters of foreign policy, Stoeckl stresses that the Government and the Patriarchate have been working hand in hand for promoting “traditional values” in arenas such as the United Nations. “Human rights” have become an important concept for the political coordination between church and state, but they are understood not in the terms of international agreements that Russia has signed, but through the lenses of “traditional values,” as defined by the Patriarchate in its own teachings on human rights, published in 2008
During the first two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, typical church-state issues dominated the church agenda: religious freedom, military chaplaincy, teaching religion at school, restitution of church property. Now that the church has reached what it wanted in those fields, a new phase seems underway, according to the author; it is characterized by a strong political coordination between Church and State in some areas.
However, Stoeckl is reluctant to see this trend as a return to something similar as the state instrumentalization of the Moscow Patriarchate during the Cold War: Putin’s government advocates such laws because they allow it to constrain political opposition, while the church sees it as a way to fulfill its mission in society. This could be seen as “power pragmatism” from the side of the church, although it may end up by paying a higher price than will the politicians: recent surveys show that many Russians reject a political role of the Church, even among many of those believers who otherwise advocate its action for moral renewal.
(Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West, Birmensdorferstrasse 52, P.O. Box 9329, 8036 Zurich, Switzerland – http://www.g2w.eu. See also: “The Russian Orthodox Church’s Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights” – http://mospat.ru/en/documents/dignity-freedom-rights).