Staunton, August 14 – If current trends continue, the Russian Federation will have more Orthodox churches than public schools by 2016, a remarkable development given that at the end of Soviet times only two decades ago there were nearly ten times as many schools as Orthodox churches.
In 1994, official statistics show, there were 68,110 schools in the Russian Federation, a number that declined only slightly to 66,428 in 2001 but that has since fallen to 45,031. In 1991, there were 7500 Russian Orthodox churches, a number that rose to 27,000 in 2006 and now stands at 32,500 (tatar-bozqurd.livejournal.com/18241.html).
The radical decline in the number of public schools there reflects three things: declines in the number of young people because of low fertility rates, the closure of many rural schools in non-Russian areas and particularly those using non-Russian languages, and the consolidation of schools in Russian areas.
Given the centrality of schools in the life of villages, where the school often is the only common public institution, this trend, which has accelerated under President Vladimir Putin, has undermined traditional ethnic Russian life as well as threatened the survival of many non-Russian groups.
The ethnic dimension of this decline is highlighted by the even more dramatic rise in the number of Russian Orthodox churches even in areas where polls suggest the percentages of active believers are small, a combination of developments that has led many non-Russians and non-Orthodox to draw some sweeping conclusions.
Indeed, in reporting these numbers, one Tatar web page argues that they show that “the goal of the present authorities is not the training of a healthy, moral and educated youth but the construction of churches in which there is absolutely no need, the closing of schools and discrimination against Muslim peoples who are living there.”
Indeed, Tatar-Bozurd concludes, this testimony to the very different way in which Moscow treats Russian Orthodoxy and non-Russians interested in secular education or their own faiths shows that “the two-headed eagle” on the Russian state shield is in fact a symbol not of power but of “double standards.”