Staunton, July 8 – Vladimir Putin’s approach to religion represents a return to Soviet practice, Boris Kolymagin says. Like his communist predecessors, the Kremlin leader wants to drive it “into a reservation” and reduce religion from being about faith and the daily lives of believers into a set of rituals to be practiced only by the permission of the state.
In a commentary in “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” the Moscow analyst argues that the so-called Yarovaya law which limits the missionary activity of religious groups and which Putin has just signed is just one more step in this direction and reflects his ideas about secularism and his notions about government control of all groups (ej.ru/?a=note&id=29889).
Even before Putin signed the measure and it enters into force, various institutions in Russia such as homes for the elderly or kindergartens have recognized the direction in which the wind is blowing and have cancelled lectures on religious themes lest they fall afoul of the new legislation.
In the view of many, the new law is directed against Protestants from the West and Islamists from the South and that Russia’s “traditional” religions – Orthodoxy, official Islam, Judaism and Buddhism – will only benefit from this defense. But that is not the case, Kolymagin argues.
The new law does play to the needs of fundamentalist anti-sectarian activists like Aleksandr Dvorkin and his ilk who want to stamp out any freedom of discussion about religion but who in fact are doing more to destroy religious faith than are their opponents. It may even be the case that these people helped draft the Yarovaya law.
But the problem is deeper and the threat greater, the Moscow commentator continues. “Let us be honest: atheism remains deeply part of the mental makeup of our society. And now it is taking away the symbolic capital of religion” even as it casts such actions as a defense of religion and religious freedom.
The concern of the authorities about religion and religious feelings “in fact is directed against faith: it is driving the Church into a golden cage” in which it has no freedom and its true calling is entirely subverted. And as a result, he says, “the ideas of tolerance in all their aspects are again being tested.”
“The problem of religious freedom,” Kolymagin says, “turns out to be connected not only with the law and with democracy of the Western model and Russian administered democracy but also with issues of Putin’s version of secularization,” a version that drains religion of faith.
The state, he argues, “is beginning to transform the traditional religions according to tis needs, stimulating some forms” – such as rituals – “while suppressing others” – such as missionary work. In the process, faith is driven out of religion and all that is left is the ritual practice which is all the state thinks it needs.