Religious Conflict in Russia

By Slava Tsukerman

On August 1 Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill blessed the cornerstone of a new Orthodox church outside the walls of the academy of the Federal Security Service (FSB) – the heir of the infamous KGB.

This seemingly unimportant event highlights the increasingly close ties between church and state, a relationship that had recently come under criticism from the opposition.

The patriarch’s appearance comes just as the three members of the feminist performance-art collective Pussy Riot are finally going on trial in Moscow after almost half a year spent in prison under Inquisition style investigation.

On May 24 I described in Newslanc the performance that led to their arrest.

Here are some details of the event:

On February 21, five Pussy Rioteers took to the altar in the Moscow Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was almost empty at this hour, and performed a mock prayer, begging the Virgin Mary to chase Putin out of power.

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They lasted about 30 seconds before being removed by security guards and the footage was later used in a music video, which in several days became a U-Tube hit.

Two weeks after the prayer, three women in Pussy Riot — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Mariya Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich — were arrested and charged with extreme “sinister” hooliganism, which can carry a sentence of up to seven years. The indictment against them also accuses them of trying to “openly express disrespect to the Christian world and the church canons.” They’ve been in jail since then for almost half a year, denied bail and waiting for the trial through several delays; two of the women are feeding mothers and were not allowed to see their infants since the arrest.

The Russian public is drastically divided over the issue. The Patriarch and many representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church are demanding the maximum punishment for blasphemy and “hurting believers’ feelings.” They are organizing demonstrations against supporters of “enemies of the faith. A poll shows that 46 percent of Russians consider seven years of imprisonment to be an adequate criminal punishment of participants of Pussy Riot punk group.

As the trial started, defendant Nadezhda Tolokonnikova asked believers to forgive Pussy Riot if unwittingly they hurt somebody’s religious feelings.

She issued a statement saying that the group acted because they become upset with “the Patriarch’s unconstitutional call for citizens to vote for Vladimir Putin in the presidential election.”

The group has a great deal of support both at home — tens of thousands of Russians including some known writers and film stars have signed an online petition demanding their release — and abroad — Amnesty International has taken up the Pussy Riot cause, as have a number of famous supporters: film director Terry Gilliam, singers Sting, Peter Gabriel, Anthony Kiedis and many others.

The guards of the Cathedral of ChristThe Savior witnessed the punk prayer. Immediately after the initiation of criminal proceedings they were questioned as witnesses and testified that have experienced mental anguish by viewing the behavior of the accused. As a result they were given the status of victims.

­­­­­­Last week the defending attorney of one of the guards Doctor of Law and Professor Mikhail Kuznetsov gave an interview to the Moscow News newspaper. Here is a translation of excerpts from the interview:

“The group led by Tolokonnikova is just a small visible tip of the iceberg of extremists seeking to smash the Millennium Foundation of the Russian Orthodox Church, provoking dissension, trying to steal the congregation from God, and  to bring it to Satan. Behind all this are the real enemies of our State, and orthodoxy….  It is absolutely clear to me that their actions soon will escalate into events comparable to the explosion of the twin towers on September 11th in America…

“Back then we were the first in the world who organized international conference to analyze the act of terror.  And it was proven by many scientists and other specialists that the act had been committed not by the American government or by the C.I.A. but by the forces above them. For instance, all the employees of the W.T.C. had been informed through secret masonic channels that they should not report to work on September 11th.”

When the interviewer asked the lawyer, “Do you mean that the Pussy Riot act and the terrorist attack in the U.S. were organized by the same people?” the lawyer responded, “In the first instance it was a satanic group, and in the second it was the global government. But at the highest level both are connected, as they are ruled by the same leader – Satan.”

The medieval behavior of the Orthodox Church representatives supported by the Patriarch himself triggered a very emotional reaction from the democratic opposition. Absolutely unexpectedly for the Patriarch, the opposition started a real war against him.

This all started from a question asked of the Patriarch by the prominent TV interviewer Vladimir Soloviev: “Why does the Patriarch, who as a Christian leader suppose is to be humble, wear $30,000 Breguet watch?”

Patriarch answered that he’s never worn this watch, and even couldn’t do it, as it is physically impossible for one in the patriarch formal dress to put a watch on his hand. In several days Russian bloggers discovered on the official Patriarch’s site his photograph, where the watch was erased by Photoshop program, but the reflection of the watch on the table stayed intact. The photograph became an Internet hit.

Following the photograph the old TV  news reel was re-released showing the Patriarch with his watch.

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Russians learned from some new publications, that prior to the moment the Kirill became the Patriarch his personal fortune was estimated by experts at 4 billion dollars.  According to a  publication his wealth, made by semi-legal business activity in the 90s, helped him obtain the patriarchal throne.

There were many publications lately on the same subject, one of them contained a photograph of the Patriarch’s  $4 million dollar yacht.

On Thursday at the airport of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, Yana Zdanova, an activist from the Ukrainian punk feminist group FEMEN, rushed to meet the Patriarch exiting his plane. The girl tore off the upper part of her clothes and topless, tried to break through to the Patriarch with a cry of “Get thee hence!” In a moment, a guard caught the girl and handed her over to police. The Patriarch did not react to the incident.

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Ukrainian court didn’t follow the lead of the Russian one. It immediately sentenced Yana to 15 days of arrest. This by Ukrainian law is the maximum punishment for a “small hooliganism.”

In his last speech the Patriarch, trying to say “the court is a very important institution in a human society”, made a Freudian slip, and said instead “the court is a very important execution in a human society”. I don’t think there is a need of a comment here.

All of Russia with bated breathwaits with bated breath for the decision of the Russian court on the case of Pussy Riot.

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Updated: August 4, 2012 — 8:22 am
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