Russian neo-nationalists pursue church building and knife fighting

By Slava Tsukerman

Last year Russian Orthodox Church has initiated a program of the construction of 600 new churches in Moscow, the first two hundred referred to as “Program 200.”

Patriarch Kiril attends opening of the new church, the first of “Program 200”

This action resulted in an increase of social tension.  Local authorities, following orders from City Hall, are trying to organize public community hearings in support of the decision to build “walking distance temples.”

There are many reasons why most of the public is opposing the construction of new churches.

For example, some people don’t like the fact, that in order to quickly complete the task the new churches are often assembled from the standard concrete components, disfiguring the city.

But the main reason for the protests is that the most of the churches are to be built on the sites of public gardens, sport fields, dog walks, and children’s playgrounds.

In many cases, local residents and local officials protest against the construction.

“We are for park”

Representatives of opposition parties and civil society organizations are often on the side of the residents.

January 29 this year “The movement in support of the construction of 200 Orthodox churches in Moscow” was organized.

One of the leaders, young businessman Philip Grill (whose family architectural and construction firm allegedly has nothing to do with Program-200) stated that all public hearings should be canceled because “temples are more important than hospitals.”

The most active defenders of the “Program 200” are even far more radical than Grill.

Last week, for the first time in the history of the Program, 200, Orthodox Church activists clash with the locals which ended with detention of Orthodox rioters by police. It happened at the hottest point of confrontation – the park at the Molodezhnaia Street, where a lot of academics, university professors and other intellectuals live. Police arrested Dmitry Nenarokov, a ‘priest’ who organized the riot.

Dmitry (religious name – Demetrius) Nenarokov V., born in 1967, has no formal theological education. He is “self-ordained” and “self-appointed” (which is pretty common today in Russia, due to the shortage of educated priests). Nenarokov is connected with radical nationalists.

Recently, the Russian Internet presented photos of Nenarokov, under a black flag with skull and crossbones, committing a public memorial service at a rally in defense of Moscow Cossacks community member, who was sentenced to nine years for murder with a firearm.

After the rally the Cossacks went to Sakharov Center to disrupt the performance of a play about the Pussy Riot.

Nenarokov combines the work of a priest with the work of a professional instructor of “knife and unarmed combat” in the most controversial varieties – “Russian” and “Cossack.” These sports are very popular among various groups of radical Russian nationalists and neo-Nazis.

In the past, one of the main weapons of Cossacks, historically used against political demonstrators and Jews, was “nagaika” – a whip with a metal weight at the end. Today the advertising of Russian Cossack “nagaikas” can be easily found on YouTube.

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Military and sport clubs, in which these courses are taught, are centers for ultra-nationalist groups. “Knife Fight”, which they teach children and teenagers, is the ability to attack with knife.

Even the military (except for Special Forces) have no such courses. In Russia today this skill can be applied only by a bunch of hoodlums who attack in dark alleys persons who don’t look like an ethnic Russians: a Tajik janitor or a person considered to be Jewish.

There are hundreds of clubs of this type in Russia and other former Soviet republics.

A patriotic club in Kiev, Ukrain.

A typical example of such a club was a military-patriotic club “Savior.” The “Cossack” and “Knife” styles of fighting were taught in this “religious” club. In 2008, four leaders and activists of the club were sentenced to life in prison for the bombings at the Cherkizovsky Market and a series of murders of “non-Slavs.” A seventeen-year old Armenian boy was killed in subway witha knife.

The priest Dmitry Nenarokov is the former head of military-patriotic club called “Falcon”, which was engaged in the “rehabilitation” of drug addicts by teaching them Russian-style knife fighting. The photographs available on the Internet depict club members posing in characteristic black clothes. The uniforms copy the most famous uniform of militant neo-Nazi organization of the 1990s Russian National Unity.

These are the defenders of the Program 200, which provokes protests of even some official government representatives.

The chief architect of Moscow, Sergei Kuznetsov criticized the program:

“I think that the message itself is strange. In my practice I’ve never encountered such program in any city, neither in Russia nor abroad. They just made up their mind that a certain amount of churches must be built. Very strange.”


1 Comment

  1. Some context is missing. The old Soviet regime destroyed or re-purposed thousands of churches and synagogues over the regime’s 70+ year existence. This is in addition to the persecution of people and leaders of faith since atheism was preferred by the state. Is it possible this is merely a restoration? Has the number of new churches exceeded the prior number including population adjustments? Is it possible the old soviet atheists are complaining?

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