Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Window on Eurasia: ‘Traditional’ Religions, Catholics Represented at Medvedev Inauguration

Paul Goble

Baku, May 7 – Leaders of what Russians typically call “the four traditional religions of Russia” – Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist – are scheduled to be present at the inauguration of Dmitry Medvedev as the third president of that country, thus extending the reification of this much-disputed classification into the future.
Russia’s Catholic community will be only indirectly represented by the Papal nuncio, who is not a member of the Catholic hierarchy in Russia but rather will attend as part of the diplomatic corps. And Russia’s Old Believers, Protestants, and other groups will be excluded, just as they were at other post-Soviet inaugurals.
Drawing on ITAR-TASS reporting, the Moscow Institute of Religion and Politics today reported that the leaders of the four “traditional” faiths would be in attendance: Patriarch Aleksii II of the Russian Orthodox Church and Mufti Talgat Tajuddin of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) will attend as they have since 1991.
Ravil’ Gainutdin, the head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), and Damba Ayusheyev, the head of the Buddhist Sangha, will take part as they have since 1996. And Berl Lazar, the chief rabbi of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FEOR), will extend his participation begun in 2004 (
Because religious participation has been increasing in this way, some observers thought that perhaps this inauguration would feature representatives of the Russian Federation’s other religious communities, but except for the Catholic Nuncio, who will be there not as a religious figure but as a diplomat, that did not happen.
One reason this probably did not happen is the close ties that Medvedev’s wife has with senior hierarchs in the Patriarchate, a connection that some have already suggested will become an increasingly important channel for Orthodox influence over Russian government decision making under Medvedev.
But two other factors probably played a greater role in the Kremlin’s decision on this event. On the one hand, the Orthodox Church and especially Metropolitan Kirill, the powerful head of its external relations department, have long championed the idea of traditional religions not only as the basis for national unity but as a bulwark against extremism.
Had additional religious leaders been invited to the inauguration, there would have been mounting pressure on Kirill and the government to expand the membership of the quasi-official Inter-Religious Council on which only the four “traditional” faiths are represented. Clearly, that is not something Medvedev or Putin want to see, at least not now.
And on the other, the inclusion of Protestants or other groups would have outraged many Russians who often define such groups as “totalitarian sects” more interested in undermining Russia on behalf of their Western “sponsors” than in promoting faith or morality, however attractive they may be to their members.
As outgoing president Vladimir Putin observed a few weeks ago, Medvedev is just as much a Russian nationalist “in the good sense” as he is, and the guest list for the latter’s inauguration makes it clear that Putin’s observation is true, however much some in Russia or the West may hope otherwise.

UPDATE: Portal-Credo reported that in addition to the leaders of the “traditional” religions, there were additional members of the Orthodox Church hierarchy and representatives of several other denominations. But their invitations were not broadcast in advance, as were the “traditional” ones and not seated as prominently (

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