Vienna, July 4 – In two statements this week – a message to a Moscow conference on the role of Islam in defeating terrorism and a statement to religious leaders in Baku – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev provided the clearest definition yet of how he views religion and how his government will interact with various faiths.
As has been the case in some many policy areas, Medvedev’s remarks on religion give both reason for hope that he will depart from the policies of Vladimir Putin in certain regards and pause for concern that he plans to act on the basis of some of the most discriminatory actions of his predecessor.
On the positive side, Medvedev stressed more than Putin did the importance of serious religious training for and by the clergy, a recognition that people are more likely to become extremists because of an ignorance of their faith be it Christianity, Islam or anything else than because of knowledge about it.
Moreover, he underscored his commitment to promoting inter-religious dialogue, explicitly saying in Baku that such conversations can help promote social stability and prevent the tendency of some to set people against each other on the basis of their religious beliefs or ethnic memberships.
But on the other hand, Medvedev made it clear that just like his predecessor, he sees Russia’s religions as being the four “traditional” ones – Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism – a reification of an idea the Patriarchate’s Metropolitan Kirill has been pushing for a decade and one that excludes the increasingly numerous Protestants, Catholics, and others.
Indeed, the Russian president’s words almost certainly will give aid and comfort to those in the Orthodox Church and the Russian nationalist movement who see all the others as dangerous “sects” against whom they, together with the state, have the right, even the obligation to combat.
(For the text of Medvedev’s message to the international conference in Moscow, see
www.regions.ru/news/2152995/ and www.i-r-p.ru/page/stream-event/index-20598.html. For the text of his remarks in Baku, see www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=25295.)