Friday, June 18, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Orthodox, Muslims Deeply Split on Plans for ‘Code for Muscovites’

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 18 – Russian legislators reacted negatively to the Moscow city Duma’s proposal to compile a Code for Muscovites to inform newcomers to the city what kind of behavior is appropriate and what is not, but the very idea of such a code deeply split Russian Orthodox clergy who supported it and Muslim leaders who opposed it.
The news agency as it often does surveyed the reaction of Russian parliamentarians and religious leaders to the Moscow city legislature’s plan to compose a Code for Muscovites, surveys that showed a clear divide between the legislators and the religious leaders and between the Russian Orthodox and Russian Muslims.
The parliamentarians, the news agency summed up, “considered the proposal of the capital’s lawmakers to develop a Code of the Muscovite as illegal and discriminatory” and urged the city’s officials to enforce existing laws equally without “going beyond the framework of Russian legislation” (
Mikhail Nikolayev, the representative of the Sakha Republic in the Federation Council said that this “latest invention” of the Moscow city Duma “could create unnecessary tension in society leading in the end to inter-ethnic conflict.” As such, the code “’plays into the hand’ of extremist groups” who will be able to use it as a recruiting device.
Khuseyn Chechenov, the representative of Kabardino-Balkaria in the Federation, in contrast, called the proposed code “useful” but since that it “must be written on the basis of all-human norms of behavior and must speak about tolerance, respect and restraint in relation to representatives of other nations and peoples.”
Gadhimet Safaraliyev, a United Russia deputy in the Duma, called the proposal “a complete stupidity,” especially under conditions of a democratic society. He said that the initiative would lead to an outburst of “militia arbitrariness” as the guardians of order applied something that should not exist.
The deputy continued that if Moscow officials continued in this way and act as if they needed an entirely separate set of laws to govern the behavior of the people living there, there would be only one more “initiative” they could take: to declare the Russian capital “a separate state” altogether.
Viktor Shugedov, a Just Russia deputy in the Duma, was equally critical. He said that the proposed measure would “in fact be an effort to divide all citizens into Muscovites and ‘non-Muscovites’” even though “according to the Constitution, all citizens of the Russian Federation have equal rights, regardless of what region they come to Moscow.”
And Zoya Stepanova, a United Russia Duma deputy, called the Moscow proposal “nonsense” because it “draws a border between Moscow and the rest of Russia. But the main thing is that this proposal contradicts the basic principles of the existence of a free democratic society.”
When surveyed religious leaders, however, the results were different, with the seven Russian Orthodox Church clergy generally if in some cases cautiously in favor and the four Muslim leaders generally and in most cases unalterably opposed to the Moscow proposal (
Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s press service, said that many countries require a language and even a culture examination for new arrivals and “such practice could be useful to us,” as long as such efforts are conducted in a way that does not offend the culture of the immigrants.
Archpriest Valentin Timakov, the deputy chief editor of the Moscow Patriarchate’s publishing house, suggested that requiring those coming to Moscow to show “respect for Russian culture is a very good idea” because it is important that the Russian capital retain its unique nature and not become something like cosmopolitan New York.”
At the same time, he said, he thought it was important to go even further than the Moscow officials were planning to do: “Both those arriving and the bureaucrats must remember that Moscow is not simply an ethic Russian city but a fortress of the Orthodox faith. Our guests must recognize this and be respectful of it.
Archpriest Sergii Makhonin, an Orthodox pastor and educator in Moscow, said that he considered the proposal for a code “a healthy” one in its intention, but he said “it is another thing entirely as to how it will be realized.” And whatever is done, he said must take into consideration the need for “peaceful coexistence” not only of nationalities but of religions.
Father Andrey Posternak, another Orthodox priest, said that he was very pleased that Moscow in an official document is being called “an ethnic Russian city.” That in itself is a positive step, but “it is important that this not be the latest formality and that it be composed in a very correct manner.”
Father Valery Bulannikov, who works in the Patriarchate’s missionary department, said that it is worth composing such a code “even if its effect will be minimal.” He added that one should not view it as “a panacea” but rather a “noble” effort to deal with real problems in the Russian capital.
Archmonk Makarii, one of the authors of the text on Orthodoxy for Russian schools, called the proposal for a codex “useful” because it “will help in the normalization of civilized relations between people of different nationalities and confessions,” although he said it is critical that it not supplant existing laws but rather serve as a set of “recommendations.”
Father Georgii Roshchin, the deputy head of the Patriarchate’s department for relations between the Church and society, said that it would be necessary to approach the task very carefully but that “if the goal of the Code is to help those newly arrived to the capital find themselves in its social, cultural, and political life, the Church can only welcome this.”
In contrast, Suleyman-khazrat Zaripov, the deputy mufti of Tatarstan, condemned “the russophilic direction” of the code. “We have a code of laws, there are civic guarantees of the government. To think up something above those especially for Moscow means to create the occasion for a new round of inter-ethnic tension.”
Such “russophilic ideas as included in the parliamentary initiative sound like the slogan ‘Moscow for the ethnic Russians.’ And this is unacceptable both for multi-national Moscow and for Russia as a whole,” he continued. “Such chauvinist thoughts can only play into the hands of nationalistically inclined groups and worsen inter-national relations.”
Gulnur-khanum Gaziyeva, the head of the press service of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), provided a slightly different perspective. She said that the burden of adapting to new conditions should not fall entirely on the arrivals but also on the indigenous population which should also devote itself to “overcoming cultural barriers.”
Albir-khazrat Krganov, the first deputy head of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) and a member of the Social Chamber, said that Moscow of course had its own traditions which arrivals should respect. :But if today each city of the country following the capital begins to write its own codes, this will not lead to anything good.”
“Russia is a multi-national and poly-confessional country,” and Moscow officials should remember that, he said. “In our country, there is an equality of cultures, and therefore all of us must live according to the Constitution of the Russian Federation and not according to some kind of separate laws.”
Anas-khazhi Pshikkachev, the head of the Kabardino-Balkaria MSD, agreed. “Russia is a multi-national country; therefore Moscow is above all the capital of my Motherland and not purely a Russian city. In this connection, I consider ‘the Code of the Muscovite’ absolutely unnecessary.”
That is because “if Moscow becomes not simply the capital of the Russian state but a purely ethnic Russian city in which in particular representatives of other nationalities and religions are prohibited from going about in their traditional dress, this will hardly make a positive contribution to inter-ethnic relations.”
“More than that,” the mufti said, “in other Russian cities will be found bureaucrats who in response to ‘the Code of the Muscovite’ will think up their own codes.” Consequently, taking this step is “a very dangerous” one, something which “will lead to a split” in the population of the Russian Federation.

No comments: