Thursday, July 8, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russians Oppose Marriages between People of Different Religions More than They Do Those between Those of Different Nationalities

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 8 – Nearly half of all Russians say they are opposed to marriages between people of different religions while only a third are against marriages between those of different nationalities, a reflection of demographic changes in the Russian Federation and the increasing saliency of religion in the lives of people there.
On Russia’s Day of the Family, Love, and Faithfulness, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) today released the results of a poll concerning “what differences between spouses Russians consider normal and what generates [their] their disapproval (
The survey found among other things that “48 percent of Russians would not approve the marriage of their children to someone who professed a different religion” but that “only 34 percent were against marriages across ethnic lines.” Women were slightly more opposed than men to each of these possibilities.
These findings are intriguing. On the one hand, they suggest that most Russian citizens make a clear distinction between religion and ethnicity, something that the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and many academic commentators and Russian officials with their discussions of “ethnic Muslims” and “ethnic Orthodox” do not.
And on the other, the VTsIOM results suggest that religion is becoming relatively more significant in Russian life while ethnicity (nationality) is declining in salience, a shift away from the Soviet-era paradigm that appears likely to exacerbate rather than narrow the divide between that country’s two largest religious groups, Orthodox Christians and Muslims.
At the very least, this VTsIOM poll suggests just how difficult it may be to interpret declarations about nationality in the upcoming Russian census, a survey that largely because of the Moscow Patriarchate’s opposition will not ask residents of the Russian Federation about their religious identifications.
Meanwhile, in another development about religion and marriage in Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that people in the Caucasus should end blood feuds “and shift to “contemporary regulation of relations” but added that he was “interested” in proposals to raise “the traditional bride price (kalym)” there (
“During a meeting with Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov,” Interfax reported yesterday, Putin declared that he was “interested in the idea of Islamic officials to raise the traditional bride price or kalym from 12,500 rubles to 30,000 rubles [400 US dollars to 1000 US Dollars] ‘as a result of inflation, as this was noted.’”
Putin added, the news agency reported, that “for families with daughters, ‘this [increase I a traditional North Caucasus practice that both Soviet and Russian officials had long decried and sought to stamp out in order to modernize the region] represents a big plus; this is a means for the support of a young family.”
Not surprisingly, Putin’s shift on this point appalled some Russian observers. In a comment on, Dmitry Shusharin said that “for those who still have not understood, the Prime Minister of Russia, the leader of the United Russia Party … supported [by this comment] the trade of human persons” (
Putin, the Grani commentator continued, appears to consider it entirely normal that more people should be involved in a marriage contract than just the two people who are entering into it – even though Russian law and procedures ask for declarations only from “two people and no one else.”
“Human rights defenders and dear feminists,” Shusharin said, “if you do not distribute this comment throughout the whole wide world, you are not worth much. It is necessary to guarantee Putin a worthy reception in those countries where he appears. Everywhere, he must be received with his portrait bearing the signature, ‘supporter of human trafficking.’”
Russians should reflect upon the implications of that possibility, the writer said, but they should also recognize that “with this declaration, Putin has recognized the absence in Russia and a single legal space,” something the Russian prime minister “simply does not understand. Just as he does not understand what he in fact said during his meeting with the Ingushetia president.”

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