Staunton, October 6 – Vladimir Resin, the acting mayor of the Russian capital, yesterday called for holding public hearings about all projects for the construction of churches, mosques, and synagogues, a plan that could threaten existing relationships between the city and the Moscow Patriarchate even as it creates new venues for protests against building more mosques.
During a meeting of the city government at which some religious leaders were present, Resin said that “it is necessary to initiate public hearings on each project for the construction of new churches, mosques and synagogues” so as to ensure conformity by the projects to the city’s development plan (www.rian.ru/moscow/20101005/282425392.html).
But like all such programs, this one, if it is in fact carried out, will have very different consequences for the two largest religious communities in Moscow, Russian Orthodox Christians and Muslims, and the way they interact with the official bureaucracy and with the civil population there.
For the Russian Orthodox, such hearings could complicate the cozy relationship the Moscow Patriarchate has had with the city authorities, a relationship that in the past has meant that the city government has responded to the Church’s requests without either seeking input from the population.
Now that would appear likely to change, and while few Muscovites may be opposed to church construction per se, some may object to the building of a church in a particular location or of a particular size. Indeed, polls have shown that some residents of Russian cities are inclined to oppose any new construction.
Moreover, the holding of such hearings could easily become the occasion for representatives of other faiths, particularly Muslims, to make their own cases for construction of mosques or other religious sites, arguing that if the Orthodox are allowed to build more churches, they should be allowed to construct additional religious facilities as well.
For the Muslims, in contrast, such hearings almost certainly would be the occasion for those Muscovites such as the residents of the Tekstilshchiki neighborhood who oppose the building of mosques in their neighborhoods on principle to express their views, quite possibly giving them the chance to mobilize even more people to their point of view.
But such hearings, far more than the demonstrations and petitions against mosques so far, will also give the Muslim community and its leaders the opportunity to mobilize and express their view, something that could easily land those city officials charged with making a decision after such hearings in a politically difficult position.
Just how sensitive these issues are and how complicated the discussion of them in such forums will be is reflected in two items just posted online in Moscow. The first is the text of the presentation Ravil Gainutdin made to the meeting of the city government yesterday, and the second is a report by Komsomolskaya Pravda on new church construction in Moscow.
Gainutdin, head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), said that the extreme shortage of mosques in the Russian capital is “an objective fact” and harms both Moscow’s image and the ability of Islamic leaders to help integrate Muslim workers into the life of the Russian capital (www.muslim.ru/1/cont/33/35/2155.htm).
A mosque, he pointed out, “is not only a play for carrying out divine services and offering prayers. The main thing is that in mosques, parishioners receive instruction, spiritual, moral and political training, and correct guidance on their life paths,” often things migrants can get nowhere else.
And his organization, Gainutdin said, seeks to devote “great efforts in education work to prevent or cure extremist attitudes and the radicalization among Muslim young people, especially those who come to work in Moscow from the North Caucasus and from countries abroad.”
Such people, the SMR head continued, especially “the young who are cut off from their families and from parental guidance” very much need to be able to come to the mosque “for adaptation in the new for them milieu of the megalopolis and for the preservation of the best that genuine Muslim education can give.”
“In the mosque,” he said, “they will find true words and guidance which will help them orient themselves in the new situation and not commit act which alienate the residents of the capable and are capable of giving birth to conflict.” Consequently, Gainutdin concluded, Moscow needs to have more than the four mosques open there now.
Meanwhile, the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” report shows why Russian Orthodox hierarchs and laity are going to fight for the construction of more churches in Moscow. The article notes that while most people speak about the existence of 836 Orthodox Church facilities there, the real number is only 263 (http://www.kp.ru/daily/24570/742375/).
That is because the others are inside institutions and thus not available “for all.” According to the Moscow Patriarchate, the city needs to have 591 more public churches in order that there be one church for every 11,200 residents, a ratio that it says is found throughout the rest of the country.
To that end, the Church is engaged in a building boom with 35 new churches either under construction or soon to be – the paper provides a list of their addresses and a map of their locations – with most of them inexpensive pre-fabricated buildings so that the Church can get them up in a hurry at the lowest possible cost.
Those 35 are part of the 200 that Yuri Luzhkov supposedly approved in conversation with Patriarch Kirill and his hierarchs shortly before the mayor’s ouster. But given Resin’s call for hearings about all new construction, it remains to be seen whether there will be new fights about any of these, just as there continue to be about possible new mosques.