Vienna, October 21 – Three out of four Russians say that the opinion of religious leaders have no influence on their political choices, a poll finding that will discourage some religious leaders who have hoped that they have a greater impact than that but on that will be welcomed by many who are worried about growing religious influence on Russian life.
But at the same time, this poll also found that a majority of those with an opinion on the subject believed that the Russian state should pay for the construction and rebuilding of religious facilities, at least those of the Russian Orthodox Church, and that they view Russia as an Orthodox country.
That combination of findings, of course, suggests that while the specific influence of religion or at least Orthodoxy on Russian life may be relatively small, its role as a definer of the background of life there is large and could under certain conditions of inter-religious conflict, especially with Islam, crystallize into a major political force.
At the request of the editors of “NG-Religii,” SuperJob.ru polled 3,000 Russians living across the country as to whether religious leaders had an impact on their support for a particular party or candidate and whether they believed the government should provide funds for building religious facilities (religion.ng.ru/politic/2010-10-20/2_opros.html).
With respect to the first question, “NG-Religii” reports in its current issue, 74 percent of those surveyed that that “the opinion of religious leaders did not have any influence on their political choices. Eighteen percent said they found it “difficult to answer” that question. “And only eight percent” acknowledged that they did take guidance from religious on such questions.
The responses varied by both age and income level Those over 35 were somewhat more likely to listen to religious leaders on political issues, and those with incomes above 45,000 rubles were the least likely to do so, a pattern that is typical of that found in many other countries as well.
Those who responded to this question negatively said that “religion and politics must not be mixed in present-day Russia. The church is separate from the state. [And] more than that, a religious leader, in their opinion should not publically express his view on this or that political event.”
Indeed, one 38-year-old Muscovite said that “the influence of the clergy would make sense only if the Church were permitted to participate in politics,” something that it is nominally excluded from doing because religious parties have been banned by Russian law since Vladimir Putin’s time as president.
Responses to the second question regarding church support for building religious facilities, however, were somewhat different, “NG-Religii” reports. The Superjob.ru poll found that 50 percent of the sample supported the idea that the state should pay for building and repair of religious institutions. Thirty-two percent were opposed, with 18 percent uncertain.
Support for a state role in this area was greatest among Russians under the age of 24, and least among those over 45, with 53 percent of that age group opposed to the idea That pattern suggests that young people may be somewhat less committed to the separation of church and state than their Soviet-era educated elders.
Attitudes on this question also varied with income, with poorer groups more prepared to see the state play a role and wealthier ones opposed to this idea.
But comments from those polled make it clear that most of those who favored state support for the construction or repair of religious facilities believed state funds should be used only for the Russian Orthodox Church facilities and not for those of any other religious group, particularly Islam.
Many of those polls “mistakenly” believe that “Russia is an Orthodox state” and that it should help restore and build Orthodox churches because in communist times, only Orthodox churches were closed. That, of course, is not true: the Soviets shuttered at least as large and perhaps a greater percentage of mosques, synagogues, and other religious centers as well.
Indeed, some Russians in this poll suggested that state funds spent on rebuilding Orthodox churches represented a kind of compensation for “the sins” of the communists, although many of them, perhaps not surprisingly given the mosque controversy in Moscow, were “categorically against” giving tax money to Islam.
What this poll says about attitudes toward Orthodoxy and Islam, however, is less important than the texture it provides about Russian views, nearly 20 years after the fall of communism, about the separation of church and state, attitudes that are still very much in flux rather than as many have assumed now set in stone.