Staunton, October 4 – The leaders of Russia’s four “traditional” religions – Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism – today jointly pledged to work directly with law enforcement agencies to catch criminals and preserve public order, an outwardly benign commitment with potentially far-reaching and negative consequences.
Among the most serious of the latter are two. On the one hand, this represents a further tightening of links between the four “traditional” faiths and the state, a move Patriarch Kirill has long urged, and a further setting them apart from other religions, thus making repression of the latter more rather than less likely, even though Russian law nowhere defines the difference.
And on the other, the close involvement of religious leaders with the siloviki will not only discredit those leaders in the eyes of many of their followers but lead many, as such links did in Soviet times, to turn to underground religious communities, such as the “catacomb” churches and “parallel Islam,” putting them beyond legal and social control.
But these twin dangers were glossed over earlier today when, in the words of Interfax, “the leading religious organizations of Russian offered the force structures assistance in catching criminals and protecting public order” (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=37639 and www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=documents&div=1047).
In the joint declaration of the Inter-Religious Council, the leaders said that they “greet the initiatives of the leadership of the country directed at the more effective defense of citizens” and thus are prepared to “offer the support of believers in the effort to guarantee legal order and the prevention of crime.”
They added that as religious communities, they can play a special role in helping to prevent young people from falling into a life of crime, and the leaders asked that television channels offer more time for programs offering both “secular and religious anti-narcotics propaganda.”
“Today,” they said in their declaration, “many know where and who is trafficking in drugs. We are ready to offer the information possibilities of our religious communities in order that people will overcome this evil, by naming the names of those guilty of being involved in it and publishing corresponding testimony.”
To achieve this end, the religious leaders said, they would seek agreements “both at the central and regional level.” And they suggested that their efforts would make a major contribution to fighting crime because criminality in their words “is not only the result of someone’s evil intentions” but rather also of “the inaction and estrangement of good people.”
Obviously, no one can be against religious leaders seeking to fight crime by promoting morality and ethics among their followers, but what this declaration suggests is that some of the “traditional” religions of Russia may now be engaging in an equally “traditional” Russian form of behavior – informing.
And unless the religious groups involved set clear rules on what they will and will not do for the powers that be, they will find themselves in a position that will recalls the one they were at the end of the Soviet period, a situation that may win them plaudits from the powers that be but only at the cost of the moral authority that they as religious leaders should seek.