Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russians Divided on Whether Religious Groups Promote Social Concord

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 3 – In advance of the Day of Popular Unity tomorrow, a poll conducted by the SuperJob agency found that slightly more than a third of the Russian people say that religious groups cannot contribute to social concord, slightly under a third say that religious groups can, and just over a quarter saying they found it difficult to respond.
In the issue of “NG-Religii” published today, Lidiya Orlova, a journalist for that publication, described the poll which her weekly magazine had commissioned and its findings which call into question some of the more extravagant claims of the Russian Orthodox Church in this regard (
At the request of “NG-Religii,” Superjob asked 3,000 Russian adults across the country two questions: “Can religious organizations make possible civic concord in Russia?” and “Are religious organizations making possible civic concord in Russia [now]?” Neither set of answers provide support for the claims of either Patriarch Kirill or President Dmitry Medvedev.
In response to the first question, 38 percent of the respondents said that the religious groups could not play such a role, 34 percent said that they could, and 28 percent said they found it difficult to answer. Younger and middle income groups were the most negative, older and wealthier ones the most positive, and older and poorer ones the most unsure.
In response to the second question, Orlova said, the results were similar. Forty-three percent of the respondents said that religious groups were not currently playing that role, 27 percent felt that religious groups were, and 30 percent were unsure, with the results varying among age and income groups in roughly the same way.
More interesting perhaps than these global figures were the specific comments of some of those with whom SuperJob spoke. One 39-year-old manager from Moscow suggested that the Church should deal with its own business and not try to impose “its dogmas” on anyone else. And he said that the growing influence of the Church in public life was for him unacceptable.
Another respondent, a 39-year-old tax and bookkeeping consultant from St. Petersburg said that “our religious organizations are capable only of blackening the reputations of one another and nothing more,” a negative assessment that reflects the often sharply critical coverage of religious groups in publications like “NG-Religii” and Interfax-Religion.
As far as the possibility of a religious role in promoting civic accord is concerned, several comments from those surveyed are potentially even more interesting. A 28-year-old Moscow lawyer said that it was difficult to say what “civic accord” would be given that in the Russian context, “the very word ‘citizenship’” remains undefined.
And a 25-year-old resident of Toliatti suggested that religion could do little to remedy the basic divide in Russian society between the rich and the poor. “We have a very clear border between [these two groups},” he said, and “religion is not bringing them together or uniting them” in any way. “Those who are full don’t think about the hungry.”
Among those who saw a positive role for religion in this regard, most said that “only the Russian Orthodox Church could promote the strengthening of civic accord in the country.” According to one 44-year-old from St. Petersburg, “Besides the Russian Orthodox Church, unfortunately, I don’t know of other religious organizations which could do that.”
But some of those polls “denied such a possibility from religious organizations,” Orlova reported. One 33-year-old manager from Moscow said that sometimes religious organizations are the cause of civic conflict rather than promoters of accord. And another suggested that religious institutions “and especially the Russian Orthodox Church” are “the cause of all misfortunes.”
Overwhelmingly, it appears from Orlova’s article, the Russians surveyed appear to believe that in a secular and increasingly multi-confessional state, religious groups must be allowed to practice without interference from the state but at the same time that they must avoid interfering in the activities of the state.

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