07MOSCOW3971, RUSSIANS DEBATE ROLE OF THE CHURCH

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW3971 2007-08-14 12:28 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO9673
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #3971/01 2261228
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 141228Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2903
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4384
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2339
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2635

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 003971 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KIRF PHUM SOCI RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIANS DEBATE ROLE OF THE CHURCH 
 
MOSCOW 00003971  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
------- 
Summary 
------- 
 
1. (SBU) The dog days of August have seen a protracted debate 
here about the proper role of the Russian Orthodox Church 
(ROC) in a country in which church and state are officially 
separated.  The debate was triggered by the near simultaneous 
expressions of unease by a member of the Public Chamber and a 
group of eminent scientists that included two Nobel 
laureates.  Both parties worried publicly about what they 
termed the "clericalization" of Russia by a resurgent church. 
Their public expressions of concern provoked a response from 
church representatives, and Patriarch Aleksey II himself. 
Underlying this ongoing debate are efforts to fill an 
ideological void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union, 
issues of class, and the search for a balance between the 
secular and the spiritual as a church long repressed begins 
to flex its muscles, in some instances with active support 
from some quarters in the government.  End summary. 
 
----------------------------- 
Intelligentsia Voices Concern 
----------------------------- 
 
2. (U) On July 23, Moscow newspapers published an open letter 
to President Putin from ten members of the Academy of 
Sciences, led by Nobel laureates Zhores Alferov and Vitaliy 
Ginzburg that protested the "clericalization" of Russia and 
the continued need for a separation of church and state. 
Among the sources of concern for the ten was a controversial 
course on the fundamentals of Orthodox Christianity being 
taught in schools in some regions of the country and the 
alleged "infiltration" of government institutions, including 
the army, by the ROC.  The academicians also objected to an 
effort by the ROC to include theology in the list of subjects 
accredited by the Ministry of Education's Higher 
Qualifications Board. 
 
3. (U) Just prior to the academicians' letter, prominent 
professor of architecture and Public Chamber member 
Vyacheslav Glazychev voiced similar concerns in the media 
about the "creeping clericalization" of Russia.  Prompting 
his comments, Glazychev subsequently told us, was a decision 
by a St. Petersburg court to accept for consideration a case 
contesting the teaching of Darwinism in schools and 
subsequent comments by Patriarch Aleksey that the teaching of 
Darwin was "unacceptable." 
 
-------------- 
The ROC Reacts 
-------------- 
 
4. (U) The ROC's reaction to the academicians' sallies was 
swift.  In their responses, which have filled the airwaves 
and the pages of all of the central newspapers over the last 
several weeks, some church representatives have attempted to 
couch the argument as one between atheists and believers. 
The ROC's upper echelons have more diplomatically and 
indirectly agreed with the scientists that church and state 
should be separate, but that there can be no separation from 
society, and since the church is an intrinsic part of 
society, it is in practice impossible to separate the ROC 
from the GOR in an overwhelmingly Russian Orthodox society. 
 
5. (U) Still other factions that link themselves with the ROC 
have been less restrained in their reaction to the 
intelligentsia's expressions of concern, with the very 
conservative "Peoples' Collective" requesting that the Moscow 
Prosecutor bring criminal charges against the scientists. 
Approximately 25 members of the "United Orthodox Youth 
Movement for Reviving Spirituality" briefly picketed the 
Public Chamber, and called on President Putin not to 
re-appoint Glazychev as one of its members. 
 
-------------------- 
Themes in the Debate 
-------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Although not well elucidated by its participants, 
observers have noted many threads to the debate launched by 
the academicians: 
 
-- The collapse of the Soviet Union left behind it an 
ideological void that for the time being the church alone 
seems equipped to fill.  The Putin government's insistence 
that living better tomorrow than yesterday is the chief 
domestic attribute of the resurgent Russia state has left 
 
MOSCOW 00003971  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
many citizens cold, and the ROC has stepped in to provide a 
framework within which problems like interethnic conflict, 
alcoholism, and demographic decline can be grappled with. 
While critics like Glazychev have told us that they agree 
that there is a role for the church in addressing such 
problems, they object when the ROC ventures into what they 
see as bastions of secularism, like education. 
 
-- Even religious figures worry about the pride of place 
claimed by the ROC in today's Russia.  Pentecostal Bishop and 
Public Chamber member Sergey Ryakhovskiy was not surprised 
that concerns had been publicly voiced. Frustration with the 
ROC had been accumu
lating for some time, he told us, and with 
recent events a tipping point had been reached. Ryakhovskiy 
agreed with Glazychev that the ROC had a role in developing a 
moral framework, but Russia was multi-confessional, and 
Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other Christian denominations 
could not be forgotten in the process. 
 
-- Some in the ROC have attempted to style the divide on this 
issue as one of class.  Moscow Patriarchy Department of 
External Relations Archpriest Chaplin has on two occasions in 
the media accused the scientists of "elitism" in their call 
for a secular society.  The "people" of Russia, Chaplin has 
said, "want something else." 
 
-- Still others have seen the debate as potentially key to 
restoring the correct balance between church and state. 
While Chaplin has elsewhere implicitly suggested that the ROC 
has overreached in its rush to recover after the Soviet 
period, he has described the aggressive resurgence as 
"understandable," and has pointed out that, even in the 
sensitive area of education, the ROC is a shadow of its 
pre-revolutionary self.  Before 1917, the ROC sponsored some 
35,000 Sunday schools compared to the handful operating 
today, he has noted. Ryakhovskiy has termed the debate a 
"punch in the eye" for the ROC which, he hopes, will cause it 
to tread more cautiously in the future. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
7. (SBU) Four years ago, President Putin called for dialogue 
on the role of the church in Russia's constitutionally 
secular society, and the President's call was echoed again 
this month by Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, who 
suggested that ROC representatives and the academicians meet 
in order to air their concerns.  Lukin's proposal was 
implemented after a fashion when the two sides debated the 
issue at an extended press conference in Moscow August 8. 
The media-studded forum, however, did little to encourage 
genuine discussion and it is likely that some time will have 
to pass before all points of view can be more dispassionately 
aired. 
RUSSELL

Wikileaks

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