WHO'S ROCKING THE BOAT? RIGHTS ADVOCATES ON THREATS TO FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE IN RUSSIA
by Roman Lunkin
Religiia i Pravo, 24 March 2016
In 2014 the special department in the apparatus of the plenipotentiary for human rights in the RF for monitoring violations dealing with freedom of conscience was liquidated, which evoked fear that the ombudsman would ignore that kind of incidents of discrimination. However a well-known politician with a splendid reputation, Ella Pamfilova, drew much more critical conclusions against the government and a number of religious associations than was expected.
It should also be noted that in 2016 the report of the plenipotentiary complements and correlates well with the specialized and, naturally, more detailed report of the SOVA Center, "Problems with realization of freedom of conscience in Russia in 2015" (author: Olga Sibireva. Under the editorship of Alexander Verkhovsky). The SOVA Center noted an increase in the level of aggression in society, of "antisectarian" hysteria with regard to religious minorities, incidents of vandalism, offense to religious feelings of non-Orthodox believers in news media, and actions of Orthodox activists against both opponents of construction of church buildings in parks and cultural figures.
The report of the plenipotentiary for human rights in the Russian federation for 2015 says: "The flourishing of 'rights-limiting' lawmaking and . . . the growth of aggressive conduct, intolerance, and rejection of an alternative point of view in confrontations of various kinds of groups of civil activists of worldview, political, and other bases evoke worry."
However, it should be noted that the report of the plenipotentiary gives a more balanced assessment of the confrontations on ideological grounds than the report of the rights advocates: "An extreme expression of the polarization that is occurring is the clash of militant obscurantism, on the one hand, and unbridled vulgar 'art-provocation,' deliberately aimed at humiliating and offending generally acknowledged human values and having nothing to do with art, on the other."
The report of the plenipotentiary, in a rather mild style but with harsh contents, makes an attempt to put the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church on the spot. It is obvious that it is to the Moscow patriarchate and its activists that the call to consensus is directed: "Ethical and moral principles to a great extent have their source in religious views and not only in traditions of a secular character confirmed in society. For multiconfessional Russia this has enormous significance. And the issue is not only and not so much freedom of conscience as the general principle of the secular state. It is necessary to bring the fundamental postulates of one or another confession into accordance with the fundamental provisions of a secular state by means of the achievement of a consensus among all parties. If the fundamental religious values of any confession conflict with the basic principles of a secular rule-of-law state, then this may become an additional and extremely substantive risk for the maintenance of social harmony, which rests upon a base of recognition of a unified constitutional rule-of-law space. Conflict of this kind may lead both to distortion of legal consciousness and to a certain 'damage' of mores."
In connection with this, statements of the head of the federal agency for affairs of nationalities, Igor Barinov, are amazingly harmonious and appropriate. He called politicians to conclude among themselves an agreement to reject the use of the religious and inter-ethnic factor in their election campaigns and discussions, and to have subdivisions that engage in implementation of national politics monitor this situation in the regions.
The plenipotentiary for human rights in the RF and the SOVA Center presented well formulated conclusions about who might use the religious factor for political goals, and how--from deputies of the Russian State Duma, who want to control all believers and ban some in the guise of "sectarians," to activists in news media and dioceses of the RPTs, after whose statements the houses of worship of Pentecostals or Adventists have their windows broken and are set on fire. (tr. by PDS, posted 6 April 2016)
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