The new law "On Freedom of Conscience. . .," if it is approved by the president, will save the Slavic world from the expansion of totalitarian sects.

by Andranik Migranian, Alexander Tsipko
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 20 August 1997

This summer's political struggle over the new law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" is as much like the spring struggle over the agreement about the union of Russia and Belarus as two drops of water.

In the first event, as in the second, the issue was not human rights and not the bases of the constitution of the Russian federation but it was the right of the new Russia to independent domestic and foreign policies and its right to build a new noncommunist life in accordance with its national interests and historical traditions. The union of the Russian federation and Belarus points to the Slavic, or Russian in the broad sense of the word, birthright of our state. The New Law "On Freedom of Conscience. . . ,"if in the final outcome it is approved by the president, will save in the first place the Slavic world from the expansion of totalitarian, misanthropic sects.

The politicians, the so-called "young reformers," who organized the anti-Belarus campaign in the spring and who in July pushed the president to veto the law on freedom of conscience that had been adopted by the Federation Assembly operate on the conception, that is wide-spread in the West (mostly in the humanist intelligentsia of USA), of the presumption of guilt on the part of the Orthodox church and Orthodox Russian culture.

Both our "energetic reformers" and those who are pumping the money of the American taxpayers into their pockets are convinced that Russian state and cultural traditions are incompatible with the values of democracy and that a return of the postcommunist soviet Russia to its "historical roots," and the restoration of the Russian national consciousness inevitably will lead to the rebirth of Russian imperialism.

But in the reality for millions of Russians, for the overwhelming portion of residents of the Russian federation, it is only through a link to the traditional religious way of their ancestors that it will be possible in the present situation to achieve Russianness. Now the restoration, even if only partly, of the former influence of the Orthodox church on the way of life is offering the chance for the formation of a new Russian national self-awareness and the rebirth of Russian identity.

In general, any government, especially such a big one as the USSR or Russia, preserves its wholeness by working on the convergence of three very important elements: the administrative and power structures of the state, ideology or common values shared by the majority of the people, and a market that holds together the territory by the economic interests of various economic sectors. At present Russia is in a most vulnerable position. After the fall of the USSR it was left with extremely weak administrative and power structure, practically impotent to consolidate independently the space of the Russian federation as a state.

The self-destruction of Marxism-Leninism as a ruling ideology that explains the meaning of life and the perspectives of state and society created a colossal spiritual vacuum and let to the loss of spiritual orientation for millions of people. The values of liberal democracy, individualism, and the cultivation of self-centered interests, which defined the ideological doctrine of the regime from the beginning of the Gaidar reforms, were not able to become spiritual bases that would unite people who occupy the geographical space called the Russian federation. Rather, on the contrary, they stimulated the process of the atomization of society. The Orthodox church, which was slighted by the authorities during the course of seven decades, turned out to be unprepared both ideologically and institutionally for the swift turn of events. While there was a steady growth of the authority of the Orthodox church and of popular confidence in this institution, the church itself was not about to fill, even partially, that vacuum which was left behind by the CPSU and Marxist ideology. The church did not have the human, material, or informational resources for this.

But our nation will not get out of the current economic, social, and numerous other kinds of crises without overcoming the crisis of identity and without the restoration of state and spiritual identity. In the current situation Orthodoxy is called to play not so much the role of an institutionally formulated religion for believers as to become a part of the common culture of the nation, distinguishing it from others and giving special meaning to its existence.

Unfortunately it is necessary to consider that the groans of the West regarding the restriction of religion (and especially Orthodoxy) under the communists was pharisaic. After the fall of the USSR and the destruction of the communist ideology we unexpectedly found out for ourselves that for many western ideologues and strategists, the struggle against the USSR and communism was transformed into a struggle against Russia and Orthodoxy.

Instead of support that institution that suffered most from the communist experiments, the church, and aiding the quickest return of millions of residents of postcommunist Russia to the bosom of Christian civilization, "US aids" expended enormous amounts of money on the political support of sympathetic "agnostics," "atheists," and simply "neo-Marxists." And this fact itself speaks much. The present American administration is striving not so much for the Christianization of Russia as for its denationalization and derussification. The question is really just how much is the present administration of USA really interested in overcoming the bolshevik heritage in Russia.

The impression is created that the strategy of our new partners is the transformation of Russia into a territory and the citizens of Russia and the Russian nation into colonial natives. The blow to Orthodoxy and to traditional confessions of Russia in the first place pursues the goal of removing the last barrier on the path to the liquidation of Russia as a unified state.

Hence the hysteria about the new law on freedom of conscience. But in reality this law had only one "weakness." It was adopted by a democratic process and reflected the attitude of the overwhelming portion of the upper and lower houses of parliament and symbolized the concern of all traditional confession of Russia over the frontal attack of the aggressive totalitarian sects for scattering and destroying the Russian people.

The law simply established what it was impossible to deny, being true to common sense and based on the ground of historical facts. While the traditional confessions of Russia are equal, Orthodoxy was and remains the heart of Russian culture and Russian statehood and Russian national self-awareness.

If the president of USA really respected the democratic victory and the democratic institutions of Russia, he never would have dared "to pressure" Yeltsin and to drive him into conflict with society and to demand from him the rejection of a law that reflects the desires and attitudes of the basic portion of the population, including a great part of the Russian intelligentsia.

There can be no doubt that the present ideologies of Russian reforms from the radical liberal camp are allies and vehicles of a similar kind of strategy. For them, as for the bolsheviks of 1917, both the country and the nation are only material for the achievement of speculative schemes.

The "young and energetic men" opposed a rational protectionism and this led to the total destruction of our industry. Now they campaign against a normal spiritual protectionism which would permit the defense of the weakened organism of the multinational populace from all manner of spiritual infection. What this is fraught with is clear.

But the tragedy of the "leader of contemporary democracy," America, consists in the way its leadership in the policy regarding Russia stands on utopian premises and dreams about the former soviet people building their state from nothing, on a tabula rasa, just as the United States was built by emigrants from various countries of Europe. But to repeat the unique experience of USA in Russian conditions is simply impossible.

The idea of the free market of religions, which our "young reformers" and the president of USA insist on and which, unhappily, was the basis of the law "On Freedom of Religious Professions" of 1990 from the start was overwhelmed by contradictions with both the historical specifics of Russia and the interests of the spiritual and moral health of its population.

It is impossible in the name of the "rights" of leaders of totalitarian sects to cripple human personalities and sacrifice the rights and interests of millions of members of the traditional confessions of Russia, principally Orthodoxy. The state is the state in order to express and defend the interests, including the spiritual ones, of the overwhelming portion of the population.

The idea of the formal equality of religious professions and the idea of a free market of religions (the American model) contradicts not only the idea of justice but also all of current European experience of the principles of interrelations between the state and religions.

Why do our "defenders" of the rights and freedoms of personality not get upset with the legislation of England and Greece, where the church is not separated from the state?

Totalitarian sects present the same threat to the moral and spiritual health of western Europe as to the moral and spiritual health of Russia. Germans, for example, several years ago, risking the disruption of good relations with Americans, began to denounce the totalitarian essence of Scientology in their means of mass information.

And now about the main point. The blatant interference of the president and congress of USA in the internal affairs of Russia raises the guard of the state who political stability depends on the infusion of international funds and it cannot count on respect. The present administration of USA, which considers that the chief danger for itself is the "recreation of the Russian empire within the boundaries of USSR," took precautions while it is still possible to take precautions against the historical establishment of the new Russia and the new Russians. All of this policy is built on a false philosophy and on prejudices and preconceptions of the current advisors of the Clinton administration. It is not difficult to show that there have been no organize ties between Orthodoxy and the imperialistic practice of subjection of other nations. Anglican Britain was much more imperialistic than Orthodox Russia.

We must also pay attention to how just as soon as the interests of national development and national security of Russia collided with the messianic philosophy of the USA administration, our "young reformers," "the hope and support of the president," immediately adopted a blatantly russophobic position (which has happened frequently).

Sergei Shakhrai tried to rescue the situation and find a dignified way out for the country. It would have been possible to avoid a conflict between the president and the Federation Assembly and Russian Orthodox church while at the same time achieving the removal of the flaws of separate provisions of the law. To do this it was suggested to Russia's president that he address the citizens of the country with an explanation of his position on the law on freedom of conscience and to send the State Duma a draft law for amending the law. Such a course permitted the president to "save face" and at the same time to neutralize foreign criticism of the new law.

But this time, unfortunately, the vicinity of the president was dominated not by the opinion of proponents of national reconciliation but the opinion of "young and energetic" reformers. True, it is necessary to recognize that these people have their own logic and interests. The new core of radical and economic reforms, with which they have linked their political future, lacks perspective in the conditions of the strengthening of the positions of the Russian Orthodox church and of Russian national self-consciousness.

It seems to us that both the state and the church now are in the process of laying the foundation of new relations which will determine the character of relations of these two most important institutions in the life of the nation for many years to come. Society in interested that this be a relationship of equality of rights so that the spiritual authority of the church can become a serious limitation on the tyranny of the Russian authorities. For the short term the church has hopes of resolving its problems (financial and otherwise), thanks to the good relations between the patriarch and the president or the patriarch and the Moscow mayor. But on a larger plane, if the church wants to become a respected institution and a real partner of the state, it must do all within its power, without regard to state power, to assure that the spiritual and political weight of the church can meet the expectations of society. If in present circumstances the church stands in opposition to the state, then the state will not have any chance of survival. And at the same time the conflict of the church with the state will not provide the possibility to transform the space of the Russian federation into a single consolidated state formation.

Thus, in complex conditions we have a weak state, a weak society, and a weak church. Obviously, without the spiritual rebirth of the nation and overcoming the crisis of identity we will not regenerate a great state. Today it is not in opposition but in unity of actions of the weak state, weak society, and weak church that there is promise for the future strength and prosperity of state and society as well as the church. Otherwise Russia may be turned into a space and the Russian people into the human material for aggressive physical and spiritual colonization from our nearby and more distant neighbors. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text