Survey reveals weakening of influence of Russian religious organizations


According to sociological survey, religious organizations are not increasing, but losing influence

Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 2 February 2017


The Levada Center has published the results of a survey devoted to citizens' perception of  the role of institutions. It is noteworthy that the ratings of almost all institutions, influence groups, and interests—beginning with the Russian president and ending with the intelligentsia and even "oligarchs"—have grown in one year. The only exception is the church (obviously we are talking about the Russian Orthodox Church) and religious organizations. The index of their influence in January 2016 was 3.26, and now it is 3.15.


These numbers require professional commentary. They seem to be paradoxical to a great extent. Constant monitoring of the social and political life in Russia does not permit characterization of it as a country in which such institutions and groups as the press, political parties, labor unions, business, and the intelligentsia are increasing their influence even slightly. Rather there is a directly opposite trend: reducing parties to the level of bit players, the problematic existence of independent news media, demonization of intellectuals, distrust of the wealthy, and the puppet's role of unions.


Even if one assumes that citizens completely ignore and do not analyze the situation of institutions and groups in Russia, it seems paradoxical that it is the church and religious organizations that seem to be in the role of outsiders. The survey was conducted on 20 to 23 January, that is in the wake of the disputes surrounding both the transfer of St. Isaac's cathedral in St. Petersburg to the RPTs and the wearing of hijabs by school children. Both the church and highly-placed defenders of hijabs quickly demonstrated their influence both in the clash with public opinion and in the dispute with federal officials (particularly in the Ministry of Education).


The context can be expanded. It is sufficient to recall that in recent years public statements by heads of dioceses of the RPTs have led to a reconsideration of the repertoires of local theaters (in incidents with "Tannhauser" and "Jesus Christ Superstar"). Stormy protests, leading to direct threats, were provoked even before the premiere of Aleksei Uchitel's film "Matilda," which touched upon the personal life of Nicholas II. A law regarding offense to religious feelings has gradually been turned into an instrument of punishment, effectively limiting freedom of speech and discussion. Moreover, the Russian government itself is more and more often positioning itself as the defender of traditional, conservative, and religious values on a European and even global scale.


Nevertheless, if one believes the Levada Center's survey, Russians do not notice the growth of the influence of the church and religious organizations. In part this may be due to the respondents' imprecise understanding of the question. In conversation with sociologists they do not assess the influence of the church and other religious organizations but they speak about their own trust or distrust of them—and here is the impact of both the negative media background regarding St. Isaac's and the harsh statements by Chechen politicians regarding the words of Minister of Education Olga Vasileva.


On the other hand, citizens see how the church or Muslim organizations have tried (unsuccessfully) to defend their specific interests but they do not notice their influence on general processes. It is sufficient to take two major armed conflicts of recent years—the confrontation in the Donbass and the struggle with terrorists from the Islamic State (which is banned in the RF) in Syria. Is the RPTs trying to reconcile the inhabitants of the Donbass and Ukrainians? What are Russian Muslim organizations doing to combat the influence of the Islamic State? The majority does not know the answers to these questions.


The post-soviet mentality is also strong. The church is assigned the role of a charitable organization, but as before it is not perceived as a major political player, which it has long been. At the same time, various reports of the mass media do not add up for many Russians to a unified picture of a consistent and successful defense of the interests of religious structures. (tr. by PDS, posted 6 February 2017)

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