by Deacon Andrei Kuraev
Trud, 16 August 1997

The state exists primarily to secure the future for people. So that the people who created the state can survive to the next generation and not be destroyed by newcomers and not be wiped out by hunger and economic collapse. The state exists so that the nation will not be forced to sustain a foreign army. And the state is necessary so that the country not become a colony and the life, politics, economics, existence, and culture of the country will not be directed from abroad in accordance with the interests of other states or groups of people. Finally, the national, educational, cultural, and religious policies of the state must be aimed to assuring that our children are our children. That they will speak our language and value what gave meaning to the life of our ancestors and to our life. That the good which was created by our culture in the past will survive into the future. In general, state policies in these areas must assure that our children are ours and not the products of alien ideologies and cultures.

Philosophers may be complete cosmopolitans and contest or accept truths irrespective of the land in which some conclusion first was formulated. But the state has the full right to think in categories of "ours" and "theirs" and in all spheres support the national foundation, that is the interests of its own citizens and electors: national banks, national cinema, national economy, national army, national education, national theater, and national church.

In philosophy or in theology protectionism is viewed as bad because it argues that something is true because it is our national idea and something else cannot be true because it was said by a person of different blood. But the state is created not to be engaged in the free search for truth but to achieve and defend the actually existing interests of its citizens. Meanwhile, the American Congress did not confine itself to a call to the Russian president to veto the law. It intended even to amend American legislation. Each year the American Congress adopts a law about aid to foreign countries. It is understandable that in this law not all countries are equal. So the attempt of Russia to erect a barrier to American preachers immediately evoked an amendment to the law: to deny to Russia aid of about 200 million dollars. The Americans were right; our law contradicts their national interests. But our policy must decisively defend the interests of our people, even when they do not coincide with American interests. We have our own national interests and we have the right to expect that they will be reflected in our laws and in the policies of our government. If this interest means that our children will understand the Russian literary language, then with all due respect to English that language cannot occupy too many hours in our schools. If this interest means that our children know the history of our land and our nation, then the history of Russia must be studied with more intensity than the history of Liechtenstein, although, perhaps, it is no less instructive and tragic than the history of Rus. And not only with more zeal but also with more love. This spring I was in a certain school ("lyceum") in Magadan where the ancient history of Russia is being taught from the book by Zbigniew Brezinsky. I learned this only later. At first I was simply stumped by their self-confident alienation from Orthodoxy and from simple ordinary national feeling that I found among these children. They affirmed just one thing: "Everyone has the right to do everything." And then it became clear that they had been educated not by Soloviev and Dostoevsky but by Brezinsky, by the books of an ideologue who came up with the "evil empire" label for our country. Historians have the right to argue whose vision of Russia is more profound and true. Brezinsky's or Solzhenitsyn's. But the teacher in a state school does not have the right to give to children disdain, or even hatred, for their own country.

So for the state it is natural to conduct a policy of support and defense of the traditional spiritual culture. And it must view the fate of the Pushkin heritage from a coldly judicial point of view of "equality of all before the law," but it must not refer coldly to the "equality" of Russian and foreign religions. Indeed, before the law Tsvetaeva and any Tiulkin are equal. But the state has the right to preserve the apartment of Tsvetaeva and her archives and use state measures to assure that school children are acquainted with the heritage of Tsvetaeva, but at the same time not to lift a finger to assure that our descendants know Tiulkin. The equality of religions before the law means primarily the equality before the law of citizens, irrespective of the religious groups to which they belong or do not belong. If a person commits a crime, then in the sentence the court does not care who it is--male or female, professor or stoker, Orthodox or atheist, member of the ruling party or activist of the opposition. And if a religious organization violates the law, then again for the law there is no significance who caused the violation, the Moscow patriarchate or a religious organization that arose last year and has only forty followers. The new law affirms this kind of equality, too. But the equality of religions before the law cannot mean their equality before the culture and history of Russia. Indeed the church is separated from the state. But it is not separated from society, from the people. And thus the state must, I submit, establish relations with the church and carry out a religious policy, and not simply repeat the standards of the law of "equality" and decline all cooperation.

The law establishes limits beyond which the actions of people and organizations cannot go. But the law does not by any means determine all the actions of people in this area of life, which it is supposed to regulate. The law places boundaries. But it would be ridiculous to visualize Russia by studying only its boundaries. The life of a country is not limited to the existence of its border posts and to their supervision. And the obligation of the state to the religious life of its citizens is not limited to the adoption of a law. The law must facilitate the achievement of state policy. And everyone knows that policy is the achievement of certain interests, within the limits of the law. But the concept of state interest is being forgotten by the law's critics.

Let's imagine that I am the director of a candy factory. I need to buy sugar on the market. There are ten firms in my city ready to sell me sugar. Each of them operates legally and they all are registered and licensed. The law gives me the right to make a contract with any of them. Does this mean that I must buy sugar from them all equally and in turn? Even if my small factory is a municipal factory, that is state owned, even then I am not at all obligated to cooperate with all of these firms which are registered with the state. Staying within the confines of the law I can act from fully personal concepts and interests. I can, for example, decide that I am not interested in buying sugar from Cuba. And my wife is from Ukraine, so I can do better (other things being equal) by putting my money into the native Ukrainian economy than into support of some people from some far-off hemisphere. And my mother-in-law will be less offended if she finds out that my partners are from Ukraine. But just so the state is not obligated to treat equally all religious groups for whom it has recognized the right to existence and granted legal registration. It can opt for full cooperation with those religious movements that represent large groups of the population and which have made a good contribution to the history of the country and life of its peoples. Just so the law must grant the state room for accomplishment of state policy in the area of religion. This is what one of the five people who voted against the law in June could not admit, namely deputy Valery Borshchev. In that draft which he supported in the fall it says: "the establishment of any preeminence or restrictions for one or several religious organizations is not permitted" (art 4.1). Such a formulation, which Borshchev and his aide Gleb Yakunin proposed in the fall, was rejected by the duma; it would have blocked, for example, the creation of Orthodox churches on the territory of correctional labor institutions and hospitals: this also can be viewed as "establishments of preeminence" (why an Orthodox church and not a Uniate one?). Such a standard would become a prohibition on the conduct of a state religious policy. The state, under the constraint of this standard, would not be able to accomplish the desires of a majority of the residents of any particular region and would not be able to cooperate with the confessions of the majority. But the opinion of the largest and most authoritative religions of Russia (Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism) is not at all like the opinion of Borshchev and Yakunin. We turn attention to the government's right to grant privileges to public organizations (for example, antifascist, children's, sports, etc.) and to commercial structures. And we ask: why can it not take into account the wishes of large groups of people and of the public benefit of cooperation with religious movements? The law must give the state such a possibility, but the proposed law would have to oblige the state and society and religious groups to be restrained from a certain danger: not to permit the state, in giving help, to begin to use compulsion. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text