One new president, one new patriarch, and a generous disregard for the constitution: a recipe for the continuing decline of secular Russia.

AuthorBlitt, Robert C.

ABSTRACT

The government of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)--the country's predominant religious group-recently underwent bach-to-back changes in each institution's respective leadership. This coincidence of timing affords a unique opportunity to reassess the status of constitutional secularism and church-state relations in the Russian Federation.

Following a discussion of the presidential and patriarchal elections that occurred between March 2008 and January 2009, the Article surveys recent developments in Russia as they relate to the nation's constitutional obligations. In the face of this analysis, the Article argues that the government and the ROC alike continue to willfully undermine the constitutional principles of secularism, nondiscrimination, and equality through a variety of special privileges, cooperation agreements, and legislative initiatives. These practices do not merely follow but rather deepen the pattern developed under the leadership of former President Vladimir Putin. The Article concludes that as a consequence of the strengthened church-state relationship, respect for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, as well as freedom of expression will continue to wane, resulting in a further deterioration of the human rights crisis in Russia and of the foundation of Russia's constitutional order.

TABLE OF CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION II. WINDS OF CHANGE? ELECTIONS FOR PRESIDENT AND PATRIARCH III. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS UNDER MEDVEDEV IMPACTING RUSSIA'S CHURCH-STATE RELATIONSHIP A. Small Favors for a Friend: A Constitutional Crisis? 1. The Patriarch's Flashing Blue Lights 2. Pay Your Earthly Debt, or You're Going Straight to Hell 3. A Nice Place Overlooking the Sea on Protected State Land 4. Flashing Lights and a Land Grant Do Not a State Church Make B. Bigger "Favors" Signal Bigger Problems 1. The Burgeoning Military-Orthodox Complex 2. On Religion in Schools 3. Advance Church Scrutiny of All Pending Legislation IV. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

The government of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) (1)--the country's predominant religious group--recently underwent back-to-back changes in each institution's respective leadership. This coincidence of timing affords an opportunity to take a fresh look at the status of constitutional secularism and church-state relations in the Russian Federation.

After a discussion of the presidential and patriarchal elections that occurred in March 2008 and January 2009 respectively, this Article surveys recent developments in Russia and assesses their impact on the nation's constitutional obligations. Next, the Article argues that both the government and the ROC continue to willfully undermine the constitutional principles of secularism, nondiscrimination, and equality through a variety of special privileges, cooperation agreements, and legislative initiatives. Furthermore, the Article contends that these practices do not merely follow, but rather deepen, the pattern previously developed under the leadership of former President Vladimir Putin. (2) The Article concludes that, as a consequence of the strengthened church-state relationship, respect for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, and freedom of expression will likely continue to wane, resulting in a further deterioration of the human rights crisis in Russia (3) and of the foundation of Russia's constitutional order. (4)

  1. WINDS OF CHANGE? ELECTIONS FOR PRESIDENT AND PATRIARCH

    During Vladimir Putin's two terms as president, most of the informed opinion regarding relations between the Russian government and the ROC agreed that the relationship challenged Russia's official constitutional secularism: the two institutions shared tightened ties (5) and "common values" (6) that signaled a growing "strategic alliance." (7) As a consequence, the ROC grew "increasingly powerful" (8) and "State support for the church [grew] even stronger." (9)

    Furthermore, the ROC enjoyed a "favoured status," (10) "edg[ing] ever closer to [the] state," (11) and "in many areas ... turned ... into a de facto official religion." (12) From the perspective of other observers, the church-state relationship morphed into an "unholy alliance" (13) whereby the ROC increasingly became "a symbol and projection of Russian nationalism" (14) and "an extension of the state," (15) subordinate to "the Putin regime .... as an even stronger supporter of dictatorship and anti-Western ideology." (16)

    This situation continued until March 2008, when presidential candidate Dmitry Medvedev scored an "overwhelming victory" in an election described as "more coronation than contest." (17) At this point, preliminary signs indicated that Medvedev would continue President Putin's relationship with the Church. (18) Although many viewed the presidential election as an example of "managed democracy," whereby Russia's electorate merely validated a choice already predetermined by the Kremlin, (19) no one could have predicted that Alexy II, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since his appointment in 1990, would die less than one year later (20) and leave the position of Patriarch an open race. (21)

    Upon learning of the Patriarch's passing, Medvedev, abroad in India and only seven months into his presidency, canceled a planned visit to Italy and returned forthwith to Russia. (22) A statement released by the Kremlin expressed the President's feelings: "A very grievous event has happened in the life of this country, our society--Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexiy II has died." (23) Medvedev declared Alexy's funeral a day of national mourning. (24) He also signed a decree requiring cultural institutions and television and radio stations to "cancel entertainment events and programs on the day of the patriarch's burial." (25) Finally, Medvedev ordered national media to provide live coverage of the almost eight-hour long funeral ceremony, (26) including "people bidding farewell to the patriarch." (27)

    At Alexy's funeral service attended by Medvedev, Putin, and other officials from the Kremlin and Duma Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad--the ROC's locum tenens (interim leader) eulogized the departed Patriarch: "Today his Holiness, standing before the face of God, can say that he left us with a different Church: no longer powerless and weak." (28) Press accounts concluded that the ceremony confirmed "the elevation of the Russian Orthodox Church to de-facto state religion." (29) After Alexy's burial, the Church Council turned to the task of electing a new patriarch. This demanding process, during which potential candidates customarily forgo declaring their interest in the post, requires a preliminary selection of three candidates, followed by a vote by a 750-member body consisting of clergy and lay people. (30) Despite his high-profile position as locum tenens, Kirill was, by many accounts, not a shoo-in for the revered post. (31) Numerous observers claimed that the Kremlin favored Metropolitan Kliment, "the standard-bearer of traditionalists" as more "willing to be subservient" to the government's interests. (32) According to this view, a victory for Kliment would signal the Church "tightly follow[ing] the Kremlin line" and ensure continuation of "the church's friendship with the state ... with its previous force." (33) Indeed, as President, Putin passed over Kirill and instead appointed Kliment to Russia's Public Chamber, (34) an advisory body to the President that consists of representatives from Russian civil society. In a similar slight at Medvedev's inauguration in the Kremlin's Andreyevsky Hall, "Metropolitan Kliment sat in the front row next to Alexy while Metropolitan Kirill was relegated to the back." (35)

    As the inevitable but subtle electioneering and requisite controversies among various factions of the Church unfolded, Kirill asserted his opposition "to any church reforms," in an effort to counter critics who alleged he was too liberal. (36) Ultimately, the Metropolitan, whether because of his high profile as a TV personality or as locum tenens, vanquished Kliment, securing election as the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. (37) To cement the vote, on February 1, 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (standing prominently near the front), (38) alongside other government officials waited with bated breath in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral as bells chimed for fifteen minutes before Kirill arrived in a limousine for his enthronement ceremony. (39) Like Alexy's funeral, Russian television provided live coverage of the ceremony. (40) Although Putin did not give a speech, he and other dignitaries lined up to congratulate the new Patriarch and kissed Kirill's crucifix. (41) Svetlana Medvedeva, Russia's First Lady, was first in line to receive communion from Kirill. (42)

    In a speech delivered after his enthronement, Patriarch Kirill offered thanks to Putin and Medvedev. (43) President Medvedev declared the enthronement

    an outstanding event in the life of our country and of all Orthodox nations--an event that opens a new chapter in the development of Orthodox religion in our country, and which, hopefully, creates new conditions for a fully-fledged and solidarity dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the state. (44) A day later, as if to demonstrate his commitment to fostering these "new conditions," Medvedev invited the newly enthroned Patriarch-as "his first duty as head of the Russian Orthodox Church" (45)--to lead a service in the Kremlin's Assumption Cathedral. (46) After the service, at a reception in Georgy Hall for ROC Local Council delegates, both Kirill and Medvedev addressed the assembled religious leaders. (47) Medvedev's speech stressed that

    relations between church and state are built on the foundation of the constitutional principles of freedom of conscience and worship and non-intervention by the state authorities in...

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