On Sunday, Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev, the First Hierarch of the Patriarchate of Moscow and all the Russias, a long-standing ally of President Vladimir Putin, urged the Kremlin to be moderate in new legislation seeking stricter punishment for religious offences. The pro-Kremlin United Russia party proposed a law introducing jail terms for offending religious feelings after a protest by the punk band Pussy Riot against Putin’s increasingly close ties with the Church in occurred in Moscow’s main cathedral in February. Two members of the band are in prison for the protest, which Kirill called part of a coordinated attack intended to thwart the post-Soviet revival of Russia’s dominant church.
In remarks published on the eve of Orthodox Christmas, Kirill, who has called Putin’s long rule a “miracle of God”, said in an interview with Interfax that Russia needed stiffer punishments for offences against religion, saying, “A fine of several hundred roubles (about $10) for blasphemous inscriptions on a church, a mosque, or a synagogue signals that society doesn’t fully bring alive the importance of protecting … religious feelings of believers”. However, in his most extensive comment on the proposed law, he said it shouldn’t limit citizens’ rights, pointing up, “Any regulatory acts regarding the protection of religious symbols and the feelings of believers should be scrupulously worked through so that they aren’t used for improvised limitation of freedom of speech and creative self-expression”.
The remarks were in line with indications that Putin, whilst wanting to make clear that actions such as the Pussy Riot protest are unacceptable, is wary of undermining the balance between religions in the diverse country. Political analysts say the Kremlin has stepped back from its initial position on the law to take into account the ethnic and religious balance between the Christian majority and Muslim minority, a precondition for political stability. Kirill said nothing about what punishment he favoured. As proposed in September, the legislation called for prison terms of up to three years for offending religious feelings and up to five years for damaging religious sites or holy books. Rights groups said the legislation could blur the line between church and state in constitutionally secular Russia.
Putin, a former KGB officer, cultivated close ties with the MP during his 13 years in power and leaned more on it for support since starting his third term as president in May following protests against his rule. Opponents say the draft law is a part of broader Kremlin moves to suppress dissent and bolster public support by casting Putin as the protector of religious believers. Critics also said that the definition of offending religious feelings is so broad and vague in the draft law that it risks being ineffective or applied selectively.
The Orthodox Church has been resurgent since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 [actually, the resurgence began in the mid-80s under the Soviets… the fall of the USSR had little to do with it: editor]. About 75 percent of Russia’s 143 million people call themselves Orthodox, though only a minority attend church regularly [the same is true in the USA… the same proportion call themselves “Christian”, yet only a minority is in church on a given Sunday: editor]. The Pussy Riot protest offended many people, and opinion polls suggested that most Russians believed the two-year prison sentences two of the women are serving are fair punishment.
Kirill didn’t mention the punk protest, which band members said was an anti-Kremlin stunt not aimed at offending believers, and he urged peaceful responses to anti-church “incidents”, noting, “The key thing is that resistance to blasphemy should be appropriate and free from aggression”. Kirill also offered support for Putin’s battle against graft, declared in a public address last month. Critics of the Kremlin say corruption flourished under Putin, with Russia ranking 133rd out of 174 states, alongside Honduras and Guyana, in the Corruption Perception Index compiled by Transparency International [Ha! The world champion of graft and boodle is the US Congress… look at any typical military appropriations bill… or at John Boehner, the obedient “house nigger” and bought-and-paid-for Stepin Fetchit of the health insurance industry. Luckily, the USA has no real enemies on its borders, otherwise, the swinish greed of American lawmakers and businessmen at the Fed slop-chute (the true source of the deficit) would put paid to this country tout suite: editor]. Kirill dismissed media reports that he has a lavish lifestyle; the Church apologised in April for doctoring a photograph of him to remove what bloggers said was a luxury wristwatch.
6 January 2013
As quoted in Yahoo News