A recent public opinion poll showed that a growing number of Russians consider the Orthodox Church to be a necessary feature of their national identity. According to a report released earlier this week by the independent Levada Centre, some 38 percent of survey respondents said it was “very important” to be an Orthodox believer if one wants to be considered “an authentic Russian”. That’s more than double the figure in a similar poll in 1996… 15 percent… and up from 32 percent in 2003. On Friday, Oleg Savelyev of the Levada Centre told RIA-Novosti, “This is a result of successful propaganda, especially by the state-run television networks”.
He said that in Soviet times, people would study the line-up of state leaders atop the Lenin Mausoleum during the parade commemorating Great October to divine the current pecking order. Today, they look at Easter services at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Nevertheless, some believers complain that Orthodox events don’t get enough coverage. Igor Miroshnichenko, the deputy head of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, a populist Orthodox organisation, said, “More and more people realise that Russia’s associated with real Christian values, unlike Europe, with its propaganda of homosexuality and other pornographic freedoms”. That trend is apparent in the passage this year of controversial laws in St Petersburg and several other big cities aimed at protecting children from “gay propaganda”.
The Levada survey found that just 9 percent of respondents thought Orthodoxy was “not important at all” to the national identity, down from 32 percent in 1996, and 20 percent in 2003. Savelyev also noted that the clergy has greater influence in politics, which is reflected in public opinion. The Orthodox Church has been making headlines throughout 2012, prompting a discussion about its increased role in the life of the nation. The prosecution of three women from the punk collective Pussy Riot for their performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour split society, with some calling for mercy and others, including some senior clergy, calling for punishment. In August, a court sentenced the three feminist rockers to two years in jail, although one later had her sentence suspended and was released. Miroshnichenko said Russians have begun to “understand that the Orthodox Church and Christian values are under attack” and want to defend them.
Interestingly, barely half of the respondents said that Russian citizenship was an important element of national identity. Just 53 percent said it was “very important” to hold a Russian passport to be identified as a Russian, up from the 46 percent recorded in 1996, but down from 58 in 2003. A different survey by the Levada Centre revealed that around 79 percent of Russians describe themselves as Orthodox believers, while only 6 percent said that they were Muslims. The poll results on national identity are based on interviews with 1,516 Russians. The margin of error is 3.3 percent.
23 November 2012