By Paul Goble
Since at least 2014, the Moscow Patriarchate through its World Russian Popular Assembly has insisted that the identity of all Russians must be based on Orthodoxy and anything that challenges that risks destroying the Russian nation, Kharun Sidorov says.
But the Czech Republic based Russian convert to Islam says that the Patriarchate is unwilling to allow any other nation within the borders of the Russian Federation to make a similar argument and insists that there must be room for Russian Orthodox believers in its ranks (idelreal.org/a/30906766.html).
Consequently, Sidorov says, the ROC MP is thrilled with what it sees as a victory in this regard in Tatarstan where the Strategy for the Tatar People says that Islam has played an enormous role in the life of that nation but that “to be a Tatar means … to strengthen unity with all Tatars regardless of where they life, what language they use or what religion they practice.”
Indicative of this is an article by Dinara Bukharova, an Orthodox Christian Tatar, in ROC MP outlets entitled “Orthodox Tatars for the First Time in Seven Centuries have Been Recognized by Tatar Muslims as Historically Equal Part of the Tatars and the Recognition of the Tatar People as Bi-Confessional” (tatar.orthodoxy.ru/?p=4510 and pravoslavie.ru/133861.html).
The ROC MP position about Orthodoxy among Russians and the Tatar concession that Tatars can be Orthodox or Muslim reflects a fundamentally different understanding of nationhood, one rooted in a single religion rather than ethnic membership that may include people of different faiths.
And at the same time, it suggests the strategy the Kremlin has adopted for the two, insisting on the equivalency of identity and Orthodoxy among Russians and on the lack of connection between identity and religion for other groups. That approach has consequences for both groups.
On the one hand, it indicates that the Russian political leadership is prepared to back the ROC MP against all other faiths as far as Russians are concerned, something that opens the way to more repression of religious minorities. And on the other, it shows that Moscow will likely insist that all non-Russians make a nod to the Russian Orthodox within their midst.
That will give the powers that be in Moscow and the regions a new wedge issue to exploit against the non-Russians even as the regime denies equal rights for religious groups within the Russian nation. Thus, what may seem a small and marginal issue is in fact a major one almost certain to entail serious negative consequences for Russians and non-Russians alike.