By Paul Goble
Many in the West naively believe that Vladimir Putin is a defender of Christian traditions against Islam and therefore are inclined to believe that he deserves their support despite what he may be doing as far as other things are concerned. But in fact, the he is defending only the Russian Orthodox Church and attacking all other Christian denominations.
That is the conclusion Roman Lunkin draws on the basis of a close reading of official actions against religious groups and especially “large and small Christian churches in Russia” except for the Orthodoxy of the Moscow Patriarchate over the last year (sclj.ru/news/detail.php?SECTION_ID=487&ELEMENT_ID=7826).
If earlier it appeared that official actions against religious groups bore a largely arbitrary and spontaneous character, the specialist on religion and law in Russia says, in the period since the adoption of the Yarovaya law, one is now justified in speaking “about the conscious choice of Christians as targets for judicial action.”
Officials in the magistracy and police do not know the fine points of religious issues, Lunkin says, “but they know very well that having uncovered a community of non-Orthodox Christians, they must fine it.” And in proceeding against such groups, “they do not devote any attention to formalities.” Indeed, they now openly ignore Russian constitutional norms.
“An analysis of a data base of court decisions carried out by Sergey Chugunov, a lawyer of the Slavic Legal Center speaks about the catastrophic situation with regard to the observation of the constitutional principles of freedom of consciousness.” And “non-Orthodox Christian confessions” have been hit especially hard.
Among these, Lunkin continues, are the Baptists, Evangelical Christians, Pentecostals and Seventh Day Adventists. Also hit with various judicial actions at the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Krishna Consciousness groups, and Muslims. In 2016-2017, he reports, 312 institutions were fined more than four million rubles (66,000 US dollars).
Particularly hard hit by such official repression, he says, are smaller groups in small cities or rural areas that find it more difficult to attract attention to their causes or the resources necessary to fight these official actions in court.
For such groups, a fine of 30,000 rubles (500 US dollars) is “an enormous sum.” Many congregations simply can’t raise that kind of money. They thus are forced to close up shop and go into private homes or the street where they will be fined for other violations of the anti-missionary provisions of the Yarovaya law.