By Paul Goble
“Russia is returning to the times of the repressive policy of state atheism,” Aleksandr Soldatov argues, but now the Putin regime is defending not official atheism as the Soviets did for 60 years but rather official Orthodoxy as defined by the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Moscow commentator draws that conclusion on the basis of Moscow’s attacks in recent weeks on various independent Orthodox groups including the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church who are officially registered but differ from the Moscow Patriarchate on many issues (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/06/14/76801-pod-katkom-protoierey).
Soldatov details what Russian siloviki have done against this group; but his article is important because of his larger point: Putin is not simply being repressive against various religions such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims but he is following the very same pattern the Soviets did, choosing one, penetrating it with security officers, and oppressing everyone else.
Most commentaries on the state of religious life in Russia under Putin have acknowledged that various groups are in trouble, but they have tended to treat each of them in isolation, looking for particular reasons why Putin is taking the repressive actions he has been taking.
Soldatov’s article is a reminder that Putin is not opposing this or that religion for specific reasons, although he may make tactical choices, but rather seeking to repress all groups that are not totally loyal to him, that is, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, in just the same way the Soviets did with official atheism.