By Paul Goble
Russia’s atheists who in Soviet times enjoyed the active support of the government now face a situation in which the Russian regime is both supporting Orthodox Christianity and heavily influenced by it. As a result, this newly embattled minority has organize to fight the clericalization of Russia.
Last Friday, under the aegis of the Communists of Russia, a group that has broken with the KPRF, 289 delegates from 50 regions of the Russian Federation met in Moscow and resolved to organize the “Atheists of Russia” (sova-center.ru/religion/publications/2016/05/d34559/ and komros.info/News/news_8119.html).
They declared as their goal “stopping the clericalization of the country, defending the rights of all atheists, and creating an influential and active organization which could enter into a political battle against obscurantism.” About half of those taking part were members of the Communists of Russia Party, and most were middle aged or older.
Ilya Ulyanov, a Communist of Russia who is a deputy in the Supreme Soviet of Khakasia, the only federal subject in which that party was able to secure representation, and one of the organizers of the event, gave the programmatic speech. Citing Engels and Lenin, he argued that religions always support the rich and the state against everyone else.
That was something Soviet communist leaders understood, he said, but it is something that their successors and others have forgotten since 1991. The Atheists of Russia Society, he continued, will oppose the efforts of religious organizations to influence education and culture and gain wealth while keeping the people in ignorance of what is going on.
Ulyanov said that he and his group respect the feelings of believers as the law requires but that it has no respect “for the church bureaucracy.” And he added that “if there is a law about the defense of the rights of believers, then there should be a law about the defense of the rights of atheists.”
According to the speaker, the degradation of Russian society is going at an ever faster rate, with 20,000 religious facilities having been opened over the last 20 years while 20,000 schools have been closed. (Another speaker noted that in Tatarstan, every village has a mosque but not all have schools.)
Other speakers disagreed over whether communists could be believers, a trend that Ulyanov suggested was “surreal.” Mikhail Mashkovtsev, the former governor of Kamchatka, said that as far as he was concerned, a communist could be a believer, and he urged that the group call itself the Anti-Clerical Union of Russia rather than the Atheists of Russia Society.
At the same time, he agreed with Ulyanov that “the church and priests are really enemies of the people, adding only that “We are not against Christ – we are against those who by distorting his doctrine put him in the service of the rich.” Other speakers took the same view, but their position was not supported by the meeting as a whole.
As it often does after such events, the Regions of Russia portal surveyed Russian parliamentarians about the formation of this new group. Nearly unanimously, they said that it was an anachronism, that “the time of atheism had ended” and that clericalization wasn’t a threat (regions.ru/news/2579943/ and ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/05/17/vremya_ateizma_zakonchilos/).