Saturday, February 2, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Orthodox Church Faced with NIMBY Problem in Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 2 – As the Russian Orthodox Church presses to increase the number of churches in Moscow, church officials are facing mounting resistance from Russians there who for various reasons do not want a church in their neighborhoods, and that opposition is forcing the church to locate some of its new facilities in what had been industrial zones.

            Opposition to the construction of any new mosques in Moscow has received a great deal of attention in the Russian media, but Russian objections, usually of the “Not in my back yard” (NIMBY) type to the construction of new Orthodox churches has not. That makes two recent articles worth noting.

            On January 25, “Izvestiya” reminded its readers that public opposition had forced the Russian Orthodox Church to shift the sites of 35 of its planned churches from the places the church leadership had already planned. And it reported that now the Church was going to put up 17 “modular churches” in former factories (

            And yesterday, a blogger on the communist portal described in detail both neighborhood opposition to the construction of one new church in Moscow and the lengths to which the Church and officials working hand-in-glove with it have been prepared to go to get that site approved (

            “As is well-known,” a blogger by the name of Aleksandr wrote, “the main problem of the capital is a shortage of Orthodox churches. Everything is fine with kindergartens, everything is tip top with transportation, there are no traffic jams or trash.  We simply have too few Orthodox churches.”

             Consequently, as the result of an agreement between the city government and the Church, “several hundred ‘modular churches’” are to be built around the city so that all its residents will see churches wherever they look and will be able to walk to them for religious services.

            This past month, the government and the Church decided to focus on getting approval for a new church in the Perovo District of the Eastern Administrative Region.  It is not clear, the blogger says, why such a church is necessary there or why local residents would not prefer to see their money go for the resolution of “more important district problems.”  But nonetheless, the powers that be pressed ahead.

            “According to laws still on the books, there must be public hearings about such projects,” the blogger says.  And on January 7, the Perovo administration duly announced that it would hold such hearings on January 31 (, clearly expecting “the indifference and illiteracy of the people” would make those pro forma.

                To prevent that from happening, the blogger says, “local activists together with activists of the ROT FRONT Party distributed leaflets through the district calling on people to come to the hearings and protest against the construction of the church.” That made Church activists angry (, and they and the government took measures.
The hearings were indeed held on January 31 in a district school. But there were some unexpected developments. The 50-60 participants did not have to show their passports to get in, as is usually the case, and consequently, the blogger notes, many of those attending were from beyond its borders, sent in by the Church and the government to back construction of the church.
“But that isn’t all,” the blogger continues. “According to the law, citizens must have the opportunity to make their declarations [for such hearings both orally and] in written form.” But in this case, “the organizers did not provide” the forms they are supposed to. And thus there would not be a record to challenge any decision the authorities took.
What was most striking, however, were two unusual groups in the audience. On the one hand, there were some “Orthodox fanatics who grouped themselves around the representative of Russian Orthodox Church. On the other, there were a few “Orthodox provocateurs” who had been filmed earlier breaking up a meeting at a Moscow café last August (
After the officials from the government and the Church made their presentations in favor of building the church, audience members were given the chance to speak. But those opposed to the project were interrupted and sometimes drowned out by the Orthodox and in some cases intimidated into silence.
In so doing, the Orthodox activists were simply following the recommendations of their leaders on how to deal with opposition to the construction of Orthodox churches.  Those quasi-official recommendations are available online, the ROT FRONT blogger says, at
But some in the audience were not intimidated and spoke out against the construction of the new church facility.  “Feeling that the situation was slipping out of their control,” the blogger adds, “the Orthodox clack began to come to the microphone and sought to drown out the audience with their talk.”
When these speakers were asked where their places of residence were, the blogger points out, “they shamefully advised that they live ‘not hear’ but that they have ‘friends in Perovo’” whom they want to support. One of them even threatened opponents with the church: he said that 30 to 40 “sportsmen” will come and “stop the hooliganism.”
The blogger notes that he and his friends are “impatiently” awaiting  for the official announcement concerning what is going to happen. If as seems likely, the government backs the Church, then, he says, he and residents of the district “are considering a whole spectrum of possible actions,” concluding that “the struggle against the Gundyaevkys [a reference to the birth name of the patriarch] has only just begun.”

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