Only by recognizing this Russian approach to religion, which is more about structures than about faith, can one make sense of the ongoing repression of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, many independent Orthodox Christians, some Protestants, and even Buddhists who pursue their own course independent of the officially sanctioned structure.
Russia’s chief “sect” hunter, Aleksandr Dvorkin, has been pushing for the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a long time; and Soldatov suggests that he should be held accountable for the absurd and cruel six-year jail sentence just handed down to Dennis Cristensen. But Dvorkin, who has close ties to the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin, has a larger agenda.
What he wants and apparently what the powers that be want as well is the complete subordination of all religious groups to officially recognized structures that the state can intimidate and control and discrimination against and even outright bans of all others regardless of whether they are Christian or anything else.
That focus on control of structures rather than on religious faith informed Stalin’s approach to the restoration of the Moscow Patriarchate and its subsequent management by interior ministry officials, an approach that continued throughout the rest of the Soviet period and, with the exception of a brief period in 1990-1992, has now come back.
It is important to understand this point, that the Kremlin cares about structural control rather than faith, because “neither Orthodoxy, nor Christianity if one considers it separately from Orthodoxy, nor Islam, nor Buddhism nor Judaism have monopoly structures. Besides the main center recognized by the state each of these relations has a mass of ‘alternative’ structures.”
All of these groups are increasingly at risk, and those who view the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an exception are deceiving themselves. Oppression against them will only open the doors to more oppression against the others, including some many in the West believe are immune from such attacks, Soldatov suggests.
“Just as Russia has not been able to cease to be an empire,” he concludes, “it lacks the ability to become a civil state.”