Thursday, November 15, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Deputy Wants Districts to Have Say on New Religious Buildings

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 15 – No new church, mosque, synagogue or other religious facility could be built within any Moscow district unless “no less than 10 percent” of that district’s residents approve the idea, if a proposal by a Tagan District representative on the Moscow City Duma is adopted.

            “Izvestiya” reports today that Ilya Sviridov, a Just Russia Party deputy in the Moscow City Duma, has submitted legislation intended to reduce inter-ethnic tensions involving new religious buildings in the Russian capital by requiring those proposing such construction to show that at least ten percent of the residents nearby back the idea (

            Such “initiatives about the construction of a new prayer house must come not from the representatives of the authorities but from residents of a specific municipal formation,” Sviridov said, noting that he came up with the idea when residents of two Moscow district opposed the construction of a mosque in their areas.

            In addition to requiring that those urging construction get ten percent support for their plans, Sviridov said his draft legislation would require an architectural evaluation of new building so that “they do not violate the existing architectural landscape,” a provision that could more easily be used against mosques than against churches.

                And the draft would also require that official consider the economic and ecological impact of such construction and transportation and other infrastructure burdens that such construction might lead to, and it would require that those building a religious facility guarantee that they would not create problems for other residents during their religious ceremonies.

            According to “Izvestiya,” the representatives of the so-called “traditional” Russian faiths support Sviridov’s proposal. Vladimir Vigilyansky, pastor of the Holy Martyr Tatyana Church at Moscow State University, says that the proposal reflects “good sense” and that he “likes it” but wonders who would “monitor” the opinion of residents.

            Rushan-khazrat Abbyasov, deputy chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), also likes the idea. Local residents should approve any plans for the construction of religious facilities; but perhaps mindful that Muslims are a small part of the population in some parts of the capital, he said that the 10 percent requirement should be reconsidered.

            But if religious leaders say they like Sviridov’s proposals, at least one expert on religious life in Russia does not, the paper says.  Aleksandr Ignatenko, the head of the Moscow Institute of Religion and Politics, says that far more than 10 percent of the population should have to approve. 

            That is the first amendment he would make, the scholar said, and the second would be to require that “the planning and construction of a mosque or a church or a Buddhist datsan or a synagogue” closely follow and be included in “plans for the development of the social infrastructure of the district as a whole.”

                Given that the construction of both churches and mosques has sparked the rise of a “NIMBY” attitude among many Muscovites, this law goes a long way to meeting their objections. But it is clear that its many provisions will continue to allow officials to have the final say whatever “democratic” provisions it includes.

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