Thursday, January 17, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Protestant Christians, Salafi Muslims Said Gaining at Russian Orthodoxy’s Expense in Daghestan, Elsewhere

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Protestant Christianity and Salafi Islam are growing in number and influence in Daghestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya at the expense of Russian Orthodoxy, according to a regional specialist, and that trend is leading exacerbating tensions and may have served as “an additional justification” for the recent dispatch of Russian troops to Daghestan.

            Magomed Magomedov, director of the Center for Islamic Research on the North Caucasus, made that point in the course of a discussion with the Kavkaz-uzel news portal about the December 26th decision of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church to create a new bishopric for those three republics (

            He added that, in his view, this latest action of the Russian Orthodox Church is likely to mean that “the Protestant organizations of the region will strengthen their positions” still further, exactly the opposite of what the Patriarchate has said it wants and believes the creation of the new see will do.

            And it appears that at least some in the Orthodox community in Daghestan agee with the Muslim expert.  Natalya Magomedova, a parishioner of the Makachkala Orthodox cathedral, said that the “reforms could lead” to a situation in which the people would feel themselves “distant” from the church if not “religion as a whole.”

            Ruslan Gereyev, the director of the Center for Islamic Research on the North Caucasus, said that for residents of the North Caucasus, what matters is “not the form of administration but the authority of the ruler,” something that in this case the Russian Orthodox Church appears to have forgotten.

In his view, Gereyev continued, the ROC should be much more concerned that the number of Protestant organizations in Daghestan is now greater than the number of Russian Orthodox ones, 28 to 19, despite the fact that the Protestants do not have anything like the resources behind them that the Russian Orthodox do.

Magomedov was even more dramatic in his judgment about the Orthodox move: “The Russian Orthodox Church,” he said, “has put a cross on its mission to Ingushetia, Daghestan and Chechnya,” and it has left “the islands of Orthodoxy” in these predominantly Muslim areas to “drift,” something that has an entirely “predictable result.”

            Meanwhile, in a television broadcast yesterday, Roman Lunkin, a senior scholar at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, put the trends observed in Daghestan in a broader all-Russian context during a discussion of the new “Atlas of Contemporary Religioius Life of Russia” (

            It was “important” for those who prepared the atlas to show that “there is religious diversity” in Russia, something officials typically do not know and why they accept the idea that the Orthodox form a far higher percentage of the population than they do. And it is why they often do not know what to do with that diversity when they are forced to deal with it.

            Unfortunately, Lunkin continues, “the policy in Russia at both the regional and federal level is such that the authorities,” when they have to respond, “try to support the balance of traditional religions,” to ensure that “Orthodox organizations are always more numerous,” and to “restrain the development of Protestantism.”

            “But even given that effort at holding back the Protestants,” Lunkin pointed out, “it turns out that in a majority of the federal districts except for the Volga and North Caucasus, Protestant organizations now occupy second place after Orthodoxy in the number of registered religious organizations, although Muslim groups are now gradually catching up and surpassing them too.”

            Few yet appreciate this reality, the religious affairs scholar said, but “it is difficult to ignore.”

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