Staunton, April 17 – Building more Orthodox churches in Russian cities will inevitably lead to demands from growing Muslim populations there for more mosques, sparking inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts that will be all the worse if it appears the authorities are backing the former and opposing the latter, according to a St. Petersburg city deputy.
Aleksey Kovalyev made those comments in an article published yesterday by the northern capital’s “Moy Region” newspaper that discussed growing public opposition to the construction of new churches there largely because the churches are eating up the land of the city’s parks (mr7.ru/articles/81702/).
According to the paper’s Elena Barkovskaya, there are now eleven “hot spots” where the population and the church are at loggerheads and where St. Petersburgers are expressing their anger that the city is apparently prepared to give the church anything it wants without regard to what the citizens desire.
Barkovskaya also pointed out that business interests in the city are angry as well because when they try to purchase land to expand, they are often turned away by the city government, but when the Russian Orthodox Church wants land for a new church, the city administrators appear “afraid” to tell them no.
(Barkovsky’s article is especially useful because, in support of her argument against unrestrained church construction by the Orthodox, she provides detailed information on both the number of believers by denomination and the number of existing religious facilities in St. Petersburg at the present time.)
This report comes as this issue is heating up in Moscow as well. Yesterday, in response to requests from the Patriarchate, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin ordered the program to build 200 new churches there accelerated (mk.ru/moscow/article/2013/04/17/842846-sobyanin-rasporyadilsya-sdavat-po-odnoy-tserkvi-v-mesyats.html).
Sobyanin said that one new church should open every month, a rate that would mean the Patriarchate’s program would be completed in about eight years. But that is unlikely: church construction is expensive, popular and even official opposition is widespread (kommersant.ru/doc/2172128), and more has to be built than just the church building itself.
Andrey Vorobyev, the acting governor of Moscow oblast, told Interfax yesterday that his administration will have to build roads to all of the 1500 churches now operating there. Many of the roads leading to these churches, he said, “leave much to be desired” (interfax-russia.ru/Center/citynews.asp?id=395595&sec=1669).
But there is an even more worrisome aspect to this development. “NG-Religii” reports today that some Cossack units are in training to use force against those who may protest the construction of new churches, a possibility that could turn a bad situation into an explosive one in the coming weeks and months (ng.ru/facts/2013-04-17/2_programm200.html).