Staunton, July 17 – Vladimir Putin’s suggestion that opening “churches, mosques, synagogues or Buddhist shrines” in Russian plants and factories may sound anodyne but in fact it sets the stage not only for a further retreat from secularism toward religion as a political ideology but also for intensifying religious divisions in Russia.
The Kremlin leader said the opening of such religious facilities was an entirely good thing “from the point of view of the spiritual state of the people who work at these enterprises” and therefore the practice should be extended from a Belgorod factory to similar facilities elsewhere in Russia (vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2017/07/14/723827-putin-odobril).
No one could object to workers seeking spiritual sustenance especially at a time when the economic situation is so dire. But opening churches or other religious centers in factories has the effect of officializing religion and thus represents a reversal of Boris Yeltsin’s order to ban all political cells in factories.
On the one hand, many Russians will see any moves in this direction as an indication that the Russian Orthodox Church is becoming a revived form of the ideological department of the CPSU Central Committee, the chief source and imposer of ideological values on the population, a worrisome prospect in and of itself.
And on the other – and this will certainly prove a more serious threat to the Russian order – allowing such things will force plant managers to decide which religion is to gain such facilities. That sets the stage for serious conflicts, like those over the construction of churches generally, among followers of different religions.
What will happen if a factory manager in a predominantly Muslim region decides to allow the opening of a mosque within the enterprise’s walls? Will ethnic Russian and presumably Orthodox workers go along quietly? Or will they protest, demanding equal or more likely special treatment?
The latter outcome is more likely and that will not only ensure that religious feelings will be exacerbated but that labor and other conflicts will be infused with religious content, something that will make any disputes more difficult to resolve and cause no end of trouble both regionally and for Russia as a whole