Saturday, December 29, 2018

Moscow Patriarchate’s Building Boom has Sparked NIMBY Resistance Across Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 29 – To show its power and spread its influence, the Moscow Patriarchate is seeking to build ever more churches – 85 in the city of Moscow alone over the last eight years ( – sparking the inevitable “Not in My Back Yard” (NIMBY) resistance from Russians who don’t want to lose parkland or deal with traffic.

            In a report at a Tambov meeting on Wednesday, Kseniya Sergazina, an instructor at the Russian State Humanities University and a specialist with the SOVA Center, discussed the conflicts that have arisen over the construction of churches in parks as well as fights over handing over other buildings to the church or illegal actions by religious groups about property.

            During 2018, she says, there were significant conflicts between church officials and activists, on the one hand, and residents and environmental activists, on the other, over plans to erect churches in what had been city parks that people enjoyed and had come to rely on (

            Among the most serious were fights of this kind in Rostov-na-Donu, Chuvashia, Tomsk, Chita, Syktyvkar, Sevastopol, Chelyabinsk, Blagoveshchensk, Pervouralsk, Kurgan, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The largest and longest lasting controversy was in Yekaterinburg where residents fought plans by the church to build a massive cathedral on the city’s waterfront.

            Most of these conflicts would have been less intense and might have been resolved had the church been willing to compromise, Sergazina says, because “in the overwhelming majority of cases, local residents spoke out not against the construction of churches as such but in defense of parks and squares from such buildings.”
            (The Orthodox Church was not the only target of such NIMBY protests. Residents in Severouralsk, Perm and Kazan opposed planned construction of mosques in public parks. “but such conflicts,” she says, “were significantly fewer than those about the building of Orthodox churches.”)

            Sergazina also notes the continuing controversies about buildings the church seeks to have returned to it. The most notable of these concerns the church’s aspirations to take ownership of St. Isaac’s in St. Petersburg. But there were similar fights in Vladimir, Moscow and over monastery lands in a variety of places.

            Again, other faiths experienced similar problems in2018. The Roman Catholics failed in their bid to reclaim a church build in 1911 in Krasnoyarsk and another in Smolensk. There were also significant controversies about government seizures of churches as in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and church construction that the government or residents deemed illegal.

            In general, Sergazina says, the government sided with the population against Protestants, Catholics and Muslims but with the Russian Orthodox Church against the population’s expressed wishes.  The ROC MP has benefited from this alliance in the short term, the SOVA analyst says; but it may suffer over the longer haul.

            “The ‘Church of the Majority’ by entering into a coalition with the state and not with civil society risks suffering large losses to its reputation and losing the credit of trust which it received in the 1990s,” Sergazina says. That could send its standing and its membership plummeting and lead some of the faithful to shift to other denominations.

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