Staunton, June 22 – The Yekaterinburg city commission on land use yesterday approved plans to build three new Russian Orthodox Churches in various urban districts at its first meeting following the massive protests against the possible construction of a cathedral in the central square of that Urals city.
That decision reverses an earlier holding by the commission and has become possible both church leaders and opponents say because the mayor revamped the commission’s membership in favor of the ROC MP, something likely to spark concerns that the cathedral on the square is still on the table even though officials say it isn’t (ura.news/articles/1036278305).
But this obvious tilt toward the Orthodox Church is having another consequence: it is enraging the city’s large Muslim community which was promised a mosque in the center of the city by Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel in the 1990s but never given the land on which such a structure could be erected (business-gazeta.ru/article/428466).
Officials say that the Muslims were never able to come up with the money, a claim Muslims both in Yekaterinburg and across the Middle Volga dispute; but most Muslims ascribe it to anti-Islamic prejudices among the Russian Orthodox Church and city and regional officials – and they can point to numerous Islamophobic remarks by both.
Muslim leaders in Yekaterinburg and in Kazan have denounced the failure of the city to agree to a place for a mosque and say that neither religious nor civil authorities should talk about Muslims in the language that both all too often use apparently with complete impunity despite Russian laws on insulting religious faiths (business-gazeta.ru/article/428466).
Some of the most offensive Russian comments came during the struggle over the building of a cathedral in Yekaterinburg’s main square. At that time, one prominent city official suggested that it must be built because “if there’s no church, then there’ll be a mosque instead (.ng.ru/ng_religii/2019-06-18/11_466_rpc.html).
Faced with this united front against them in Yekaterinburg, Muslims there have now produced and are circulating an open letter to Vladimir Putin demanding that he intervene to ensure that they will get the land for a mosque they seek and thus not have their rights violated as they are now (eanews.ru/news/yesli-nashi-muzhchiny-vyydut-na-miting-ikh-polozhat-na-asfal-t-v-bor-be-za-mechet-musul-mane-yekaterinburga-doshli-do-putina_17-06-2019).
Given Putin’s own attitudes, it is unlikely that he will respond in a positive way; but if as likely he doesn’t, it is entirely possible that soon there will be not one protest but two involving religion and power: the first a new fight against the cathedral and the second a fight by Muslims to have the religious center they were promised and that the constitution say is their right.