Friday, October 30, 2020

Siberia isn’t Russia Even in Religious Terms -- and Moscow is Worried

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – Siberia not only lacks a history of serfdom but is the center of Protestantism in religious terms, both in the usual sense and as a place where residents dissent most frequently from Russian Orthodoxy. Moscow both civic and religious is now trying to change that by launching a religious purge in the region.

            In a commentary for  Region.Expert, Vadim Sidorov says that “the theatrical arrest in southern Krasnoyarsk Kray” of Sergey Torop, known as Vissarion, who has led an independent religious group for several decades is emblematic of this disturbing trend (

            Despite their loyalty to and even cooperation with the authorities and the siloviki, the Vissarionovtsy were accused of creating a religious sect that threatened the mental state of their followers and the rights of workers. But even that was not the clearest sign that a new religious “cleansing” is beginning east of the Urals.

            That is signaled by the active support the Russian Orthodox hierarchy has given to this move. One local metropolitan asked publicly why the authorities had not acted sooner, and the spokesman for the local bishopric noted that his office had warned officials about the dangers of this group for some time.

            But independent observers, including Protestants and rights activists, say there was no basis for the charges that the authorities have lodged against the group (; and that suggests, the regional commentator continues, that they became the victim of the extension to Siberia of unwritten rules that already govern religious life in central Russia.

            The region east of the Urals, he continues, was initially formed as “a kind of ‘Russian America,’” more free in both civil and religious terms and attracting large numbers of religious dissidents, like Old Believers, Molokane, Dukhobors, and Mennonites, who were repressed by the Orthodox Church at home.

            That religious diversity and tolerance for it extended into post-Soviet times, at least until now. Protestants, Catholics and other dissenting religious groups have grown rapidly in number. In Primorsky Kray, for example, by 2010, there were 178 Protestant congregations as against only 89 ROC MP ones.

            According to figures from 2014, Siberia and the Russian Far East were home to 565,000 Roman Catholics, far more than the 105,000 followers of that faith west of the Urals. (Indeed, the most important Catholic publication in the Russian Federation arose not in Moscow but in Siberia.)

            And more recently, there have been such dissenting groups within Islam, like the Nursilar and Russian Muslims, who have made their home east of the Urals as well, Sidorov continues. Moreover, even Orthodox Christian groups which look to anyone other than the Moscow Patriarchate have been targeted as well.

            What is happening now, he suggests, is that the criteria separating acceptable “traditional” faiths and unacceptable “non-traditional” ones, always arbitrary, is changing and that this change is being extended east of the Urals, a region where the latter have always been more numerous and enjoyed less outside media attention and support.

            The move against the Vissarionovtsy then is thus an indication that the powers that be in Moscow, both civil and religious, have decided to try to eliminate all religious groups that are not part of the four traditional faiths as organized in approved structures for attack, a move that will only widen the gulf that already exists between European Russia and Siberia. 


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