Staunton, March 28 – Only the Russian Orthodox Church is not objecting to Duma plans to amend the laws governing religious organizations to require that clergy and other religious leaders receive instruction in the laws of the Russian Federation governing faith communities before being allowed to lead congregations.
Buddhists fear that it will mean that leaders of their community abroad cannot come to Russia to teach. Muslims object to what they see as an infringement of their constitutional rights. And Pentecostals, similar concerned, have announced that they will ask Vladimir Putin not to sign the bill if it passes, Kommersant reports (kommersant.ru/doc/4741865).
This opposition has led the Duma to postpone a second vote on the question, but the idea, which has been under consideration by the Russian legislature since last summer, appears to have a life of its own and is likely to be brought up again once the current wave of resistance crests and passes.
The proposed amendment itself, Duma deputies involved in the process say, may be modified to allow those trained abroad to take courses in Russia and those who are members of a religious denomination without its own religious training center in Russia to be certified in this regard at one or another Russian university.
Such changes meet the objections of the Buddhists but hardly those of the Muslims or Protestants, the Moscow daily reports. And their leaders see the failure of Duma deputies to pay attention to their suggestions and complaints as evidence both that the ruling party plans to go ahead with this and that it is not concerned about Muslims and non-Orthodox Christians.
That makes the observation of Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the head of the SOVA Information-Analytic Center which tracks religious issues, intriguing. He says that he is “certain” the new amendment was introduced in the first instance in order to give the state the ability to “’de-radicalize”” Muslims.
If Muslim mullahs and imams aren’t trained inside Russia or in secular institutions there, they would not be allowed to preach in the future. But blocking them from doing so in this way almost certainly will have the unintended consequence of driving them and their congregations underground, thus promoting the very radicalization the amendment is intended to prevent.
Indeed, if this measure does finally pass and is signed into law, a large number of Russia’s increasingly numerous Muslim communities are likely to go underground much as was true in Soviet times and now become a greater threat to the secular authorities than anything they have presented in recent years.