Monday, October 11, 2021

Moscow Broadens Attacks on Religions with Foreign Ties, Threatening Even More Groups, Verkhovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 6 – Until about a year ago, Moscow’s attacks on religious groups were limited to Muslim ones the Russian authorities considered extremist and the Jehovah’s Witnesses because of that denomination’s missionary activity and foreign ties. But now Moscow is broadening its attack on religious groups with such reputations and ties.

            According to a survey of expert opinion in Russia by a journalist writing under the pen name Ivan Aleksandrov, the Russian authorities have expanded their attacks on their traditional targets even as they have gone after more groups which the Kremlin views as hostile to Russia (россия-расширяет-диапазон-религиозных-гонений).

            These include Orthodox dissidents the Moscow Patriarchate opposes and two new groups, the New Generation denomination of Pentecostals whose center is abroad and the Falungun, a cultural group that also has foreign ties and whose activities in Russia get in the way of Moscow’s rapprochement with China.

            Neither of these groups has a significant number of followers in Russia, the New Generation no more than a couple of hundred and the Falungun even fewer. But siloviki attacks on them raise the possibility that Moscow may soon go after Buddhists, despite their traditional status in Russia because of the support Russian Buddhists show for the Dalai Lama, and other Protestants, most of whom have ties with if not financing from foreign groups.

            An attack on Buddhist groups in Tyva, Buryatia and Kalmykia could destabilize ethnic relations in the Far East and the Caucasus and any moves against Protestant groups could undermine the delicate relations between their leaders and the Russian state and further compromise Moscow’s reputation in the West.

            But despite these dangers, there is a great risk that Moscow may proceed in precisely that direction, not only because it has weathered criticism for its attacks on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims but also because it is increasingly obvious that the Kremlin’s policies on religion are dominated by the siloviki rather than by political leaders.

            According to Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Center, “religious policy is tightly connected with the law enforcement organs, and they look on everything with suspicion … The atmosphere today is ore repressive for all religious minorities than it was 10 years ago. Then, senior prosecutors could quash cases, but now they don’t do so.”

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