Staunton, Apr. 21 – Since the end of Soviet times, the Russian government has divided religions inside the country into four traditional faiths – Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism – which it views as part of the nation’s patrimony and all others which it often groups under the term “sectarians.”
Under Boris Yeltsin, most of the sectarians were able to continue to practice and even expand without significant interference from the state; but under Vladimir Putin, they have been increasingly marginalized and attacked, in some cases because of supposed foreign links and in others because they are viewed simply as “untraditional.”
But in recent years, as Beda commentator Aleksandr Orlov points out, Russian authoritarianism has again focused on “minority religious communities which as a rule are called sects” and actively persecuted them, most notoriously in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (beda.media/special/sektantami-byt-ne-dozvoleno).
“Although these repressions may be considered as part of a general wave of ideological persecution,” he continues, “they have a more extensive genealogy” as a lock back at Russian history over the past two hundred years allows for the conclusion that “the more significant the persecution of sectarians, the more the state follows isolationism” and repression generally.
According to Orlov, “tolerance toward religious radicals is one of the markers of the ability of society to acknowledge the existence of people which distinguishes them from one another.” When that is not present, then the state presses even harder for control and homogenization.
“The experience of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and present-day Russia demonstrates” that violence against religious minorities is one of the initial signs that the state will engage in a more general war first on its own citizens and then on foreign countries as is now the case with Putin’s Russia.
In contrast, when the state is tolerant of religious diversity, that is “one of the most important signs that the country is ready for other and more peaceful ways to overcome contradictions and conflicts," the analyst says. Moves against religious minorities are thus a litmus test for society as a whole.
Often, as is the case with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, these moves are brutal and obvious; but sometimes they are small and passed over in silence. One of the latter has just happened in Mari El, a Finno-Ugric republic in the Middle Volga (mariuver.com/2023/04/19/glava-ne-pozdravil/#more-72477).
There, the Putin-appointed governor has sent greetings to the Orthodox on Easter and plans to send them to Muslims on key Islamic holidays but has passed over in silence the main celebration of the traditional Mari religion because it is not in his view and that of the Kremlin a traditional religion of Russia.