Staunton, Oct. 18 – Earlier this week, the Russian Central Bank issued a new 1000-ruble bill which showed two architectural monuments from Tatarstan’s capital, Kazan. The bill accurately showed one building with a Muslim crescent even though it is not a mosque and the other without a Christian cross because it is no longer an Orthodox church and doesn’t have one.
Despite the accuracy of the portrayal of the situation, this new bill provoked a firestorm of criticism with some Russian Orthodox and Russian nationalists seeing this as a denigration of Russian and Christian dignity. Two days later, the Central Bank said it was pulling the new bills and would come up with a new design (cbr.ru/press/pr/?file=638332118901765878COINS.htm).
The bills showing the existing crescent but not the non-existent cross will remain legal tender, but their most likely fate is as collectors’ items given that relatively few of the bills in that form were ever issued and passed into circulation.
Many commentators suggested that those angry about the original design were overreacting and even that the entire incident was an effort by the Kremlin to hide inflation given that the 1000-ruble (10 US dollars) bill is an amount that Russians are forced to pay for more things (ng.ru/facts/2023-10-17/10_560_scandal.html and business-gazeta.ru/article/610864).
But the most important lesson from what has happened is this: religious issues, especially those linked with Russian nationalist concerns, are just below the surface in today’s Russian Federation and are quite capable of sparking conflicts rising to the level of the political at the slightest apparent provocation.