Whereas the Soviet Union suppressed religion and persecuted those who professed their faith, in today’s Russia the Orthodox Church is exerting itself to repress dissent. Members of the punk band Pussy Riot face up to seven years in prison following a stunt which took place back in February:
Five members of Pussy Riot – wearing brightly colored balaclavas and miniskirts – briefly took over the pulpit at Christ The Savior Cathedral, chanting “Mother Mary, drive Putin away” and high-kicking cancan-style.
Although the charge is one of ‘hooliganism’ rather than blasphemy, the Church seems to have been instrumental in securing a tough line against the band members:
Although church and state are separate under Russia’s constitution, the Russian Orthodox Church has claimed a leading role in setting moral guidelines for society. Its growing prominence has caused concern among followers of minority faiths and nonreligious Russians.
And the indictment against them is couched in terms which strongly emphasise the affront to religious sensitivities:
The language of the indictment harshly describes the actions of Pussy Riot: “Moving around the solea and ambon, areas that are strictly forbidden to visitors, with cynical disregard, they shouted out tunes of religious hostility and hatred over the course of about one minute, chanting obscene phrases and words that insult believers, as well as jumping around and raising their legs.”
In its summary, the indictment states that Pussy Riot members “put themselves in opposition to the Christian world … [and] tried to discredit church traditions and dogmas that have been protected and cherished for centuries. … In a clear and unambiguous way, they expressed their religious hatred and hostility to Christianity.”
The power of the Church has also been a focus for controversy from the perspective of Russia’s Muslims. In this report it is asserted that many mainstream Muslim texts, including collections of hadiths and other apparently uncontroversial works, have been banned by a Russian court because of their supposedly extremist nature.
An Orthodox priest known for his hostility to Islam, Yuri Maximov, was responsible for deciding which books should be banned, the article claims. I didn’t take the characterisation of him as an opponent of Islam on trust, but looked around for some evidence of his views. I have to say, having read this, that interfaith dialogue does not seem to be Maximov’s strong suit.