Religion in Russia
The term Dvoeverie (dvoh-yeh-vyer-EE-yeh) describes popular Slavic religion. When pagan beliefs and practices are preserved under the veneer of Christianity, that is dvoeverie. In the borderlands and within rural communities, pagan survivals remained. Some argue that for the masses, even to this present day, dvoeverie characterizes popular religion.
The more Russians complain, the more they were given mystical explanations as to why this pain was good or important. Orthodox Christianity's emphasis on suffering and sacrifice is unlike the more business-minded and cheerful Protestants. So "Christian values" continue to hold sway in Russia. It is very convenient to use them in place of a stable national idea. None will address problems but God - certainly not the government.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union, many ideas and values came crashing down. That time, early 1990-ies, is characterized by mass interest in various spiritual practices, as people tried to find answers to urgent questions about their lives and set things straight. Many people were connected to Orthodoxy only through baptism and knew practically nothing about the meaning of Orthodox faith. They were not interested in Orthodoxy because they were sure that they had already been Orthodox, went to church, blessed Easter cakes, etc.
The Russian Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice; however, in some cases authorities imposed restrictions on certain groups. Although the Constitution provides for the equality of all religions before the law and the separation of church and state, the Government did not always respect these provisions.
Government policy contributes to the generally free practice of religion for most of the population. Some federal agencies, such as the Department of Non-Profit Organizations within the Ministry of Justice, and many local authorities continued to restrict the rights of a few religious minorities. Legal obstacles to registration under a complex 1997 law "On Freedom of Conscience and Associations" (the 1997 Law) continued to seriously disadvantage some religious groups viewed as non-traditional. There were indications that the security services, including the Federal Security Service (FSB), treated the leadership of some Islamic and non-traditional groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses, as security threats.
Prejudices against non-Orthodox religions were behind manifestations of anti-Semitism and occasional friction with non-Orthodox Christian denominations. Because xenophobia, racism, and religious bigotry are often intertwined, it was often difficult to discern the particular motivation for discrimination against members of religious groups. Conservative activists claiming ties to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) occasionally disseminated negative publications and held protest meetings against religious groups considered nontraditional, including alternative Orthodox congregations. Some ROC clergy publicly stated their opposition to any expansion of the presence of non-Orthodox Christian denominations. Some prominent societal leaders, including Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, took positive steps to promote religious freedom.
The country has an area of 6,592,769 square miles and a population of 142 million. In practice, only a minority of citizens actively participated in any religion. Many who identified themselves as members of a religious group participated in religious life rarely or not at all. There is no single set of reliable statistics that breaks down the population by denomination, and the statistics below are compiled from government, polling, and religious group sources.
Approximately 100 million citizens identify themselves as Russian Orthodox. Muslims, with a population estimated between 10 million and 23 million, form the largest religious minority. The majority of Muslims live in the Volga-Ural region and the North Caucasus, although Moscow, St. Petersburg, and parts of Siberia also have sizable Muslim populations. There are an estimated one million Buddhists, the majority of whom live in the traditionally Buddhist regions of Buryatiya, Tuva, and Kalmykiya. According to the NGO Slavic Center for Law and Justice, Protestants make up the second largest group of Christian believers, with 3,500 registered organizations and more than 2 million followers. The Roman Catholic Church estimated that there are 600,000 Catholics, most of whom are not ethnic Russians. There are an estimated 250,000 Jews, the majority of whom live in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In some areas, such as Yakutiya and Chukotka, pantheistic and nature-based religions are practiced independently or along with other religions.
Many of the difficulties that religious communities face are rooted in bureaucratic obstacles and corruption, not religious bigotry. While it is nearly impossible to discern if groups are being targeted because of their religious beliefs or because they are vulnerable to demands by corrupt officials, the effect is a restriction on their ability to worship freely. In many cases, the problem lies not in the veracity of the government's charges, but in their uneven application by region and by religion.
While most detentions for religious practices involved Muslims, there were occasional reports of short-term police detentions of non-Muslims on religious grounds, but such incidents were generally resolved quickly. For example, local police frequently detained missionaries throughout the country for brief periods or asked them to stop proselytizing, regardless of whether they were actually violating local statutes.
President Medvedev met with religious leaders and spoke several times on the need to combat interethnic and interreligious intolerance. Federal and regional officials participated actively in, and in many cases strongly supported, a range of government and NGO-organized programs to promote tolerance. The Commission for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, a government body headed by the Human Rights Ombudsman, released its annual report on human rights in April 2009. It publicized the difficulty that some religious groups faced in property restitution and land acquisition, and the difficulties that religious minorities faced with government officials.
In 2006, Russia changed its definition of extremism, eliminating the requirement for violence or hatred, but saying the criteria included "incitement of ... religious discord."
The largest Jehovah’s Witnesses group in Russia had its activities suspended by the authorities on 27 March 2017 for allegedly conducting extremist activities. The activities of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia – the largest Jehovah’s Witnesses group in the country, with some 175,000 adherents, were suspended by the authorities. According to the Russian Ministry of Justice, the suspension came as a result of the group allegedly conducting "extremist activity." On 05 April 2017 the Supreme Court of Russia was expected to decide whether the religious group should be banned outright in the country. Some in Russia see the organization as one of the most dangerous among contemporary sects.
The Russian Supreme Court ruled 20 April 2017 that the Jehovah's Witnesses are an "extremist" group and ordered their Russian property turned over to the government. Supreme Court Judge Yuri Ivanenko declared the denomination's Administrative Center, its head office in Russia, an "extremist organization" and, on that basis, ordered the Jehovah's Witnesses group in Russia "dissolved" and its activities banned. Russia's Justice Ministry had sought the order, which the group said it will appeal.
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