This paper will present freedom of religion or belief in the Russian federation context. It will focus on how religion is practiced in Russia, the relationship between people with different religious practices, tensions cause by differences in religion, and government interventions towards religion and belief.
The Russian Federation like any other state constructed laws that regulate freedom of religion and belief. Different state construct different law based on; customary law, statutes, court presidents, administrative regulations and many more, while Russia chose the constitution. According to The Constitution of Russian Federation (1993), “Everyone shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of conscience, to freedom of religious worship, including the right to profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion, or to profess no religion, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious or other beliefs, and to act in conformity with them.”Order now
It is not every country that accept and respect all religious practices, some countries practice no more than two religions, however the Russian federation have more than two religions. According to the RussiaPedia, (2013: internet), there are four official religions in Russia. Russian federation practices Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions that contributed to the historical background of its religion and culture.
“Decades of Soviet rule left their mark: up to half of Russians declare themselves atheists, although figures vary. “(RussiaPedia 2013: Internet). The former Russian laws shaped the modern religious laws. The former communist party abolished religion; however the collapse of the former Soviet Union experienced the re-emergence of religions.
The shifts in Russian religious practices are more transparent in the Russian calendar. After the Soviet Union had collapsed the general public started celebrating religious holidays once again for example; Russia celebrates Christmas and Easter holidays, although celebrating it differently from other countries. The Russian people celebrate Christmas day on 7th January, while other countries celebrate it on the 25th of December. Russians celebrate Christmas day on 7th of January is because the Russian Orthodox Church religious practices are still follow the Julian Calendar, which is said to be 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar. In the Russian religious history, the Gregorian calendar is assumed to be embraced by different states universally and by non-Orthodox Church members. The Orthodox Church did not fall into the trap of the Gregorian calendar just because it is embraced by different states universally. The reason Orthodox chose a different a calendar is because their Easter celebration was going to change. The difference in the two calendars is the reason why some Eastern and Western countries celebrate Easter in different dates. “Easter comes on the first Sunday after the fool moon which follows the vernal equinox (March 21). However, March 21 according to the Julian calendar is April 3 by the Gregorian calendar, and in addition, Orthodox regulation stipulate that Easter must follow the Jewish celebration of Passover.” (Fairbairn 2002: 189). Therefore Easter in the East and West will never be celebrated on the same day.
Christianity is the most practiced religion in Russian parts. Majority of the Russian people who practice Christianity are members of the Russian Orthodox Church. The other Christian groups are Baptists, Roman Catholics and Protestants. Non-Christian religions are the Islam, Buddhism and Judaism.
Although Russian’s freedom of religion and belief is protected by law; discrimination and inequality still exists. Some religious beliefs and practices are undermined. Individuals are not treated equally because of what they believe in. The state representatives and other members of the general public prevent individuals from enjoying their freedom of religion. State representatives attempt to defend freedom of religion on paper, while creating contradictory statements, and implementing policies that prevent religious freedom. This is marked by a report in New York Times in, 16/09/2000. According to the report; state representatives gathered to discuss whether two neighboring Pentecostal churches should be legally registered. The two churches were judged on their religious practices, which is something prohibited by the Russian law of religion. The report also revealed that, the two churches were not allowed to be legally registers because it is assumed they use ‘psychological manipulation’.
It was not only state representatives, that were against the religious practices of these churches, the courts were also involved. The court imposed very intense decisions on them. According to the report if these churches continue to exists, “Their community will not be able to distribute literature, rent or own a building, invite foreigners to preach or carry out other activities integral to religious freedom.” (New York Times, 16/19/2000). The assumption made by the state representative on these religious practices resulted in a tension between the Russian.
It is said history repeats itself. Faulkner argues that “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.’’ This has been experienced by the Russian people. What happened in 2000 was just history repeating itself in Russia, discriminations against religious practices and beliefs. The Russian federation was once caught in the same situation as in 1997 when a law that prohibits freedom of religion was passed. Some Individuals were deprived their freedom to worship. New York Times, (16/19/ 2000) revealed that, these individuals were forced in an oppressive manner to act in accordance with this law. “The law was written in consultation with the Russian Orthodox Church, and played into the government’s desire for central control and the unease of ordinary Russians about the explosion of new and unfamiliar churches and an influx of foreign missionaries.” says the New York Times report.
There are different sources that expose Russian laws and policies that restrict religious freedom. The International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 compiled by the United State government presents ways in which the Russian government has been misusing its power over the freedom of religion and belief. According to the report, the Russian government use ‘’extremism charges to ban religious materials and restrict groups’ right to assemble.” Even state authorities contribute towards the abuse of freedom of religion through “detention, raids, denial of official building registration, and denial of visas to religious works” as stated by the report.
Discrimination against the Jewish people has become a common norm universally. Many countries have been accused for practicing anti-Semitism. The U.S government stated in the International Religious freedom Report for 2012 that “in Russia, vandals painted a swastika on St. Petersburg synagogue’s fence, and in July, vandals painted a swastika on a synagogue wall in the Irkutsk.”A swastika is symbolizes Nazi German communist state. This was done to provoke the Russian people.
The president as the face of government has tried to rectify the imbalanced of religious beliefs and practices. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia has tried to make minor changes in the laws that restricting freedom of religion or belief.
Putin’s efforts have been transparent since some of the Russian religious groups have been registered. The New York Times reflected that by December 1999 many groups or were already registered, and Putin extended the period of registration. He also made it compulsory for each group to register because unregistered groups were going to face serious challenges. They were going to be stop to perfume any religious practice.
His previous efforts to reduce the violation of religious freedom were better compared to the current ones. The RT News, (2012: Internet) documented that Putin has promised to protect discrimination against Christianity all over the world during his presidential election campaign. The news also reported, that when Putin was informed that every five minutes a Christian loses his life, he therefore promised to protect Christians through foreign policy , Putin answered “ This is how it will be, have no doubt,” ( RT News 2012:internet). However, ever since he came into power he has been passing laws that threaten the state freedom of religion and freedom of association, instead of reducing religion treats and freedom of association. The CBC News (2014: Internet), reported that; Putin signed a decree in Russia identify Crimea as a powerful and self-regulating country. This decree; is actually a declaration that Crimea is now part of the Russian Federation. Freedom of religion is has been ignored, while freedom of association is threatened because the U.S. is planning to impose the most “comprehensive sanctions against Russia.” (CBC News (2014: Internet).
Throughout history the U.S. government is known for its remarked work in trying to protect religious freedom. The U.S. implemented programs and policies that support religious freedom. These policies are beneficial to the foreign countries. With the aid of the U.S. policies, Russian is taking actions against the violation of religious freedom and beliefs. According to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, in Russia “embassy officials expressed concern about alleged abuses of the anti-extremism law. “
Any state that is an active member of the United Nation is protected by the UN laws. Russian Federation joined in October 24, 1945. According to the United Nations cyberschoolbus; “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Laws passed by the UN on freedom of religion and belief are the same laws that are available in the Russian constitutions. This implies that all laws passed by the member of the UN should comply with the laws passed by the UN itself. The difference will be the actions taken against a country that violate these laws. The reason why actions should be different is because different countries restrict freedom of religious and beliefs in different ways; others do intentionally, while others do it unintentional. Another reason the actions might differ is because all these countries have different official religions, religious practices, and beliefs.
Russia should take full contribution in the programs and policies introduced by the U.S. government in U.S. Department and State. For instance; The International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 reflects that Russia has been showing concern about the abuse of the anti-extremism. Full contribution, will prove Russia’s willingness to fight against religious freedom, and practices violation. Other way in which Russia can reduce the level of religious freedom violation is through addressing the people of Russia about the policies and programs by the implemented U.S. government. It will be more useful to address the Russian people in a language in which they will understand than the language used in the U.S.
This paper focused on how religion is practiced in Russia, the relationship between people with different religious practices, tensions cause by differences in religion, and government interventions towards religion and belief.
Basic fact about Russia: Religion RussianPedia published 1 September 2013
Available on: http://www.ranec.ru/#!news/nws2/312F4868-4199-412B-95AF-4B25EFD528F1/basic-facts-about-russia%3A-religion
CBC News. 2014. Crimea crisis: Canada to join U.S., EU with new Russian sanctions
Fairbairn, D. (2002). Eastern Orthodoxy through Western Eyes 1st edn. Westminster John knox Press, Louisville Kentucky.
Faulkner, W. (2014). Goodreads.
Available from: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/history-repeating-itself
RT News 8 February 2012. Putin Promises to protect Christianity worldwide.
U.S. Department of State. 2012. International Freedom of Religion Report for 2012.
United Nations cybershoolbus. (1996-2014).
The Constitution of the Russian Federation. (1993). Chapter two of Section one. Available from: http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/ch2.html
The New York Times, 16 September 2000. Religious Freedom in Russia.