How to Entrench a De Facto State Church in Russia: A Guide in Progress

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

The Russian Orthodox Church's (ROC) assertion of a constitutionally inappropriate - and as this article will argue, unlawful - role in the affairs of state has severely compromised Russia's secular constitutional framework. This gradual but steady erosion of the barrier between church and state in Russia is evidenced by a series of contemporary developments that are inexorably linked to the Church's vision of its traditional place in Russian history. Taken together, these developments demonstrate a consistent and expanding effort on the part of the ROC to insinuate its views and beliefs into official Russian government policy.

Disturbingly, each successive post-communist regime has further enabled this behavior, and there is no indication that the political transition from President Vladimir Putin to his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, will change anything. The pattern that emerges from this collusion presents a serious challenge to Russia's constitutional order and to the country's regional and international human rights commitments - chief among these being the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.

Principally, this Article examines the chain of events that has left the ROC poised to continue to expand its influence over government policy under the Putin-orchestrated administration of President Medvedev. It also adds to the growing body of evidence illustrating the deterioration of the rule of law in Russia - particularly the government's cavalier disregard of the 1993 Constitution and its international commitments. For background purposes, Part II of this article will set out the constitutional and political treatment of church-state relations and freedom of conscience under Soviet rule. This discussion will also briefly cover the Church's historical role in Russian history and help identify patterns in die church-state relationship that remain relevant today.

Part III examines the period of post-Communist tumult wherein both the ROC and the government struggled to redefine relationships with each other and with the Russian people after seventy years of totalitarianism. This section covers the turbulent years of 1990-1997 and considers, inter alia, the Church's cementing positions concerning fundamental rights in Russia, its vision of the Church in Russian society, and the significance of Russia's constitutional order. Part IV addresses developments in Russia up until the present day and highlights key behavioral patterns between the ROC and the State, which illustrate both parties' utter lack of regard for the country's constitutional order or its international commitments. This section also reasons that the debate over whether the ROC is or is not a "state church" misses the real issue. Both sides actually benefit by not committing to an "official" state church: the government benefits from the unflagging political support of the ROC's hierarchy and adherents; and the Church retains its institutional autonomy while securing its preferential status above all other religious groups. In this way, the ROC stands as the revered "Bolshoi choir" of religions, itself alone worthy of state promotion and protection.1 The immediate implications of this entente based on mutual self-interest to the exclusion of otiiers are clear: continued constitutional meltdown and flaunting of the rule of law by a government unwilling to five up to its people's vision of Russia or its international commitments, and an emboldened xenophobic de facto state church.

II. CHURCH & STATE IN SOVIET TIMES: CRUSH AND CONTROL

Many commentators already have covered in great detail th treatment of religion under Communist rule.2 Accordingly, this article only discusses such treatment to the extent that it relates to the ROC's current status in Russia today. In contrast to the ROC's role as the state church in imperial Russia, the Soviet regime promised a government free from religious influence. …