Religious Extremism and Sectarian Outlook in Russia

Some notes from the round-table discussion in the Russian city of Togliatti

The fair of social and cultural projects of the Volga administrative district of Russia entitled “Togliatti Dialogue 2002” took place in the city on November 22-24. A round-table discussion took place within the scope of this event. The discussion was called “Interaction Between the State and Religious Associations in the Field of Struggle with Extremism.” The conference was organized by the Russian Federation government. The subject of the conference was devoted to the extent of the readiness and requisite level of cooperation between governing bodies and religious organizations. Another important issue of the conference was the development of vital measures in order to resist the religious extremism.

Experts from the governing bodies of various levels were invited to participate in the conference, as well as scientific specialists, religious figures. Below you can find some excerpts from most remarkable speeches, interesting opinions, unusual ideas.

The discussion was chaired by Vladimir Zorin, the Minister for National Affairs of the Russian Federation. Zorin hurried to specify the importance of the issue: “Religious extremism is the prime danger not only for our country, but for the entire international community. We could resist this evil only if we join our forces together, a country is unable to cope with this problem alone.”

The first person, who delivered a speech at the conference, was the director of the Language Institute of the Mary-El republic, Alexander Kazimov. Mr. Kazimov stated that the society of the Mary-El republic lives in peace and consent. “The given issue is not actual for us, although it is of incredible importance in global scale,” said he. “We have little in common with a connection between religious extremism and a certain confession, whether it is Islam or something else. This extremism has political, social roots. It is explained with social contradictions in the society, with political instability. A confession is a bubble, which is used by certain forces in order to obtain power over human souls,” said Mr.Kazimov.

Kazimov also said that the state often interfered in the spiritual side of people’s lives. Someone in the audience asked to clarify upon that. However, Kazimov did not give any precise answer to that question. Instead, he mentioned some statistic information. He stated that 13% of Mary-El’s population are pagans, about 50% of the republic’s population observe pagan customs. About 53% of Mary-El’s people are Orthodox.

There was an important thesis in Kazimov’s speech, which was later interpreted in other speeches. “The result of the analysis to find out the reasons why extremism appears in our country is as follows. There is a paragraph in the Federal Law about public associations, which bans funding religious organizations from abroad. However, this paragraph of the law is not observed at all. This is the reason why there are so many various religious groups and models to appear. The state must put an end to it.”

Archbishop of Samara and Syzran, Sergey, paid attention to the fact that it is religious negligence that entails extremism and terrorism. “The religious education is the major goal for the representatives of traditional confessions in Russia,” the archbishop said.

Deputy chairman of the parliament of the Tatarstan republic, mufti Valiula-Khazrat Yakupov, supported archbishop’s thesis concerning the necessity of profound religious education for the people. “In our republic we pay priority attention to the issues of education. There is a network of professional education institutions for that, for example the Russian Institute of Islam. Of course, traditional confessions can not be a source of religious extremism. However, every confession has its sects, which virtually create problems for us. Therefore, the state must support official religions or traditional confessions,” mufti Yakupov said.

Aleksey Shepkov, the regional projects manager of the company Media Union, advised to set up certain governing bodies for those purposes. There used to be a council for religious affairs during the Soviet period. Mr. Shepkov believes that the Russian government is supposed to have a body like that as well.

Vladimir Konev, deputy chairman of the department for inner policy of the Perm regional administration said: “We have a unique experience of interaction between religious groups. This experience is unique not only for Russia, but for the whole of Europe. In 1998, the representatives of six traditional confessions of the Volga administrative area set forth an initiative to establish a special committee. Old Believes, Catholics, Lutherans, the Russian Orthodox Church, Muslims and Jews united to solve actual issues. The issues included struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, homeless children and so on. It was decided to set up a juridical organization for that. It was something like non-commercial partnership. Its representatives organized and conducted a lot of various events. They particularly initiated a large conference that was devoted to the issues of religion and youth.”

The speech from former editor-in-chief Maksim Shevchenko was rather harsh. “I think that using such a word combination – religious extremism – is not correct. There is just extremism, a universal phenomenon for cultural, economic and other fields. There cannot be any confessional difference, when it comes to struggle with extremism. We should not think only about Islam in this respect. Let’s take ardent appeals to retrieve the monarchy in Russia, for instance. This is extremism as well. This implies the elimination of the presidential, parliamentary governing. This implies that the president should be overthrown! Confessions should deal with what happens with their own organizations. Blame-shifting is the easiest thing that anyone can do.”

Archpriest Yevgeny Shestun said: “There is a religious factor in the base of extremism and terrorism. This is a matter of sectarian outlook. It is not correct to talk about the Islamic factor as it is. But we must talk about the Vakhabit factor in Islam. We must not accept the people of sectarian outlook to our informational space.”
Vladimir Zorin summed up the results of the discussion. “Everything is clear as far as all traditional, world confessions are concerned. There was a wish set out concerning the amendment of the Russian law in this respect, the idea of religious education came up as well. We will take it into our consideration. A committee for religious organizations, which is attached to the Russian President, is currently working on the law.”

According to Zorin’s opinion, Russia is in need of the concept regarding the relations between the church and the state. Zorin believes that it should be a concept in a broad sense of the word, not just a certain law. “Amending the laws is definitely important. But the sate is unable to settle the religious extremism issue alone. This can be achieved only under the condition of close cooperation between civil public and religious organizations,” concluded Vladimir Zorin.

Sergey Stefanov

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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Author`s name Olga Savka