ID :
Fri, 06/20/2008 - 12:20
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Attempts to build places of worship trigger Russians' protests

By Itar-Tass World Service writer Lyudmila Alexandrova

Moscow, June 20 (Itar-Tass) - In Russia, a country where according to different sources, 50 to 90 percent of the population regard themselves as believers, and where some men of science point to what they describe as the risk of society's clericalization, attempts at building new churches and other sites of worship may trigger strong protests once in a while - either out of ideological considerations ('Down with the Krishnaites and other sects!') or for very trivial, down-to-earth reasons. For instance, if a Christian church or a mosque is about to emerge in what is now a public
garden or a children's playground.

Most such conflicts are resolved in favor of the Russian Orthodox
Church, which, as a rule has the backing of local authorities.

At the beginning of June a group of activists representing Moscow and
the Moscow Region lodged a protest with the Moscow authorities against the
construction of a Krishna Consciousness Center in the village of
Vereskino, in Moscow's north. In accordance with the Moscow government's
resolution of April 2, 2007 the Moscow Society for Krishna Consciousness
obtained permission to develop and gather a set of urban construction and
pre-project documents for building a religious cult facility on an area of
two hectares. The Krishnaite center is to consist of a temple
accommodating 800, a planetarium, several museums, an exhibition hall, a
library, a health-building facility, and a restaurant and cafeteria.

"This heathen temple is very alien to us, Orthodox Christians. In
India it might be appropriate, but we do not need it at all," the
spokesman for the group of activists, Andrei Yeremin, is quoted by the
daily Gazeta as saying. He warned that if the Krishnaite Center is built
after all, protests will continue, but only legal means will be used.

"We have the support of not only Orthodox Christians, but also of the
Muslim community members. They agreed to sign the message, too," Yeremin

In Sergiyev Posad, a city some 100 kilometers northeast of Moscow, the
Union of Orthodox Christians has come out against plans for building a
In several other Russian cities local people have staged protests
against plans for building Orthodox churches, but for very down-to-earth,
not religious reasons.

On the site chosen for a church to be built in St. Petersburg in honor
of Blessed St. Xenia people from the nearby apartment buildings turned out
for rally last week to present their arguments against. Firstly, they
said, Blessed Xenia lived at a different place, secondly, the local tiny
garden and children's playground may be ruined, and thirdly, the
construction site may harm the basements of their not very new and not
very sturdy buildings. They also refer to a law banning any construction
work in public gardens.

In September last year the Orthodox community in the town of Troitsk,
near Moscow, declared the intention to build a church in the woods nearby.
Many local people showed little enthusiasm, though, because too many trees
would have to be axed. The mayor and the town's legislature decided to
call a referendum. The prosecutor's office protested the decision as
inciting religious discord. The poll was canceled.

In April, a crowd in Rostov-on-Don demonstrated in the park next to
the Don Technical University, on the site chosen for building an Orthodox
"If the priest manages to find at least one person, who is for cutting
the trees, destroying the park and building a church, may he show that
person to us," said one of the protesters.

Three years ago a decision was made to build a church in the Solnechny
district of Irkutsk. By itself the decision would draw no objections. If
only the place for the construction site were chosen elsewhere, and not in
the local dweller's favorite birch-tree grove.

"We had had no idea where the church would emerge," say local people.
"But one day we saw a machine drilling an exploration well near our
birch-trees. This is the sole place in the whole neighborhood where we can
take our kids for a walk. There are no cars and the scenery is so
incredibly beautiful."

In Arkhangelsk, the regional administration's office has been picketed
on sporadic occasions since April. The activists argue that budget money
is about to be spent on building places of worship and Russia is sliding
towards 'New Middle Ages'.

Of late, there was much talk, not without an involvement of the local
authorities, about what might speed up the construction of a local
cathedral. Some suspect budget money might be used for the purpose.

Under the Russian Constitution and other laws any buildings of worship
can be put up only with privately and voluntarily donated funds.

Most such conflicts, says the daily Noviye Izvestia, are resolved in
favor of the Russian Orthodox Church, which as some suspect, may be using
its proximity to the authorities.

"Russian city dwellers are not against the emergence of new churches
as such. But they are certain that the roads to churches must not lie
through places that have long been their habitual environment. Destruction
of a grove or public garden is a tragedy no smaller than destruction of a
church," the daily says.

There are no official statistics as to how many believers there are in
Russia. As for sociological surveys, estimates vary.

The Public Opinion fund in April polled 1,500 men and women of
age in
46 regions of Russia to find out their attitude to religion.

Fifty nine percent said they were Orthodox Christians, 2 percent
belong to other Christian confessions, 6 percent said they were Muslims, 2
percent profess other faiths, 5 percent were unable to name their
religion, and 26 percent are atheists.

Of those who consider themselves as Orthodox Christians a mere ten
percent go to church at least once a month.