DOI link for Introduction
DOI link for Introduction
In early spring 2012, a group of colorfully masked women invaded the area around the altar of Moscow’s Christ Savior Cathedral and staged a musical performance, later entitled a “punk prayer,” in which they expressed a protest against the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and at the close connection between the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill, and the government. Three of the young women were arrested and forced to stand trial on charges of hooliganism and extremism, two of them eventually being sentenced to 2 years of detention. Most Western observers stood aghast at so much judicial fervor in response to what seemed, from the outside, an artistic performance of dubious taste and appropriateness, but after all innocuous. The front lines in the conﬂict, and particularly in the media reports about it, soon hardened into two camps: one side defending the artistic freedom of the performers, the other condemning their action on moral and religious grounds. Both camps argued in terms of human rights: those who defended the human right to freedom of expression, and those who defended the positive right to religious freedom, that is, the right not to be oﬀended in one’s beliefs. The controversy brought out into the open a debate that had been going on in Russia for over a decade: a debate over the appropriate deﬁnition of human rights. Human rights are the beacon of the newly emerging civil society in Russia
after the breakdown of the Soviet Union-human rights and democracy. Those who do not support these ideas are nationalists, (former) communists, and very often, Orthodox. They condemn human rights as a Western idea and consider democracy an inappropriate form of government for the Russian nation. The ideological coordinates are simple: progress on the one side, reactionaries on the other, secular people here, religious people there, human rights language here, human rights criticism there. This is roughly the picture one could glean from the events of 2012 and the related media coverage in the West. But, as always, the reality is much more complicated. For one thing, criticisms of the judicial response to the performance came not only from the secular part of society, but also from many Orthodox believers, who would have preferred a more forgiving approach. And secondly, the debate over the right response to what had happened was not a debate for or against
human rights; on the contrary, both sides of the conﬂict used the language of human rights to justify their claims. What is important to recognize is that, in doing so, they both had a point. What the case of the musical performance in Moscow’s cathedral showed, and what many similar cases of conﬂict between modern lifestyles and religious sensibilities amply demonstrate, is that we live in a world of competing human rights claims. This book tries to take stock of these competing claims and the conﬂicts they engender in Russia today. In the year 2008, the Russian Orthodox Church issued a document entitled
The Bases of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights (Osnovy ucheniya Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi o dostoinstve, svobode i pravakh cheloveka) (hereafter Human Rights Doctrine). In this document, the Patriarchate of Moscow laid out its own understanding of human dignity, freedom and rights and took position on the legal concept of human rights and on the modern human rights regime. The document is worthy of investigation for three reasons: First, from a political-sociological perspective, it is intriguing to investigate how the Russian Orthodox Church, which constitutes an important political and civic actor in Russian society, deals with human rights. Second, from a political-theoretical perspective, it is interesting to learn how the Church, a traditional institution not famed for its modernizing spirit, understands the concept of human rights. And third, from a political-normative perspective, it is interesting to evaluate this “Orthodox” conception of human rights and to ask where it stands in global political debates on human rights, religion, and secular society. These three perspectivespolitical-sociological, political-theoretical, and political-normative-inform my approach in this book. I will analyze the Russian Orthodox Church’s discourse on human rights over the last two decades in order to show how the Church has come to frame its claims in a human rights language while remaining critical of the concept of human rights as such; I will also look at the way in which the Church acts with regard to human rights; and I will ask what we can learn from this example for our current debates on the relationship between religion and politics. The topic of the Russian Orthodox Church and human rights has been
addressed by relatively few scholars, most of whom have focused on an analysis of the Human Rights Doctrine itself. As a rule, the perspective with which scholars have approached the topic has either been philosophicaltheological, asking what the Russian Orthodox Church means when it speaks about human rights (Uertz and Schmidt 2008; Brüning 2009, 2012; Willems 2009); or sociological-political, asking what the Church does when it speaks about human rights (Agadjanian 2008, 2010). Several examples of studies of the former kind come from the German-speaking theological academia both Catholic and Protestant, which has made a genuine critical eﬀort to look at the Russian Orthodox Human Rights Doctrine in its own right and in the spirit of ecumenical dialogue (for summaries of this dialogue, see Tobler 2010; Zwahlen 2011; Hurskainen 2012; Makrides 2012). Studies of the second type
have focused on the political or instrumental role of the Church’s human rights discourse, on the way in which this debate feeds into certain policies, or shapes the relationship between Church and state and between Church and society. In this second category, there are two recent book-length studies which deserve special mention, because they oﬀer a fresh scholarly perspective on the role of the Church in Russian politics. While most studies on the Russian Orthodox Church have suggested that it has failed to escape from state tutelage since the time of the USSR (Behrens 2002; Vletsis 2010) or have been alarmed by the towering inﬂuence of the Church on Russian politics (Knox 2004), Irina Papkova’s The Orthodox Church and Russian Politics (2011) and Katja Richters’ The Post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church (2013) take a new direction in the study of the Orthodox Church and the Russian state. This new direction consists, from an empirical perspective, of a focus on multivocality, fragmentation and issue politics inside the Church, and from a theoretical perspective, of an emphasis on contingency rather than pathdependency in the assessment of church-state relations. Put somewhat polemically, this type of research is not about new Holy Russias, new Third Romes, new tsars and whatever else the common themes (and titles) of studies about post-Soviet church-state relations are. It does not start from the assumption that the Russian Orthodox Church “always” defers to the state, nor that Russian politics are “always” inﬂuenced by the Church. Instead, it looks at the Russian Orthodox Church as one actor among others in Russian politics and civil society, and interprets it as a public religion that is struggling internally towards a proper deﬁnition of its vocation and agenda, and externally for a place in Russian society and the world. It is along these lines of inquiry that the present book seeks to make a contribution.