Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, February 18, 2013

Unofficial religion in Russia

This topic is probably peripheral to the main themes of Comparative Government and Politics, but if your students are especially interested in Russia, Russian religion, or Russian history, this might be intriguing. The video is 25 minutes long and reminds me of reports on the CBS program "60 Minutes."

Orthodox corruption?
Less than three decades ago, it would have been unthinkable for a Russian premier to have exchanged public expressions of solidarity and goodwill with the head of the country's Orthodox Church.

For years under communism the institution had been suppressed, its priests harassed by the authorities, its churches closed or given over to communal secular pursuits, its devotees scorned for their 'superstitious' adherence to doctrines that the state and the party regarded with deep suspicion.

Indeed, the Soviet Union was the first nation to have elimination of religion as an ideological objective and tens of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of people paid very dearly for their beliefs as a consequence.

But things have changed...

From its foundation in the 10th century when the Orthodox Church broke from Roman Catholicism, its power and influence grew until it became central to the nation's very identity, synonymous with Holy Mother Russia. Now, its champions will tell you, after the barren wilderness years of Soviet hostility, the Church is merely reclaiming that rightful pre-eminence...

But there is more to this closeness than just mutual admiration. Physical signs of the Orthodox Church's resurgence can be found all over Moscow where a massive state-funded programme, worth billions of roubles, to restore hundreds of Orthodox churches is currently underway.

Though the initiative is undoubtedly returning some of the Russian capital's ancient architectural wonders to their full glittering glory, it has caused some to wonder whether the Church should be choosing its friends more wisely.

Some even talk darkly about corruption, about the less-than-transparent way publicly funded reconstruction projects have been contracted out, about the oddly commercial relationships of certain Church institutions and the controversial use of taxpayers' money for church related projects in what is still officially a secular country.

Orthodox Corruption? A film by Simon Ostrovsky and Veronika Dorman

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