Continued Controversy Over Russia’s “Anti-Blasphemy” Laws

Heather Greene —  May 26, 2013 — 50 Comments

On Tuesday, May 21, the Russian Federation’s State Duma overwhelmingly approved the second reading of the controversial “anti-blasphemy” legislation.  In the revised edition, the law would make it illegal to “intentionally or to publicly offend religious sensibilities” or “desecrate religious sites and paraphernalia.”  The former is punishable by a one-year prison sentence and the latter up to three. The Duma will hear a third and final reading in the next week.  If approved, it goes to President Putin for a final signature.

Although the second reading was passed with a landslide vote of 304 to 4, the proposed law has caused considerable controversy. Proponents, like United Russia party member Mikhail Markelov, stress that the law is necessary to protect the religious freedom and only “punish public acts that obviously go out of their way to insult a religion.”

However, opponents are not convinced. Fair Russia party member Sergey Mironov said “We are still not sure that it can be stretched to indict many Russians, even those who did not set out to offend anyone.”  Legal adviser Henry Reznik called the law “legally meaningless” or “rubber band.”  It could stretch to meet the needs of those in power.  Human Rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva  called it “another repressive law.”

A recently released report by the United States state department supports the opponents’ fears, noting that in other countries “the laws are frequently used to repress dissent, to harass political opponents, and to settle personal vendettas.” (Myers, The New York Times, May 20, 2013)  The Russian Foreign Ministry publicly dismissed the U.S. report’s claims.

The Russian “anti-blasphemy” legislation was born out of the 2012 arrest of the activist/punk band Pussy Riot.  Their story was featured on March 24 2013 on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

In summary, five members of Pussy Riot entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, stood up on the pulpit, and performed a punk-style hymn that prayed for the overthrow of Vladamir Putin. Three of the women were arrested, charged with “hooliganism” and given a two year sentence. One has since been released and the other two remain in jail today.

When the women were detained, the State struggled to find a law by which to charge them.  After digging up the “hooligan” charge, Putin’s administration felt that Russia needed better laws to deal with religion-specific cases. Currently, there are no punishments written into the Criminal Code to handle such situations.

Russians have had a long history of cultural and political secularism. Under Soviet rule, religious practice was significantly suppressed – even the Russian Orthodoxy. In the late 1980s, Gorbachev relaxed that strangle-hold and many citizens had hopes of experiencing greater spiritual freedom.

Geraldine Fagan

Geraldine Fagan

However, Russia retained that strong sense of secular nationalism.  As journalist Geraldine Fagan tells The Economist, 80-90% of the current Russian population identifies as Russian Orthodox but only 2-3% actually attend Church. Many identify out of loyalty to Russian culture, country and tradition rather than out of any honest expression of religiosity.

Russia’s relationship with religion has indeed shifted but not necessarily in the way predicted. Fagan said:

[the] hopes that the end of Communism would herald an era of religious freedom in Russia were short-lived.  [Today] Religious minorities face a tough lot.

The four majority religions are Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Any religious organizations that affiliate with these faiths can register for state benefits and protections if they meet a set of criteria.  For example, the organization must be in existence for a set period of time and not have distinct western origins.  Organizations over 100 years old qualify as part of Russian heritage.

If such an organization lies outside of the major religions, the group must undergo evaluation by a public, non-profit state-selected panel of experts comprised mostly of conservative Russian Orthodox practitioners. Gwiddon, the National Coordinator for the Pagan Federation International –  Russia explains:

There is no way to appeal a ruling or to present a defense. Quite often, the panel experts have very limited knowledge of the religion they’re discussing and use clerical rhetoric and the Bible, as the reasoning behind their decisions. 

Although not speaking about Paganism, Geraldine Fagan echoes the same concerns for all minority faiths in Russia. The current trends in religious law appear to favor the political and social position of the Russian Orthodox Church. As Fagan suggests, it’s more an expression of Russian nationalism than spiritualism.

pf_web1

What does all this mean for Russian Pagans? As noted by Gwiddon, the Russian Pagan community, a very diverse community itself, is rarely a target for bigotry and harassment. He remarked:

Most Russians never think about Paganism, apart, perhaps from reading a few juicy stories about skinny-dipping on Kupalo night… The perception of most people of paganism is rather positive. They view it as a form of folk tradition, village customs, etc. … Upon hearing about paganism the majority of Russians tend to shrug it off and say “okay, whatever floats your boat”.  [Although] there is a tiny minority of fundamentalist Christian activists, who actively tried campaigning against pagans, but their efforts always end up in failure.

Are Pagans concerned that they may lose that relatively comfortable social position if the anti-blasphemy laws pass and cause the predictable rise in religious tension?  Or, could these new laws strengthen their ability to fight those rare cases of discrimination?  The Pagan Federation International – Russia has been closely following the case. Gwiddon says that most Pagans believe the law to be a mixed blessing:

This proposed bill will not change much either in the perception of Paganism in the public’s eye, nor in the attitude of Pagans towards the society. No one is going to go back into the closet, on the contrary, there are some Pagans, who feel, that this is a good opportunity to claim protection of pagan beliefs and practices…

[The situation is complex.]  One positive [result coming out of] this new bill is that several pagan organizations decided to officially register with the local authorities in order to enable the creation of a state-registered religious organizations some time down the road.  If a Pagan belongs to a registered religious group, it will be more difficult for the authorities to argue that their beliefs are not a religion. Moscow House of Wiccans, a public Wiccan group in Moscow, recently filed notices of registration with Moscow authorities, for example.  

[In general] Pagans are not thrilled about the new bill since the existing legislation covers any actual damages against persons and property quite well.  [But] Pagans are taking a wait-and-see approach as to how this legislation is going to be used. [They] do not see the bill as a significant threat. Things will stay pretty much as they are, although it may become more difficult to offer constructive criticism of the Church.

300px-Christ_the_Savior_Cathedral_Moscow

Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow

The current Russian administration is following in a long history of heralding Russian tradition and culture above all. In that light, supporting the Russian Orthodox Church is no different than the support given to any Russian folk tradition – even those of a magickal nature. If used responsibly, these “anti-blasphemy” laws could open the door to a greater recognition of religion and spirituality in Russian life. Pagans could benefit from its protection. However, at the same time, the Russian Federation could be dangerously close to blurring the lines between religion and government. Moreover, if the Church does become more powerful, will there be a steady increase in religious discrimination against non-Christians – in particularly Russian Pagans?

As Gwiddon said, we can only wait and see.

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Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer and Pagan spirit living in the Deep South. She is currently National Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess and worked extensively with Lady Liberty League. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History with a background in the performing and visual arts.
  • Mark Sleboda

    “and performed a punk-style hymn that prayed for the overthrow”

    This is completely incorrect. The anarchists stood up on the altar dais, and screamed very foul vulgarities “the shit of God, you kneelers disgust me, etc etc” (Russian cursing is much more varied and stronger than the English equivalents) at the priests and all the believers inside, there in their own house of worship – the most holy Orthodox cathedral in Russia and a national monument.

    The “singing and music” was edited later into the video. This was actually only three such attacks in two cathedrals in a week. It was tried as a hate crime against relgion, which as a pagan in Russia, I believe is exactly what it was. These violent anarchists of the Pussy Riot/WAR sect have also committed arson, throwing their piss on policewomen, mock-hangings of immigrants, and pregnant orgies in a biology museum as part of their ‘political protests’.

    There are two main variants of Paganism in Russia – Siberian/Altai shamanistic faiths, and Russian paganism or Rodnoverie. Surprisingly to most foreigners there is really very little animosity towards Paganism in Russia as a rule even from the Orthodox church – which due to the long tradition of dvoeverie (comingled two faiths) actually has much closer ritualistic and spiritual ties to paganism. It would be a big mistake to falsely equate Western Christianity with Russian Orthodoxy IMHO. Russian faiths are very tolerant of each other with lots of interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The Russian patriarch himself said that Russian Orthodoxy is much closer spiritually to Sufi Islam in Russia than to Western Christianity.The representatives of each of the four major faiths of Russia each publically condemned in concert, the Pussy Riot hate crimes in Russia btw…

    Russia, constitutionally is a multiconfessional and multiethnic federation. There are 180+ ethnicities and 6 major traditional religious faiths – Orthodox Christianity, Sufi Islam, Eurasian Judaism, Kalmyk Buddhism, Tengri Shamanism, and Russian paganism. Russian faiths, together, play a much bigger part in Russian society and public square than they do in the West – and the heads of the various faiths have very good relations, and often appear together in public with the President on national holidays etc.

    According to recent polling data there has been a renaissance of Paganism. A recent national sociological survey of faiths found paganism taken as a whole to be either the third or fourth most popular category of faiths in Russia – far behind Orthodoxy and Sufi Islam, but jumping ahead of Judaism and Buddhism, Nationally Pagans are now 2% of the Russian population but as high as13% in some areas such as Yakutia due to their native shamanist traditions.

    It should also be noted that about half of the countries of Europe have ‘anti-blasphemy laws”.

    As a pagan in Russia I do not fear these laws at all, but view them actually as a protection against frequently violent/destructive ultra-liberal post-modern secularists/atheists who view all faiths and tradition with animosity and condescension.

    • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

      There are two main variants of Paganism in Russia – Siberian/Altai shamanistic faiths, and Russian paganism or Rodnoverie.

      That seems to exclude Finno-Ugric peoples (and their native traditions) in European Russia who are neither Siberian/Altai nor ethnically Russian.

      • Mark Sleboda

        @Kauko – Yes of a certainly there are Finno-Ugric traditions and at least one pagan group I know of personally. Very interesting traditions which I hope to have the opportunity to study and learn from myself someday in the very near future! And of course with such a variety of ethnicities and such a vast and isolating geography many more local and regional ‘paganisms’ – some of which I am sure I do not even know of. I was only speaking in general terms and broadbrush strokes in terms of numbers, geographic spread, and the Russian population as a whole – ie ‘main’ variants. It is difficult to speak of all the traditional Russian ethnic pagan faiths with any totality or unity though which causes all of its own

      • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

        also North-Caucasian paganism, with high numbers of adherents according to a recent survey in areas, which nominally are regarded as Orthodox or Islamic (e.g. North Ossetia-Alanya (29%), Karachay-Cherkessia (12%)), see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Russia#Neopaganism_and_Tengrism

    • Deborah Bender

      Anyone who seriously suggests that the relationship between Jews and the Russian Orthodox Church is or ever has been one of interfaith cooperation doesn’t know history. If a Chief Rabbi appears on a dais with the President of the Russian Federation and other religious dignitaries, that simply means that he got his post and keeps it by being willing to participate in such propaganda exercises.

      Putin is a capable leader. His sole motivation seems to be to hold onto power and prevent anyone else from being able to challenge him. He may justify this in his own mind as the necessary path to return Russia to greatness. Repressive regimes can follow different tactics to maintain power: cooptation, divide and conquer, indiscriminate terror. Putin uses all three in a flexible manner, as befits the former head of the KGB.

      The Russian Orthodox Church has made a strategic alliance with the central government for mutual support, exactly as in the time of the czars. Both institutions are profoundly autocratic.

      • Mark Sleboda

        Having spoken personally with highly placed members of both the Orthodox and Jewish faiths in Moscow, on more than one occasion, I can assure that whatever incidences there have been historically are not a problem in the here and now.

        The Russian President has maintained good relations with all of the major traditional Russian faiths, not just the majority Orthodox Christian. Indeed he is regularly attacked by ethnic-nationalists for his strong interfaith relations.
        http://en.rian.ru/russia/20130219/179572060.html

        Russia does have more ‘authoritarian politics’ than many Western states – though certainly not any less democratic or reflective of popular consent or general will and often less repressive than say the US or UK – particularly in the sense that the politicians in Russia are not owned and vetted by the corporations that fund them, with ‘money as free speech’.

        However I think international political disagreements particularly from outside often poorly informed assessments are counterproductive and not relevant in such a forum as an online pagan community like the Wild Hunt. We can agree to politely disagree on the validity of each other’s political systems and governments, I am sure.

    • harmonyfb

      and pregnant orgies

      How is this different from a regular orgy, I wonder? (And why on earth would it be relevant?)

      • Mark Sleboda

        I would imagine that it is more offensive to some and at such a late date to term, a risk to the child from sexually transmitted diseases, if nothing else.
        VERY NSFW*http://www.hipsterrunoff.com/altreport/2012/08/nsfw-nude-orgy-pregnancy-photos-hot-girl-pussy-riot.html *VERYNSFW

        • harmonyfb

          Honey, this may come as a shock to you, but pregnant women often have sex, even “at a late date to term”. ::rolls eyes::

          • Mark Sleboda

            *rolls eyes right back at condescending honey who thinks others can’t understand biology if they lack a uterus* I don’t recall suggesting otherwise , except as noted that the child is susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases from such activity while still in the woman’s body, if I am not mistaken :)

          • harmonyfb

            except as noted that the child is susceptible to sexually transmitted
            diseases from such activity while still in the woman’s body

            Depends on the incubation period, whether any participants are, in fact, diseased (it seems that you assume they would be), and whether or not any participants used condoms or dental dam, etc. An ‘orgy’ doesn’t necessarily imply unsafe behavior, and the fact that a woman is pregnant simply isn’t relevant.

          • Mark Sleboda

            Precautionary principle when it comes to children perhaps, I assume they could be and that people lie rather than the other way around

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I think you have to look at the offence in a cultural light, not a personal one.

            Mark didn’t say he found it offensive, personally, but suggested that wider society may well do, (Wider society being the target audience of these events that are deliberately designed to shock and offend.)

          • Mark Sleboda

            Does an orgy (of whatever kind) in your home, a club advertising that purpose, nowhere in the middle of the woods, or other private place offend me? No – not particularly, I could really care less, whatever floats your boat.

            It does however “offend” me in a public museum during working hours when I might be walking through it with my 6 year old daughter, whom, and feel free to consider me a reactionary overprotective prude, here, my wife and I prefer to educate about such sexual ideas and events, in a more controlled fashion, at an age and a time and place of our own choosing.

            Does the rest of Russian society find it “offensive”? – perhaps, but, again, they generally only really care, enough to object to it when it happens in public, and especially where young children might be exposed to it.

            One of the Voina women also performed a ‘political protest’ where she walked into a grocery store, grabbed a frozen chicken carcass, pulled up her skirt, masturbated with it on the grocery store floor in the presence of her toddler-age boy (and the camera person), walked out of the store with the chicken carcass inside of her (without paying for it), and ejected it on the sidewalk. And then from their own reports cooked the chicken and fed it to her little boy.
            Beyond being able to fathom the ‘political protest’ behind such a protest, I once again, am only offended enough to care about the public nature of such exhibitionism.

          • harmonyfb

            One of the Voina women also performed a ‘political protest’ where she
            walked into a grocery store, grabbed a frozen chicken carcass, pulled up
            her skirt, masturbated with it on the grocery store floor in the
            presence of her toddler-age boy (and the camera person), walked out of
            the store with the chicken carcass inside of her (without paying for
            it), and ejected it on the sidewalk. And then from their own reports
            cooked the chicken and fed it to her little boy.

            To me, this has the sound of a made-up story – she stuck a whole chicken carcass up her vagina? And then walked around with it? Please. This sounds a lot like an urban legend (and one that has an unhealthy interest in women’s genitals.)

            It does however “offend” me in a public museum during working hours

            And surely there are laws which regulate public conduct without bringing ‘blasphemy’ into it? (And ways of discussing such behavior without reference to childbearing?)

            I also find it difficult to believe that an “orgy” took place in a museum (surely the guards would notice people disrobing and firmly show them out prior to an orgy getting underway.)

          • Mark Sleboda

            1.”To me, this has the sound of a made-up story”

            Yes well – you don’t know these people very well, obviously. Self published pictures and video (on the bottom) of the WAR/Pussy Riot anarchist action entitled: “Why did you fuck the chicken? Or a tale of how one cunt fed the whole of WAR
            *Very NSFW http://plucer.livejournal.com/281211.html Very NSFW*

            2. What the pictures I posted previously weren’t proof enough?! As I understand it – a Biology Museum in Moscow is not a ‘high security area’. The museum had only one rather elderly guard at the entrance, and several older women throughout the museum as guides and custodians. The WAR/Pussy Riot anarchists came in dressed, stripped down when they reached last room of the exhibit and started their ‘protest’. The older women and the security guard once they discovered what was going on did not know what to do. They called the police, As I understand it the purpose of the orgy was not self-gratification but shock and offence to be taped and posted online. They had completed their ‘protest’ within 22 minutes and were redressing when the police arrived who escorted them from the museum. There were no charges filed as no one had really what to do with them and just wanted them to go away.
            *Very NSFW http://plucer.livejournal.com/55710.html Very NSFW*

            3. For clarification for those who seem to have no idea what blasphemy and/or religious hate crimes laws are – neither the museum orgy or chicken masturbation ‘protests’ have anything to do with blasphemy or hate crime laws (unlike the attacks in Jesus the Savior Cathedral) and could not fall under them in the future. I provided them merely as character reference and background about the anarchists behind the Pussy Riot/Voina actions, whom the Western corporate MSM has presented in a very innacurate or dishonest way. I apologize if they confused you or anyone else.

            4. “(And ways of discussing such behavior without reference to childbearing”
            Well it is fairly obvious and indeed hard to ignore from the pictures that they self-promoted from the orgy protest that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is nine months pregnant. Indeed she would give birth only four days later. I don’t know you personally, but I can understand that this may be totally normal and acceptable public behavior for you. Such is certainly not the case in Russian society where people of all faiths culturally do place a very high, almost ‘sacred’ regard, towards maternity, childbirth, and children – which made the act doubly shocking and offensive for them.

          • harmonyfb

            The library where I work isn’t a “high-security area”, yet we don’t have problems removing people who behave inappropriately (and we have them, occasionally). All it takes is being attentive to one’s job.

            the security guard once they discovered what was going on did not know what to do.

            Seriously? Because our workplace staff knows exactly what to do, and we don’t even have a security guard. Maybe the moral of this story is “hire some better-trained staff”.

            (And again: Not a “hate crime”, and the gestational status of the participants not really relevant.)

          • Mark Sleboda

            Once again, with all due respect, you seem utterly ignorant of what hate crime legislation is. I would be fascinated to see a reasoned legal reading of why you don’t feel it is,….Scratch that, actually, no I’m not…

            A former British barrister, Alexander Mercouris, who has tried hate crimes before the Royal Court of Justice, gives his legal assessment of the Pussy Riot case.
            http://mercouris.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/pussy-riot-2/

            http://mercouris.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/pussy-riot-after-the-judgment/

          • Mark Sleboda

            1. I do agree with your assessment of the Biology Museum’ staff and security. I am fairly confident that obviously badly needed improvements have been made since that time, but have not personally checked.

            2. “the gestational status of the participants not really relevant” Correction – not relevant to you. Very relevant to the vast majority of Russians, whose opinion is what actually matters here.

          • kenofken

            I found a link to the “orgy” video. They did in fact have sex in what appears to be a museum. It’s not clear to me that anyone else was present outside of the participants and videographers they invited.

            At any rate, there is simply no need for a blasphemy law to address such conduct. If there is a public exposure or disorderly conduct issue, it should be enforced based on the actions, not the motives or message they were trying to convey.

            As an aside, I’d get out to museums more often if they staged things like that here in the U.S. Say what you will about their tactics or quality of their art, but Russian activists are some fine-looking folk! :)

          • Mark Sleboda

            1.”At any rate, there is simply no need for a blasphemy law to address such conduct.”

            - No one has said there is in the museum or chicken case. Please see my above.
            “For clarification for those who seem to have no idea what blasphemy and/or religious hate crimes laws are – neither the museum orgy or chicken masturbation ‘protests’ have anything to do with blasphemy or hate crime laws (unlike the attacks in Jesus the Savior Cathedral and others) and could not fall under them in the future. I provided them merely as character reference and background about the anarchists behind the Pussy Riot/Voina actions, whom the Western corporate MSM has presented in a very inaccurate or dishonest way. I apologize if they confused you or anyone else.”

            2.
            “Russian activists are some fine-looking folk!”
            As if physical appearance was some kind of mitigating factor. How shallow.,
            However – most Russians, particularly Russian women are indeed very physically attractive and fit people, These anarchists, on the other hand, are actually quite scungy and unattractive in comparison. I can see much better on any given car of the Russian metro. I invite you to come to Moscow and St Petersburg to make that assessment for yourself though.

    • harmonyfb

      The anarchists stood up on the altar dais, and screamed very foul vulgarities…It was tried as a hate crime

      You know there’s no actual crime in this particular ‘hate crime’, right? This isn’t criminal behavior – nobody was assaulted, property wasn’t damaged, nothing was stolen. They weren’t being criminals, they were just being assholes.

      • Mark Sleboda

        Incorrect. I think your misunderstanding comes from an poor understanding of the legal nature of hate crime legislation in general. From the British Home Office’s definition of a hate crime:

        In fact several people in the UK in the last year have been charged with hate crimes and sentenced to prison merely for yelling curses and ethnic-slurs about immigrants on the tube (metro), much less a house of worship. Whether the religious attacks are conducted by neo-Nazi’s in a Jewish synagogue, anarchists in an orthodox cathedral, or Baptist zealots in a sacred grove (where recognized) it makes no difference under law – they are all hate crimes against religion.

        • harmonyfb

          If the action itself isn’t a crime, then it isn’t a ‘hate crime’. Calling people names isn’t a crime. Yelling at them isn’t a crime. But assault, murder, vandalism, etc – those are actual crimes.

          • Mark Sleboda

            Once again for the legally illiterate and hard of hearing – you are incorrect and have no idea what a hate crime is. I quote – “bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults”…

            “From the British Home Office’s definition of a hate crime: “

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Yelling at a person in public, in England can get you arrested, on several charges. Hate speech being only one of them.

  • Mark Sleboda

    If anyone reads Russian (or you can use Google translate) here is an interactive atlas of Russian religions based on the sociological survey that I mentioned in my previous post. I find it fascinating and encouraging both as a pagan in Russia and as a senior lecturer/researcher in the sociology faculty of Moscow State University.
    http://sreda.org/arena

    • ChristopherBlackwell

      Mark, I hope you are right, but I remain worried as I reported on attacks on heathens in Ukraine that were led by members of the Russian Orthodox Church there and encouraged by priests. The political power of the ROC is giving them more and more power to decide what religions are allowable.

      So as I said I hope that you are right, but I worry when I see what it is doing in the Ukraine where people have been beaten, even one Heathen priest killed defending his sacred area and the destruction of their idols . They also have destroyed Pagan sacred art in Museums in Ukraine and even Pagan Archeological sites.

      So I hope this not happen in Russia. I know that there have been some vandalism of Scared Sites in Russia, again destroying idols in the woods.

      As for Ukraine, I can send you the interview that I did with a Heathen there.

      • Mark Sleboda

        Yes – while I can’t speak of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with any personal degree of familiarity – I would imagine the situation is not dissimilar.

        There will always be zealots and extremists of any faith. Even our own. That cannot be avoided. However – there is nothing systemic or intuitional. To the contrary I have spoken personally with very high members of the Russian Orthodox Church and I can assure you they were very sympathetic, reassuring, and cooperative. Truly many wise and tolerant men which really surprised me at first. (which of course there will always be exceptions to as well)

        I believe that the future of traditional pagan faiths lies in our cooperation with the more established and hierarchical faiths and taking our place among them, not in rehashing old htorical grievances or taking every isolated incident as representative of the whole.

        I actually believe that the two biggest obstacles facing the Russian/Eurasian traditional pagan faiths are internal rather than external.
        1. our multiplicity, variety, and general lack of hierarchy which makes it harder to speak as one and gain official recognition and sanction
        2. Pagan groups (particularly some Rodnoverie groups) who adopt exclusionary, discriminatory, and racist ethnic-nationalist ideologies which pit them against other Russian ethnic peoples. Even violently. With so many ethnicities, this is very dangerous and relatively new and foreign political ideology in Russia.

        Unlike many European ethnically homogenous ‘nation-states’ which have emerged from Modernity and centuries of ethnic cleansing and fratricidal war – Russia has never gone through that process (thank the Goddess) of manufacturing an ethnic-nation state. Whether empire, soviet, or federation – we have always been by necessity multiethnic and multiconfessional. Variety however has strengths and weaknesses all its own.

  • kenofken

    “Anti-blasphemy” laws have never been used to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect for all religions. They are used to crush dissent from journalists and intellectuals and minority religions which offend or inconvenience the political and religious majority. It’s a tool of arbitrary power, and anyone who thinks those can or will ever be “used responsibly” by a government are deluding themselves. In addition, no religion or idea which requires state coercion to thrive is worth keeping. It SHOULD be blasphemed.

    Will pagans be systematically targeted under such a law? Not universally. What you will see happen is that pagans who criticize the government a little too effectively, or who push for equal rights themselves, or who advocate, say, gay rights, will suddenly find themselves guilty of “blasphemy.”

  • Mark Sleboda

    I think you might be projecting just a bit from your experience with a Western social and political context onto a civilization and situation in Russia/Eurasia, that has many marked differences.

    While by no means monolithic – I think you will find that Russian faiths of all sorts, including pagans, feel far more threat from a rather rabid liberal post-modern secularism and atheism associated with a radicalized and Westernized minority, who frequently attack and commit hate crimes against any and all religions or traditions which they see as an impediment to the ideology of liberalism, than they do from their current government. That is what this bill is designed to prevent. I also fail to understand what ‘gay rights’ or the post-modern societal normalization of homosexuality has to do with Russian pagan beliefs.

    • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

      Vandalism, violence, and trespassing can be prosecuted as those crimes alone, as can incitement to violence. None of these require specific laws against insulting religion. If your gods need protection from a few nasty words, I’d recommend that you get new gods.

      • Mark Sleboda

        Yes, I understand the viewpoint that you are coming from. That is indeed the vision of a Western secularized postmodern society – atomized, dominated by the cult of the individual, where there is nothing left that is ‘sacred’ and no sense of spiritual community. It is so sad. But to each their own.

        Countries with anti-blasphemy laws – Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Andorra, Cyprus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.

        However – Hate crime laws against religion reflecting the dangerous precedent of attacks against a group because of their spiritual belief and ‘the sacred’ are even more common – including in the UK and US.

        • harmonyfb

          nothing left that is ‘sacred’ and no sense of spiritual community.

          There’s much that is sacred for us, and many spiritual communities. We just don’t feel like we need the government to keep our feelings from getting hurt.

          As another poster said, if your god(s) (or your faith) is so shallow and fragile that it needs the protection of the government against insults, then you should seriously reconsider your religion. Cause frankly, if your god(s) can’t handle blasphemers all on their own, they’re not much of a god, are they?

          • Mark Sleboda

            If the sense of the sacred is reduced to the individual – when then that doesn’t really have anything to do with the ‘society’ aspect of my statement does it?

            Remind to switch to your deities btw, I wasn’t aware there were pantheons still actively involved in the smiting and lighting bolt business today :) that’s fairly impressive I must say

            “We just don’t feel like we need the government to keep our feelings from getting hurt.” which government would that be btw?

          • harmonyfb

            I wasn’t aware there were pantheons still actively involved in the smiting and lighting bolt business today

            See, here’s the thing – my gods don’t require my help to affect the world.

            “We just don’t feel like we need the government to keep our feelings from getting hurt.” which government would that be btw?

            Any government.

          • Mark Sleboda

            So this is your personal opinion, rather than a reflection of the society that you live in?

          • harmonyfb

            No, I’d say it’s a pretty fair reflection of our society. One of the things we hold sacred is the right of people to speak their mind. Blasphemy laws would run counter to that.

          • Mark Sleboda

            If you are speaking of American society – obviously some things are more ‘sacred’ than others when some freedoms such as the freedom of speech come into conflict with other freedoms such as freedom of religion. and as President Obama put in the signing of this act defending ‘sacred places’….All freedoms have limits. Where we draw those limits is how we define our societies and respective beliefs.
            http://www.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/08/06/president-obama-signs-law-targeting-westboro-baptist-church-protests-at-military-funerals&view=comments

            But as I said to each their own. Personally I and my group, want some societal recognition of what we hold sacred and that if someone came into our sacred grove, our house of worship, and purposefully pissed on, desecrated, or chopped down our sacred carvings, that there would be some societal recognition and repercussions for that under law, reflective of our right to freedom of religious worship without persecution or harassment, beyond the normal punishment for pissing on or chopping down a tree stump in the woods (ie none). These blasphemy laws will do that if applied to us, which is why we support them (and Russian society in the vast majority) and in so doing respect the right of other religions to have the sanctity of their houses of worship protected under law as well, as illustrated in the Pussy Riot/Voina attacks in the article above.

            But obviously opinions will vary from place to place, faith to faith, and society to society.

          • Mark Sleboda

            The US does indeed have a high incidence of hate crimes against religion, which comprise one in five of all hate crimes according to the FBI.
            http://thinkprogress.org/security/2012/12/10/1312341/hate-crimes-against-muslims-remain-near-decade-high/

            http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/02/05/cross-placed-air-force-pagan-circle-prompts-probe/

            http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/16-sent-prison-hate-crimes-against-amish_700472.html

            The United Nations Human Rights Council, itself, passed a resolution combatting the defamation of religions just recently.
            http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/HRC/resolutions/A_HRC_RES_7_19.pdf

          • harmonyfb

            There’s an ocean of difference between “defamation of religion” and actual crime.

            Therein lies the point – the State shouldn’t be protecting you from hurt feelings.

          • kenofken

            Do you seriously believe that laws designed to patrol the boundaries of conscience and religious thought with state coercion will be used to protect free expression or the rights of disfavored or marginally tolerated minorities?

            Am I missing something about Russian culture or history which should lead us to believe that your government will use arbitrary power with a special compassion and wisdom?

          • Mark Sleboda

            1. State coercion? These laws are not coming from the state or the church, both of which have had little to say about the proposals, and at times even provided some criticism of them. They are brought forward from deputies in the Duma (Congress) in response to large grassroots mass movements on the ground in their districts among the Russian population to have them passed in response to the attacks (which started with the Pussy Riot attacks in the cathedrals, then followed with several incidences of quite idiotically ‘satanic’ graffiti (ie 666, goat horns, pentagrams etc) with messages in support of Pussy Riot on churches, synagogues, and cemeteries – and then moved on to the chopping down of nearly a dozen crucifixes across the country by sympathetic FEMEN protesters) – and the outrage comes not just from Orthodox Christians – but from the Sufi Islamic and Jewish communities of Russia as well who were also disgusted and do not want to see the same in their houses of worship or sacred places either.

            2. Yes, in a word. But right now it is much more a case of the majorities under attack by socially unrepresentative and disfavored radicalized minorities (ie anarchists, rabid atheists, and liberals) out of political and social frustration because of their lack of support by society at large and their resulting failure in the democratic arena. Which makes their provocations not only dangerously stupid but also the exact opposite of strategic, unless they are deliberately trying to foster hatred against them and their causes and a strong public backlash.

            3. You are of course entitled to your opinion about these proposed Russian laws as a foreigner informed by your personal understanding or lack of understanding of Russian politics, religions, culture, and history. But to be honest, I don’t really think many Russians (mainstream or pagan) are really all that concerned with what foreigners think.

            In general most Russian pagans (who have a pretty good idea of their own government without illusions) do not really see these laws a threat and are not concerned about them, or even see their possible utility in regards to defending themselves. The Russian pagans interviewed in the article expressed as much themselves, but the journalist and many of the commentators here seem, in what some might consider a profoundly arrogant ethnocentrism and even Russophobic orientalism, to disregard the opinions of actual Russian pagans, and assert that they know better.

            Debate and constructive criticism about our government and society from abroad are always interesting, but from my reading, most Russians are really not all that interested in hypocritical lectures about their society on ‘freedoms’ or ‘religion’ from Americans and other Westerners who over the last decade plus have (and continue to) invaded, occupied, and attempted to pacify half the Islamic world and have committed the mass murder of hundreds of thousands (if not millions), kidnapped, tortured, raped, and assassinated countless others – and routinely discriminate against Muslims at home under police state ‘Terrorism’ provisions, all done and legitimized in the name of a selective reading of said ‘freedoms’ which you reify so much, while criticizing their victim’s religious beliefs and motivations, and yet – even if those who object to this carnage and imperial repression have done nothing to hold their own leaders responsible.

          • Nick Ritter

            Hello, Mark

            I think that you have eloquently presented your reasons for why you consider the anti-blasphemy legislation approved by the Duma to be beneficial. I understand your frustration in getting us Westerners to see your point of view, and I think that it may be possible to unpack some of the cultural suppositions that are behind these different viewpoints.

            For one, you are correct that the Western liberal tradition essentially promotes individualism and individual rights above societal good (perhaps with the assumption that high degrees of individual liberty is a measure of – or leads to – societal good, and should therefore be the primary concern). Both the current trends of liberalism and conservatism go back to the Enlightenment-era ideal of promoting individual liberties, and each tends to attack the other based on perceived betrayals of this ideal. From the Western point of view, therefore, religious liberty is primarily a matter of individual liberty, and Westerners would tend to see anti-blasphemy legislation (which in essence limits the freedom of speech of an individual) as a means for religious majorities to crack down on minority religious views. Foremost in our mind would be the following questions: what is actually defined as blasphemy? Who defines it?

            Over the last few years, Pagans in Western countries have been hearing about attacks on minority religions in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, for instance:

            The decision that Vitaly Tanakov’s criticism of Christianity and Islam in his book “A Priest Speaks” constitutes “hate speech”, and warrants 120 hours of forced labor as punishment (http://wildhunt.org/2010/08/suppressing-a-pagan-revival-in-russia.html);

            The attempt to ban the Bhagavad Gita (http://www.hafsite.org/Hindu_Americans_Shocked_and_Outraged_at_attempted_Gita_ban_Russia);

            The desecration of a Nova Roma temple (I apologize that I do not have a link);

            And the destruction of an idol of Perun in the Ukraine (http://wildhunt.org/2012/11/ukrainian-idol-to-perun-destroyed-by-vandals.html).

            While not all of these incidents occurred in Russia, the Orthodox Church does seem to be involved in most of them in some way.

            While I am not qualified to speak for anyone, I think that Pagans in Western nations on the whole are very interested in the survival of Rodnovery, in the survival of the Mari-El religion, and in other such resurgences. Since the overall pattern of information that I hear is one of the Orthodox Church becoming more involved in politics and putting more pressure (to the point of violence and vandalism, as well as litigation) on minority religions, I am concerned that these anti-blasphemy laws will be used similarly as a weapon against minority religions. I think that same concern is echoed by those here.

            While it may seem like hypocrisy for those of us in Western nations to criticize what we see happening in Russia when we don’t have our own houses in order, we are aware of the problems that you mention (particularly as they pertain to Pagans), and many of us do work to correct those problems. As such, I think our criticisms of this anti-blasphemy legislation is not a matter of Western nations looking at Russia with disdain, but rather a matter of Pagans in Western nations being concerned about the survival of Paganism in Russia.

          • Mark Sleboda

            Yes – as in many non-Western countries, Russia with its 180+ ethnicities and at least 6 major traditional faiths spread across the largest country on earth places a greater value on the ideals of social harmony, tradition, mutual understanding, and the role that the state and religion working together can play in that process than the ideals of individualism and the atomized society that results from that, that is a product of the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ in the West that has driven faith so far from the society and the public square.

            What we see is that promotion of ‘individual liberties’ as paramount in capitalist societies where money permeates the legal process as it does everything else inevitably results more oft than not in the protection and promotion of the individual rights of the wealthy and bourgeois who have recourse to the best ‘law’ that money can buy, while the poor, the homeless, and the marginalized are either powerless or completely ignored and disenfranchised outside the boundaries of the law and society – effectively non-citizens. Class dominance and privilege is maintained through wealth under a largely rhetorical veneer of equal ‘individual rights’ which others simply cannot afford. There is law and justice for the wealthy, and then there is a separate law and justice for the non-wealthy.

            The examples you cite are for the most part a perfect example how a little bit of information from the Western MSM coupled with a lot of misinformation and general ignorance of the subject in question (ie Russia) can cause a whole lot of misunderstanding.

            1. There was NO attempt to ban the Bhavad Gita in Russia. There was an attempt sponsored by a looney professor (a supposed expert in Hinduism) in Tomsk (a third tier city) to bring a case through the local prosecutor’s office against local commentaries included within the Russian translation of a text called “Bhavad Gita as It Is” promoted by the Hare Krishnas, as being contrary to traditional Hinduism. The case was ridiculed by society at large. It had nothing to do with the federal government or the Russian Orthodox church at all. In fact both the federal government and the Russian Orthodox government openly attacked the case with the Russian Foreign Ministry saying that the Bhavad Gita is “the source of wisdom and inspiration not only for the people of India but for Russia as well and the world, ” called the instigators of the trial “madmen”, whose “madness should be stopped,” and that the people of Russia thought the Bhavad Gita was a great scripture of the world, and maintained that “no holy scripture, whether it is Bible, Quran or Gita, can be brought to a court.” The case was completely dismissed and forgotten.
            In short much ado about nothing. A typical case of Russian demonization and the Western MSM looking for a story to pursue that narrative, never mind the actual facts of the case.
            2. The case of Vitaly Tannikov – while I did not support the local case by the regional authorities brought against him, I did not support him either. His brochures were full of denigrations of other religions. It is not necessary or desirable to promote your own religion by offending and attacking other religions. The question is moot, however, as when the case reached a higher court at the federal law, the lower regional courts verdict was reversed, saying the criticisms were ‘distasteful but did not amount to extremism’. Vitaly Tannkikov was completely acquitted, went back to his life, and the last I heard is combatting a personal struggle with alcoholism.
            3. Your other two examples are about another country – ie the Ukraine. The Ukraine is an independent country and it has its own church – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with its own patriarch and institutions which is completely separate from Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. You bringing it up in a conversation about proposed Russian anti-blasphemy laws makes about as much sense as holding the Pope responsible in Italy for something some protestant group does in Germany. I won’t bother to examine those cases therefore, but I would also be very surprised if the actual Ukrainian Orthodox Church had anything to do with those instances, it being far more likely the result of individual and misguided zealots (such as all faiths have) acting on their own.

            So no – neither the Russian Orthodox Church nor the Russian federal government had anything to do with any of the examples you cite as justifying your ‘concerns’ for us pagans in Russia.

            Just doing a quick google search, I can cherry-pick through with the best of them and see many many more examples of attacks and discrimination against Pagans in the US and the rest of the West than I have in Russia. One could arguably conclude that all of your ‘individual religious liberty’, rabid societal secularism, and supposed ‘freedoms’ in the absence of social protections against attacks on religions such as we have proposed in Russia presents a much greater threat to the survival of Pagans in the West than the system we have in Russia.

            While I am not qualified to speak for anyone, I think that Pagans in Russia and Eurasian nations on the whole are very interested in the survival of Paganism in the West. Since the overall pattern of information that I hear is one of religion being completely excluded from society, the public square of social debate, and politics – is putting more pressure (to the point of violence and vandalism, as well as litigation) on minority religions, I am concerned that these secular laws and reduction of religion to the ‘individual level’ will be used similarly as a weapon against minority religions. I think that same concern is echoed by those here in Russia.

            While it may seem like hypocrisy for those of us in Russia and Eurasian nations to criticize what we see happening in the US and the West when we don’t have our own houses in order, we are aware of the problems that you mention (particularly as they pertain to Pagans), and many of us do work to correct those problems. As such, I think our criticisms of this anti-blasphemy legislation is not a matter of Russia and Eurasian nations looking at the US and the West with disdain, but rather a matter of Pagans in Russia and Eurasian nations being concerned about the survival of Paganism in the US and the West.

          • Crystal Hope Kendrick

            But isn’t the Ukrainian Orthodox Church still subject to the Patriarchate of Moscow? The UOC is not completely autonomous from the ROC.

          • Nick Ritter

            After Mark’s reply, I did some light research into the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, and the situation is somewhat complicated. Alongside the Moscow Patriarchate is the Patriarchate of Kyiv, as well as other autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Churches.

            My overall point, though, isn’t about whether this or that particular Orthodox Church organization is trustworthy with respect to the rights of non-Christian religions, but whether Orthodox Christianity as a whole is to be trusted any more than any other branch of Christianity in this regard. It may be, as Mark seems to indicate, that the Russian Orthodox Church has no intention to use the legal or political systems of the Russian state to impinge upon the free practice of minority religions. I personally don’t have such an easy time trusting religions with such a history of evangelism and conversion, though.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          The anti-blasphemy law in England and Wales was abolished in 2008, so that is pretty recent. It is, however, still illegal to be blasphemous in Northern Ireland and Scotland (although there is some contest about its legal status in the latter).

        • Boris

          Please remove the Netherlands from your list. Our parliament voted to abolish the anti-blasphemy laws a mont ago.

  • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

    according to a recent survey, not 80-90% but only 41% identify themselves with Russian Orthodoxy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Russia