RELIGION IN RUSSIA
Despite the seventy-four-year effort of communism to promote atheism, 25 percent of the people still adhere to Russian Orthodox Christianity. While approximately 60 percent of Russians were nonreligious when the communist regime fell, Christianity and Orthodoxy are experiencing a mild revival. Among the non-Russian populations, Islam and Buddhism are widespread. [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality]
The official state religion is Russian Orthodoxy, which enjoys a privileged position with the government. About 75 million Russians belong to that faith, but fewer than half of that number are considered active worshippers. The fastest growing religion is Islam, professed by about 20 million, a much higher percentage of whom are considered active participants. Other religions are Roman Catholicism, 1.3 million; Judaism, between 400,000 and 550,000; and Jehovah’s Witnesses, 131,000. Religious activity increased markedly following the collapse of communist rule in 1991, but restrictions have remained for certain groups. A 1997 law set requirements that religions be registered, putting unrecognized groups at a disadvantage. For example, all Muslim groups falling outside the government-sanctioned Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Russia are repressed as potential terrorist organizations. [Source: Library of Congress, October 2006 **]
Religions (estimates are of practicing worshipers): Russian Orthodox 15-20 percent, Muslim 10-15 percent, other Christian 2 percent (2006 est.). Russia has large populations of non-practicing believers and non-believers, a legacy of over seven decades of Soviet rule. In 1996 about 75 percent of believers in Russia considered themselves Russian Orthodox, 19 percent Muslim, and 7 percent other. Religious activity increased sharply in post-Soviet period, given official government and constitutional sanction. [Source: CIA World Factbook, Library of Congress]
The 1993 Russian constitution guarantees religious freedom and states all religions are equal before the law. Article 14 of the 1993 constitution stipulates that "the Russian Federation is a secular state. No religion may be established as the state religion or a compulsory religion. Religious associations are separated from the state and are equal before the law." However, such a constitutional guarantee existed even during the Stalinist era, when religious oppression was at its worst. In the 1990s, the Russian citizenry has shown that the traditional, deeply felt linkage between Russian Orthodoxy and the Russian state remains intact. That linkage has a palpable effect on Russian secular attitudes toward religious minorities, and hence on the degree to which the new constitutional guarantee of religious liberty is honored. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]
Few Russians are considered strongly religious. Many grew up when atheism was state policy and churches were architecture and art museums. Russian Orthodox Christianity is credited more with establishing cultural bonds than saving souls. It is estimated that less than 5 percent of Russians regularly attend church. In tsarist Russia there was a one church for every 1,000 people. Today, there are one for every 80,000 people. In 1989, only 40 percent of the Soviet Union citizens said they believed in God. Atheism was the state religion of the Soviet Union. It was a prerequisite to membership to the Communist Party. Members of religious groups were effectively excluded.
Diversity of Religions in Russia
Islam is numerically the second most important religion in Russia. Various non-Orthodox Christian denominations and a dwindling but still important Jewish population complete the list of major religious groups in the Russian Federation. In general, Russians of all religions have enjoyed freedom of worship since the collapse of the communist regime in 1991, and large numbers of abandoned or converted religious buildings have been returned to active religious use in the 1990s. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996 *]
Even before the demise of the Soviet Union, the new openness of Russian society had attracted religious activists of many persuasions from all over the world. In Moscow evangelists and missionaries filled the airwaves and the streets. Notable among them were German Lutherans, a Roman Catholic missionary society, Swiss Protestant church groups, the Quakers, the Salvation Army, and the Sisters of Charity, a Roman Catholic order of nuns headed by Mother Teresa. Also present were members of such groups as the Hare Krishnas, the Unification Church, and the Church of Scientology.[Source: Library of Congress, 1996 *]
The activity of such groups, which paralleled Russia's new enthusiasm for all things Western in the late 1980s and early 1990s, had begun to wane by 1994. However, it stimulated a strong reaction among conservative political and religious groups. In November 1992, the influential conservative wing of the Russian parliament reacted to the influx of non-Russian religious activists by proposing the creation of a so-called Experts' Consultative Council of church representatives and government officials. That body would have had the power to tighten the requirements for registration of a religious group or missionary activity. *
Restrictions on "Non-Russian" Religions
Religions other than Russia's four main religions—Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, Islam and Buddhism—are required to register with the government. The law restricts the activities of minority religions such as the Church of Scientology and Mormonism as well as mainstream ones like Catholicism and Protestantism.
The requirements came into effect in September, 1997 when Yeltsin signed a controversial laws pushed forward by the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II said the law was needed to protect Russians from "destructive pseudo-religious cults and foreign false missionaries." Critics of law have said it was created more for political than religious reasons and showed the church's vulnerability. "A church that finds it necessary to appeal to the government to limit competition is obviously a weak church," University of London Russian scholar Martin McCauley told AP.
In many places the Soviet era Council of Religious Affairs has been resurrected to control religious life in the interest of the state. The Orthodox Church is exempt from its controls.
Non-Orthodox Christian Religions in Russia
The Soviet Union was home to large numbers of Christians who were not followers of the Russian Orthodox Church. Several other churches had numerous adherents, including the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church (also called the Armenian Orthodox Church), and the Ukrainian and Belorussian autocephalous Orthodox churches, which, like the Russian Orthodox Church, were rooted in Byzantine rather than Roman Christianity. All of these faiths likewise endured persecution by the Soviet state. A large number of Roman Catholics and Protestants of various denominations also resided in the Soviet Union. But, because the majority of non-Orthodox Christians were concentrated in the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, the representation of non-Russian Orthodox groups in post-Soviet Russia is much less than it was in the Soviet Union. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996 *]
Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists and other Christian groups have sent in missionaries to Russia since the break up of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, proselytizing was illegal which ended up helping the Orthodox church by keeping other religions from making inroads into the Soviet Union. After the collapse of Communism, many minor religions moved in. Protestant evangelical groups increased 16 times—from 50 to 800 congregations—in seven years.
The Salvation Army returned to Russia in 1991 for the first time since it was bloodily ousted under Lenin in 1923. Because it refused to register as a religious organization, it has the word "Army” in its name and its members wear uniforms and engage in "barracks-room discipline", the Salvation Army was viewed by authorities as a real army that might try to overthrow the government. Today the group is involved in handing out soup at train stations to Moscow's homeless, visiting patients at a children's cancer hospitals, visiting shut ins and counseling the troubled.
The Uniate Church is a branch of the Roman Catholic Church that preserves the Eastern Rite (Orthodox) liturgy and discipline but recognizes papal authority. The Uniate Church is also known as Eastern Rite Church. The term “Uniate” refers to a number of Middle Eastern churches—namely the Maronites, Syrian Catholics and Chaldeans— and European churches—namely the Ukrainian Catholic Church and Greek Catholic Church—and that chose to abandon some Eastern Orthodox rites while maintaining others.
Uniate Church members recognize the authority of the pope and have adopted Latin rites but they also follow doctrines and rites similar to those of Orthodox Christians. The Uniate Church has baptism, confession and communion services that are conducted with in the Byzantine liturgy. Some cross themselves the Catholic way (left to right). Others cross themselves the Orthodox way (right or left).
The term Uniat or Uniate is applied to those Eastern Catholic churches which were previously Eastern or Oriental Orthodox churches, primarily by Eastern or Oriental Orthodox. The term is considered to have a derogatory connotation, though it was occasionally used by Latin and Eastern Catholics, prior to the Second Vatican Council. Official Catholic documents no longer use the term, due to its perceived negative overtones. According to John Erickson of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, "The term 'uniate' itself, once used with pride in the Roman communion, had long since come to be considered as pejorative. 'Eastern Rite Catholic' also was no longer in vogue because it might suggest that the Catholics in question differed from Latins only in the externals of worship. The Second Vatican Council affirmed rather that Eastern Catholics constituted churches, whose vocation was to provide a bridge to the separated churches of the East." [Source: Wikipedia]
Catholics in Russia
Catholics make up about one percent of the population. Many are descendants or Poles, Germans and Lithuanians deported to Siberia in Soviet times. They have suffered not so much because they were Catholics but because they were Poles, Germans and Lithuanians. Stalin was no fan of the Catholic church. He once said: “The pope? How many divisions has he got?” There is some animosity by Russians towards Pope John Paul II—a Pole that supported democratic reforms in Polandd—for playing a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union
The size of the Roman Catholic population of Russia has varied greatly according to the territorial extent of the country. For example, after the partitions of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century, large numbers of Polish Catholics became subjects of the Russian Empire. Accordingly, from the eighteenth century until 1917 a papal legate, or nuncio, represented the Vatican in St. Petersburg. A Roman Catholic academy operated in St. Petersburg, and a mission was established in Astrakhan'. After World War II, the absorption of the Baltic states added many Catholics to the Soviet Union's population, but relatively few of those individuals entered the Russian Republic. In 1993 twenty-nine Roman Catholic dioceses were active in the Russian Federation, with those in the European sector administered from Moscow and those in the Asian sector from Novosibirsk. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996 *]
Four Catholic diocese were created in the early 2000s. The 1990 establishment of new Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia has caused tension with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy. The Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches have an understanding that neither will proselytize in the "territory" of the other, so representatives of the patriarch have condemned expanding Catholic influence as an unwelcome Western intrusion. *
Hostility Between Catholics and the Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Christians have traditionally viewed Catholics with hostility. In 2002, about 1,500 members if the Russian Orthodox Church took the streets to condemn Catholic "expansionism.” The crowds chanted "Out with the pope" and waved banners that read "You will not seize Russia" and "This is Orthodox territory."
The Russian Orthodox church has made no attempts to end 1,000 of rivalry and hostility with the Catholic church and made it clear the Pope is not welcome in Russia. Russian Orthodox patriarch Alexy told the Vatican that Pope John Paul II shouldn't visit Russia and he viewed a visit as encroachment on Russian Orthodox territory.
Pope John Paul II had spoken about reconciliation between Catholics and Russian Orthodox Christians and expressed interest in visiting Moscow to improve ties between the two churches but said he would only do so with the blessing of the Patriarch in Moscow, who never gave such a blessing. Pope John Paul II attempted to mend ties with the Orthodox church by returning the 16th century icon, the Kazan Madonna, in July 2004. The icon disappeared after the Bolshevik Revolution. It was bought by a Catholic group in the 1970s and later given to the pope.
In the early 2000s, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch accused Catholics of using missionaries to try to convert Orthodox Christians to Catholicism. A Russian Catholic bishop was presented from returning to his diocese and had his working papers rescinded. Nationalist groups have staged anti-Catholic rallies.
Old Believers are members of a conservative and rebellious group within the Russian Orthodox church. Also widely known as the True Believers, they trace their origins back to a revolt over religious reforms made by Patriarch Nikon in the mid 1600s. Other names used for Old Believers or sects of Old Believers include: Beglopopovtsy, Belokrinitsy, Bespopovtsy, Chasovennye, Diakonovtsy, Edinoverie, Feodoseevtsy, Filippovtsy, Onufrievtsy, Pomortsy, Ppvtsy, Spasovtsy, Staroobriadtsy, Starovery and Stranniki.
Old Believers are found throughout Russia and the former Soviet Union. Concentrations of the groups are also found in Poland, eastern Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. Many have traditionally lived in the remote parts of Russia or practiced their beliefs in secret. Some Old Believers live around Ulan Ude near Lake Baikal. There are several large Old Believer communities in the mouth of the Danube area of the Ukraine.
It is difficult to determine how many Old Believers there are, in part because they were persecuted and even killed for their beliefs and practiced in secret, . But is believed that their numbers are sharply declining. There were about 20 million of the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, and maybe less than a million today, with many of them pensioners.
See Separate Article on the Old Believers Under Minorities
Protestants in Russia
The first West European Protestants in Russia were German Mennonites who arrived in the second half of the seventeenth century. Throughout the twentieth century, the Baptists have been by far the most active and numerous Protestant group. During the repressive 1960s, enthusiastic Baptist groups attracted numerous young Russians away from the official Komsomol, and the fervor of the Baptists in a nominally atheist society earned them admiration even among communist officials. The number of Protestants in the Soviet Union was estimated at 5 million in 1980; in 1993 an estimated 3,000 Baptist communities were active under the administration of the Eurasian Federation of Unions of Evangelical Baptist Christians. Within that structure, the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches includes about 1,000 communities and supports two missionary groups and one publication. Headquarters is in Moscow. The Council of Churches of Evangelical Baptist Christians was founded in 1961 as a splinter group from what was then the Union of Evangelical Baptist Christian Churches; it existed illegally in Russia until 1988 and is not registered officially as a religious group. In the mid-1990s, the council included 230 communities. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996 *]
Other Protestant groups in Russia have far fewer members than the Baptists. The Union of Evangelical Christian Churches was founded in 1992 to continue the tradition of the Union of Evangelical Christians, which had been founded in Russia in 1909 and then banned under communist rule. Pentecostals first became active in Russia in the early twentieth century. In 1945 one faction reunited with the main Baptist church; then in 1991 the remaining group formed the Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith Pentecostal, which issues several publications and supports missions. *
The Seventh-Day Adventists formed a Russian union in 1909, despite active government opposition. The church structure was largely destroyed during the Soviet period. Then, after World War II, the All-Union League of Seventh-Day Adventists was established. The union was inactive from 1960 until 1990, when it was included in the international General Assembly of Adventists. About 600 communities were active in the mid-1990s, with publications, one seminary, one religious school, and a radio broadcast center. *
The Jehovah's Witnesses appeared in Russia in 1939; their center in St. Petersburg and their missionary work in Russia are supported by the Jehovah's Witnesses Center in Brooklyn, New York. Lutheranism appeared in Russia in the seventeenth century; in the mid-1990s, only a few churches were active. A few groups of Methodists, Presbyterians, Mormons, and Evangelical Reformed believers also are active in Russia. *
Muslims in Russia
Islam is the second largest religion in Russia after Russian Orthodoxy. There are believed to be around 20 million Muslims in Russia. A census in 2002 counted 14.5 million while Russian Muslim leaders claim there are 23 million. The number of Muslims is increasing, in part because their birthrate is higher.
There are also an additional 3 million to 4 million migrants from former Soviet states. Of these about 2 million are Azeris from Azerbaijan, 1 million are Kazakhs and several hundred thousand are Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz. In 1996 the Muslim population of Russia was estimated at 19 percent of all citizens professing belief in a religion.
Under the tsars, the Muslim clergy was brought within Russian bureaucratic structure and given salaries. Today, the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslim and Council of Muftis of Russia are the two primary Muslim groups in Russia. The former is based on Bashkortostan and is led by Talgat Tadzhuiddon, who was a member of the Soviet religious bureaucracy. The latter is a post-Soviet group that claims the allegiance of the majority of Russia’s Muslim groups.
See Separate Article on Muslims Under Minorities
Judaism and Jews in Russia
There are about 1 million Jews in Russia. Their numbers have been shrinking in recent decades. More than 1 million Jews emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Israel since the late 1980s. Jewish leaders say many more Jews renounced or hid their identity to avoid persecution in the Soviet era and before then. Some are beginning to reclaim their identity.
Most Russian Jews live in urban areas. They are largely assimilated and do not seriously practice Judaism. Moscow has a Jewish population of 200,00 to 250,000 people, of which 15 percent are Sephardic. In the early 2000s, there were three synagogues in Moscow and 40 percent of the children in Jewish schools were Sephardic (Middle Eastern Jews, or descendants of Jews that settled in Spain in the Middle Ages) . Some are Lubavitchers, Jews that believe that Menachem Mendel Scheerson, who died in Brooklyn in 1994, is the messiah.
The Soviet and Russian governments have always regarded the Jews not only as a distinct religious group but also as a nationality. This attitude persists in the post-Soviet era despite a provision in Article 26 of the 1993 constitution prohibiting the state from arbitrarily determining a person's nationality or forcing a person to declare a nationality. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]
Between World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's Jewish population declined steadily, thanks to emigration, a low birth rate, intermarriage, and concealment of identity. In 1989 the official total was 537,000. Of the number remaining at that point, only about 9,000 were living in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, and, by 1995, only an estimated 1,500 Jews remained in the oblast. The Jews of Russia always have been concentrated overwhelmingly in the larger cities, especially Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Odessa — partly because of the traditional ban, continued from tsarist times, on Jews owning land. Although 83 percent of Jews claimed Russian as their native language in the 1979 census, the Soviet government recognized Yiddish as the national language of the Jewish population in Russia and the other republics. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]
See Separate Article on Jews Under Minorities
Buddhism in Russia
Russia is home to about 1 million Buddhists. Most are Buryats or residents of Kalmykia who observe Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has traveled to Russia on several occasions, including visits to Buryatia and Tuva. Almost of Russia's Buddhist are members of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism, whose leader is the Dalai Lama.
Buddhism was tolerated in the early Soviet era because it was not viewed as a threat until Stalin decided in the 1930s to close down 50 monasteries and 250 temples and executed thousands of monks and lamas. After World War II two monasteries were opened: one in Ulan Ade and another in Aginks, near Chita. Buddhism was allowed to open up further under glasnost.
The 145,000 Kalmyks, who make up most of the residents of the Kalmyk Republic, northwest of the Caspian Sea, are members of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Kalmyks migrated to the their present homeland in 17th century to escape wars in their former home, western Mongolia. There are a few temples in Kalmyk.
In November 2004, thousands Buddhist pilgrims came to Khurui Monastery in Arshan in the Republic of Kalmykia in southern Russia to see the Dalai Lama. It was his first visit in many years after being denied entrance to Russia because of Moscow’s warming relations with Beijing.
See Separate Articles on Buddhist Groups such as the Buryats and Kalmyks under Minorities.
Folk Religion in Russia
Many of the Slavs in pre-Orthodox Russia worshipped a Sun God regarded with special significance in such a cold place. The sun-like configurations of saints and the sun-gestating gilt onion domes of Russian churches are artistic expression that are believed to have their roots in Slavic paganism.
Other supernaturals recognized by Russian peasants include “domovoi” (house spirits), the “leshii” (wood goblin), “rusalka” (water spirit)—most of whom are regarded as malevolent and referred to as “unclean power.” Certain people were believed to have had the power to deal with these spirits and they were consulted when problems occurred
Cult of the skull — related to bear worship — is believed to have existed in pre-Christian Siberia. The Nivkhs on Sakhalin Island in the Russiam Far East and many peoples of central Asia regard the Bear Mother as their ancestress. In the old days, a Nivkh Shaman (ch'am) would preside over the Bear Festival, celebrated in the winter between January and February depending on the clan. Bears were captured and raised in a corral for several years by local women, treating the bear like a child. The bear is considered a sacred earthly manifestation of Nivkh ancestors and the gods in bear form. During the Festival the bear is dressed in a specially made ceremonial costume and offered a banquet to take back to the realm of gods to show benevolence upon the clans. After the banquet the bear is killed and eaten in an elaborate religious ceremony. The festival was arranged by relatives to honor the death of a kinsman. The bear's spirit returns to the gods of the mountain 'happy' and rewards the Nivkh with bountiful forests. Generally, the Bear Festival was an inter-clan ceremony where a clan of wife-takers restored ties with a clan of wife-givers upon the broken link of the kinsman's death. The Bear Festival was suppressed in the Soviet period; since then the festival has had a modest revival, albeit as a cultural rather than a religious ceremony. [Source: Wikipedia]
See Holidays and Festivals
Shaman are people who have visions and perform various deeds while in a trance and are believed to have the power to control spirits in the body and leave everyday existence and travel or fly to other worlds. The word Shaman means "agitated or frenzied person" in the language of the Manchu-Tungus nomads of Siberia.
Shaman are viewed as bridges between their communities and the spiritual world. During their trances, which are usually induced in some kind of ritual, shaman seek the help of spirits to do things like cure illnesses, bring about good weather, predict the future, or communicate with deceased ancestors.
Shaman are generally poor and come from the lower social classes. Sometimes their spiritual power is seen as so great that they need to be separated from society. In the past, it is believed, almost all villages had a shaman and they were members of a caste that passed their traditions down from generation to generation. Some shaman are afraid to reveal their secrets because they believe that after they pass on their secrets they will die.
Kohkan Sasaki, an expert on shamanism in Asia and professor at Komazawa University, told the Daily Yomiuri, “I think shaman tend to be females in societies where women are suppressed or discriminated against as an inferior gender. By associating themselves with the gods women are able to balance their power with men in such societies."
See Separate Article ANIMISM, SHAMANISM AND PRE-HISTORIC MAN RELIGION factsanddetails.com
Shamanism in Siberia and Mongolia
Shamanism is still practiced in Russia, particularly in the Lake Baikal area of southern Siberia near the Mongolian border and in the middle Volga regions. The word Shamanism comes from Siberia. Some remote parts of Siberia don't have any restaurants, hotels or supermarket but they do have pine-plank temples known as shaman's posts where people leave offerings such money, tea, or cigarettes. Anybody who passes by without leaving an offering risks offending the evil spirits.
Shamanism practiced in Russia is divided into major sects: Buryat Shamanist east of Lake Baikal has a strong Buddhist influence; West of Lake Baikal shamanism is more Russified. The 700,000 Mari and 800,000 Udmurts, both Finno-Ugric people of the middle Volga region are shamanists.
The Soviets tried to discredit shaman by characterizing them as greedy quacks. Many were exiled, imprisoned or even killed. Few true ones remain. Mongol shaman believe that humans have three souls, two of which can be reincarnated. They believe animals have two reincarnated souls which should be distrusted or else they leave human soul hungry. Prayers of reverence are always said for animals that have been killed.
See Separate Article SHAMANISM IN RUSSIA AND MONGOLIA factsanddetails.com
Shaman have traditionally been important religious figures and healers among many Siberian peoples. The word “shaman” comes to us from the Tungus language via Russian. In Siberia shaman have traditionally been called upon to heal the sick, solve problems, protect groups from hostile spirts, make predictions and mediate between the spiritual world and human world and guide dead souls to the afterlife.
Cults revolving around animals, natural objects, heros and clan leaders have also been central to the lives of many of Siberia's indigenous people. Many groups have strong beliefs in spirits, in realms of the sky and earth and follow cults associated with animals, especially the Raven. Until fairly recently shaman were the primary religious figures and healers.
Shamanistic powers are passed on from generation to generation or by spontaneous vocation during an initiation ceremony that usually involves some kind of ecstatic death, rebirth, vision or experience. Many Siberian shaman perform their duties while dressed in a costume with antlers and beat a drum or shake a tambourines while in an ecstatic trance, regarded as reactualization of a time when people could communicate directly with the gods.
A drum is an essential tool for many Siberian shaman. It is used to call the spirts that will help the shaman and can be used as a shield to ward off evil spirits from the underworld. It is often made from wood or bark from sacred trees and skin of horses or reindeer said to have been ridden to other worlds. In a practical sense drums are used to generate hypnotic beats which help send shaman into a trance.
Cults and Religious Sects in Russia
Many Russians have joined cults and Herbalife. Among the oddball religion organizations in Russia are a school for witches in Moscow, a doomsday cult lead by a leader who provoked a riot in Kiev, and group that attempts to achieve "mass orgasms" through mental telepathy. Russian mystical philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff has a large following.
The largest Unification Church (Moonie) mass wedding involved 726,000 individuals (363,000 couples) married in ceremonies in 160 countries linked together via satellite. The largest gathering involved 72,000 couples who were married at Chamsil Olympic Stadium in Seoul. The second largest gathering was 58,000 people in Russia.
In 1995, it was estimated that the Aum Shinrokyo—the doomsday cult that killed 12 people in a subway poison gas attack in Tokyo—had an estimated 30,000 followers in Russia. In 1992, cult members in white robes danced in front of the Kremlin. The cult paid $800,000 a year for air time on a Russian radio station to broadcast a program called "Soul of Truth." Aum also had a weekly television show on Moscow's 2x2 TV channel.
Hare Krishnas at one time were very visible in Russia and reportedly gained new converts all the time. Dressed in orange balloon pants and sandals, even on the coldest days in mid-winter, shaved-head Hare Krishna men and covered-headed Hare Krishna women could often be seen around Red Square in Moscow banging their tambourines and bells, chanting and dancing. During the Chechen War in 1994-96, Hare Krishnas set up a soup kitchen in the Chechen capital of Grozny that served more than a 1,000 meals a day to war victims who considered them saints along the lines of Mother Theresa.
Religion and Foreign Policy
In the 1990s, there have been indications that religious considerations can influence certain areas of Russian foreign policy, as they have in the past. Relations with the newly independent Muslim states of Central Asia are a case in point. In all five republics of that region, the Russian government has strongly supported secular, autocratic Islamic leaders whose hold on power is justified in part by an ostensible threat of Muslim political activism. However, only in Tajikistan has a faction with any sort of connection to Islamic groups attempted to take power. There, a nominally secular Islamic party has played a central role in a prolonged guerrilla war against the Russian-supported regime, with assistance from Afghan forces. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]
Beginning in 1992, the conflict between Muslims and Orthodox Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina has tested the deeply ingrained tradition within the Orthodox Church of protecting coreligionists in the Middle East, the Balkans, and elsewhere beyond Russia's borders (see Central Europe, ch. 8). Russia's former minister of foreign affairs, Andrey Kozyrev, cautioned against making the Orthodox religion a determinant of Russian foreign policy, lest such a policy promote a split in Russia itself between Orthodox and Muslim believers. Nevertheless, nationalist sentiment in Russia caused the Yeltsin government to limit its participation in international sanctions and military actions against Serbia.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated May 2016