Stability and/or Democracy?
Protestants debate the naming of Dimitry Medvedyev as presidential candidate
M o s c o w -- Are stability and Western-style democracy opposites in Russian society? Can in Russia only one of these increase at the expense of the other? Russian Protestants committed to staying in Russia and committed to working with the existing government powers, will tend to say “yes”. Protestants outside of Russia and those within Russia without access to government or Orthodox authorities will tend to answer “no”. This phenomenon is by no means new: Persons dependent upon the help of local authorities will attempt to befriend them. Those independent of all political authorities in a given country will tend to demand the barricades.
Those within Russia attempting to dialogue with government and Orthodox officials include the Baptists Alexander Semchenko and Vitaly Vlasenko. Probably the most adamant supporter of dialogue with the Putin government is Sergey Ryahovsky, Bishop of the “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSChVE). Both he and Semchenko are members of the government-run “Advisory Chambre for Cooperation with Religious Organisations at the Seat of the President of the Russian Federation”. To question the character of these church leaders and automatically accuse them of opportunism is unfair – the businessman and philanthropist Alexander Semchenko for ex. spent time in prison for his faith late in the Soviet era.
Pastor Vlasenko, Director of External Church Relations for the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, states: “Stability is the primary issue at present – not democracy. Democracy can only grow in our country when economic stability and social welfare are secured.” And he believes democracy is nevertheless slowly on the increase.
Russians – perhaps in contrast to the Ukrainians - are a conservative lot. They will stay away from the barricades if there is no chance of finding food there. The mass starvation resulting from the social experiments of the 1930s remains unforgotten. Recent attempts at wide-scale democracy also have a terrible track record. During the 1990s, a few robbed the masses of their national wealth, throwing the working class into abject poverty. Russians are largely grateful to Vladimir Putin for the return to economic and social stability.
After Putin named Dimitry Medvedyev “United Russia’s” candidate to succeed him as President after the elections next March, the Orthodox hierarchy’s response was immediate and positive. In an interview with the Interfax news service on 13 December, Vlasenko seconded the opinion of the Metropolitan Alexey II: “On this matter we agree completely with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Indeed, the youthful Medvedyev is the top-notch politician whom Russian Protestants know best. Medvedyev is the most recent head of the Public Chambre and Protestants such as Semchenko and Ryahovski have gotten to know him “rather well”. Vlasenko reports: “We’re glad that Medvedyev is a Christian – an Orthodox believer. But he has also stated repeatedly that Russia is a multi-confessional country; he is tolerant of other religions. He has shown respect for Protestant leaders during meetings. We find that very pleasant.”
But is it not undemocratic to bless the candidate Medvedyev so early in the election process? “I’m not blessing anybody,” Vitaly Vlasenko responds. “I’m just saying that he is a very good candidate.” In his interview with Interfax he had stressed that Baptists would pray for all non-extremist candidates, irregardless of their political affiliations.
Regarding the Putin administration Vlasenko concludes: “The Putin years were really great for the Orthodox – but they were good years for us Protestants, too. We also have gotten somewhere. Let us not forget the blessings and the progress that has been made.”
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 17 December 2007
A release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-56, 580 words.
Note from January 2021: Alexander Semchenko became a bishop among the Evangelical-Christians and "VSEKh" in 2008; Vitaly Vlasenko is now a leading official for the Russian Evangelical Alliance.