A Protestant has been Elected Mayor of a Major Russian City
Sergey Andreyev defeated the candidate of “United Russia”
M o s c o w – For the first time ever since the days of the Czars, a Protestant has been elected mayor of a major Russian city. In run-off elections in the auto-making city of Tolyatti/Volga on 18 March, the Evangelical Christian and political independent Sergey Andreyev trounced “United Russia’s” candidate, Alexander Shakhov. Andreyev won nearly 57% of the vote, the candidate of Vladimir Putin’s party, 40%. The English-language “Moscow Times” reports that the upset occurred despite the national government having poured billions into the city to bail out AvtoVAZ, the city’s largest employer.
But once again, the nation’s ruling party, “United Russia”, was unable to resist the temptation to retain its hold on power by stirring up sentiment against the country’s religious minorities. In Tolyatti it portrayed itself as the fatherland’s saviour from sinister and ominous foreign powers. In the two weeks prior to the run-off elections, placards and billboards had popped up portraying Tolyatti’s Orthodox cathedral awash in bright colours besides the local Baptist church in dark greys, resting below a hovering black raven.
In a statement on 15 March, Moscow headquarters of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB) protested the anonymous placarding vehemently as well as the municipal authorities’ silence. Appealing to Article 19 of the Russian Constitution, RUECB-President Alexey Smirnov accused those responsible of “religious racism” and complacency regarding the “kindling of inter-confessional hatred”. He appealed for an end to the misuse of elections for the broadcasting of “confessional differences within a sole Christian tradition”. He added: “All seems fair when it comes to rescuing a city from the ‘evangelical plague’.”
In February 2009, a forged Baptist newspaper in Smolensk (near Belarus) had branded a candidate for city mayor as a Baptist bent upon turning the city into a hotbed of foreign Baptist activity. (See our press release of 23 February 2009.) Yet the “accused” candidate, Sergey Maslakov, had no ties to Baptist circles. Both candidates lost: United Russia’s candidate, who was responsible for the smear campaign, came in third. The fake paper’s prediction that an opposition candidate would “become the first Baptist mayor in Russia” has indeed come to pass in Tolyatti.
Yet to be precise, Andreyev, a 39-year-old father of four, is not a Baptist. In a recent interview he stated categorically: “I am neither Scientologist, Baptist nor Hare Krishna. I am an Evangelical Christian.” The incoming mayor is a member of the tiny “Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians” boasting 12 congregations in Russia and an additional 13 in Ukraine. Its Russian President is Sergey Guts of Ulyanovsk/Volga. The group could best be described as an ally of the Krasnodar-based “Evangelical Christian Missionary Union” or the Moscow-based “Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians” headed by Alexander Semchenko. All three of them are members of the Baptist-related umbrella known as the “United Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” now led by Peter Sautov (Moscow). Andreyev indeed was trained as a lay preacher in St. Petersburg’s Baptist “New Life” congregation before moving to Tolyatti as a 20-year-old school teacher in 1993. The youth organisation “Living Word”, which he founded in Tolyatti 19 years ago, is still described as a Baptist one. Andreyev obviously is one of not a few Baptists who did not fare well within RUECB confines and has chosen to serve Christ elsewhere.
Though he did not campaign as a Protestant believer, he made no attempt to hide his religious connections and ran his campaign from the church offices of “Divine Fire”, a local Full-Gospel charismatic congregation. One can fault that in the name of political fairness - Baptists would protest if Orthodox political candidates installed their campaign offices in churches. But Protestant candidates also have fewer choices on housing.
It would also be inaccurate to describe Sergey Andreyev as a true political independent. He has ties to a recent presidential candidate: Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s third-wealthiest oligarch. Interestingly, they both chose to leave the “Just Cause” party last September, opening the door for Andreyev to join Prokhorov’s promised, future party. It is claimed that the “tacit approval” of Vladimir Artyakov, “United Russia’s” governor in Samara region, played a vital role in Andreyev’s victory. Lyudmila Kuzmina, head of the Tolyatti branch of “Golos”, an election-monitoring NGO, stated in “Moscow Times” that Andreyev was “not entirely independent. The power vertical doesn't allow it.” Yet she praised Andreyev for his willingness to cooperate with her organisation – a rarity among Russian politicians.
The Dallas-based “Slavic Voice” points out that the US-presidential candidacy of the Mormon Mitt Romney is turning up the heat on his fellow believers in Russia. The Mormon faith is known to be one of the most profoundly American religious faiths. If Russia’s Mormons can weather the present US-presidential campaign relatively unscathed, that, and the remarkable election victory in Tolyatti will be clear indicators for the growth of religious tolerance in Russia.
Tolyatti (population 720.000) was called “Stavropol-on-Volga” until renamed in honour of the Italian communist leader Palmiro Togliatti in 1964. Tolyatti’s car manufacturer, once known as “Lada”, was founded in collaboration with the Italian firm “Fiat”.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 25 March 2012
Note from May 2020: Andreyev remained major of Tolyatti until 2017. The following year, he became head of the industrial park "Tolyatti", which is according to Russian "Wikipedia" one of the most successful in all of Russia.
A journalistic release under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. It may be reprinted free-of-charge. Release #12-08, 837 words, 5.507 keystrokes and spaces.