Law on Protecting Faith - Mennonites Returning to Russia?

New legislation


On 9 April, Russia’s Duma passed the initial reading of a hotly-contested, new law on protecting persons of religious conviction from insult. The legislation has strong Orthodox support. According to one Orthodox activist, the Moscow journalist Alexander Shchipkov, anti-religious sentiment is “snowballing” and can only still be stopped by drastic new laws. What began with relatively harmless caricatures on national television has ballooned into physical assaults on clergy and the destruction of church property. This new legislation is said to be rooted in the antics of the famous (or notorious) female punk band “P*Riot” (Kitty Riot) in Moscow’s “Cathedral of Christ the Saviour” on 21 February 2012.


Christians of more liberal conviction attack the proposed legislation on “offending religious feelings” for its vagueness and subjectivity, claiming it would open the floodgates for massive misuse. The Orthodox layman Roman Lunkin, Director of the Moscow’s “Institute for Religion and Justice” and a long-time associate of Britain’s “Keston College”, sees the legislation as a blank check for politically-motivated repression. He wrote on 10 April that even demanding financial transparency from the Moscow Patriarchy could be legally interpreted as an insult. Suspicions are rampant that this “legal monstrosity” could be used as a weapon by Russia’s five “traditional religions” (Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Neopaganism) against all others. No one assumes that atheists or Jehovah’s Witness could use this legislation against its Orthodox opponents – only vice versa.


Interestingly, Lunkin noted in a lecture in Moscow’s “Carnegie Centre” on 24 January that Russia’s “liberal-democratic elite” expresses no particular fondness for Protestants. Virtually all political parties - and not only rightist ones - engage in some form of “anti-sectarian rhetoric”. According to him, solely Gennady Zyuganov’s “Communist Party of the Russian Federation” “insists on the equality of all citizens irrespective of their religious affiliation”.


A more recent development: Yaroslav Nilov claimed on 14 April that this proposed legislation – despite massive Duma support – would not become law. Instead, Article 148 of the Criminal Code is to be defined more precisely to include this type of transgression. Nilov is Vice-Chairman of the “Liberal-Democratic Party’s” (LDPR) parliamentary group. This party is headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky.


Mennonite re-emigration

On 13 December, the English-language “Moscow Times” reporting that Old Colony Mennonite farmers from Chihuahua in northern Mexico were considering emigration to Russia. That story was later picked up by Russian media. A delegation of 11 had visited Aznakeyevo in Tatarstan region last August. Aznakeyevo is located 100 km south of Naberezhnye Chelny, northeast of Samara and east of the Volga River. Some of the delegation had ancestors who were born in Russia, but this particular area had never been settled by Mennonites. Mennonites first emigrated to Ukraine – then part of the Russian empire – from Prussia in the 1780s. Repeated contact in 2013 with Mennonites in Manitoba, who relate to those in Mexico, has not confirmed strong interest in emigration to Russia.


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Berlin, 23 April 2013


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