Tolyatti has an Evangelical Mayor

A Bicyclist in Car Town Russia


Protestant mayor Sergey Andreyev is hard at work


M o s c o w -- Sergey Andreyev may have no driver’s license, but he is nevertheless the mayor of Tolyatti (or Togliatti), Russia’s largest centre for auto production. Tolyatti was recently listed as 6th on a list of Russia’s 20 most investor-friendly cities, and its auto industry is holding its own. “Auto production is one of our best chances on the export market,” the mayor assures. He has been to France numerous times and Wolfsburg, the home of Germany’s Volkswagen, remains a partner city of Tolyatti. Another partner is the “Ford city” of Flint/Michigan.


Andreyev is an active layman in an Evangelical-Christian denomination and his election in March 2012 was accompanied by a major anti-Baptist campaign in that city (see our report of 25 March 2012). The matter resurfaced on 10 June 2013 when the “Tolyatti Review”, an old adversary of the mayor, reported on a “sectarian epidemic” in the city. It claimed that neo-Pentecostal rehabilitation groups associated with Andreyev were turning young addicts into “docile zombies and “enemies of Orthodoxy”. The report in Moscow’s “Protestant” news service was entitled: “The Witch Hunt Returns”.


But the soft-spoken, professorial 40-year-old mayor is eager to downplay political theatrics. In a recent interview, he called the events of early 2012 the brainchild of his opponent’s professional campaign staff: “Elections are a time of struggle and the opponent will use whatever he can to further his cause.” The candidate he defeated was from Vladimir Putin’s “United Russia” party, but Andreyev insists that anti-Protestantism was never part of that party’s platform. He calls the current state of inter-confessional relationships serene: “I have a constructive working relationship with Orthodox clergymen. We meet primarily to talk about issues involving the construction of new churches, and we do what we can within the constraints of the law to help them.”


This psychologist-turned-mayor is no friend of the blanket, global judgements sometimes lofted by Protestant leaders. “Leaders should not only criticise”, he insists. “They should include proposals for a solution.” Blanket criticism and the assumption that politics are always dirty, make us immobile: “The individual cannot change everything, but he can change something.” In a talk this past July, Andreyev recalled that after criticising the pro-Putin, political opposition in 2010, they offered him the job of minister for natural resources, forestry and the environment in Samara region. As he sees it, it would have meant a loss of credibility for him to refuse.


Andreyev never read US-Senator John McCain’s attack on President Putin from 19 September 2013 on the “Pravda.ru” website, but he responds: “Simple solutions prove that someone does not understand the deeper causes.” Trying to instruct each other from afar “will always meet with resistance from the other side”.


The mayor is presently open to another term in office: The next elections will be held in 2017. He regards the political involvement of Russian evangelicals to be vital for their future well-being. He sees involvement in the public arena as a classic, God-given opportunity to demonstrate good will and readiness to work for the common good. Only so will the xenophobic stereotypes of the past – Baptists as “sectarian, American spies” for ex. - finally fall.


This mayor does not view homosexuality as a major threat to Western civilisation. “This country needs people with moral authority”, he responds. “Our primary problem relates to the degradation of our cultural level due to the loss of moral values. Our younger generation believes it acceptable to reach its goals by whatever means it takes. Diligence and hard work don’t count any more. The main thing is to get rich fast and easy; one is unwilling to confront and overcome difficulties.  I think the Protestant work ethic would be really helpful here.” Andreyev decries “negative selection” as a significant factor in Russian history. Revolutions, civil war, collectivization and class struggle led to the emigration – and brain drain - of those “who were certainly not the worst people in Russia”.


Today, Sergey Andreyev is a member of “Civic Platform”, an opposition party formed in June 2012 by Mikhail Prokhorov: the billionaire usually included among the top five of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs. In fact, Andreyev himself may hold the highest, elected position of any member of this young party. The modest mayor doesn’t like to hear it, but he may also enjoy the highest political position ever reached by a non-Lutheran Protestant in the history of Russia (excluding post-Soviet Ukraine).


Both politicians promote neo-liberal economic models wary of big government; both oppose restrictions on private business while pushing for a decentralised, horizontal state with a civil society and major economic ties with the West. Taxes are necessary, Andreyev concedes, but “the fewer taxes the government collects, the better it will be for the people. Often, the taxes collected from the rich do not reach the poor. Instead of concentrating on portioning out the existing resources, we should attempt to produce more.”


The mayor is no supporter of the communist past and envisions cooperation with communists only on concrete and limited matters - local day care, for ex. Communists instilled the Russian people with a double morality: While proclaiming the truth of communist principles, its leaders “lived completely removed from any principles of service to the people. This attitude won’t be easy to overcome, but it can be done.” He also accuses past communist governments of gross inefficiency: “Our country with its incredible resources was unable to feed its own people and was forced to buy grain abroad.” Old technology and low productivity remain a problem to this day.


But the duo of Prokhorov and Andreyev could be considered a mismatch similar to that of a bicyclist becoming mayor of a major auto city. On the face of things, the unmarried, 48-year-old oligarch, who is regarded as a jet-setting playboy, could hardly be considered a champion of family values. Accused of promoting prostitution among young Russian women, he was briefly jailed in France in early 2007. Andreyev though is happily married and the father of four between the ages of seven and 15. (The bicyclist does have access to a car with chauffeur for official business.)


The more famous - but less wealthy - billionaire Roman Abramovich owns the British Chelsea football club; Prokhorov is majority stockholder of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. Prokhorov describes the ex-oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who’s been jailed since 2003, as a good friend.


Andreyev – a bridge between Pentecostal and Baptist

Though usually described in the media as a „Baptist“, Andreyev has technically never been one. Born into a secular family in Smolensk in 1973, he accepted Christ in 1990 after moving to St. Petersburg. He was initially a member of Petersburg’s “House of the Gospel”; a prominent Evangelical-Christian congregation resurrected in 1989. It broke with the old “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” in 1996. After moving to Tolyatti in 1993, he worked for the “Living Word” youth organisation with funding from the interdenominational, Warrenton/Missouri-based “Child Evangelism Fellowship”. Today, he is a member of the tiny, “Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians” with 12 congregations in Russia. Its style of worship is Charismatic; its president is Pastor Sergey Guts of Ulyanovsk/Volga. Tolyatti Charismatics were active in Andreyev’s election campaign.


Barring a serious downturn in East-West relations, more than a few Russian observers remain optimistic regarding the future of Protestantism in Russia. In a recent talk, the Baptist barrister Anatoly Pchelintsev, Co-Director of Moscow’s “Slavic Legal Centre”, pointed out that the controversial legislation from July 2013 prohibiting the defamation of religion could also be turned on Orthodox radicals known for attacking Protestants. For him and others, Andreyev’s exploits are an additional, hopeful sign for the future.


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 6 November 2013


Journalistic release #13-20. 1.270 words.