One of the most popular topics of conversation in Russian society in recent weeks has been the situation in which one of the country’s chief institutions, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), finds itself. It all started on 21 February, when a girl band called Pussy Riot ↑ gave a provocative performance in one of the main Moscow cathedrals, Christ the Saviour ↑ . The show was described as a punk prayer service: the girls were brightly dressed with masks on their faces, and they sang an anti-Putin song to the Virgin Mary, the chief refrain of which was ‘Blessed Virgin, put Putin away!’Read the rest here.
Three of the girls were detained and the rest are in hiding, some abroad. The charge against the arrested girls was disorderly conduct, which carries a possible sentence of 7 years in prison.
The Pussy Riot protest has been discussed at the very highest level - President Medvedev, for example, commented on it in his valedictory interview – but the main issue it has brought up is the role of the ROC in today’s Russia and how the future may unfold for the Russian state.
The Church and society
After 70 years of communist rule in Russia, when religion was effectively prohibited, the collapse of the USSR enabled the Church to start regaining the position it had lost. Churches destroyed by the Bolsheviks were restored and new churches were built. The Church ceased to be an underground institution and, although the new 1993 Constitution made it quite clear that Russia was to be considered a secular state, the way events developed gave ample grounds for doubt. On the main Christian feast days, for instance, Russian TV channels regularly carry live broadcasts of church services attended by leading politicians. The politicians themselves like to point out that they are church-goers, but rarely remember that the Russian state is both multinational and multifaith. Orthodoxy is the de facto state religion, though this appears in no state documents.
Having regained its position in society, the ROC started displaying an active interest in Russian public life and attempting to influence it. The first half of the '00s saw much-publicised attempts by Orthodox organisations, with the support of the Church, to bring criminal charges against the organisers of the art exhibitions 'Beware religion ↑ !' and 'Forbidden Art - 2006' ↑ . The basic theme of these exhibitions was the commercialisation of religion and the aggressive attitude of the ROC.