It took the Russian Constitutional Court more than a month to formulate a decision in the case of the Seventh-day Adventist from the Rostov Region Olga Glamozdinova. The hearing took place on October 8, but the court announced the decision on November 14. And this has become very sensational for the modern Russian Federation, where it is customary only to introduce new restrictions on the rights of believers if they do not belong to one of the four “traditional” religious organizations. (The constitution makes no distinction between “traditional” and “non-traditional” believers, guaranteeing everyone the same rights.)
The plot is simple and affects the interests of hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens. Olga Glamozdinova invited her co-religionists to prayer meetings in her apartment building in the village of Vesely. In early 2017, she entered into a free use agreement with the local Adventist community, giving the community the right to hold meetings in this house four hours a week. Rosreestr opposed this, fined Glamozdinov 10 thousand rubles. The courts of general jurisdiction, analyzing this dispute, recognized that the living quarters and the land with it could not be used “inappropriately” – for religious activities.
The logic of the Constitutional Court, which did not agree with the Rosreestr and local courts, turned out to be almost philosophical!
It lies in the fact that human life is not only a material, but also a spiritual phenomenon. This means that the dwelling is designed to meet the spiritual needs of residents, including religious ones. True, there are reservations in the court decision. Residential premises provided by a religious organization should not acquire the characteristic features of a “cult” (such as domes, minarets, etc.) or an administrative building. In this case, the court considers the abuse is already taking place. True, the line here is very thin and, perhaps, it is impossible to determine objectively. If, for example, a mantis official or an oligarch builds an iconostasis with an altar in his house (which is not uncommon today), then should they be considered “characteristic features of a cult object”? The law does not answer this question.
Why does the COP’s decision concern hundreds of thousands of believers? In the twentieth century, Russia experienced the terrible experience of total religious persecution in order to build an atheistic society. Peaks of persecution occur in the twenties and thirties and in the early sixties. Each such period led to the emergence of many “catacomb”, underground religious communities of different faiths, forcing believers out of the legal field. You cannot kill faith by persecution …
By 1939, only about 400 open churches remained in the USSR, mainly “restoration” churches, which were under the full control of the NKVD. At the same time, according to the 1937 census, most Soviet citizens called themselves believers. They prayed at home, sometimes in secret communities, of which there were several thousand. The war changed the picture: in 1943, Stalin re-formed the Moscow Patriarchate, recognizing the only acceptable form of professing the Orthodox faith in the USSR for visiting its churches. The persecution of the “catacombs”, which did not want to recognize the artificial structure, only intensified.
The weak similarity of the repressions of the 1930s was the persecution of Khrushchev in the early 1960s. But they also left a mark in the form of giant Baptist and Adventist fraternities, who decided to abandon Soviet registration. In documents of the Council for Religious Affairs, they were called “supporters.” Hundreds of local churches of these Protestant groups still refuse to register, gather for prayer in private premises and are constantly faced with administrative pressure from the authorities. In the USSR, it was forbidden to categorically register some faiths – first of all, Jehovah’s Witnesses, true Orthodox Christians, Christians, priests, runners and a number of Old Believer consents. Christians of the gospel faith (Pentecostals) began to register only under Brezhnev, in the late 60s.
As recognized by international and Russian human rights organizations (Commission on International Religious Freedom of the USA, Amnesty International, Memorial, etc.).
Today, Russia is experiencing a new wave of religious persecution.
- The same Jehovah’s Witnesses, officially recognized as victims of mass repression and even receiving financial compensation for this, again completely went underground: in 2017, the Supreme Court banned their activities. Their translation of the Bible is listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, and its collective reading is considered a criminal offense.
- In Tula, authorities are trying to destroy the prayer house of the Baptist “initiative.”
- In Noginsk near Moscow, they threaten the church of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
- In 2015, in Penza, bailiffs destroyed a whole monastery of a truly Orthodox church.
- In 2009-2010, all 11 historical churches of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church in Suzdal were selected.
- There are also raids on “illegal” gatherings in private prayers of Muslims, because reluctance to go to the mosque is regarded as a sign of “extremism.”
With such a “religious policy,” accompanied by a sharp decline in the authority of “traditional” religious organizations, primarily the Russian Orthodox Church, the number of house churches and prayer rooms will only grow.
The very type of religiosity in the country is changing: from the demonstrative mass, it becomes a private chamber, an “alternative”.
The degree of independence from power is now directly proportional to the level of prestige of a particular community, especially in the eyes of young people. In this context, the decision of the Constitutional Court is a step towards civil society, its unscrupulous part.