Russian president moves to promote interfaith dialogue

By on September 3, 2009

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has in recent weeks spoken several times of the importance of interreligious dialogue and stated that his country offers a unique example in that sphere.”As the head of a country with many religions, I have visited many different places of worship, Orthodox churches, mosques, and now I have the opportunity of visiting this place that is sacred to all of Russia’s Buddhists,” Mr. Medvedev said at Buryatia on Aug. 24, visiting eastern Siberia’s Ivolginsky Datsan Buddhist monastery, near Lake Baikal. Buddhism, along with Russian Orthodoxy, Islam and Judaism, is regarded by law as one of Russia’s four “traditional” religions.Mr. Medvedev raised the interfaith theme as well on Sept. 1, in an address to Russian children on the first day of the school year.”Among us are Orthodox, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and followers of other religions too. Together, we form a vivid and harmonious whole, a common spiritual space,” he said in an address whose video and text were posted on his Web site, www.kremlin.ru.The previous week, the Russian president met Islamic laders from Russia’s volatile Northern Caucasus region, at a meeting focussed on youth, and support for Islamic education in Russia.”With the support of regional authorities, you help people to get through difficulties, help them with their day-to-day problems, have a direct influence, of course, on the public mood in the region, and most important, help to give young people a world outlook based on moral values, on the values of Islam,” Mr. Medvedev said. He was speaking to Muslim muftis and government officials from the Northern Caucasus who gathered at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.After a brief period when stability had appeared to come to Chechnya, the breakaway region that was ripped apart by two wars with Russia in the past 15 years, militant attacks are on the rise there and in surrounding regions of the Northern Caucasus.On July 21, leaders of the four “traditional” religions lauded Mr. Medvedev as he announced the introduction of a school religion course in some regions of Russia, when they met outside Moscow.On the same day the Russian president met with Koichiro Matsuura, the director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.That meeting included Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church, Muslim, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran officials from the Vatican, Germany, the United States, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia. It discussed the creation of an interfaith consultative body that will work with UNESCO to promote cooperation between religions and government bodies. Mr. Medvedev said in his remarks. “I believe that this is very advantageous. It has helped us create …  a country where the fundamental rights of religious denominations are respected, where civil peace and harmony reign.”Still, Anatoly Krasikov, director of the Centre for Religious and Social Studies of the Institute of Europe in Moscow told Ecumenical News International that such activity risks blurring the line between Church and State. “We often have what appears to be a facade of pluri-confessionalism,” he said. “Our church is great enough to speak with its own voice, to be respected,” he said of the Russian Orthodox Church. “It shouldn’t take on the role of a party, of a guiding and leading force in political society … State officials, should be more careful, because they are interfering in things they shouldn’t be involved in and thereby violating the independence of religious communities,” said Mr. Krasikov.

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