PRIEST DETAINED AGAIN FOR BIBLE RECITAL IN A SOCHI CAFÉ
Roman Lunkin, Leading Research Scientist of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, commented an incident in Sochi where a Pastor was detained again for reciting the Holy Bible in one of the city’s cafes.
It is preferable to refrain from speaking about God in public – such is the key message of the Khostinsky District Court to the residents of Sochi. Pastor Kolyasnikov was fined by this court for 30,000 rubles. The examination of the case counts rather in favor of the resentment of the intrusion of the celestial matters into the public sphere. This, undoubtedly, is one of the paradoxes of the Russian post-secular society with is numerous symbols related to patriotism and Orthodoxy, as well as with the holy mounts that should be fought for.
However, any discussions about God, let alone the sermons, are prohibited, whether expressly or implicitly, especially the discussions held by “non-traditional religious groups”. The reason for this is the fact that the public in Russia, including the employees of the public prosecutor’s offices, Federal Security Service and court judges, has a very narrow perception of religion. More often than not, the Orthodoxy is not directly associated in the minds of the Russians with faith in God and preaching. Reinstatement of Soviet-era symbols at this new phase in history creates a post-secular paradox: many words are spoken about the Church and the Orthodoxy, but the actual expressions of Christian faith in the daily life are so far perceived as something strange or “sectarian”.
Therefore, issues that have no relation to law are discussed at the court sessions dedicated to the discrimination against religious minorities, although the legislation allows to act in accordance with the legislation. For example, in theory Jehova’s Witnesses could have been accused of aggressive missionary activities and intrusion into the citizens’ private lives. Adults who had suffered from the denial of blood transfusion could have been found. Yet, in practice they were accused of proclaiming themselves as the representatives of the true religion and citing Leo Tolstoy’s critical remarks about Orthodoxy.
In the case of Sochi-based Church of the Association of Christians the court, acting under the new provisions of the Law on the Freedom of Conscience, could have focused on proving that the community had been purposefully holding a public event interfering with the activities of the people in the café and thus inciting threats to public security by creating the conditions for a gathering of individuals who had been reciting the Holy Bible while eating and drinking coffee. Instead, the court a priori considered the Bible recital in a public place as a religious ceremony prohibited by law. One of the witnesses stated that she had come to this café not just to have a snack. She had been aware of the Bible recital to be held there by the Pastor, although it was natural for any pastor to recite the Bible and preach at any place.
Moreover, judging by the circumstances of the case, most probably the Pastor was deliberately brought to criminal liability. He was followed and measures were taken in order to find out when and where the meeting would take place and who would attend it. The demonstrative court decision was designated to make everyone aware that the authorities are keeping a wary eye on the “politically unreliable” religious communities: Protestant churches have always been under the threat of persecution in the course of campaigns against Western influences, just as it had been in the Soviet era, after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and just as we see it now, after the events of 2014.
Roman Lunkin, SOVA Center for Information and Analysis