A new law on “education to patriotism” set to be introduced in Russia on New Year’s Day is a further sign of Russia distancing itself from the West, but is not necessarily a sign of President Vladimir Putin favouring one Church over another, according to an analyst for the Christian charity Open Doors.
Rolf Zeegers, from Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit, says the main aim of the law, a draft of which was presented to Russia’s legislative assembly (the State Duma) on 15 November, is to “increase Russian nationalism among Russian citizens”.
“The draft law is in the same line as the ‘foreign agents’ law that aims to restrict foreign funding of NGOs in Russia,” Zeegers told World Watch Monitor. “It is very outspokenly nationalistic.”
The law, if passed, will be signed into law on the first day of President Vladimir Putin’s bid for re-election, and some commentators have said it is another endorsement by him of the Russian Orthodox Church.
According to Vladimir Rozanskij, writing for AsiaNews, “The draft law is a further confirmation of the presidential policy of the last few years, but also the insistence of the Orthodox Church, starting with Patriarch Kirill, to foster a moral elevation of the population through education and thus distinguish Russia from the Western secularism which is already becoming widespread.”
However, Zeegers says that although it is “obvious” the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) “meets all the patriotic criteria and is therefore the most ideal Church in the eyes of the writers of the law”, the draft law does not especially “favour” the ROC.
“Though the draft law is very patriotic/nationalistic, it nowhere distinguishes between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ churches,” he says. “All churches should stimulate patriotism and defend Holy Russia.”
But Zeegers does have one warning for Putin: “The fact that increased nationalism pits the ‘good’ fatherland against ‘the less good, or bad, or despicable, etc.’ rest of the world – i.e. fatherland against foreign – may turn out to be risky,” he says. “Nationalism raises tensions and makes conflicts much more likely, as we have witnessed before.”