Church Hints It May Serve as Mediator in Russia
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MOSCOW -- A senior official of the Russian Orthodox Church has indicated that the church is moving toward a middle position between the government and opponents who staged two huge demonstrations last month, warning that if the authorities do not respond to people's concerns they could be "slowly eaten alive."
The official, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who oversees church and society relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, said in an essay and a radio interview on Thursday that Russia would never be the same after the demonstrations.
He called for a national dialogue to address the interests of the entire population rather than just the technologically savvy urban middle class driving the demonstrations. A platform is needed for "people who are patriotically inclined," he said.
Just 15 minutes after the Interfax news agency posted a report on Father Chaplin's essay, Vladimir Legoyda, another spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, announced that the church's leader, Patriarch Kirill I, would give "a very important interview," on Rossiya 1, the main television channel, at noon on Saturday, which is Christmas Day in Russia.
He said Patriarch Kirill would talk about Bolotnaya Ploshchad, the site in Moscow where the first mass demonstration was held on Dec. 10. It has become a watchword for the protest movement in Russia.
Patriarch Kirill has spoken in the past three weeks of rampant corruption and the need for moral transformation.
Two days ago, Aleksei Navalny, an anticorruption crusader turned opposition leader, said in an interview that he would like to see the Russian Orthodox Church serve as mediator.
Mr. Navalny, who has a following among the middle class and nationalists, discussed the role of churches in bringing down dictators with Boris Akunin, a novelist who has spoken at both opposition rallies.
"It's interesting that almost everywhere the main intermediary between dictators and protesters has been the church," Mr. Navalny said in the interview, which Mr. Akunin posted on his blog. "Is this possible here right now? It's unlikely. But I would very much like for the Russian Orthodox Church to take up such a role in society, so that all conflicting sides would seek and accept its mediation."
Father Chaplin did not mention Mr. Navalny in his remarks, which came as an intense political debate has faded into silence during a national 10-day hibernation after New Year's Eve.
He wrote in the essay and spoke in the interview of Russians' seething fury with endemic corruption, which he attributed to the system established in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. He said in the radio interview that the charges of vote falsification in the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections must be addressed and that they were a part of the overall issue of corruption. He did not, however, call for a new vote.
First Published January 7, 2012 12:01 am