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Personnel changes suggest adjustments in church-state relations
RPTs Also Engaged In Modernization
Kremlin seeks new models of relations with religious organizations

by Elina Bilevskaia

Within one month, old-time bureaucrats who were in charge of religious matters were dismissed from the government and presidential administration. According to information gathered by Nezavisimaia gazeta (NG), an administrative assistant of the department for domestic policy, Alexander Kudriavtsev, has left the Kremlin and a month earlier Andrei Sebentsov, the executive secretary of the Commission for Matter of Cooperation with Religious Organizations, left the government. The personnel change was required in order to work out a new model of relations of the state with religious organizations in the context of promoting the ideas of modernization.

The formal reason for the departure of both officials from the Kremlin and White House was their reaching retirement age. The administrative assistant of the department for domestic policy of the presidential administration, Alexander Kudriavtsev, will reach 63 years of age this year.

In the Kremlin he also was responsible for the work of the presidential Council for Relations with Religious Organizations with the rank of executive secretary. From the moment of taking office, the head of state, Dmitry Medvedev, has conducted one session of this structure; it was held in March of last year. The chief topic was the moral development of youth.

And in the summer of 2009 representatives of the main religious organizations of Russia were invited to the president's suburban residence, "Barvikha," in order to discuss the question of teaching foundations of religious cultures in the schools. Kudriavtsev was directly involved in the planning of these events.

He has been involved with religious organizations on behalf of the state since soviet times. From 1988 to 1990 Kudriavtsev worked in the Council for Religious Affairs of the Council of Ministers of RSFSR. After that he was in charge of this topic in the Ministry of Justice, where he headed the department of registration of religious organizations. Until 2008 he worked as deputy head of the Department of Humanitarian Policies and Public Affairs of the presidential administration for domestic policy, and then he received a promotion and took the post of administrative assistant.

A similar professional path was followed by the now former employee of the White House Andrei Sebentsov. Until recently he was the executive secretary of the governmental commission for matters of religious associations, which is headed by Vice-premier Alexander Zhukov, and he also occupied the post of director of a division of the Department of Mass Communications, Culture, and Education. Sebentsov is considered an adherent of broadly democratic views in relations of the state with religious associations. In 1997 he stood out as an opponent of the adoption of the federal law on freedom of conscience that essentially established the domination of the four traditional Russian religions: Orthodoxy, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. He left the office of executive secretary of the commission at the beginning of March of this year.

A highly placed source in the government did not rule out the possibility that these retirements may be linked with the search for new ideas in the development of the dialogue between the state and religious organizations: "We now have innovations in everything." "NG's" source noted that in the last 20 years we have managed to get rid of many problems in relations with religious societies. However, questions still remain: for example, the Moscow patriarchate is actively lobbying for the return of church property. He said that the government "is dealing with the desire of RPTs and is conducting work and dialogue." The latest example is the transfer of Novodevichy monastery to church ownership.

A highly placed source in the Kremlin noted in conversation with "NG" that the issue here is more likely that both officials simply wanted to retire. However a source close to the presidential administration told "NG" that the question of relations between the state and religious organizations has acquired priority status in the Kremlin. At the present a new conception of relations with religious confessions is being worked out there, and a search is under way for new ideas and formats. In particular, it is important for the Kremlin that ideas of modernization, the introduction of an electronic government, the creation of electronic passports, and the like not spur a wave of superstitions among individual religious groups but, on the contrary, that they receive the approval of RPTs and other organizations.

The deputy general director of the Center of Political Technologies, Aleksei Makarkin, thinks that the retirements of Kudriavtsev and Sebentsov may be connected with the activity of Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Kirill. Both officials were advocates of a model based on the premise that the state treats all religious societies in the same manner, without giving preference to any one of them. The head of RPTs apparently is not too happy with such an approach. He clearly aims to achieve the dominance of the Orthodox church in Russia. Makarkin says that the patriarch displays a lot of activity. For example, he managed to achieve the introduction of the school course on the study of the foundations of religions and the formation of the institution of military chaplains. However, Makarkin is sure, Patriarch Kirill's interests in these matters coincide with those of the government: "Cooperation with RPTs will be intensified." He said that the church has already given support to the state during the time of crisis, when it relieved the government of responsibility for its occurrence and called society to view this event as an opportunity to reconsider vital values. The political scientist recalled that under the previous patriarch, Alexis II, RPTs was in a defensive position because the danger of schisms on the part of ultraconservative church circles continued. However Patriarch Kirill has managed to solve this problem. He now has to persuade that part of the church of the benefits of modernization and to declare war on superstitions. And also to help the state to not permit the spread of new religious teachings.

(tr. by PDS, posted 23 April 2010)
Source: Nezavisimaia Gazeta