Staunton, October 31 – President Vladimir Putin this week signed a new law, pushed by the Moscow Patriarchate, that will provide government funding at the regional level for religious organizations in the name of the preservation of those of their buildings which have been or will be designated as “objects of cultural heritage.”
Because money is fungible, such government funds will in fact provide support for the operations of religious groups in general and the Russian Orthodox Church in particular in violation of the provisions of the 1993 Russian Constitution and to the detriment of religious groups which do not have “cultural heritage objects” in their inventories.
In reporting on this development in Kommersant on October 30, Pavel Korobov says that the new law will allow the regions and municipalities the basis for adopting legislation that will allow government money to go to those religious organizations which can show that they are in possession of such objects and need help to preserve them.
Not surprisingly, the greatest beneficiary of this will be the Moscow Patriarchate whose leaders have been pushing for such legislation for a long time, according to Abbess Kseniya, the head of the Patriarchate’s legal service. She noted that it will have another consequence: it will speed up the return of churches seized by the authorities in Soviet times to the church.
Roman Lunkin, the president of the Russian Experts Guild on Religion and Law, agrees. Churches have been reluctant to press their claims for such properties in many instances because they lack the funds to restore churches. Now, under the terms of the law Putin has signed, they will be able to get tax money to do so.
Putin has been active in promoting this process. In January 2010, he met with Patriarch Kirill and declared that it was necessary to “accelerate the process of the transfer by the state of church property and to give this process a legal framework.” The current law is one of the consequences of that declaration.
The leaders of other confessions, including Rushan Abbyasov, the deputy head of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), and Zinovy Kogan, the vice president of the Congress of Jewish Religious Unions and Organizations, said they would make use of this new possibility as well. But it is clear that the Orthodox Church is the primary beneficiary.
But it is possible that this measure may have less impact than its supporters hope. As Abbess Kseniya acknowledges, the law allows regions to help the church in this way, but it doesn’t require them to do so. And because many regions themselves are in economic trouble, they may not be willing or able to come up with the money to fund such initiatives.