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Vladimir Putin told the whole world about his religious views
by Maksim Shevchenko
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 13 September 2000


Last Friday hundreds of millions of television viewers of CNN throughout the world witnessed the interview of Vladimir Putin, which he gave live to the famous political showman Larry King. The interview contained many questions regarding foreign and domestic policies of Russia's president, as well as freedom of speech and the destruction of the "Kursk" submarine.

But it seems that what interests us most is the part of the interview in which Vladimir Putin's religious views were stated and his information about the situation in Russia regarding religion and politics. And here Russian viewers who are interested in this problem found some sensational discoveries. But let's reproduce the words of the president himself.

"When our troops went into Chechnia, the reaction of the local population was completely surprising for us. It turns out that in all the years when we were observing from the side the processes within Chechnia itself, we did not pay attention to several new phenomena.Foreign mercenaries, in essence, had seized certain spheres of the administration of the territory of Chechnia and there was no leadership there; at the head of the districts were so-called field commanders. It turns out that a new ideological platform, a religious one, had been established in Chechnia. It came from the Middle East. They had begun imposing Sunnite Islam upon the local population. Our Caucasian residents are in the majority Shiites. This evoked a definite reaction on the part of the local population with respect to the mercenaries themselves and it facilitated the establishment of contacts with the local population."

The statement by Putin of the assessment of the religious orientation of the Muslims of the Russian northern Caucasus is exactly the reverse of the truth. The fact is that "our Caucasian residents" are "in their majority" Sunnites. Shiites of the Caucasus (to be sure, not "ours") are only Azerbaijainis, and not even all of them. One Lezhgin village exists in the mountains of Dagestan. Shiites (Azerbaijanis, Iranians) live in large cities.

The assurance with which the president broadcast to the whole world information that is essentially false forces one to ponder the level of the competence of the Russian government in the matter of resolving religious conflicts on the territory of Russia and CIS. What is all the passion of the struggle with "Islamic extremism" in the northern Caucasus worth if the supreme leadership demonstrates such obvious ignorance of the simplest realities of the region?

Either Putin should himself examine which wing of Islam he is supporting in Russia (and what the Russian Muslims believe in) or he should give to his advisors on the struggle against the "Islamic danger" an order to read the simplest handbook on this question.

After all it is sufficient to open the handbook "Confessions, cults, and religious movements," published by the Moscow government in 1998, in order to learn that "Russia's Muslims in their overwhelming majority adhere to the Sunnite movement of Islam."

But even more interesting are Putin's discussions of his relations with the church.

"Much is being said about you and your religious views. I have been told that you wear a cross. Have you been baptized? Are you a believer? What are your views on religion?"

"You know, I prefer not making a special point about this subject.I think that there are things which a person should keep to himself. One should not make a display of faith. As regards the cross, in the past I never wore it. But when I went to Israel with my family as a tourist, my mother gave me the cross so that I could get a blessing at the tomb of the Lord. I did this, and nowI have it with me. I have a dacha outside St. Petersburg and a fire broke out there; something went wrong in the sauna. Before going into the sauna, I took off the cross. When the fire began, My comrades and I jumped out practically naked, because everything happened so unexpectedly. I must say that the cross was very precious to me since Mama had given it to me. I thought that nothing would be left of the cross, not even a trace since it was, you know, such a simple aluminum cross. There was no limit to my amazement when a worker came and dug in what remained of the building and opened up his fist and there was the cross. The building burned completely. This was amazing. Now I do not part with the cross."

"Do you believe in higher powers?"

"I believe in humankind. I believe in its good intentions. I believe that we all have come in order to do good. And if we do this all together then we can expect success. Even in relations between states. The main thing that we will achieve in this way is that we will achieve comfort."

The myth about Putin's piety that has been spread widely in recent times by the nationalist Orthodox circles and naively supported by the liberal mass media, which has described nonexistent "spiritual advisors of the president" has been demolished for certain and, one hopes, for good by the Constitution's guarantor himself. His views, especially the statements in his last answer, are extremely far removed from the views of an Orthodox believer. Now it is clear that the president of Russia is a consistent and principled humanist, who occupies the positions of the secular ideology of "the common good," and is close to the ideals of liberal masons of the end of the last century.

The celebration of human bases, the achievement of universal comfort and harmony on the world level, ignorance about the notion of the Last Judgment--it is these principles that occupy the foundation of the processes that have most often been defined as "globalizing." Such confidence deserves respect. Not one of the leaders of our country has yet formulated with such precision his social and religious views.(tr. by PDS, posted 22 September 2000)


The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Webmaster, St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, or the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia.
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