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Wikileaks: +Alveyev -- The ROC's main role in promoting official gov't policy

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
    Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev): The main role of the ROC -- in the promotion of official government policy (Wikileaks) (English original follows the
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2011
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      Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev): The main role of the ROC -- in the promotion of official government policy (Wikileaks)

      (English original follows the Russian translation at the below link:)

       C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 000241 SIPDIS E.O. 12958:
      ROLE IN RUSSIA'S DEVELOPMENT REF: 09 MOSCOW 2842 Classified By: Ambassador John
      R. Beyrle for reason 1.4 (d)
      1. (C) Summary: In a January 28 conversation with the Ambassador, Archbishop
      Hilarion freely admitted that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has been
      extending its reach further into all areas of society. The Church has recently
      adopted a more confrontational tone regarding the State Department's
      International Religious Freedom Report (IRF), and Hilarion defended the ROC's
      stance against some non-traditional religions. Hilarion also explained the ROC's
      desire to promote current GOR policies, including "managed democracy." Despite
      the ROC's increased assertiveness, Hilarion acknowledged a gap between the
      Church's teachings and the daily lives of most Russians, especially youth, and
      wondered aloud how the ROC might address this problem. Despite this gap,
      Hilarion concluded, many Russians hunger for spiritual guidance, and the ROC
      intends to fill that gap. End Summary.
      2. (C) In a January 28 conversation with the Ambassador, Head of the ROC's
      External Relations Division Archbishop Hilarion made the case for the Russian
      Orthodox Church's (ROC) recent push to assert its influence over Russian society
      and politics. By turns candid and circumspect, Hilarion freely admitted that the
      ROC has been ramping up its public statements in favor of its interests, and has
      been extending its reach further into heretofore secular areas of society such
      as children's education. Calling the ROC "a significant actor" in the life of
      the country, Hilarion said that Patriarch Kirill is "not only symbolic," but can
      also influence major currents in Russia, including its political
      "Church diplomacy" takes on the IRF -----------------------------------
      3. (C) The ROC has been referred to as "a government within a government," a
      political entity as much as a theological one (reftel). As such, in Hilarion's
      view, the ROC has a role to play in Russia's relations with other countries,
      which is why Kirill considered it important to meet President Obama during his
      July, 2009 visit to Moscow. Hilarion echoed the Ambassador's support of the
      recent warming trend in U.S.-Russian relations, saying that "now is a good time
      to be an American Ambassador in Russia," and adding that the ROC is happy to
      lend its assistance in bringing bilateral relations to an even higher level.
      (Note: ROC leaders also frequently engage in "Church diplomacy" in the near
      abroad, strengthening ties with Orthodox Churches in countries, such as Ukraine
      or Georgia, whose governments in the past six years have had tense relations
      with the GOR. End note.)
      4. (C) Notwithstanding these improved relations, the ROC in November struck a
      confrontational tone regarding the State Department's annual International
      Religious Freedom Report (IRF), released in October. Hilarion penned a letter to
      the Ambassador -- posted on the website of the ROC's external relations division
      -- in which he complained of perceived U.S. support for "extremists and
      Satanists." The negative tone of the letter (as well as the somewhat brazen
      manner in which it was presented) contrasted sharply with the ROC's initial
      public praise of the report's "objectivity" in observing that the ROC has
      attempted to promote interfaith tolerance in Russia.
      5. (C) Hilarion defended the substance of the letter, saying that although
      "we are satisfied with the general dynamic," and "each report is better than the
      one before," there are still some issues that "need to be looked at carefully."
      If we look at religious freedom exclusively through American eyes, he explained,
      then the report will inevitably be imperfect, because it will not sufficiently
      take into account the individual historical and cultural development of Russia.
      "We don't want to discriminate," he said, but the distinction between
      traditional and non-traditional religions is "rooted in our history." (Note: As
      for the manner in which the letter was made public via the ROC website, Hilarion
      said that "the report was public, as well," but otherwise passed the buck to his
      predecessor, who he claimed had established the practice. End note.) Hilarion
      added (rather disingenuously) that there is no law favoring traditional
      religions over non-traditional ones, a statement that was not true on its face
      -- the 1997 Law on Religions elevates the status of the four "traditional"
      religions (Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism) -- and that also
      ignored the key question of the implementation of the law, which in practice has
      marginalized non-traditional groups. As if to underscore that point, Hilarion
      acknowledged that "some groups" within the ROC might express MOSCOW 00000241 002
      OF 003 intolerant views, but Kirill consistently speaks out in favor of
      tolerance -- and otherwise there are limits to what Church leaders can do to
      discourage this.
      "Managed democracy" just fine for the ROC
      6. (C) On a more positive note, the Ambassador praised the ROC's ability to
      re-establish its moral authority and rebuild its institutions, in the space of a
      scant twenty years. Agreeing on this point, Hilarion noted that the ROC must
      heal wounds not only from the monumental changes of the past 20 years, but also
      from the destruction that took place in the past 90 years, since the Revolution.
      "Most of our problems today are rooted in the Soviet period," he said, including
      the pervasive problems of corruption and hypocrisy. Hilarion emphasized the need
      for patience with Russia's development, a point we have heard many times during
      political discussions with Russian interlocutors (GOR officials and NGO
      activists alike), given that Russia has only had 20 years to build a democracy,
      unlike countries such as the U.S. or Great Britain, which built their
      democracies over hundreds of years. Hilarion also said that "our democracy does
      not have to look identical to the U.S.," and, taking Russia's history and
      culture into account, should rather be a form of "managed democracy."
      7. (C) Appearing to borrow from the United Russia playbook, Hilarion
      essentially equated authoritarianism with stability, noting that "Russians have
      always liked having a strong and powerful figure at the top," and lambasting
      Russia's experiments with democracy in the 1990s, calling the election of 1996 a
      "catastrophe" in which the country was paralyzed by its unappealing choice
      between Yeltsin, Zyuganov, and Zhirinovsky. As to whether Russia might aspire to
      a system in the future whereby the people hold their government accountable for
      its policies, Hilarion said that this was "theoretically possible," but does not
      always work in practice.
      8. (C) Hilarion made it clear that he sees a prominent role for the ROC in
      promulgating the GOR's current policies. Notwithstanding his claim that the ROC
      enjoys no special status among religions, he asserted that the Patriarch is not
      only the head of the Orthodox Church in Russia, but "the spiritual leader for
      the whole nation." He noted that on the November 4 National Unity Day, the
      Patriarch celebrated the divine liturgy in Red Square, then led a procession
      where he was followed by leaders of other faiths. The ROC also appears to be
      first among equals in the context of the new program to teach religion in
      schools in 19 regions of the country (reftel). (Note: Under this program,
      students will have a choice between studying one of the four traditional
      religions, or taking a course on "secular ethics." Different religions will be
      emphasized depending on the majority population in the region where the program
      is taking place. End note.) Hilarion stressed that this is only a "pilot
      program," but there is little evidence to suggest any GOR intention to abandon
      the program once it is underway. On that issue, Hilarion said only that the GOR
      would "assess" the efficacy of the program some time after its inception in the
      A longer road to travel in the social sphere
      9. (C) Although the ROC has accomplished a great deal recently in its efforts
      to gain more social and political prominence, a significant gap remains between
      its teachings and the ethos of modern Russian culture. The GOR may see no
      problems with eroding the wall between Church and State, but that appears to be
      affecting the ROC's political role more than its social one. Hilarion lamented
      that although 70-80 percent of Russians call themselves Orthodox, very few
      (about 5 percent) attend church regularly, and even fewer "have their life
      influenced by the Orthodox faith." The Church's dilemma, he explained, is that
      it needs to build a bridge to young people who see no role for the Church in
      their lives, while at the same time maintaining the original essence of the
      Church's teachings. "We don't need to update or modernize services," Hilarion
      said, but "we must still overcome cultural and psychological barriers"
      separating religious and secular life in Russia. In his opinion, the best forum
      for accomplishing this is education, and he envisioned a comprehensive program
      that raised awareness without appearing invasive.
      Comment -------
      10. (C) In the absence of a widespread, active following MOSCOW 00000241 003
      OF 003 among most people (at least in their day-to-day activities), the ROC is
      clearly attempting to throw its weight around politically. For those of us
      accustomed to seeing a firewall between Church and State, the ROC's growing
      assertiveness, and open admission that they intend to pervade all aspects of
      public Russian society may appear alarming. At the same time, Hilarion is
      correct to note that Russia has been through cataclysmic changes in the past two
      decades, on top of decades of moral bankruptcy under communism. A widespread
      feeling of disgust at the excesses of oligarchs and "new Russians" who acquired
      vast wealth during the sell-off of state assets in the 90s (and during the oil
      boom of the Putin years), is still strong among the populace at large. The
      feeling that people are surrounded by examples of empty values and cynicism has
      led to a corresponding spiritual hunger. The ROC seeks to fill that void, and we
      should be ready to address this phenomenon with open eyes, while making clear
      our view that the virtues of Christian tolerance should apply equally to the
      non-Orthodox faithful.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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