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September 23, 2013 8:25 pm

Russian Orthodox Church Still Thinks There is a ‘Jewish Question’

avatar by Josephine Bacon


Israel President Peres in Russia. Photo: GPO.

Every year, a three-day discussion forum is held in Russia at the Valdai Club, an organization so-called because it is located in Valdai in the Novgorod Oblast. It is attended by Russia’s “great and good,” including many members of the political opposition, as well as President Putin’s party. Journalists are strictly prohibited from reporting in detail on its deliberations, probably for this reason.

This year, on its second day, the forum relocated to the local Iversky Monastery, which its organizers apparently considered a suitable setting for a discussion on religious tolerance.

Russian society has always been hostile to religious minorities – not only with respect to Jews, but also with respect to others, including the substantial number of Muslims within its territory. And this hostility never seems to disappear.

Even during Perestroika, anti-Semitism was still rife. My daughter studied in Moscow in the 1980s in the days of Gorbachev (and Chernobyl), and she was openly insulted several times in public by ordinary people who assumed she was Jewish. That is how bad it was and still is.

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The speakers at the Valdai session on religion were made up exclusively of representatives of the Russian Orthodox and Muslim religions. Orthodoxy was represented by Metropolitan (archbishop) Hilarion, who claimed that Russian Orthodoxy was never imposed on minorities in pre-Soviet times “as long as the local elites showed loyalty to the Tsar.” He also noted that “the Polish and Jewish questions [whatever that means] were not resolved;” he did not explain what the Polish and Jewish questions were. “Polish” is a euphemism for Roman Catholic, but also refers to the traditional Russian dislike of the Poles, as manifested in the Katyn Massacre and many, many other atrocities.

The Muslim speaker, the Mufti Damir-Hazrat Mukhetdinov, deplored the alleged increase of Islamophobia in Russia – no surprise there. He did not refer to other religious minorities or the need to tolerate all different beliefs.

The idea that anyone actually representing Roman Catholicism or Judaism might be allowed to address this august gathering apparently never occurred to the organizers. The audience almost certainly included Jews, though probably not professing or practicing Jews due to Russia’s tradition of persecution and intolerance. A tradition continued by this “discussion” forum.

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