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Cablegate: Russian Baptists Seeking Mainstream Recognition

VZCZCXRO0359
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #2312 2511313
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 081313Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4748
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS MOSCOW 002312

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR PREL SOCI RS

SUBJECT: RUSSIAN BAPTISTS SEEKING MAINSTREAM RECOGNITION

1. (SBU) Summary. The Russian Union of Gospel Christian Baptists
(RUGCB) focuses on interfaith cooperation and targeted outreach to
Russian elite to overcome mainstream biases toward non-traditional
religions. The main venue for their outreach is an annual National
Prayer Breakfast, modeled on Washington's. Their hope for future
membership growth based upon the unlikely conversion of ruling
political leaders exemplifies the long odds non-traditional
religions (i.e., not Russian Orthodox, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism)
face in changing society's religious views. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Chipping Away at Religion's Tie to Identity, Politics
--------------------------------------------- --------

2. (SBU) PolOff met September 3 with the Head of Internal Issues
for the RUGCB Vitaliy Vlasenko and President of the Russian Center
for Church Multiplication Dr. Petr Sautov, who claimed that
religious minorities in Russia have faced increased persecution
since the late 1990s. Vlasenko said that Russians often equated
non-traditional religious believers with non-Russians. He related
personal experiences of how strangers had approached him and called
him a foreign spy and enemy of the Russian government because of his
minority faith. Nevertheless, Vlasenko expressed optimism that
eventually all Russians would realize that Russian believers of
non-traditional faith love Russia as much as anyone.

3. (SBU) Vlasenko and Sautov agreed that the government respects
the right of minority religions to exist but places limits on their
ability to grow, particularly outside Moscow. Vlasenko said that
officials have obstructed the RUGCB's plans to acquire land to build
additional churches, and that landlords, instructed by political
figures, raised the rent on their meeting places in order to make
them prohibitively expensive.

4. (SBU) Sautov was emphatic that what he termed "the Government's
nationalist ideology and propaganda" influenced the limits placed on
minority religions. He said that a level playing field would
provide credibility to non-traditional religions, resulting in their
growth. Politicians, Sautov claimed, have been unable to control the
leaders of minority religions and have responded by limiting their
growth. Vlasenko temporized that while it was unfortunate that
ignorance and negative media portrayals have led to incorrect
assumptions about his beliefs, President Medvedev may improve the
situation.

--------------------------
Hoping for Top Down Growth
--------------------------

5. (SBU) Vlasenko and Sautov are coordinating the 10th annual
Russian National Prayer Breakfast, tentatively scheduled for March,
2010. They greatly appreciated Ambassador Beyrle's participation in
the same event last year and have planned to invite a wide array of
international representatives, including U.S. political, business,
and religious leaders. The two men hoped that the Breakfast would
be conducive to interaction among foreign and Russian leaders such
that the latter would hear how other countries valued religious
freedom. Sautov contended that access to Russian leaders at the
Breakfast was critical to the RUGCB because religious freedom would
come to Russia only when a senior Russian leader became a member of
a non-traditional religion.

--------
Comment:
--------

6. (SBU) While Vlasenko and Sautov's ambitions for the Breakfast
appear lofty, their desire to use the event as a forum to discuss
the role of religion in democratic societies may genuinely broaden
the discussion of religion and government in this spiritually
conservative society. Their vision of on-the-spot, elite
conversions, however, probably will remain elusive in a nation where
administrative resources are routinely used to constrain minority
church expansion and one's religion can help or hinder career
aspirations.

BEYRLE

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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