At a recent convention, Russian Orthodox Church and political leaders spoke of their vision of Russia redefining its place in the world. But is it a vision everyone agrees with?

In particular, the 10th World Council of Russian People, an umbrella organization of national patriotic and public organizations, focused on two topics: the Russian Orthodox Church's interpretation of human rights and Russia's mission in the 21st century.

The council, created in 1993, brings together Russians from home and abroad and is under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.

'Russia's Uniqueness'

Opening the council on April 4, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksy II, set the anti-globalization and anti-Western tone of the event. He spoke of the "unique" historical coexistence of different confessions and nationalities in Russia. And he also questioned the concept of Western human rights.

Addressing the conference the next day, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that "Russia's uniqueness" should be defended amid the "drive of globalization." Lavrov said that Russia should transform itself into an "independent force in international politics, which fits in with its national and religious uniqueness."

Lavrov's comments were supported by many leading Russian public figures attending the convention. Some went as far as calling for a new historical mission for Russia. For example, First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska said Russia should carry out a "mission of preserving harmony between East and West."

Metropolitan Kirill, one of the church's leading ideologues, stressed another aspect of this "mission," saying some Orthodox states have already entered or will enter the European Union. In an article published in "Izvestiya" on April 5, Kirill wrote that Russia is already today "part of the general European space, at least as far as rights are concerned." That gives him the necessary grounds to call for more influence vis-�-vis the EU.

As a result, the council adopted a concluding document, calling for Russia to become "once again one of the most powerful states."

The theme of Russia's new mission in the world is in keeping with President Vladimir Putin's plans to transform Russia into an "energy superpower."

But a new poll suggests that there might not be so much popular support for the idea of Russia having a new historical mission. According to a survey carried out by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion VTsIOM in March and published on the pollster website wciom.ru, most Russians are lukewarm about the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church's new vision in foreign policy.

Thirty-four percent of respondents said they want Russia to regain its superpower status; 38 percent want Russia to be among the 10 most influential countries in the world; only 14 percent agree Russia should be a regional power; and 7 percent say Russia should back away from any global ambitions at all.

Only 11 percent want Russia to be a world center of power regulating conflicts or a bridge linking Europe and Asia, or developed with developing countries. The same percentage of respondents believe that Russia should reoccupy the former Soviet republics, but the majority believe that Russia's power should be based on economic might.

Universality Of Human Rights Questioned

Also on the agenda were discussions about the Western concept of human rights. In UN documents, human rights are natural and inalienable rights of every person from birth. But the Russian Orthodox Church contends that human rights are granted by God or by state and therefore are not inalienable.

Metropolitan Kirill, the author of the Russian Orthodox Church's human rights declaration, said that Russian clerics reject the concept of "moral autonomy" and do not consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN in 1949 to really be universal as it originated in the West.

Kirill also condemned homosexuality, abortion, gambling, and euthanasia and said the Russian Orthodox Church does not accept the liberal thesis that "human rights prevail over the interests of society."

He said that church believers and atheists have a very different understanding of notions such as "human dignity" and "rights and freedom." Sliska, speaking at the convention, accused the West of "imposing on the world the values of Western society."

The council adopted six "Russian Declarations of Human Rights." The declaration stated that"there are values that are no less important than human rights, they are: faith, morality, sacred objects, the Motherland." The document stressed that one should not allow a situation under which the concept of human rights suppresses faith and moral traditions.

The most striking provision of the document says that "freedom of choice leads to self-destruction and damages human dignity." According to the document, the church itself will be the arbitrator of good and evil: "it is the religious tradition [that is designed] to distinguish between the good and the evil."

The council perhaps shows how the Russian Orthodox Church is positioning itself to be the "ultimate guide"that the Communist Party once was in the Soviet Union. In a welcome statement to the council, President Putin endorsed that role.

There are some elements of this I find questionable but there are others I agree with. Have secular 'human rights' ever been convincingly justified? Outside of the natural law how is it possible to talk of rights that everyone has?

The things Metropolitan Kirill outlines e.g. abortion and euthanasia are not part of the natural law yet they are often considered 'human rights'. This nebulous term has given rise to some of the great tragedies in the world during the late 2nd millenium and continue to damage the fabric of Western society.

If Russia is going to rebuild itself around ecclesiastical values then by all means why shouldn't it resist the move on the part of the EU to try and force it to adopt certain things. Personally, I think the EU has far overstepped its bounds time and time again in recent years. It was created as a free trade area but is now a supranational governmental structure. On what account should EU legislators be pulling the strings of British policy? I understand that in some cases its neccessary like when you have trade disputes. But why does the grossly bloated and unpresentative EU feel it needs to involve itself in making laws about 'discrimination'? When the EU constitution was shot down that was a great day for all Europeans.
Russia under Putin truly frightens me- especially with the poisoning in London
Well like I said there are some things I find questionable in this. Given that I am a Londoner Russia's decision to take up an isolationist and more aggressive stance towards Europe en masse is one of them. Still, I can see the positives in Metropolitan Kiril's approach.
I agree with Myles and though the Metropolitan's comments are phrased in a less "culturally sensitive" way his attitudes to the way in which the concept of rights has evolved mirror those at the vatican.

We shouldn't yet link recent events in London with the Kremlin; innocent until proven guilty is still a legal concept.

Having said that there is a certain inevitability I think to the rise of Russia as a superpower based on control of energy resources. I won't get into a debate on the political reasons why I think that's so, but I think that the Metropolitan, in that context is positioning his church to have a role in resisting the incursion of some of the more undesirable consequences which have accompanied economic liberalisation in the West. It would seem positive that at least the Metropolitan has a respected voice not always given to CHurch figures in the West.


We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. United States Declaration of Independence)

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
(United States Declaration of Independence)

the Russian Orthodox Church contends that human rights are granted by God or by state (emphasis mine)and therefore are not inalienable

the Russian Orthodox Church does not accept the liberal thesis that "human rights prevail over the interests of society."


Public authority is obliged to respect the fundamental rights of the human person and the conditions for the exercise of his freedom.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2254)

The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. The se human rights depend neither on single individuals . . . nor do they represent a concession made by socieyt and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virture of the creative act from which the person took his origin.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2273)

It seems to me that if these expressions of what the Russian Orthodox Church considers to be the basis for human rights are correct in the translation, then we have little common basis for coming together to witness to the world a Christian vision. Our American statements contained in the Declaration of Independence assumes inalienable rights inherent to the human being, coming formt he Creator, but not coming from the state nor being able to be imposed on by the state. They also seem to be at odds with what the Catholic Catechism has given us as our reference for moving into the 21st century.

Do these statements seem to be a bit totalitarian or is just me?

In Christ,

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