Faith defender: Orthodox politician seeks ombudsman post for traditional religions

View of the Qolsarif mosque, left, and the Annunciation Cathedral in the Kazan Kremlin (RIA Novosti / 
Maksim Bogodvid)
A staunchly Christian St. Petersburg MP known for his anti-gay statements has prepared a bill to create the position of ‘ombudsman for believers’ rights’, who would defend followers of Russian Orthodox Church, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.

MP of the St. Petersburg City legislature Vitaly Milonov told Izvestia daily that Russia had a lot of officials responsible for various aspects of human rights and defending various social groups.

However, the authorities have never considered a special representative for the rights of believers, even though religious people can be described as the most numerous social group in Russia.

Milonov said that in recent years believers in Russia had suffered regular attacks and provocations by various malcontents who wanted to start a religious strife and instigate hatred towards certain religions.

The Church remains one of the most unprotected institutes in the community. There is no mechanism in the country that defends the rights of religious communities and individual believers,” the lawmaker said.

He added that currently most people preferred to fight against the various manifestations of disrespect towards religion without paying attention to the root of the problem.

According to Milonov’s bill, the successful candidate must be chosen jointly by representatives of ‘traditional’ religions (these religions are not defined by law, but mass media and officials often use the term to describe the Russian Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, Judaism and Buddhism).

I don’t think that this person must necessarily be a cleric, but he must possess some definite moral values of a healthy conservative,” the lawmaker added.

READ MORE: One more time about Pussy Riot rights (Op-Ed)

The suggestion caused a mixed reaction among Russian officials and religious figures.

The deputy head of the Orthodox Church’s Department for Community Interaction, Roman Bagdasarov, said in press comments that the decision could be made only by broad public consensus, as religious beliefs were a very private thing that should never be subjected to administrative regulations.

The Spiritual Directorate of Muslims in European Russia’s Damir Khazrat supported the idea, but added that the ombudsman must be given aides who work only for their religions.

Rabbi Zinovy Kogan, vice-president of the Congress of Jewish Communities of Russia, said that the new ombudsman’s position would be redundant as all its functions can be performed by the recently-instituted Federal Agency for Nationalities.

The head of the State Duma Committee for Public and Religious Organizations, Yaroslav Nilov, called Milonov’s initiative “strange” and said it was not even worth discussing. Nilov added that he saw Milonov’s initiative only as an attempt to attract public attention by using religious controversies.

Vitaly Milonov has gained nationwide notoriety over the past few years for various ultra-conservative initiatives, from seeking a ban on child beauty pageants to proposing the prohibition of Apple products in Russia because the company’s CEO Tim Cook is openly gay.

In November last year, Russian Senator Konstantin Dobrynin (Arkhangelsk Region) even suggested investigating Milonov over public calls for terrorism, claiming that the St. Petersburg politician has repeatedly and insistently made statements banned under the Federal Law against Extremism. Law enforcers have so far not supported Dobrynin’s initiative.