Russian atheists launch group to fight for equal rights with believers

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, center, during a religious procession along the historic Peter Road from the Moscow Kremlin to the High Monastery of Saint Peter. © Sergey Pyatakov
The Atheists of Russia movement has held its founding convention in Moscow, setting its primary goal as resistance to the growing influence of religion and appointing an activist from a vocal leftist party as its leader.

According to Interfax about 300 people from 50 regions across Russia took part in the founding convention. They declared that their group will fight against the influence of religious institutions on society.

Believers and atheists must have equal rights, the state has no right to interfere with the activities of any church, but the same applies to religions – they have no right to interfere with the affairs of the state,” the newly appointed leader of the movement, Ilya Ulianov, told reporters on Friday.

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Ulianov said that the Russian Orthodox Church was more active than other confessions in attempts to extend its influence over all areas of social life. He also noted that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation had an agreement with the Russian Orthodox Church, depriving Russian atheists of a solid political platform.

Before heading the atheist movement, Ulianov occupied a position in the supreme council of the Communists of Russia party – a relatively small but media-savvy group registered in 2012 that remains in open conflict with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), which is the largest opposition party in parliament and the official heir to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The Communists of Russia are not known for any major legislative initiatives or political moves, but regularly remind the public of their presence by exploiting the latest fads and media sensations. Recent stunts include: a threat to launch mass protests if US actor Leonardo Di Caprio gets to play Vladimir Lenin; a proposal to ban handheld monopods, aka ‘selfie sticks’ at street celebrations on Victory Day; an initiative to bar US athletes from participating in the 2014 Sochi Olympics; and a plea to the Central Bank to restrict sales of foreign currency to citizens.

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However, there is at least some truth in Ulianov’s statements about an agreement between the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the church. The KPRF has been trying to please its aging voters for many years – its leaders have often taken part in ceremonies and made public statements about similarities between Communism and Christianity.

The latest such announcement came in late April, shortly before Russian Orthodox Easter, which fell on May 1 this year – the day also marked as the holiday celebrating international solidarity of the working class. KPRF leader Gennadiy Zyuganov commented on this fact by saying that “Jesus Christ was the first Communist in the new era. He raised his voice for the poor and needy, for the sick and miserable… If he was alive, he would be in our columns,” Zyuganov said.