03/17/2009, 00.00
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Medvedev steers religions toward young people, but blocks Jehovah's witnesses

The Russian president is involving the traditional confessions in programs on behalf of young people. The Kremlin wants to reinforce relations with the Orthodox, make the Patriarch of Moscow a point of reference for all religions, and attribute a strong political value to his position. Jehovah's Witnesses accused of social isolation.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In order to instill moral and religious values in young people, President Medvedev will personally lead the Council on Cooperation with Religious Associations.

It will be attended by the president of the Council of Muftis, Ravil’ Gajnutdin, chief rabbi Berl Lazar, and the president of the traditional Buddhists, Damba Ajušeev. The Orthodox delegation will have the most extensive representation, and will even include Patriarch Kirill himself, metropolitan archbishops Juvenalij and Kliment, Archbishop Aleksandr, head of the youth department, the rector of the Moscow Theological Academy, Evgenij, and Bishop Feofilakt, head of cooperation with the religious associations of Moscow.

The head of the Kremlin has affirmed that the young generations must rediscover their religious roots after the vacuum of values generated by the Soviet era, and reinforced during the 1990's. For the president, the lack of moral points of reference especially affects the age group between 14 and 30, which represents about a fourth of the overall population. In the Year of Youth, which is being celebrated in 2009, the state wants to develop a more effective youth policy, taking advantage of the collaboration of religious associations on both the federal and regional level, and continuing the cooperation already established in the area of the family.

For various commentators and experts, Medvedev's statements on the importance of religion in the life of the country and his direct involvement with various representatives of the traditional confessions document the intention of the Kremlin to take a step forward in relations between the state and the Orthodox Church, to confirm the Patriarch of Moscow as a point of reference for all the religions in the Federation, and to attribute a strong political value to his position. Deacon Andrej Kuraev, a famous and very influential theologian, has called the intensification of relations between the state and the Orthodox Church a "resumption of the Byzantine harmony."

But while a new and lasting association seems to have begun between the Patriarchate and the Kremlin, the situation is very different for many of the other religions present in the Federation. In February, the attorney general of the Federation sent the administrative committee of the Jehovah's Witnesses a letter accusing the members of the Russian community of "violations of the law," "abstention from military service," and "social isolation," behaviors that "evoke negative attitudes on the part of the populace and traditional Russian confessions."

The representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses reject the accusations, and say that this is just the latest act of violence against them on the part of the authorities. Appealing to the Russian Constitution and the European Court on Human Rights, they complain of systematic violation of their religious freedom and civil rights, which has so far led to the opening of more than 45 legal procedures against their communities scattered throughout the country. The Jehovah's Witnesses reject the accusation of sectarianism lodged against them by the Russian authorities, and respond by denouncing illegal arrests, confiscations, searches, and detentions against the faithful and their property.

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