The 10th World Russian People’s Council is to open on Tuesday in Moscow. It is expected to adopt a Universal Declaration of the Rights and Freedoms of the Human Person and to consider the initiative of Orthodox believers to establish a human rights center.
In what state does the human rights movement find itself in Russia today? What rights of believes need a special protection today? What balance of views on human rights should be reached to avoid conflicts? Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, vice-chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations and the WRPC Board member, gives answer to these and other questions in an interview to Interfax-Religion.
- Why has the Russian Orthodox Church decided to get involved in human rights?
- The World Russian People’s Council is expected to consider several themes. Human rights were among the main themes of the previous Council. It was the previous Council that gave an instruction to draft a document to reflect the view that the Russian civilization takes of the rights and freedoms of the person. A draft of this document has been worked out by a special working group led by the Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. It included theologians, secular philosophers and representatives of Orthodox public organizations. This draft is now being finalized to be considered and hopefully adopted by the present Council.
Some lay organizations have proposed to establish an Orthodox human rights center. I hope the Council will follow up this idea. No specific guidelines for the work of this center have been offered as yet. Hopefully, this idea will be given a specific form.
Many Orthodox public organizations have been already involved in the human rights advocacy, and this work is nothing new. Before the 1917 Revolution, the Church interceded for those who were treated unjustly and for those who suffered a just punishment. During the Soviet time, many Orthodox clergy were concerned for the rights of believers and defended these rights. These were not only dissidents whose names on everybody’s lips and who enjoyed a strong support of the West, but our hierarchs who had to conduct a difficult dialogue with the Soviet authorities to ensure the rights of the Church so that churches might not be closed and believers might preserve at least some freedom to confess their faith.
The archives of Soviet institutions that have been opened today shed light on the tremendous efforts - unknown to the world - hierarchs and clergy of the Russian Church made to guard the faithful against the repressions carried out by the godless totalitarian regime. The Orthodox human rights advocacy came with the perestroika and continues to this day. Suffice it to recall that Orthodox human rights advocates defended the policemen from the Moscow Region who were slandered and convicted for their struggle against dealers and those corrupted officials who covered them up.
Literary every week, His Holiness the Patriarch has to respond to various petitions to intercede for mitigation to be granted to prisoners, for aid to be given to those who are caught into trouble inside and outside Russia, for help to be rendered to those who are abased. So the intercession of the Church for people including the particular, so-called ‘petty man’ is constant.
Many believers are active in defending the human right to privacy, struggling against electronic control, insisting that the state should not interfere into personal convictions but should give to the individual an autonomous personal space. Clergy and laity working in the army and prisons have come out to oppose the abuse of people there. The Orthodox human rights advocacy has become a reality. It is bad that it is overlooked, but I hope the Council will contribute to its better coordination and publicity so that society may be engaged in it.
- What is your assessment of the state of the human rights movement in Russia today?
- We are ready to work with a variety of public forces, including human rights organizations, the views of which differ from the Church's. What we do not want to see in the future are attempts to affirm some radical-liberal view on human rights as the sole possible opinion which has no alternatives and cannot be disputed. For instance, some people believe that the freedom of creative self-expression is absolute, while in fact even the international law states that this freedom is subject to certain restrictions including those concerning the public order and the morality and interests of other people. An absolute majority of the Orthodox Christians believes that this freedom should not cause an abuse of the feelings of believers or defilement of their shrines. We should get into the way of making public policy and decisions considerate of the position of both, the former and the latter.
Some people believe that a state's integrity needs to be sacrificed to defend the interests of certain social groups, for instance separatists. At the same time, other people believe that a country's integrity should be protected even at the cost of human life. Perhaps, both views should be taken into consideration when public conflicts are settled. Our goal should be to reach such a combination of points of view on human rights, their role in society and society itself that will help us avoid a conflict of civilizations.
- What human rights should be defended in the first place today from the point of view of religious outlook?
- What needs protection today is the human right to choose an outlook in personal and bio-medical ethics. Many Christian doctors refuse to perform abortion or to promote it; many politicians are against recognizing euthanasia, sexual perversion, pornography and the like as a norm. These people should have the full freedom of expression, the freedom to influence decision-making and the right to refuse doing what their faith and conscience forbid them to do.