March 01, 2017

Church v. State

A long-mulled decision to hand over St. Isaac’s, St. Petersburg largest cathedral, to the Russian Orthodox Church has inspired an unprecedented protest campaign. Many locals are accusing the church of disregarding the wishes of the community and trying to seize control of prestigious landmarks at all costs.

Despite the impediments to demonstrations in Russia today, in January two rallies were held to protest the decision by St. Petersburg’s governor to return the cathedral to the Church. Governor Grigory Poltavchenko claimed that refusing to hand it over would be unconstitutional, because it would violate a law passed in 2010 (in the spirit of a decision made back in the 1990s by then President Boris Yeltsin), granting the Russian Orthodox Church the right to petition for the return of religious buildings as compensation for the harm done by Soviet era anti-religion policies.

According to official statistics, some 146,000 people visited St. Isaac’s over the winter holidays (between December 15 and January 8). Given the R250 admission fee, annual income from ticket sales must be substantial, and something that may be at the center of the dispute between the church and the community.

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