As of July 20th of this year, ordinary Russian citizens and foreigners living in Russia face enormous fines for sharing their beliefs, even if they do so in their own homes. This represents a new level of repression of free speech and civil society in post-Soviet Russia.
Ours is a time of polarization, partisanship, and decline in religion’s influence in public life, with heated debates about government’s relationship with religion. And yet, receiving little attention but no less significant than the divisiveness, is the 20-year bipartisan cooperation over federal aid to religious organizations that serve the poor and needy.
When the regime you are engaging has invaded the territorial sovereignty of its neighbor (Ukraine, a U.S. ally), and is also on the brink of war with another one of your alliance members (Turkey) over the shooting down of one of its aircraft, it seems that the promotion of religious, civil, and political liberties is hardly a primary concern. Part I ended by asking the million-ruble question: How does the international community promote basic human rights in Russia? We first detailed the nature of religious freedom in contemporary Russia, how it has transformed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and identified the challenges facing religious communities at risk. Next we lay out several strategies of engagement, some cautious and some more ambitious.
The promotion of democracy, human rights, and religious liberty is a worthy cause. In Russia, however, these ideas are seen as imposed from the West, not compatible with Russian political culture, or intended to topple the current regime. Over the past several years, Russia has witnessed hundreds of victims of racism and ethno-religious violence. Our argument here is that Russia must still be held accountable for its failings in these areas. We believe that a change in Russia’s foreign policy will only occur if the political system itself returns to the democratic path it embarked upon in the early 1990s.
Like democracy, religious freedom in Russia today is in decline, but this transition has not been altogether linear.