Russian church head urges political action after protests
Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill urged authorities Saturday to respond to mass anti-government protests, which alleged vote-rigging in December polls won by Vladmir Putin's party.
AFP - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, on Saturday urged the authorities to change their policies in response to mass protests against fraud-tainted December polls.
"The objective is for properly expressed protests to lead to an adjustment of the political course, that is the most important thing," Kirill said in an interview on state television on Orthodox Christmas Day.
"If the authorities remain insensitive to the expressions of protest, that is a very bad sign, a sign of the inability of the authorities to self-adjust."
The patriarch responded to a specific question about how the Church views the protests alleging vote-rigging in parliamentary polls won by Vladimir Putin's party.
His views are highly influential in a country where around 70 percent call themselves Russian Orthodox believers.
The interview was broadcast after more than 2 million people, by official police estimates, attended midnight services on Friday for Orthodox Christmas, celebrated as a public holiday on Saturday.
The patriarch warned protesters they could be manipulated and risk destroying the country as in the 1917 revolution that saw the Bolsheviks overthrow the Tsarist regime following street protests.
"Then, we were unable to retain balance and wisdom. We destroyed our country. And why? Because people's generally fair protests are very cleverly used by those political forces that strive for power," he said.
And he stressed his "deep conviction" that the current authorities would be able to "correctly decide the development of the country and promote the prosperity of our society."
The Church has close links with the authorities and its stance can influence political decisions.
The patriarch acknowledged this, saying that "our parishioners are among those who were on the square and among those whom they were protesting against on the square," referring to the first mass protest on a central Moscow square.
The carefully balanced tone of the interview contrasted with earlier comments from the Church that focused critically on protesters.
The patriarch's first official comment in December on the wave of protests warned of the danger that the Internet could be used to foment bloodshed on the scale of the Arab Spring revolts and warned against actions that "could destroy human lives."
And Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin, known for his outspoken remarks, in an interview on Thursday contemptuously called protestors "social network hamsters" who he said should be conscripted into the army.
Both members of Russia's ruling tandem attended Christmas services at midnight on Friday.
Prime Minister Putin, who hopes to return to the presidency in March elections, in a Christmas message called for the Church to continue "developing constructive cooperation with state and public institutions."
He cited spheres including supporting the family and "counteracting extremism."
The patriarch led a midnight mass at the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, with President Dmitry Medvedev and his wife Svetlana among the worshippers.