Interfaith group in FSU to focus on terrorism and tolerance

Interfaith group in ex-Soviet Union to focus on terrorism and tolerance

By Lev Krichevsky

MOSCOW, March 29 (JTA) – A new interfaith group in the former Soviet
Union has passed a resolution condemning terrorism – and could become
a defender of minority rights in the region.`True-believing Orthodox
Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists would never step onto a path of
terror. We are convinced that the people who have conscientiously
become terrorists have denied their own faith,’ read the resolution
passed earlier this month at the Interreligious Council of the
Commonwealth of Independent States.

The organization was formed at the Second Interreligious Peacemaking
Forum of CIS Countries, held in Moscow under the aegis of the Russian
Orthodox Church, the region’s largest faith.

Some observers believe the forum and the interfaith group it created
signaled an important political and diplomatic victory for the Russian
Orthodox Church, which has seen its political influence over the
Russian leadership grow in recent years.

The new interfaith organization `should strengthen the position of the
Moscow patriarchate in Russia itself, forcing the government to view
it as an influential participant in international relations,’ said a
commentary posted at, an independent Russian Web site
devoted to religious affairs.

Jewish religious leaders joined clerics representing major faiths from
across the former Soviet Union in the interfaith group, which seeks to
maintain peace and religious and ethnic stability in the region.

The event at Moscow’s St. Daniel’s Orthodox Monastery was attended by
Russian Orthodox clergy and leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church,
the Georgian Orthodox Church, and Muslim and Buddhist clerics from all
of the region’s post-Soviet states, except for Latvia, Lithuania
and Estonia.

Notably absent from the forum and the new interfaith structure were
Catholics and members of various Protestant churches. Most of the
former Soviet countries denied those groups the preferential status
accorded to Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews.

The Jewish community was represented at the forum by leaders of two
major competing groups: the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations
and Communities and the Federation of Jewish Communities.

Jewish leaders gave high marks to the forum, saying the region’s
minorities would benefit from the ties that clerics of different
faiths forged at the two-day event.

`The most important thing at this forum is our communication, the fact
that it ‘s taking place,’ Aron Vagner, a Chabad rabbi from
Siberia,told a news agency. `When we get back to our communities,
people will be pleased to learn that representatives of different
confessions can find areas of common interest, the issues where all of
us can come to an agreement.’

Some of the participants proposed that clerics serve as peacekeepers
in conflict zones in parts of the former Soviet Union.

The composition of the Interreligious Council’s presidium reflectedthe
division between Jewish groups in Russia and Ukraine – two chief
rabbis from each country became members of the group’s 22-member
governing body.

`The Interreligious Council can become a powerful defender of the
minorities in our countries,’ said Zinovy Kogan, chairman of the
Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Communities of Russia,
who became treasurer of the interfaith group.

`The new organization is undoubtedly a political breakthrough’
for the Russian Orthodox Church, he said. `But having Judaism under
the wing of politically more powerful religious groups – this could
benefit the Jewish community.’

Kogan and other Jewish participants said they expected the new group
would coordinate clerics’ responses on cases of xenophobia,
anti-Semitismand hate crimes.