Russian Orthodox join election fraud protests

December 13, 2011

After a week of mounting protest over alleged fraud in Russia's
parliamentary election, the Russian Orthodox Church has called for
stricter control over the election process—evidence of the extent to
which anger has spread in Russian society.

A demonstration in
Moscow Decem­ber 10 drew 25,000 people, police said, but opposition
leaders said the numbers were at least 80,000. Smaller protests were
held across Russia. The voice of the church could play a significant
role as activists plan for demonstrations on successive Saturdays.

"I
think that the situation that has taken shape must stir the authorities
and various social forces to begin a national dialogue on the format of
the electoral process and civic control over it," Arch­priest Vsevolod
Chaplin, the Moscow Patriarchate's most prominent spokes­man, told
Pravmir, a widely cited Orthodox news site, after the demonstration.

Russia's
Central Election Com­mission is often seen as allied with the Kremlin.
Demonstrators have been calling for the resignation of commission
chairman Vladimir Churov.

Chaplin told the Interfax news agency
that the church was pleased that the demonstrations were peaceful. His
statement came after days of strikingly frank statements by individual
clergy about possible election fraud.

"That priests are ready to
speak out openly about this, and speak of this with anger . . . and
speak of the possibility of public protest . . . several weeks ago, even
several days ago, it would have been impossible to imagine," Sergei
Chapnin,  editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, said in an interview.

During
the election campaign, Aleksei Pluzhnikov, a priest in Volgograd, wrote
that he had been called in on three hours' notice by the local district
government office, arriving to find a roomful of priests. They were
addressed by a bureaucrat telling them to encourage parishioners to vote
for United Russia, the party led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Volgograd Times reported that priests were among demonstrators in Volgograd. —ENInews