First they targeted homosexuals, then the Pastafarians. Now Russia guns for ‘atheist extremists’.

“FOREIGN sponsored atheist extremism” has been identified by a group of Russian Orthodox Church activists as posing a threat to the country, and to religion in particular.

To combat this evil they plan on setting up a centre against “atheist extremism” in Moscow.

According to this report, the decision was announced this week at a meeting between city residents and deputies of a district council. The conflab was held near the pilgrimage centre of the Moscow Patriarchate, in south-west Moscow. The new group later issued a statement saying:

Atheist extremism is currently rearing its head. It is sponsored by various funds and NGOs with roots outside Russian borders.

The group claims that their enemies are opposing citizens’ lawful right for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, guaranteed by the Constitution.

Gay rights activist Kirill Kalugin was attacked in St Petersburg earlier this month while staging a one-man protest of Russia's anti-gay law. He was roughed up by former servicemen who had gathered in in the city to celebrate Russian Paratroopers Day.

Gay rights activist Kirill Kalugin was attacked in St Petersburg earlier this month while staging a one-man protest of Russia’s anti-gay law. He was roughed up by former servicemen who had gathered in in the city to celebrate Russian Paratroopers Day.

In particular, the activists listed incidents when “certain people” protested against the construction of new churches. This created:

An artificial psychosis and pumped up hysteria by intimidating the public.

The statement emphasised the fact that “atheist extremists” were often acting on behalf of local residents by creating grassroots groups, but:

The real masterminds preferred to remain in the dark.

The Moscow City authorities, together with the Russian Orthodox Church, are currently implementing the so-called “Program-200” –  a plan that calls for the erection of  200 Orthodox churches throughout the capital in the next 10 to 15 years.

Pastafarian and proud: Russian authorities failed to see the humour in a march of Flying Spaghetti Monster devotees, and violently broke up the parade. Click on pic for report.

Pastafarian and proud: Russian authorities failed to see the humour in a recent parade of Flying Spaghetti Monster devotees, and violently broke up the parade. Click on pic for report.

Russian mass media estimated that the cost of the programme would be around $1 billion. Financing would come from a non-government fund. The architects of the scheme claimed that after it is implemented there will be a church for every 20,000 residents located one kilometre or less from residential areas.

The scheme is said to be popular among the religious lobby but it has already met resistance. The Communists and the veteran pro-democracy party, Yabloko, officially voiced protests against new churches and many citizens believe the scheme is unnecessary.

Also, the Program-200 is being carried out, according to the report:

In times of especially sharp discourse between religious and agnostic parts of the Russian society. It first started in mass media but became much more real after several girls who called themselves feminist punk band Pussy Riot launched a short gig against the merger between the church and the state in Moscow’s main Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

The punks were put on trial and sentenced to two years each for aggravated hooliganism. After the incident Russian legislators passed a law on protection of believers’ feelings – making any public insult of an official religion a criminal offence punishable with up to three years behind bars.

The Pussy Riot trial and the fresh law prompted an even broader wave of protests across the country – sometimes taking radical forms, such as the felling of memorial crosses in several villages. More often, however, journalists and bloggers gave critical appraisal to the lush lives of church hierarchs and even ordinary clerics, like the case of Hegumen Timofey – a dean of one of Moscow churches who gained notoriety in mid-2012 by causing a major car crash while driving drunk in a BMW Z4 with diplomatic license plates.

In September 2012 the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill said in a public speech that Christianity was under a concerted attack from forces who opposed the national revival of Russians, noting that the alleged merger between the church and the authorities was a deliberately created myth.