5 january, 2010 19:22  

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at the Moscow-based Saint Daniel’s Monastery. Mr Putin and His Holiness discuss aspects of cooperation between the state and the church


Minister of Culture Alexander Avdeyev and Yury Petrov, Head of the Federal State Property Management Agency have also taken part in the conversation.

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting: 

Vladimir Putin: Your Holiness, we are meeting to discuss working issues, primarily mundane issues. However, our meeting is taking place on the threshold of Christmas, a very special religious holiday. Allow me to congratulate you on this bright holiday at the beginning of our conversation and to wish you good health and every success in your selfless religious service.

The church is doing a lot to educate our citizens in the spirit of patriotism, love for the Fatherland, and it instills love for our spiritual values and our history.

For centuries, people from various religions have congratulated each other and rejoiced together during festive times. Although we are now living through difficult times together, we have become used to congratulating each other during holidays. I am confident that Russia's Orthodox Christians will receive numerous congratulations from representatives of other religions today, tomorrow and the day after. Allow me and my colleagues to convey the best wishes to you and all Orthodox Christians and to congratulate you on this holiday.

But we have proposed this meeting today in order to discuss issues linked with the cooperation that is developing between the state and the church. As we see it, such cooperation has been very effective in the past few years. Starting in 2005, about 100 churches and monasteries have been returned to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Considerable property, primarily icons, church vessels and Orthodox Christian holy relics, including those from the Moscow Kremlin's museums and the St. Petersburg-based Russian Museum, has been returned. Such artifacts often have substantial artistic and historical value.

At the same time, there are certain problems. We have 12,000 historical and architectural monuments that are either managed by the federal Government or by regional authorities. Most of them have already been transferred to church organisations, including the Russian Orthodox Church. Some of them are in a deplorable state and are not being transferred.

Some of these buildings house various agencies, primarily cultural institutions. Naturally, questions linked with material support pursuant to the transfer of such facilities arise in this context. Moreover, this process should not create new problems. Speaking of cultural institutions, they also educate our citizens and preserve the traditions of our culture and history.

Naturally, we will never forget the role played by cultural activists in preserving Russian Orthodox holy relics and those of other congregations, including traditional Russian congregations, during the Soviet era which was a very difficult period for religious organisations.

We should not forget that their efforts made it possible to preserve the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed on Moscow's Red Square, as well as the great masterpieces of Theophanes the Greek and Andrei Rublyov. Of course, this process is primarily linked with the financing of such activity. But I am confident that you and we will find the relevant solutions while relying on those good relations between the state and the church which continue to develop. Our solutions should not destroy anything that has been created in previous years but should help to return all rightful property to religious organisations with due financial support.

As you know, we now rely on the Law on Religious Organisations. However, such legal regulation is not enough. The Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Culture have now drafted another bill on transferring previously owned property to religious organisations. This is the first thing.

Second, the Ministry of Culture has drafted yet another bill and has submitted it to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economic Development. This implies the restoration of those religious facilities having artistic and historical value but which are already owned by religious organisations. It is common knowledge that the state is now unable to directly finance restoration projects in this respect. Nonetheless, we have stipulated over 2 billion roubles for restoring facilities currently owned by the Church. I propose discussing all these issues in great detail today.

Patriatch Kirill: Thank you, Mr Putin, for this opportunity to meet with you on the threshold of Christmas and allow me to cordially congratulate you and to wish you divine assistance in your lofty service bestowed unto you by God and to bless all your friends and family and to wish them good health. Of course, I also wish the same to your team which now works together with you and which, in my opinion, implements many highly important projects even during this difficult time for the country.

I recall our spiritual state on the threshold of 2009 when the word ‘crisis" had resounded so terribly. Indeed, it was largely unclear what lay in store for the country. All of us also comprehended a multitude of risks.

Today, we can say the year has passed, and that various things which could have inflicted great suffering on the people did not happen. Although the year was difficult and was accompanied by various unpleasant events, including industrial accidents and disasters based on evil human will, I think that your Government has taken such steps and implemented such measures that prevented the unwinding crisis from demolishing all that which was created through such tremendous efforts in the past few years.

This is why I avail myself of this opportunity to thank you for these efforts on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church.

I think it is very important to discuss the subject proposed by you. I share the same assessment of cultural activists' work to preserve our national and religious wealth in difficult years when political decisions were frequently made with regard to values, including church values, by people who were not predisposed to making correct decisions and who, frankly speaking, lacked the required competence.

In some cases, cultural activists served selflessly and even in a self-sacrificing manner linked with specific risks. You have mentioned the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, also known as the Cathedral of Intercession, on Red Square. But for the extremely courageous stand of architect Pyotr Baranovsky and the tremendous risk he took, this icon could have vanished from Red Square.

Not only did cultural activists preserve all these treasures, but many of them serviced these masterpieces and told the people about them. At that time, they accomplished what the church was unable to do. They made very important and often religious commentary during guided tours, helping people to understand what they could not understand from school curricula and other tutorial programmes.

This is why we remain grateful to those cultural activists who preserved specific values and helped many of our compatriots understand the essence of this spiritual heritage.

A country which continues to develop and which also reinstates its own traditions faces the prospect of reinstating churches, monasteries and convents. At the same time, cultural institutions must receive the required buildings and premises where this work of national importance can continue.

In my opinion, we should build a system that would rule out certain haste on the one hand and lengthy expectations on the other. Because I think the time has come when Russia can afford to provide the church and its national culture with all the necessities for their common service.

I want to thank you for recognising this common aspect, namely, spiritual, patriotic and aesthetic education without which human life pales in conditions of modern technical civilisation. I think that culture and church must now work hand in hand to harmonise human relations and to help modern humankind preserve the parameters of spiritual life.

This is why I cordially thank you and your colleagues for this opportunity to meet on the threshold of Christmas and to discuss these important issues.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, your holiness. As you know, the transfer process is not proceeding as quickly as we would like, but is nonetheless proceeding. I have recently visited Vladivostok and announced the transfer of yet another facility, a convent, to the Russian Orthodox Church there. I want to tell you that we plan to completely release the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow throughout 2010 and to transfer it to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch Kirill: Thank you. This is very important news, considering the historical and spiritual significance of the Novodevichy Convent for Moscow and the entire country. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: But there are also some problems. As you know, the Moscow-based Literary Museum is sited in a local monastery. There are also problems in Ryazan, but we manage to overcome these problems more often than not. In some cases, we use buildings together, albeit temporarily. Nonetheless, this is happening the way it has happened in Solovki, for example.

Patriarch Kirill: Just like the example of Saint Sergius - Trinity Laura, the Solovki example is very positive. Educated and competent Fathers-Superior capable of running monasteries and maintaining museums have been appointed museum directors in both cases. The Saint Sergius - Trinity Laura example is very positive. If we manage to implement all this in Solovki in full measure, then all the problems there would be removed in a natural way.

The process is already underway, and I am receiving very positive information from the Father-Superior. We hope that the entire process of reviving the Solovetsky archipelago will be invigorated.

Vladimir Putin: If you don't mind, I would like to give the floor to the Minister of Culture.

Alexander Avdeyev: Thank you, Your Holiness, for this cooperation, as well as daily and constant mutual understanding and respect between the Church's servants and Ministry of Culture officials. Mutual understanding and mutual respect between the Church's servants and Ministry of Culture officials because we are really trying to reinstate what we can, including both churches and icons. We are trying to transfer everything that you can and want to accept, so that the church can store or own them. The preservation of museums is also very important because museum officials face natural problems. You have remarked correctly that not everything is being solved quickly, including museum-related issues.

For instance, take the Ipatyev Monastery in Kolomna which was transferred as a result of Mr Putin's decision. Substantial funding has been allocated for the restoration of the Ipatyev Monastery. The museum which holds almost 700,000 exhibits was also removed from the monastery. The museum has not reopened because it still lacks premises. But this is an exceptional case. We want to avoid stockpiling museum exhibits in the future through cooperation with your officials and to transfer museums in such a way so that they can function in their complete form.

Such is our current approach to the Moscow-based Vwerkhne-Petrovsky Monastery housing the Literary Museum and manuscripts of our brilliant and outstanding writers.

We will see to it that the Museum receives proper premises. The Federal State Property Management Agency is constantly assisting us. We are now searching for museum premises. Naturally, the monastery should get its premises back, which have been consecrated through the ages.

Each year, we restore and renovate 80 to 100 churches, cathedrals and other facilities on the property of convents and monasteries. Substantial funding is to be allocated for this purpose in 2010. Mr Putin has already mentioned the nearly 2 billion roubles that will be allocated for the restoration and renovation of churches, monasteries and convents. This is less than last year. The sum total which is 23% less exceeds budget sequestration. Anyway, we have exerted an effort and will restore these facilities based on your list.

Moreover, we are allocating considerable funding for the restoration of mosques, Buddhist datsans (monasteries) and synagogues used by Russia's traditional religions. Although they are not very expensive, we want to react promptly to your requests and those of other Russian congregations.

I'd say the transfer of icons does not present many problems, as one can judge by the media reports.

Patriarch Kirill: Exactly.

Alexander Avdeyev: For instance, the Our Lady Odigitria of Toropets Icon was given away with the full consent of the Russian Museum. Representatives of the Tretyakov Picture Gallery and the Grabar Centre were present during a study of the capsule containing that icon. All of them unanimously agreed that the Space Age capsule offered ideal conditions, and that this icon which is among the oldest and holiest of Russian Orthodox icons could be transferred for temporary storage.

In the case of inadequate storage conditions, you do not insist on such transfers and restorers also advise against them. For instance, Suzdal is now studying the possibility of transferring five icons from the Rublyov Museum. However, restorers do not recommend this because the icons may be damaged during shipment and may be stored in conditions that do not meet the museum's standards. As a rule, we reach agreement on all these issues with the dioceses, metropolitans and archbishops. Again, our current cooperation is better than is being portrayed by the media.

Moreover, I would like to draw attention to the work of archives. Many of our archives are located in churches and cathedrals. Numerous archives have been relocated. Many of their premises have been transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church in the past few years. This includes five major churches located separately or in monasteries.

I also want to say that we offer assistance on everyday matters. We have transferred about 140 icons to the Starocherkassky Monastery. This is an entire huge and unique iconostasis. Of course, we will retain the iconostases in the Novodevichy Convent. One of its churches lacks an iconostasis which will be relocated, transferred and stored accordingly.

Patriarch Kirill: People have worried about the future of the iconostasis.

Alexander Avdeyev: Yes, I met with His Eminence Yuvenaly the other day and have assured him that everything will be OK. The Novodevichy Convent will have what it rightfully deserves.

Your Holiness, we are carefully trying to restore everything and to react attentively to your requests because some artifacts and facilities are not restored adequately due to a less than effective restoration system.

It has now become customary to criticise the 94th law. I too, would like to criticise it. A company which offers the smallest sum for repairs wins the tender. This front company subsequently resells repair rights for even less to some good organisation and pockets the profits. Consequently, we have to put up with all these conventions and receive inadequately restored facilities.

We are currently drafting amendments to the 94th law on orders from Mr Putin. This will make it possible to avoid such sad occurrences. Overall, I would like to note that we have already created an extremely cooperative system of relations. In my opinion, this system is effective and reliable and highlights complete mutual trust and respect.

Patriarch Kirill: Thank you. I share your position.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Avdeyev, as you have said, somewhat less funding will be allocated for the restoration of churches, cathedrals, convents and monasteries in 2010 compared to 2009. But am I correct in assuming that such funding will not fall below 2008 levels?

Alexander Avdeyev: Yes, 23% less than 2009 but the same amount as in 2008.

Vladimir Putin: 2008 was a good year in terms of implementing the budget. Budgetary expenditures were quite substantial at that time. On the whole, this is acceptable.

The 94th law has its drawbacks. Why doesn't a good organisation offer competitive prices when it is obtaining a cheaper contract from some feeble organisation? But we will discuss this issue separately.

Speaking of legal support, the Federal State Property Management Agency transfers religious facilities to religious organisations. The Agency's Head, Mr Yury Petrov who is present here, will comment on several aspects of this issue. Mr Petrov, you have the floor.

Yury Petrov: Yes, Your Holiness, I want to say that the transfer of facilities to religious organisations has become more intense in the past 2-3 years. As has already been noted, over 100 facilities have been transferred to date. At least a hundred are currently in the process of being transferred. But there are certain problems, including legal snags.

We are now transferring facilities to religious organisations under the Government's resolution No. 490 which does not clarify all the issues. A bill on the transfer of facilities to religious organisations which is now being drafted is expected to eliminate the ambiguities.

For instance, it is very important to solve everything at the level of discussion. The Federal State Property Management Agency prioritises the transfer of only those facilities which had been owned by the church and for the restoration of historical justice. Moreover, it aims to transfer facilities which had been built for secular purposes but which are now used by religious organisations. Mr Putin, we do not always meet with understanding on this even at the Government Executive Office.

The Ministry of Economic Development supports us when we prepare materials for transferring specific facilities to the Church. However, the Government Executive Office, including its Department of Culture, often returns these materials to us under the pretext that the submission was for a secular rather than a religious facility. This is why we are asking you to study this issue in greater detail.

I hope the new law will settle this matter and other issues in the near future. To my mind, we will then start transferring facilities more intensively. I believe that we will restore historical justice in the near future by transferring facilities that had been owned by the church and those facilities now being used, managed and patronised by it.

Patriarch Kirill: The latter category includes movie theatres which became completely rundown in the 1990s. At that time, local authorities transferred them to the church. Such movie theatres were converted into churches with domes and bell-towers. Those buildings are wonderful. But when the transfer issue arises, they tell us that they are registered as movie theatres and therefore cannot be transferred. However, these are really used as churches rather than movie theatres and they cannot be reconverted into movie theatres.

Vladimir Putin: Your Holiness, we have gathered here today to discuss all these issues and to expose them. All these discrepancies must be eliminated at the legislative level during the drafting of the new bill. Experts of religious organisations are also directly involved in drafting this document. Moreover, we would receive a sound legal base for pursuing the issues which we all want to resolve.

Patriarch Kirill:  We need this law very much because a document stipulating federal-property transfers to religious organisations was passed in its time and subsequently amended. However, any regulatory documents making it possible to transfer regional property to religious organisations are lacking.

In this sense, every region has its own approach. Such approaches are often determined by the stance of the local leader and sometimes by the nature of evolving relations.

Our current principled stand implies that when we are talking about the redistribution of religious buildings between federal and regional property, and when we are receiving the relevant enquiries, including those from federal departments, we would refrain from supporting such transfers pending the adoption of a universally binding federal law. In this way we eliminate a situation where much depends on individuals and personal relations. This is why we are awaiting the adoption of a new law to solve this range of problems, as well.

Vladimir Putin: This law aims to settle issues regarding federal and regional property, to regulate the use of such property and the issues pertaining to transfers to religious organisations. We are working on this right now. As far as the Department of Culture is concerned, this is, of course, linked with the fact that such buildings and facilities are used by cultural organisations in one way or another. This purely formalistic approach must, of course, be eliminated.