Yesterday’s Russia Versus Today’s Russia

May 24, 2019

A church or a park? Since mid-May, a power struggle has been taking place in the Urals pitting two opposing concepts of Russian society, traditional and progressive, around the construction of a place of worship, on the very spot where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered in 1918.

It began with nocturnal gatherings, during the night of May 12-13, 2019, followed by the destruction of a fence that was erected a few days earlier on one of the green spaces in Yekaterinburg, Russia, a sign of the imminent beginning of work on the construction of St. Catherine Cathedral.

Since then, clashes and arrests have multiplied: because the defenders of the project, supported by the Kremlin, claim to have consulted the local population in advance, and are no longer reluctant to use strong-arm tactics.

Scheduled to be opened in 2023, the future building should rise to 66 meters [216 feet] in height, with a capacity for 2,500 faithful. The project must reproduce, identically, the church destroyed by the Communists in 1930.

“Yekaterinburg is the site of much tension between the Church and the local intelligentsia,” says Andrei Desnitski, a specialist in religious issues, interviewed by AFP. “This is an industrial city whose intellectual elite, formed in Soviet times, hold very secular positions,” he says.

Weighty positions which should be tackled cautiously: a recent survey shows that a minority of inhabitants—20%—support the conservation of a green space over the cathedral project.

In fact, the intentions of the protesters—relatively few, but determined—are becoming more clear day by day, taking a more political turn, as shown by this slogan chanted by the protesters: “today against the cathedral, tomorrow against Putin”…