Window on Eurasia: A NIMBY Protest at Moscow’s Three Faiths’ Square

by Paul A. Goble  |  May 3, 2005  |  ARTICLES

Residents of Moscow’s Otradnoye district last week demonstrated against the planned construction of a Russian Orthodox Church on the only parkland near their homes, the latest of a series of "Not in My Back Yard” (NIMBY) protests in the Russian Federation against houses of worship of various faiths.

The Otradnoye residents, according to a report in „Rossiiskaya gazeta” cited by the Islamnews.ru agency, said that they saw no need for yet another church given that there is already a church, a mosque and a synagogue situated on the periphery of that „green oasis.”(http://www.islamnews.ru/utl/info.php?dt=2005-05-07&type=rus&id=1014)

Jokingly referring to their park as already being „Three Faiths Square,” the protesters told the newspaper that the construction of yet another church there would not correspond to the interests either of the Russian Orthodox Church or of the region’s residents, both old and young.

In this case, the residents of the region appear to have the law on their side. Galina Kornitskaya, the head of the local ecological movement, told „Rossiiskaya gazeta” that the Moscow City government on January 19, 1999, had prohibited any construction in the park, a decision she said her group would seek to have reaffirmed.

This demonstration against the construction of a house of worship attracted media attention both because it involved an Orthodox Church and because it took place in the Russian capital. But NIMBY demonstrations against the construction of churches, mosques, and synagogues are becoming increasingly common across the Russian Federation.

Opposition from neighborhood groups has delayed or even blocked the construction of mosques in the North Caucasus, the Middle Volga, and both Moscow and Saint Petersburg over the last several years.  And it has also slowed or even prevented the building of synagogues, Protestant churches, and Orthodox institutions across the country as well.

Indeed, only three days after the Moscow neighborhood group demonstrated against the possible construction of a church there, another group, this time in the Karelian city of Petrozavodsk lodged a similar protest against the construction of a church in a residential neighborhood (http://www.islamnews.ru/utl/info.php?dt=205-05-28&type=rus&id=1022).

Sometimes, as in the case of the Otradnoye protest last week, the demonstrations against the building of religious institutions seems to reflect no more than the anger people everywhere often feel when planned construction theatens to change their neighborhood or promises to increase traffic through it.

On other occasions, these demonstrations appear to reflect popular hostility to the appearance of institutions that local residents see as reflecting the arrival of outsiders of whom they are suspicious.  That seems to be the primary explanation for much of the opposition to the construction of mosques in traditionally Russian areas.

And at still other times, these NIMBY-style protests appear to be the work of local officials who invoke them as an explanation of why they cannot allow the construction of this or that institution or on occasion to extract greater payments from groups who hope to erect this or that house of worship.

Much of the attention given to these protests by the Russian media and human rights activists have stressed the second and third of these factors not only because they are undoubtedly prevalent but because reporting about these events tends to be generated in the first instance by those whose building plans have been  put on hold.

But what is at least as important about such NIMBY protests in many cases is that they reflect the emergence at