President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon,
This has turned out to be my week of meetings with leaders of Russia’s faiths, and it’s been a while since I’ve spoken with you. I would like to hear about any problems you’ve had, your suggestions on promoting civil harmony and relations between the peoples of our nation, or whether you have had any interesting programmes.
Chief Rabbi of Russia Berl Lazar: I must say that our problems have been few. Mainly, we are seeing how society overall is developing an interest in religion (we are noticing this with Judaism), how young people are going to synagogues with a great deal of interest. Right now, during the summer period, they are not in school, and we thought they would go somewhere…
Dmitry Medvedev: To some other place?
Berl Lazar: They are very interested in knowing about religious values. And this is heartening, because overall, Russia understands the value of spirituality.
Dmitry Medvedev: It’s hard for me to object, because indeed, the pull toward traditional spiritual values always helps bring peoples together and this is good, because everything else is a substitute that unfortunately can create problems for individuals and for the soundness and stability of a nation overall. I understand that you are helping us.
Berl Lazar: We are trying. I would say that here in Russia, we have some truly good experience of interethnic, interfaith dialogue and relations. For young people, it is important to understand that these are things uniting us. The opposite is indeed dangerous, and can lead to what we sometimes see – extremism, nationalism – which is bad for us and for the country overall.
Dmitry Medvedev: Certainly, the battle with these kinds of problems, as well as people’s perceptions and habits, mundane and otherwise, begins at a fairly young age.
People who feel they are part of a large nation are never afflicted by nationalism. But the alternative is people who feel disconnected and unhappy, who have a sense of injustice stemming from some kind of emotional problems. This can happen to anyone because it can affect different ethnic groups, different peoples in our country.
In any case, the problems of nationalism must remain at the centre of our mutual attention, because this past year’s events have demonstrated that some very difficult conflicts can occur on an interethnic basis, and it would be best to prevent them at their earliest stage, in order not to get to the point of needing government force or repressive mechanisms, courts, etc. This is very much a problem in the relations between the government and the various faiths within our multicultural state. Here, of course, I am counting on your help.
Berl Lazar: I agree with you and would like to add that sometimes, people think it costs a lot to build a synagogue, church or temple. Why should the government participate, and occasionally allot land for this purpose? But indeed, it may be much less expensive than fighting with these problems when they become more acute. It is significantly cheaper to help religious communities and ensure a good spiritual education for young people than it is to struggle against those dangerous developments.
We are ready to do everything possible. For example, in Moscow, there are very few spiritual centres. I understand that there is a historic factor: before the revolution, this was a centre of Judaism, but today, unfortunately…
Dmitry Medvedev: Speaking of synagogues, churches and temples, places of worship, it’s true that this is a problem for Moscow overall, because whoever I speak to among religious leaders, they all say it’s an issue for Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, and all who consider themselves members of the main traditional religions.
One way or another, the municipal authorities will have to resolve this challenge while understanding that Moscow has a problem with accommodations for new social institutions. Indeed, that is why we had the idea of expanding Moscow’s size somewhat. That is a challenge for the upcoming years.