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Dispute over the sanctioning religious leaders – the case of Patriarch Kirill

As a close ally of President Putin, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill was included in the fifth package of sanctions taken against Russia by the European Commission. As the Hungarian government opposed this step, the Patriarch was finally removed from the list of Russian individuals under EU sanctions.

Prime Minister Orbán referred, on the one hand, to the position of some Orthodox churches in Hungary who insisted on unhindered contact with the Russian religious leader. On the other hand, a deeper reason was given by underlining the special role of religion: “We want peace, and without the participation of the leaders of churches there cannot be peace.” – as the Prime Minister formulated in a letter to Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel. Cutting the ties between the Patriarch and the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church in the European Union would cause a peculiar precedent. The vicinity of the Patriarch to state organs is beyond dispute, on the one hand, on the other hand, however, maintaining some kind of dialogue seems essential. It has to be noted that Pope Francis continues to build ties with Patriarch Kirill and searches for dialogue. The position of an Orthodox religious leader in an Eastern country is certainly very different from that of a religious leader in the West.

A possible effect of not extending sanctions to religious leaders could be that Russia continues to tolerate foreign (and foreign-born) clergy functioning in the country. It has to be noted that in the past a number of Catholic clergy have been denied visas to Russia, and other religious minorities have also faced similar difficulties. The situation of Catholic bishops (who originally come from Italy, Germany and Poland) is a delicate issue in Russia.

D 20 June 2022    ABalázs Schanda

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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