April 24, 2007
Yeltsin's religious freedom legacy
While cutting some church-state ties, he also restricted non-Orthodox faiths.
AFP goes with "Russia bids farewell to flamboyant Yeltsin." For Reuters, it's "Russians pay respects to flawed hero Yeltsin." The Associated Press (probably wisely) decided not to use an adjective. And it's the Associated Press that hits the religion angle the hardest:
Yeltsin, who died Monday at age 76, sometimes appeared at church services but was not seen as overtly pious. Nevertheless, the Russian Orthodox Church credits him as a key figure in its changed fortunes after decades of the Communist-era's official atheism.
"By his strength, he helped the restoration of the proper role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the life of the country and its people," church spokesman Metropolitan Kirill said in a statement.
That "proper role" is quite a loaded statement. The religion watchdog news service Forum18 and the Russian press agency Interfax have markedly different articles on Yeltsin's legacy on religious freedom. Forum18 summarizes the former president's mixed legacy: "While Yeltsin lifted some state controls over churches following the collapse of the Soviet Union, he eventually signed a controversial Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations."
For more on religious freedom in Russia, see our full coverage area.