“Valdai” in Kazan, the importance of dialogue between religions, religious diversity and political stability

24 November 2022


The conditions for the sustainability of multinational and multi-confessional societies, as well as the importance of multi-religiousness in international cooperation under geopolitical tensions became one of the issues raised at the conference “Religious Polyphony and National Unity” of the International Discussion Club “Valdai” held in Kazan today.

The scientific event was attended by Russian and foreign church Hierarchs, philosophers, religious scholars, sociologists and international scholars, including Mintimer Shaimiev, State Counselor of the Republic of Tatarstan, First President of the Republic of Tatarstan; Timofey Bordachev, Program Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club; Kamil Samigullin, Mufti, Head of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Tatarstan; Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage; Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, Vicar of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia; Buda Badmaev, Shirete Lama of St. Petersburg Datsan; Alikber Alikberov, Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Ramil Khairutdinov, Director of the Institute of International Relations of Kazan Federal University; Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan and Tatarstan; Zhargal Dugdanov, Vice Rector of Dasha Choinhorlin Buddhist University and others.

Foreign guests at the conference included Alexander Rakovich, Chief Researcher at the Institute for Contemporary History of Serbia in Belgrade, and Nurhan El-Sheikh, Professor of Political Science at Cairo University, among others.

The conference was moderated by Andrey Bystritsky, Timofey Bordachev and Alexander Rakovich.

The first session of the conference entitled ‘Religious Interaction between Countries as one of the Foundations of Peace and Development” started with a video address by President of the Republic of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov. His speech set the tone for the discussions that followed. In his welcoming address the Head of the Republic said that the following year had been declared the Year of National Cultures and Traditions in Tatarstan. He spoke about his participation in the Bahrain Forum “The Importance of Dialogue between Religions”, where the Chairman of the Group of Strategic Vision “Russia – Islamic World” shared experience with the global community of how people of different faiths live in Russia in friendship and harmony. “Tatarstan is an integral part of large multinational Russia, which pays significant attention to the issues of preserving traditional values,” Rustam Minnikhanov stressed.
According to Andrey Bystritsky, it is symbolic that the Valdai Club conference is held in Kazan in the year of celebration of the historical 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria.

“Here religions with different historical backgrounds manage to coexist. The place where we are gathered today is a kind of centre of Eurasia, a meeting point of very powerful spiritual beliefs and peoples,” the moderator said.

Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan and Tatarstan began the discussion.

The spiritual leader is of the opinion that Orthodox believers are convinced that Kazan is a Christian city, just as Muslims consider Kazan to be a Muslim city. “Many families despite having different religious and national origins are very close and tolerant. Kazan is a cauldron where everything has been mixed up over the centuries. We can no longer even think of living without each other,” the Metropolitan said with great warmth about the friendly relations between Christians and Muslims in the capital of Tatarstan.

He also expressed his view that the adoption of Christianity by pagan Russia was one of the reasons European powers recognized the fatherland and elevated it in the eyes of the Muslim East, who held the belief in one God.

“Through Orthodoxy the Russian people have embraced the moral values which God revealed to mankind through Abraham, Moses and the Gospel sermon”.

Religion addresses the inner life of the individual on the one hand, and on the other one it transforms the surrounding reality, actively influencing society, culture and political life of the country and the people.

Love for the fatherland, striving for peace and harmony, respect for history, memory of ancestors, cultural heritage, common traditional and family values, humility, patience – all these are still characteristic of the multinational Russian people. And these traditions were formed with the direct participation of traditional Russian confessions,” the priest stressed.

Then Metropolitan Kirill gave a detailed analysis of the threats in modern conditions: “Today, the world is facing unprecedented challenges and we are witnessing a deliberate change in the consciousness of a large part of the population. It is Russia that is becoming an outpost of the struggle for the traditional values of all mankind, which have been formed throughout the history of our fatherland with the direct participation of Orthodoxy and other traditional religions”.

Buda Badmaev, the Lama of the St. Petersburg datsan, noted in his speech that according to Buddhism, all religions carry the same truth and spiritual and moral foundations. According to him, today Russia is one family, unlike the times when communists “wished to exterminate all religions, replacing them with atheism”.

“This is wrong. It is important to explain the moral tenets to each people in their own language, in accordance with their cultural code and traditions. Only then will this bear significant fruit in bringing peoples together to respond to all challenges. But first it is necessary to nurture agreement on unifying ideas and common ground in order to reach compromise and only then address the next challenges,” he noted.

“In generosity there is wealth, and in discipline and morality there is happiness. We all want happiness for the people,” the Lama concluded his speech.

Mufti Kamil Hazrat, who picked up the theme of religious interaction, expressed his opinion that it is the stable spiritual state of each citizen that ultimately forms the unity of the whole society: “On November 9, 2022 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree “On Approval of the Basic State Policy to Preserve and Strengthen Traditional Russian Spiritual and Moral Values”. What are traditional values? The answer is given in the document. These are the moral guidelines that form the worldview of Russian citizens, which are transmitted from generation to generation, and form the basis of all-Russian civil identity and the unified cultural space of the country. The document also says that Islam along with other religions in an integral part of Russian history and spiritual heritage and plays an important role in consolidating Russian society. That is, it is about family memory. When there is a connection between generations who have lived on the same land for many centuries, observing family, national and religious traditions, a person has a range of feelings towards their Motherland: first and foremost responsibility for its fate, pride and maybe even resentment for it. For the homeland is linked with the family, tribe and nation. A person deprived of his culture becomes nobody.

Traditions of peoples inhabiting our country have common roots, and all celebrate modesty and virtue.

Photographs from the early XX century that have survived reveal that the traditional clothing of all women in Russia – both Russian and non-Russian ones – covered them from head to toe, except for their face and hands or in other words was the hijab. Have a look at icons. Or think of how artists portrayed the Virgin Mary, the mother of the Prophet Isa.

But today we have to observe how girls in Russian schools are forced to take off their headscarves. In other words, from school, we instill in our children that it wrong to be a believer,” Hazrat noted.

Talking about the importance of religious interaction, Mikhail Piotrovsky noted that “through restoration of monuments in Kazan, Bulgar and Sviyazhsk a dialogue of cultures and religions takes place. When people understand that much can be done together”.

“Today there is a conference on Islamic education in the XXI century at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. It is a huge project, in which spiritual institutions of higher education, such as the Islamic Institute, the Bolgarian Islamic Academy and secular universities are working together, and we are preparing a textbook. Our imams are simultaneously studying at secular universities in departments of oriental studies.

Restoration of monuments, discussions about education, choosing ways to speak and maintain a dialogue in a way that does not depart from scientific principles and concepts of religions – these are all things that the cultural tradition of Russia bequeathed us,” the scholar shared the experience of interaction with Muslim students in St. Petersburg.

The main message of Mintimer Shaimiev’s speech was that, despite the difficulties, the time had come to take up certain action. Time is ticking away, and there is much to be done for intercultural enrichment and good fruitful interreligious interaction.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin directs us to do so by his decree. After all, spiritual revival is an integral part of all the transformations taking place in society. Inter-confessional unity is a strong support for the unity of people. Our people must show the world how to revive spirituality and demonstrate the unity of the power of spirit”.

One of the central themes of Mintimer Shaimiev’s speech was the revival and preservation of material heritage, contributing to a compromise for all peoples and spiritual development of society.

“In 1986 there were only 18 mosques and 15 temples in Tatarstan. We fought against religion; that was all that was left of the temples. Today in 30 years we have already had more than 1500 mosques and 500 Orthodox churches, which have been radically rebuilt. And the story of the creation of the national foundation “Restoration of Historical Monuments” is very indicative. Once there was a very rich harvest in the republic and the people agreed to sell it for the benefit of the revival of historical monuments. 32 billion rubles became the basis of the foundation, which began work immediately. The first thing we did was to recreate the Kul-Sharif Mosque, Orthodox temples and mosques. Then we started recreating towns: the large-scale implementation of the program of the Republican Fund for Preservation and Development of Bulgar and Sviyazhsk, which includes restoration and reconstruction of historical sites and construction of new cultural and infrastructure facilities, as well as renovation of the housing stock of Sviyazhsk. By decision of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the architectural ensemble of the Sviyazhsky Assumption Monastery is included in the World heritage List. As far as transformations in education are concerned, the Academy of Islam, the Institute of Islam and 6 polylingual schools have been built.

In Tatarstan, we try to respect the interest of Orthodoxy and Islam alike”.

According to moderator Timofey Bordachev, the first session focuses on the interaction of church communities and the role of church in modern international politics, which cannot be described as calm.

“The behavior of states is becoming increasingly conflictual. We are witnessing sharp conflicts tearing Europe apart. It cannot be said that states now are particularly capable of finding peaceful ways of coexisting with each other and resolving the problems that arise.

It is in this complex international context that it is very important to address the role of religion and religious communities, which have a cross-border character, connecting with their co-religionists in other countries, whose life spans across national borders. At the same time everybody certainly remains patriots and citizens of their countries”.

In his speech, Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, said that nowadays the fatherland was confronted with many issues of worldview, a group of the most powerful states in the world: “The culture of the peoples of Russia is one of the most diverse in the world, and we have managed to build an exemplary model of cooperation between all traditional religions. The peoples of Russia respect each other’s traditions and culture. This is in contrast to the dominant Western idea of one’s own exclusivity and superiority”.

The Metropolitan noted that in working with Muslims there is much more mutual understanding on many key issues than with fellow Christians in the West. According to the Metropolitan, this closeness is determined by a commitment to common spiritual and moral values. He also told about the Moscow Patriarchate, which has been in dialogue with Muslim organizations in Iran for 25 years, “we should note the high level of mutual understanding and trust during this communication. This has contributed to the fact that Russia and Iran have strong friendly relations”.

The second session on “Religious Polyphony and Political Stability” was opened by the moderator and Chief Researcher of the Institute for Contemporary History of Serbia in Belgrade Alexander Rakovich.

“The theme of our session highlights the importance of religious dialogue, religious polyphony and political stability,” he said.

The key theme in the speech by Alikber Alikberov, Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, was the problem of excluding such concepts as nation and people from modern humanitarian science.

He noted that methodologically, contrary to popular belief, religion and ethnic diversity can ensure political sustainability far more than formal uniformity.

“The concepts of nation and people are unfortunately abolished in modern humanitarian science. The nation is something indefinite, the people are not a scientific category, and the ethnos is also abolished.

There is a category, traditional religion, which defines religious traditions. For instance, Americans speak of American Islam, Germans of German Islam, the French of French Islam and the British of British Islam. In Algeria it is popular Islam. Arabia refers to the religion as the middle way with a link to patriotism.

A new socialization of Islam in needed. As far as the national unity is concerned, it is the perception of both Christian and Muslim traditions,” the scholar shared his opinion.

During the second session, the participants discussed the scope and importance of religious freedom for political stability and development.

The majority of experts noted that in the face of unprecedented pressure from Western countries, reliance on traditional values help to preserve the unity of our peoples, who are represented by different confessions.

The accumulated cultural and historical experience helps to achieve national development goals and to raise the international prestige of the country.



GSV "Russia - Islamic world"

Photo: official website of the State Adviser of the Republic of Tatarstan