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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. Inter-relationship of human rights and religious and cultural traditions (Address to the conference Human Rights and National Identity’, Moscow, April 18, 2007)
HUMAN RIGHTS AND RELIGIOUS
AND CULTURAL TRADITIONS
Address to the conference ‘Human Rights and National Identity’,
Moscow, April 18, 2007.
In examining this topic I believe we must begin by asking ourselves whether it is possible for the public sphere to be neutral when it comes to the bases and directions of human values. By public sphere I am referring to the activities of government institutions, social groups or individuals which have an influence on all or part of society. This definition already implies that the public space cannot be neutral, because any activity is planned and implemented on the basis of certain ideas and objectives. Legislation or policy-making cannot but take into account the values that exist in society. Similarly the development of culture, education and science is directed by value attitudes. The test for any modern society is its ability to live in a situation of multiple interacting value systems. Obviously it is very important to define the place and role of each more or less significant system of values in the public space. This is necessary for social stability, given the means, including those of coercion, that the public sphere has at its disposal.
What do I mean by means of coercion? In its legislative and political activities the state imposes sanctions for non-performance of certain rules. Both the media and the educational system in turn use means of propaganda and persuasion based on the laws of psychology. It has to be said that the impact of the media and education on
people is frequently associated with the adoption of certain standards of thought and behaviour, as well as concepts such as fashion. Fashion is a behavioural standard, and nobody can say that fashion and its standards of thought and behaviour arise spontaneously. It is obvious that they are formed under the influence of, among other things, the media.Today the media has a huge impact on society, offering certain standards of conduct and educating the younger generation.This power over the minds is not primitive, as it was during Soviet times, when one thing was forbidden, another allowed, and people felt unfree. Man can be controlled without inducing in him a sense of protest, by presenting him behavioural and attitudinal standards in the wrappings of modern culture. And then he will himself manage his feelings and direct his actions in accordance with the proposed system.
At the same time the development of technical means of registration is gradually leading to increased control over human life. In these circumstances, the imposition on the majority of values adhered to by a narrow group of people can lead to disaster. One way to avoid this is by society wisely determining which value systems are permitted to be present in the public sphere, and which only in the private sphere.
I would like to illustrate this thesis of mine with a concrete example. In January last year, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on homophobia in Europe. In particular, article five urges EU member states to combat homophobia in schools, universities, the media, as well as through administrative, legal and legislative means. In fact, this has already led to a situation in which, in some countries, people may not express negative attitudes towards homosexuality in the public sphere. If they do, they may be deprived of high political office, as was Buttiglione, or jailed, as was Pastor Green in Sweden. We are aware of other examples where people have come under pressure for expressing the view that homosexual activity is sinful. In such situations, the values and views of a minority are imposed on the majority via the public space. It may be right to leave people the freedom to choose their sexuality in the private
sphere, but it is wrong to promote as natural in the public space a form of sexual behaviour that the majority of people do not agree with.
We recognize that many representative of the Western world are confronted with this and many similar problems. For example, there are cases where, under pressure from the minority, Christmas trees have been removed from public places and institutions, as have crucifixes, and the Christian names of the feast days on which heads of state present their traditional greetings to the people. Only too often the views of religious organizations are ignored in important decisions affecting the interests of society. As a rule, representatives of the West argue that these problems can be resolved only by reference to human rights, with no other values to be taken into account. Since 1991, we, the citizens of Russia and other CIS countries, have been able not only to watch how human rights are applied in Western countries, but also to acquire our own experience of their implementation. Our experience shows that the above problems are not solved, and even, on the contrary, aggravated, if human rights are the only values in a society.
If human rights are the only value in a society, they turn into dictatorship, as I have pointed to with the example of the demands of sexual minorities. However, this does not mean that our experience fundamentally rejects human rights. On the contrary, we believe that the mechanism of human rights must be maintained and developed, because it helps to build the proper relationship between state and society, between man and man. It sets a limit to the omnipotence of the state machine, as well as inspiring everyone to respect the other person. Last year, the World Russian People’s Council adopted the Declaration on Dignity and Human Rights. It talks about the need to develop human rights activities in a way that is attentive to the problems and needs of ordinary people. We are ready to cooperate with the state and all well-intended entities to secure the rights of humanity. This collaboration should especially focus on preserving the rights of nations and ethnic groups to their individual religion, language, and culture; upholding freedom
of conscience and the right of believers to their way of life; standing against ethnic or racially motivated crime; protecting individuals against tyranny from governments or employers; caring for the rights of military personnel; protecting the rights of children; working for the rights of prisoners and the institutionalized; sheltering the victims of terrorism; preventing totalitarian control over private lives and personal faiths; and assisting the victims of crime, corruption, human trafficking, prostitution, drug abuse, and gambling addiction.’
However, in our understanding, human rights can be effective only when society also supports other values that are of equal importance to the majority of society. In the same Declaration, the World Russian People’s Council said in this regard: ‘There are values which are no less important than human rights. These values include faith, morality, a sense of the sacred, and one’s homeland. When these values and the realization of human rights clash, then society, the state, and the law should work to harmonize them. We must not allow situations to occur in which the upholding of human rights tramples upon religious or moral traditions, insults religious or national feelings or sacred objects, or threatens our homeland’s existence.’
In our view, human rights as absolute values should be consistent with other no less important values: spirituality, morality and love of the homeland.This idea is there in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, in Article 29, paragraph 2, that: ‘In exercising their rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for human rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and general welfare in a democratic society.’Thus, even if politicians seem to have forgotten the fact, the Universal Declaration itself contains the idea that human rights cannot be an absolute measure, but should be consonant with a number of other values.
Our position on the need to reaffirm other values should not, however, be understood as a call for the state or society to act in an
arbitrary manner towards the individual. The call is rather for the patterns of lives of the majority of individuals to be integrated into public and social life. This means that anything that fails to take account of those values, even if justified by human rights, should be kept out of the public sphere. Of course, when it comes to values, absolute consensus with all forces of society is impossible, but it can be achieved with a greater part of society. Therefore, the political significance of the debate on human rights initiated by the Russian Orthodox Church is not a desire to eliminate human rights from public life. It is rather the desire to move towards building a real democracy, not only in Russia but also in the world. Real democracy means hearing and following the voice of the majority of citizens, especially with regard to values.
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