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Religious Conflict in Russia

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One of the great ironies of history is that Marxism, an atheistic theory, was first implemented in Russia--a land inhabited by millions of believers practicing most of the world's great religions. In fact, religion is so integral to the culture and history of Russia, it would be impossible to gain a full understanding for the unique character of the country and its people without a careful examination of the religious factors at play throughout its history.


Basic Demographics

Any discussion of Russia must begin with its single most striking feature--its sheer vastness. During World War II, a German general noted how his troops "were depressed by the monotony of the landscape and the immensity of the stretches of forest, marsh, and plain." Russia is, in fact, a land of vast spaces and colossal distances. This fact alone has had a singularly dramatic effect upon the history of the Russian people and the development of their culture and religion. It is the world's largest country in area, covering over 6.5 million square miles of territory, extending over a large part of both Europe and Asia. It has coastlines on the Artic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Caspian Sea, and Pacific Ocean. It also borders eight European countries and three Asian countries. However, it lacks any significant physical barriers from its neighbors--a reality which has opened the Russian heartland to invasion numerous times.

Moscow is the largest city (population 10.1 million) and is the capital of the Federation. The city has been a key center of government, commerce, culture, and religion since its founding in the 12th century. Its urban area constitutes nearly one-tenth of the total Russian population, thus making it the most populous city in Europe. Moscow continues to be the center of Russian Government and is increasingly important as an economic and business hub. It is also of great importance as a religious center, with its hundreds of churches and dozens of notable cathedrals, including Saint Basil's, with its distinctive onion domes.


As of the latest census in 2002, Russia had approximately 145 million inhabitants, with roughly 103 million on the European side and 42 million on the Asian side. However, the latest estimate places the current figure closer to 140 million due to the alarming rate of population decline. Perhaps more alarming still is the fact that the current rate of decline shows no sign of slowing. A recent United Nations (UN) report indicated that Russia's population could decline as much as one-third by 2050 unless drastic steps are taken to address underlying problems in the country. These problems include rampant poverty, drug abuse, alcoholism, and a declining fertility rate due to disease. Many of these problems began following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when quality of life took a drastic turn for the worse. Abortion has also played a major role in the decline with some estimates placing the abortion rate higher than the birth rate. As a result of these factors, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, placed population decline at the top of the country's list of urgent problems in his first state of the union address in 2000.

Social and Ethnic Groups

With such a vast land area encompassing many regions, it is not surprising that Russia hosts a similarly vast list of social groups. The Russian Federation is home to as many as 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. As of the 2002 census, 79.83 percent of the population (115,889,107 people) is ethnically Russian, followed by:

* 3.83 % Tatars (5,554,601)

* 2.03% Ukrainians (2,942,961)

* 1.15% Bashkirs (1,673,389)

* 1.13% Chuvashs (1,637,094)

* 0.94% Chechens (1,360,253)

* 0.78% Armenians (1,130,491)

Note, that these are only the groups larger than one million strong. The remaining 10.31 percent (14, 949, 500) are classified as other. These others include a diverse array of small ethnic groups, typically living in their own respective regions and speaking their own unique languages, making Russia one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world.

In terms of languages, Russian is the common official language throughout the Federation, understood by 99 percent of its current inhabitants and widespread in many adjacent areas of Asia and Eastern Europe. However, national subdivisions of Russia have additional official languages, further reflecting the diverse ethnicity of the country. As a result, there are more than 100 languages spoken throughout the nation, most tied to the particular ethnic groups from which they sprang.

Economics and Education

Perhaps the most significant impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been the economic chaos which subsequently consumed the country. For five years following the collapse, Russia saw its comparatively developed centrally planned economy contract severely. It was not until 1997 that Russia began to show signs of recovery as a result of its new open-market policies. Since that time, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country has grown by an average of 6.7 percent per year, largely on the back of oil exports, as well as a steadily developing service and industrial output. Currently, Russia's GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $1.5 trillion, making it the ninth largest economy in the world and the fifth largest in Europe. If this growth rate is sustained, the country will become the second largest European economy after Germany and the sixth largest in the world within a few years. However, this only equates to approximately $10,700 per capita, making it number 82 in the world. Furthermore, this economic development is disproportionate across many of the country's regions and ethnic groups. While the huge capital region of Moscow is an affluent metropolis living on the cutting edge of technology with a per capita income rapidly approaching that of the leading European economies, much of the country, especially its indigenous and rural communities, lags significantly behind. According the World Bank, 20 percent of Russians live below the poverty line, with many more teetering on the edge.

Despite the economic problems of the country, Russians tend to be very well educated. Russia's



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