MOSCOW, November 23 (RIA Novosti) – A growing number of Russians consider the Russian Orthodox Church to be a necessary feature of their national identity, a recent public opinion poll showed.
Some 38 percent of survey respondents said it was “very important” to be an Orthodox believer if one wants to be considered “an authentic Russian,” according to a report released earlier this week by independent pollster Levada Center.
That is more than double the figure in a similar poll in 1996 - 15 percent - and up from 32 percent in 2003.
“This is a result of successful propaganda, especially by the state-run television networks,” Levada Center's Oleg Savelyev told RIA Novosti on Friday.
In Soviet times people would study the lineup of state leaders atop the Lenin Mausoleum during Revolution Day parades to divine the current pecking order. Today they look at Easter services in Christ the Savior Cathedral, he said.
But some believers complain that Orthodox events don't get enough coverage.
“More and more people are realizing that Russia is associated with real Christian values, unlike Europe with its propaganda of homosexuality and other pornographic freedoms,” said Igor Miroshnichenko, the deputy head of the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, a Russia-based fundamentalist organization.
That trend is apparent in the passage this year of controversial laws in St. Petersburg and several other big cities aimed at protecting children from "gay propaganda."
The Levada survey found that just 9 percent of respondents thought Orthodoxy was "not important at all" to the national identity, down from 32 percent in 1996 and 20 percent in 2003.
Savelyev of Levada Center also noted that the clergy has gained greater influence in politics, which is reflected in public opinion.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been making headlines throughout 2012, prompting a discussion about its increased role in the life of the nation. The prosecution of three women from the punk collective Pussy Riot for their performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral has split society, with some calling for mercy and others, including some senior clergy, calling for punishment. In August the three feminist rockers were sentenced to two years in jail, although one later had her sentence suspended and was released.
Miroshnichenko said Russians have begun to “understand that the Russian Orthodox Church and Christian values are under attack” and want to defend them.
Interestingly, barely half of the respondents said that Russian citizenship was an important element of national identity. Just 53 said it was “very important” to hold a Russian passport to be identified as a Russian, up from the 46 percent recorded in 1996 but down from 58 in 2003.
A different survey by Levada Center revealed that around 79 percent of Russians describe themselves as Orthodox believers, while only 6 percent said they were Muslims.
The poll results on national identity are based on interviews with 1,516 Russians. The margin of error is 3.3 percent.