State, Church eye compromise at Solovki

Premier Putin, Patriarch Kirill

The Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church are about to reach a compromise in the year-long conflict between clergymen and secular authorities in the far northern Solovki Archipelago, Prime Minister Vladmir Putin and Patriarch Kirill confirmed in a meeting last week.


In the meeting, which took place on church property in Moscow on 5 January, Putin expressed strong support for the Church activities and promised continued state financing for renovation of church property. According to the premier, the government will in 2010 allocate about two billion RUB to renovation of church property, a 23 percent decline from 2008. The government leader also underlined that several long-dragged conflicts between church and secular interests are about to find a solution. Among them is the Solovki, the two powerful men confirmed in their meeting, a meeting transcript from the Church website reads.  

According to Patriarch Kirill, the museum at the Solovki has appointed a skilled and well-educated representative who is able to both manage the monastery and serve the interests of the museum. This model can help reduce tensions between the parts, he maintained.

The small island in the White Sea has ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union been troubled by conflict between the Church on the one hand and the local museum and municipal authorities on the other.

Solovki is world-wide known for its dramatic history and its monastery and church buildings. It is today an attractive tourist destination both for Russians and foreigners.

Over the last years, the secular institutions have fiercely resisted the Church’ attempts to strengthen its control over the islands. The Church already controls big parts of the archipelago, among them the island of Anzer, which a few years ago was fully handed over to the church.

The municipal authorities at Solovki, the about 1000 inhabitants, the museum and the tourism industry fear that the Great Solovetsky island will be closed for outsiders if the archipelago is made church property.

In the meeting with the Patriarch, Putin also said that the Ministry of Culture is preparing a bill, which will heighten the state’s responsibility for church renovation. However, as noted by Minister of Culture Aleksandr Avdeev, the state has, even without the bill, over the last years contributed with the reconstruction and renovation of up to 100 church buildings per year.