For the Western media, the argument between Russian orthodox church spokesperson Vsevolod Chaplin (head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society )and Russian feminists was familiar stuff. Chaplin had claimed that immodest dress by women invited sexual assault. After arousing a torrent of protest, Chaplin refused to back down and added that a woman who wears a skimpy clothes and too much makeup -- "like a clown" -- can only attract "a drunken idiot".
Elena Timofeeva, a Russian feminist leader who works with assault victims, replied caustically:
“Violence against women comes from the men who attack them,” she told The Moscow News. “If Chaplin was right, there would be no rapes in the winter because nobody is wearing miniskirts when it is so cold". She also claimed that this was akin to saying that men who dressed in expensive clothing were guilty of inviting muggings. Her views were echoed by other Russian feminists.
The story does not end here. Chaplin's insistence on a dress code for men and women was endorsed by Muslim prelates and by Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the largely Muslim region of Chechnya. Kadyrov implored the Russians to recall their history and their traditional respect for "female decency and modesty." Perm’s leading Islamic cleric, Muhammedagli Khuzin, backed Chaplin, calling upon parents to set their children a good example in everything – including dress sense – and asserted that the “common people” support Chaplin’s ideas.
This alliance should come as no surprise, because Chaplin has becoming increasingly influential ever since Vladimir Putin decided that the Russian Orthodox Church was a natural ally in his efforts to reduce Western influence on Russia. While the Russian Premier is not about to abandon his mistress, he has encouraged church building both in Russia and abroad with the latest project a church near the European Parliament in Strasbourg . Chaplin has been active in establishing a common front with Muslims, as Islam is one of the traditional religions respected by the Orthodox Church, as opposed to Protestantism and Catholicism that are seen as interlopers and threats to Russian tradition.
In his October 2008 appearance before the Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Chaplin told his hosts:
Russia and the Islamic world have a lot in common. We are intermingled: Russia is inseparable from the Islamic world, as many millions of Moslems live there, and the Islamic world is inseparable from the Russian and Orthodox world which members live in so many Moslem countries…. Recently, both Orthodox and Moslems, are being taught and tutored too often: abandon your "superstitions", recognize the supremacy of the secular right and secular values, and you will be a promoted student of the Western society..."
Chaplin is an admirer of Putin and salutes him for promoting religiosity. As opposed to the 1990s, when Russian politicians lacked an understanding of religion, under Putin, declares Chaplin, more people read the Gospel, go on pilgrimages and attend church. Democracy was second rate but not ideal because it was rooted in competition rather than the church's view of society as "a unified body that sees disagreements as unnatural and unhealthy."
Chaplin was in the news recently on other issues. He has called for shutting down the Lenin mausoleum because having Lenin's body exposed to the public goes contrary to Russian cultural traditions.
In response to last month's race riots between Moslems and ethnic Russian soccer fans in Moscow Chaplin was "evenhanded". He came down on the Moslems due to "the audacious and pushy behavior of some members of ethnic communities and the criminal groups linked with them." To the Russian hooligans he had this to say: "These people do not truly want anything good for Russia. It is their objective to fan a conflict and with its help gain political capital and maybe even come to power. Russia cannot permit that. The organizers and instigators of the clashes must be found and punished."