World Council of Churches

Eine weltweite Gemeinschaft von Kirchen auf der Suche nach Einheit, gemeinsamem Zeugnis und Dienst

Vsevolod Chaplin presentation

16. Februar 2006

Plenary on economic justice

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin is deputy chairman, Department for External Church Relations, Moscow Patriarchate



After the demise of the totalitarian Communist system the economic and social life in the countries of the former Soviet Union found itself in the hands of radical neo-liberal reformers and their Western advisers. The initial public support to these people's policies was almost unanimous: the USSR population knew very well all the disadvantages of the state-controlled, absolutely centralized and heavily militarized totalitarian economy which suppressed any independent initiative. The idea of free market's "omnipotence" in solving not only economic, but also political and social problems, occupied the public space in the beginning of 1990s.

Unfortunately, the results of unwise policies of radical neo-liberals proved very soon to be dramatic. Dozens of millions of people, including young and energetic ones, started to live below the poverty level. Their savings turned into nothing, many of them lost jobs or were paid only symbolic salaries. The Soviet social system which guaranteed for many people a predictable future started to gradually disappear. Alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide became widespread. Social marginalization (e.g., the number of street children) reached levels unknown since the Civil War of 1917-1923.

At the same time many economic players started to "preach" unlimited wealth and moral cynicism in the context of absolute poverty of millions. Several families who started to "own" post-Soviet countries as a result of questionable privatization of state properties, pretended to hold the political power as well. One of their representatives said on TV: "Population doesn't matter"; another one - "I can elect even a monkey president here". In the eyes of many simple people the very word "economy" became sort of synonym to crime, injustice, manipulation and oppression. Schoolchildren, when asked about their plans for the future, were naming "prostitute" and "gangster" among the most prestigious professions. The very idea of economic ethics was declared outdated and linked to Communist past. Still, at the turn of the new century many economic actors started to realize that economy without ethics is not only immoral, but also counterproductive.

The Russian Orthodox Church uniting many dozen million Christians in different post-Soviet countries and other regions of the world has raised its voice many times against economic injustice in 1990s and 2000s. Its leadership spoke to the state power, the businessmen and the common people, criticizing late payments of salaries, unemployment, inadequate monetization of social benefits and many other phenomena which brought suffering to our compatriots.

In February 2004, at the initiative of my Church, the World Russian People's Sobor (Assembly) adopted The Code of Moral Principles and Rules in Economy, which was offered to the state, entrepreneurs and workers. Although it doesn't speak direct Christian language (the document was later supported by Jews, Moslems and Buddhists), the Code is based on the Ten Commandments of the Bible. Allow me to quote just several paragraphs from this document.

"Historically the Russian spiritual and moral tradition has been inclined predominantly to give priority to the spiritual over the material, the ideal of personal selflessness for the sake of the good of the people. However, the extremes of this option would lead to terrible tragedies. Remembering this, we should establish such an economic order as to help realize in a harmonious way both spiritual aspirations and the material interests of both the individual and society".

"The greater one's property is the more powerful one is over others. Therefore, the use of property in economy should not be of narrow egoistic nature and should not contradict the common interest… Poverty just as richness is a test. A poor person is obliged to behave in a dignified way, to seek to make his work effective, to raise his professional skills so that he may come out of his misery".

"Political power and economic power should be separated. The participation of business in politics and its impact on public opinion should be open and transparent. The entire financial support given by business to political parties, public organizations and the mass media should be made public and verifiable. Any secret support is to be condemned publicly as immoral".

"Individuals and structures guilty of grievous crimes, especially those involved in corruption, should be unacceptable as business partners or participants in the business community… Those who fail to pay salaries, who delay them systematically and allow them to stay below the subsistence wage are to be censured by society".

Now the Russian Orthodox Church is working to promote and implement this Code. It was well received by several economy-related state institutions, leaders of nation-wide trade unions. Several big companies (for example, financial corporation Sistema, Itera oil company and Ingosstrakh insurance company), have indicated that they will follow in their activities the rules and principles mentioned in our document. The Code was widely discussed by researchers, journalists as well as broader public. Some criticized the Church for "interfering in non-religious area". But I am deeply convinced that it is the task of the Church to call and work for moral renewal, truth and justice in economy.