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Russian Orthodox Church calls for dress
code, says miniskirts cause 'madness'
By Fred Weir
In a sign of the growing political ambitions of
Russian Orthodox Church
, a top official
wants a national dress
code for men and women
. It would forbid
men from wearing T-shirts or track suits in
public. Islamic groups
have come out in support of the idea
A top official of the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox
Church has triggered a storm of outrage by calling for a
"national dress code" that would force
women to dress modestly in public and require businesses to
throw out "indecently" clad customers.
said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, can't be
trusted to clothe themselves properly.
wrong to think that women should decide
themselves what they can wear in public places
or at work," he said Tuesday.
"If a woman dresses like a
prostitute, her colleagues must have the right
to tell her that."
"Moreover," Archpriest Chaplin added,
"if a woman dresses and
acts indecently, this is a direct route to
unhappiness, one-night stands, brief marriages
followed by rat-like divorces, ruined lives of
children, and madness."
Signal of church's political ambitions
has also weighed in on artistic matters. It has
publicly backed a series of lawsuits against
Moscow's Sakharov Museum, which it
accused of displaying "blasphemous" work in
two separate art exhibits over recent years.
proposed dress code has received applause from
some conservative quarters.
Russia's Association of
Islamic Heritage this week expressed its support
for Chaplin's call for "creation of a national
dress code," which might involve compelling
women to wear headscarves, a rule already in
force in Orthodox churches and church-run
orphanages. Muslims make up about 20
percent of Russia's population.
Dress code proposal is 'absurd'
remarks came in a letter published this week by
the independent Interfax-Religion agency, the
church's chief liaison with secular society.
While his proposed dress
code would also apply to men who go into public
wearing T-shirts, shorts, or track suits,
the letter was most likely to rankle Russian
women, who are famous for their love of shocking
colors, generous makeup, and daring fashions.
"Archpriest Chaplin's comments sound absurd,"
says Irina Shcherbakova, head of youth programs
for Memorial, Russia's largest human rights
organization. "Instead of dealing with real
social issues – such as the rise of ethnic
hatred – and teaching tolerance, they busy
themselves with this nonsense. Most women will
ignore this but, especially since Islamic
religious authorities are in support, it does
threaten a serious attack on women's rights."
letter was an apparent attempt to clarify an
incendiary statement he made last month blaming
rape victims for inciting their attackers with
provocative dress and behavior, which had
prompted an open letter of protest signed by
more than 1,000 people demanding an apology.
"If she is
wearing a miniskirt, it is provocative," he said
last month. "If she is drunk at the same time,
then she is even more provocative, and if she
herself is actively seeking contact with people,
then she is mistaken to be surprised when that
contact ends in rape."
Unlikely to gain traction
remarks have not generated the groundswell of
public fury that would erupt in a Western
country, but that doesn't mean it's likely to
gain much public traction either, says Masha
Lipman, editor of the Moscow Carnegie Center's
Pro et Contra journal.
average Russian woman will just shrug this off
and regard it as having nothing to do with her
life," she says. "In post-Soviet times the
church has enjoyed much more success at winning
concessions from the state than it has in
winning souls.... Polls show that the majority
of Russians respect the church as a traditional
institution but not as a moral authority over
Russians have for centuries been told what to do
and how to behave by clerical and state
authorities, Ms. Lipman argues that those days
difference between today's Russia and the USSR
is that, though the state is politically
authoritarian, it no longer attempts to
interfere in peoples' private lives," and it's
not likely to empower the church to do so
either, she says.
have grown used to [personal freedom]," she
says, "and it's inconceivable that today's young
people would listen to anybody trying to tell
them how to dress."
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