Vienna, March 31 – The Portal-Credo.ru religious news site, whose independent writing about religious affairs and active defense of the rights of every individual to practice the religion of his or her own choice angered the Moscow Patriarchate, is suspending operation after an eight-year run because it lacks the funding to continue its work.
In a message to readers posted on the site today, Aleksandr Soldatov, the site’s chief editor, explains that the wisdom of Ecclesiastes that "to everything there is a season," including "a time to speak" and "a time to be silent" and that unfortunately, the time to "be silent" has arrived for Portal-Credo (www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=anons&id=5394).
Some may see this as "a sign of weakness" or "the absence of ‘an effective business model.’" That may be partially true, but "those searching ‘an effective business model’ do not occupy themselves with the defense of persecuted believers in Russia and do not write the truth about the suffering of thousands of people who are guilty only in that they ‘believe incorrectly.’"
The "keys" to such a model, he continues, "today are in the hands of the oppressors and the clericalizers, those [who have] a dream about enormous earthly power and control over society and [who] link its resources with the ideology of ‘a state church,’" and who by their actions "discredit themselves and Holy Orthodoxy itself."
"It is impossible to see" as inspired by Christ the actions of those who acting in the name of the Church "drive out by force those who think differently or even their out Orthodox brothers from their churches and prayer houses," constantly demand the transfer of property, and "threaten with all sorts of ‘misfortune’ and repression honest journalists who are brave enough to speak the truth."
"Service to God’s Word and faithfulness to the Truth are indivisibly connected with the defense of those who are being persecuted," Soldatov says, and he adds that he sees "his duty as a Christian journalist" in those terms," a vision that has informed the work of Portal-Credo throughout its years of operation.
Despite that motivation, the chief editor continues, Portal-Credo "was and remains a secular one, open for contacts with representatives of other confessions and unbelievers and ready to defend the human right to freedom of belief whatever that faith might be," a commitment that has put the site at odds with others and made it more difficult to find funding.
Portal Credo’s approach is based on the following "professional axioms: honesty and objectivity, separation of fact from commentary, and the presentation of various points of view on one and the same subject." In most places, those values would not represent a challenge, but in Russia today, they unfortunately do.
And those problems are behind the difficulties of finding "’an effective business model’ for such a resource." The Russian government is only going to support "clerical or propagandistic media, which have nothing in common with independent journalism as ‘the fourth power’ and an institution of civil society."
At the same time, religious confessions "in their majority" support media outlets that present their point of view and seek to recruit others to it, a charge that more often than not precludes the kind of journalistic balance that Portal Credo has always sought to maintain. And Soldatov adds, there is little interest in the advertizing market for a site like his.
Yet another reason – indeed, while Soldatov does not say so, perhaps the main one – is his belief that "Portal-Credo.ru must occupy the niche of a professional media outlet concerning the persecution and discrimination on the basis of faith, about those aspects of religious life in the post-Soviet space" which are either neglected or subject to censorship.
(Among these is what some call "alternative" Orthodoxy, those followers of the Eastern Christian tradition in Russia and elsewhere who refuse to subordinate themselves to the Moscow Patriarchate. Portal-Credo’s coverage and defense of them have drawn fire from the Patriarchate and beyond question helps to explain the site’s current financial difficulties.)
Soldatov concludes his statement by saying that Portal Credo is going for "a small Easter break but that [he and it] will not say good bye. Even if our plans are not fated to be realized, the Portal will not disappear. We will continue to work within the measure of our strength and possibilities."
The longtime editor calls on all those who read his statement and who wish to help to get in contact with him electronically at either [email protected] or [email protected] And Soldatov promises to answer such messages, again as his "strength and possibilities" will permit.
With the suspension of Portal-Credo.ru, the people of Russia have lost one of the most important defenders of one of their most important rights, and those both in Russia and abroad who seek to track the fate of religious freedom and civil society there have lost one of the most important sources of information.
The author of these lines very much hopes that Portal-Credo will return soon, defending the rights of all residents of Russia to practice their beliefs and providing the rest of us with so much valuable information and commentary – which unlike many other sites in this area Portal- Credo.ru has always carefully labeled and kept separate.
Posted by Paul Goble