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Skirting the Creed
How Archpriest Chaplin Hopes His Orthodox Dress Code Will Catch On in Secular Russia Is Unclear, but He Has Roiled RuNet

Archpriest Vsevolod ChaplinThe Russian Orthodox official, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, believes that Russia should adhere to a nationwide dress code and that scantily dressed Russian women would be better off binning their mini-skirts and scrubbing off their lipstick. Russian men in cities should also toss aside T-shirts and shorts, unless of course they are tramps who are to be pitied. The precise cut of this Orthodox dress code is not yet known, but strip bars and brothels are apparently let off the hook.

Chaplin on Tuesday stood by his contentious December comments that Russians need to take a leaf out of their Muslim brethren's book and cover themselves up in line with a Russia-wide Orthodox dress code.

Chaplin, the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for Relations between Church and Society, yesterday explained that it is not just up to a woman what she wears and that women in skimpy clothes are a target for rape and violence by men. "A woman counting on an encounter in the street, on the metro, or in a bar, not only risks running into a drunk idiot, but also will find herself in the company of men who do not have a scrap of intelligence and self-respect. Perhaps she could happen upon a sober idiot, but then, is she searching properly?" asked Chaplin. "It is not a bad thing that companies, universities and schools have their own dress codes. It would be good to think up a Russia-wide dress code (at strip bars and brothels, so be it, it can be done without)," he said with an apparent witty flourish.

Chaplin voiced similar off the cuff beliefs at a December round-table on inter-ethnic relations. At the RIA Novosti conference, a female sociology researcher asked a Caucasus representative to Moscow how Caucasus immigrants in Moscow are educated to treat Slavic women who wear mini-skirts properly. After the representative replied, Chaplin offered his side: "If a woman is wearing a mini-skirt, then she is provoking not only people from the Caucasus but also Russians. If on top of that she is drunk, it is even more provocative. If on top of that she herself actively provokes contact, and is then surprised that it ends in rape, then moreover she is not in the right."

Russia's blogosphere, RuNet, erupted. Chaplin says he did not mean that women are solely to blame for men behaving violently against them. But the comments won a predictably furious reception from Russian bloggers and generated an angry online petition addressed to Patriarch Kirill, signed by 1948 Russians. "It is a cause for serious concern that recent statements from the highest ranks of the Russian Orthodox Church have been made that not only destroy the dignity of Russian women, but also excuse discrimination and violence against them," reads the open letter to Patriarch Kirill. "I'm Orthodox, I dress correctly, I don't support Vsevolod Chaplin...Christ would never have said this," wrote the last signatory of the petition.

Observers are bemused by Chaplin's rationale, which one put down to him "trying to be provocative." "Apart from anything, Russia is a secular state," said Andrei Sinelnikov, the deputy director of ANNA, a Russian NGO working to prevent violence against women. "Secondly, I absolutely disagree with what he said about mini-skirts because it shifts the blame onto the women who suffer and makes them seem like criminals."

Bloggers too were stumped. "I find it hard to imagine a situation in which a 'self-respecting person' gets up to leave a restaurant after noticing that a girl at the table next to him has bright lipstick on or has donned a mini-skirt. But on the scale of single institutions, dress codes are already in place without any archpriest's tips and without any particular religion in general. For that reason, Chaplin's reasoning on the Russia wide dress code is not clear to me," wrote blogger and commentator Anton Nosik.

Other bloggers have been more savage in their dismissal. "Chaplin is so stupid that he doesn't understand that violence is not caused by provocation from women but by society's degradation," said blogger Dmitry Yakushev, who also called Chaplin's ideas "medieval philistinism."

Chaplin's vision though is not tailored to women alone. "A man in a city wearing shorts and a T-shirt, trainers or slippers is also not worthy of respect. Only of pity ­ if he is a tramp, for instance," he wrote in the open letter published by Interfax Russia yesterday. Elsewhere in Russia, rights organizations have condemned the local government's pressure on women in Chechnya to wear headscarves. Last year several Chechen women not wearing the traditional Muslim garment were fired upon by paintballs from unmarked cars.

Anyhow, few but Chaplin seem to expect anything to come of this controversial sermon. He himself appears rather cocky. "I think we will live to a time when badly dressed people will be led out of nice places. Or self-respecting people will get up and leave such places," he concluded.

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