MOSCOW, Russia — Not expecting flowers or candy on Feb. 14? No secret admirers waiting in the wings? Then take a trip to Belgorod, a small city in western Russia that has done what many singles can only dream of — banned Valentine’s Day.
According to local authorities, Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, is bad for the soul and not a Russian tradition. Therefore, they say, it should not be celebrated.
“The very atmosphere of these holidays does not foster the formation of spiritual and moral values in youth,” Grigory Bolotnov, a consultant to the local government on social and religious issues, told local media last week.
Schools and clubs have been urged to cancel any Valentine’s Day related events, and the local zoo even withdrew a two-for-one entry special set for Monday.
On the surface, it sounds frivolous enough. But the move is part of a wider drive to boost the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in a country where church and state are constitutionally required to remain separate.
The Valentine’s Day ban was added to a document that outlines “measures for providing spiritual security,” Bolotnov said. The original document was signed last year by the regional governor’s top deputy and the region’s top church official.
The church leadership in Moscow can only look on and smile.
“All the actions surrounding this day can sound funny, but at the same time there’s a certain truth in the discussion,” Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a top church official, said in a telephone interview Sunday.
“In Russian tradition, love is inseparable from family and faithfulness,” he said. That’s why church and state officials have been promoting the celebration of a different holiday. Since 2008, July 8 has been dubbed “The Day of Family, Love and Fidelity,” Russia’s somewhat clumsily named alternative to Valentine’s Day. The idea was thought up by Svetlana Medvedeva, President Dmitry Medvedev’s wife, who is very active in the church.
“It is understandable,” Chaplin said of the new holiday. “People see the lack of connection between love, faithfulness and family in the consumerist tradition that we see in Valentine’s Day.”
Belgorod, a small city near Russia’s border with Ukraine, is no stranger to creative initiatives. In 2004, local authorities instituted fines for cursing on the street. Last year, they banned heavy metal concerts.
The Valentine’s Day initiative, however, will likely fail to catch on in Russia. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russians have adopted Valentine’s Day and Halloween with relish, rivaling the holidays’ popularity in the West.
(Read about Poland's similar enthusiasm for Valentine's Day since the end of communism.)
According to polling agency Romir, 81 percent of Russians over the age of 18 plan on celebrating Valentine’s Day. It said 54 percent of those who plan to celebrate the holiday planned on giving their loved one flowers or a gift. The Levada Center, another polling agency, found that 52 percent of Russians planned on celebrating Valentine’s Day.
The issue has been widely discussed in the Russian press. Last week, Gazeta.ru, a respected online newspaper, headlined their article on the ban: “Belgorod — a territory without love.”