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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Region Battles Over Good and Evil

For MTThe disputed 125-year-old herald
The people of the northern Arkhangelsk region are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Or, to be more accurate, between the devil and a blue angel.

On the side of the devil is Governor Anatoly Yefremov, while lining up against the "evil spirit" is the local legislative assembly.

Yefremov last week refused to sign a law that would have stopped the region from getting a new herald picturing a bluish Archangel Michael fighting a black devil.

Lawmakers had agreed to the herald, which the region first adopted in the 19th century, but with one exception -- that it be stripped of the devil. The herald, created 125 years ago, shows the archangel holding a flaming red sword and an azure shield decorated with a gold cross. He is pouncing on a fallen devil.

"I didn't sign the law as opinions about it are divided," Yefremov said in a statement posted on the region's web site. "The deputies have had their say. But I believe it would be improper to approve the deputies' decision on the herald without a serious discussion, without calling in historians, the clergy and a wide circle of society."

The region began its search for a herald seven long years ago, in 1996. A special herald commission, however, found that all the more contemporary suggestions were unsuitable.

"One had a wolf on it," said an outraged Andrei Zubri, the secretary of the commission, in a telephone interview. "It would have broken all heraldic rules."

The commission finally decided it would be best to restore the old herald, which was then put forward to the regional deputies, who promptly stripped the devil off the herald, saying it was an affront to Russian Orthodox believers.

Viktor Molukhin, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, said he could not see how the depiction of the devil was an affront to the church.

There are rivalries of a Satanic nature in this argument, as it is just the most recent in a long line of disputes around the country over putative town and regional symbols. First there was a dispute last year over a flag for the Penza region with an image of Jesus on it. Next came the small town of Novozybkovo in the Bryansk region and its fondness for the cannabis plant.

Alexander Churkin, editor of the Zhizn newspaper in Arkhangelsk, said the latest debate was trying residents' patience.

"No one supports either the governor or the deputies," he said, adding residents simply want a decision to be made quickly.