Yesterday Ivan Starikov, head of the Committee on Agrarian and Food Policy of the Federative Council, requested a meeting with the patriarch. He wants to talk with Alexis II about the restoration of landed property of the Russian Orthodox church. Starikov intends to begin preparing a law permitting the transfer of state lands both to the Orthodox church and to other confessions, Muslims, Buddhists, and Catholics. He predicts that such a law could be adopted this year. If this really happens, the influence of RPTs will reach a completely new level; besides strengthening its position in the state, the church will become a serious economic major actor.
Before the revolution the church was the largest land owner. RPTs alone had around three million hectares [7.5 million acres]. In the past decade the church has gradually regained the positions that it had lost; the number of churches grew by five times; the churched Vladimir Putin became president; and there has been talk about possible support for the church from the state budget. But the topic of land has so far been officially raised by church hierarchs only very cautiously. In an interview last year with Izvestiia Patriarch Alexis said of monastery land that "we have raised the question of the gradual return to the church of its property within parameters that are acceptable to both state and church." At the present the church has agricultural lands; as a rule these are small areas leased from local collective farms. Monks or novices work there. But yesterday’s initiative by Starikov moves the question to an entirely different plane.
"Why do you think it necessary to return land to the church?"
"It is a paradox that from time to time we have raised the question of the property and real estate rights of foreign citizens, but we have completely forgotten about the landed property of the Russian Orthodox church. I would not even want to single out only RPTs; it is necessary to talk about the lands of traditional confessions in general, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Catholic. Today they are some of the most landless proprietors. Let’s take for a base the year 1918. We are not talking about restitution, i.e. the return of confiscated land. That is impossible. In many regions settlements already occupy the place of church holdings and in other cases there are owners of the land. Thus the land must come from the fund of redistribution and land reserves. In this fund have been amassed about 40 million hectares of state-owned "no man’s land." And before the revolution the church had 3 million in all. And pensioners can bring their shares into their own parish."
"What will the church do with this land?"
"In part it will lease this land and get income. ‘Produce made with the archbishop’s blessing’—such wares will sell. All this will help to resolve the problem of state support of the church. It will not be necessary. The church will be able to make money itself. After all when help comes from the government, sharing begins, and nothing remains of the pious church. I am a believing person and I was ashamed when in the nineties the church was permitted to import tobacco and alcohol duty free."
"Have you discussed your ideas in the government?"
"Yes, they were received well there. They said only: try not to offend any confession; there’s enough for all. I also discussed this topic with the head of the Federative Council Sergei Mironov, and he also supported me. He said, ‘go to it.’"
"Has the patriarch responded to you?"
"The patriarch is now on vacation, but I am awaiting the result eagerly. We will prepare the law along with the patriarchate and the question of transfer of land will be resolved by local authorities based on specific circumstances."
For now the government has refused to comment on Starikov’s initiative. At the patriarchate Izvestiia was told that, in their opinion, the topic of the restoration of church property was raised in connection with the recent adoption of the law on the turnover of agricultural land which does not provide for the concept of use without charge. Thus in order to give the above mentioned lands legal status the church will need to buy them or the state will have to lease them to it. RPTs only request is that the rent be minimal. The church again affirms that it is talking only about lands already attached to the church and not about some millions of desiatines. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 July 2002)
SECRET OF THE FEDERATIVE COUNCIL. UNKNOWN GROUP PREPARING RETURN OF
LAND TO RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
by Viktor Khamraev, Mariia Nikiforova, Maxim Balutenko, Oleg Volkov
Vremia novostei, 24 July 2002
The church should own the lands that belonged to it before the October revolution of 1917. That is the essence of a draft law that will appear in the fall, the head of the agrarian committee of the Federative Council, Ivan Starikov, promised yesterday. According to his calculations, there were on the order of three millions hectares of land owned by monasteries and parishes and it is now possible to return them from the fund for redistribution of land reserves that has up to forty million hectares.
Just where this draft law is being written (in the Kremlin, White House, or one of the chambers of parliament) Starikov refused to specify and, with regard to the composition of the authors’ group as a whole, "Vremia novostei" newspaper was told that "this is the strictest secret." It cannot be ruled out that the draft is being worked out deep within the Federative Council which has operated "on a new basis" for a year but has still not found for itself a place in the system of power and would be happy for any noisy initiative.
Undoubtedly the first to support it is the Moscow patriarchate. "All lands now under church buildings as well as those being used by monasteries for agriculture have been turned over to RPTs on the basis of a long-term lease without charge," the director of the Communications Service of the Department for External Church Relations, Viktor Malukhin, explained the "Vremia novostei." "But the question of the return of land as the church’s property has already been discussed often at sessions of various commissions, including the government, to which representatives of the patriarchate have also been invited." A specific list of properties that RPTs claims still does not exist. The patriarchate is waiting for the question to be resolved in principle.
The hierarchs of the church first spoke seriously of "at least partial compensation for the buildings, lands, and valuable art objects that had been lost" at the jubilee bishops’ council of RPTs in September 2000. The patriarch and bishops even requested that Vladimir Putin "use all possible efforts" for confirming the rights of the church to land that was nationalized by bolsheviks after the October revolution. The clergy explains the desire to receive compensation for lost property by reference to the financial crisis of parishes that became worse after the default of 1998. They claimed that without it the state will not be able to count on the help of RPTs in creating a morally stable nation. The patriarchate’s appeal was received with a certain confusion in the presidential administration. In the Kremlin it was thought that the government already had done quite a bit in this matter. Since 1992, following the appropriate order from Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, a multitude of structures, thousands of icons, and different churchware were returned to the church. Besides RPTs received a number of duty and economic privileges which, however, became the source of enormous "tobacco" and "vodka" scandals. But the top people of RPTs did not remove the land question from the agenda and have periodically tried to find supporters in governmental and public structures. At the end of last year Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad at the Department of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences explained to scholars that programs of the church for combating homelessness and drug addition can function fully only if RPTs receives resources and the right to be vigorously engaged in economic activity. But, according to Mr. Malukhin, the Moscow patriarchate has not appealed to the Federative Council or to the head of the agrarian committee personally.
Ivan Starikov himself thinks that the draft law being prepared is called "to restore historic justice." However then not only the church will demand historic justice but also all those who suffered from the bolshevik revolution of 1917. If senators return prerevolutionary property to the church specifically by adopting a special law for that purpose, then in the best of cases this law will not work. Those who are aggrieved will have no difficulty proving in the Constitutional Court its invalidity as an act violating equality before the law. "If property is returned, then it must be to all and not to a select few," Boris Zolotukhin, who was a member of the group that drew up the constitution, told "Vremia novostei." Senators will then have to adopt a new law on return of property to all, that is, on full restitution. As a minimum, "the results of the privatization that has occurred will be placed in doubt," Kandidate of Juridical Sciences Vladimir Entin, of the law firm "Klishin and partners," told a "Vremia novostei" reporter. The attorney likens the idea proclaimed by Senator Starikov to "a lighted wick attached to a powder keg to set it off." To an expert of nongovernmental organizations, Kandidat of Economics Andrei Gudkov, it is also quite clear that the return of property to churches will not put an end to the matter but will begin a widespread restitution which will be little different from expropriation and will proceed "on the bolshevik principle of steal what was stolen." Gudkov maintains that in Russia there is "not a single competent person who was a property owner in 1917." Restitution took place in former socialist countries where the socialistic nationalization occurred after the second world war and where, accordingly, "those who remember their property and their market were alive." However, Ivan Starikov is sure that, having begun with the church, in time it will be possible to adopt a law on return of property "to all who were undeservedly aggrieved by the revolution." (tr. by PDS, posted 24 July 2002)
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The subject "Foundations of Orthodox culture," which has been introduced as a required school course on the territories of a number of church dioceses (Moscow, Smolensk-Kaliningrad, Kemerovo), as well as the church’s suggestion of the incorporation of religious education in secondary and higher schools, has provoked a vigorous discussion. Some, "legalists," demand respect for the secular character of education prescribed by the constitution of the Russian federation and in Russian laws "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" and "On education." Others, "traditionalists," use the term "canonical territory" and maintain that the historic services of their religion or confession have been substantial enough as to justify giving children religious training in a secular country, pointing to various possibilities in interpretation of "secular" laws. Society is stuck on the threshold of a new division. This time, over one of the most eternal questions of Russian history of the past two centuries. "(tr. by PDS, posted 23 July 2002)
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For seven years attempts to ban the Moscow congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been continuing. "Moskovskie novosti" has described the judicial persecution begun seven years ago by the prosecutor of the northern administrative district of the capital against the Moscow congregation Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The criminal case that was instigated fell flat. Jehovah’s Witnesses underwent the procedure of reregistration in the Ministry of Justice of the Russian federation. Almost 400 Russian congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses received the legal right to live and believe in accordance with their religious convictions.
Nevertheless from the end of September 1998 until February 2001 there continued in the Golovin district court (with breaks) what is perhaps the most astonishing judicial process of the twentieth century. Because no matter how they have tried to keep the charge within the bounds of ordinary court procedure, where for every illegal action there is a corresponding article of law and where the severity of punishment is proportionate to the seriousness of the crime, all these long months the core of the case has irresistably slipped out of the realm of jurisprudence into the area of faith. The inexorable logic of the drawn-out trial against the Witnesses cannot but draw the court into interminable discussion of a single question: which faith is better?
Judge Elena Prokhorycheva, it would seem, put an end to the years-long litigation and rejected the prosecutor’s suit. However the Moscow city court overruled her decision. Now the case is being heard anew, in the same Golovin district court with the same representatives for the plaintiffs and the same defendants, with the same (with a slight exception) witnesses for both sides, but under the presidency of a different judge, Vera Dubinskaia.
Trial No. 2
Taught by experience to be cautious, Prosecutor Tatiana Kondratieva restrained herself from useless attempts to dwell openly on the meaning of one or another biblical text. However the very character of the trial that the prosecutor was dragging out rather often forced Tatiana Ivanovna to step onto the very same rake and get mixed up in tussles of a historical and religious nature. For example, she extracted from one of the Witnesses’ magazines a comparison of the Christian world with the ancient Judas. She expressed wonderment over this. "According to Christian teaching, Judas has a direct association with betrayal, betrayal of God," the prosecutor declared. That’s true, but it would have been better for her to keep quiet. Because very soon it was clarified that out of the Old and New Testaments she had remembered only the prominent Judas, whereas the name that he disgraced was borne by extremely worthy Jews: the fourth son of Jacob who saved Joseph, the brave military commander Maccabaeus, and many others. But that was not even the point. The comparison in this case that offended Tatiana Ivanovna pertained to the most numerous of the twelve tribes of Israel, the tribe of Judah. Just as Babylon took Judah into captivity for the sins of the people, Witnesses maintain, so the Christian world will be punished by Jehovah for its apostasy. Are they right? Are they deceived? In my opinion they are more right because humanity has rejected with disastrous stubbornness the lessons taught it from above. And besides, my opinion, the prosecutor’s opinion, or that of the attorney, the Witnesses themselves or their Orthodox opponents does not have any significance whatsoever for a civil judicial process. If the Golovin district court were engaged in a witch hunt, then all this would be relevant: Judas (the first, second, or third), long quotations from the prophetic books of the Old Testament, the gospel, the Apocalypse, interpretation of their meaning, on one hand by the procurator, on the other by the Witnesses, various translations of biblical texts, a general defense of the Christians church and its clergy as a "symbol of purity and spirituality," all of this the prosecutor presented many times, and much else.
Truth to tell, attendance in the court room often brought on wearying thoughts about one of the favorite occupations in Russia, discovery and punishment of heretics. For example, the court was addressed by one witness called for the prosecution, Igor Metlik, a senior scholar of the State Institute of Family and Education, and author of the work "Study of the fundamentals of Orthodox in modern Russian schools." So what did he tell the court besides his conviction about the totalitarian aspirations of the Witnesses and the necessity of declaring them outside the law? "This organization, according to criteria, for example, recognition of Jesus Christ as God or not, from my point of view cannot be considered Christian." What a marvelous basis for the inquisition court to demand a bonfire to the heavens!
The religious essence of the trial was concealed by a fig leaf of a modern civil judicial procedure. Since the leaf itself was not very large, the horrible poverty of facts in the possession of the prosecution, both in the previous trial and now, became evident. True, in the time out between the two trials Mrs. Kondratieva got the idea that should be successful: the thing that ties together all the points of the indictment, from incitement of religious strife to encouraging suicide or rejection of medical aid on religious grounds, should be primarily the literature of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. You see, they understand the Bible wrongly. Their understanding, Tatiana Ivanovna declared, "is expressed in a form that violates existing legislation." Among the multitude of interpretations of texts of the Old and New Testaments it is not hard to some that, if not directly contradictory, at least are sufficiently divergent from one another. But nobody who has the slightest information about matters of faith could get the wild idea of determining the correspondence of one or another understanding of the eternal book with articles of the civil or criminal codes.
Disputes over faith are unavoidable and if they ever are concluded it will be, as Vladimir Soloviev said in "Three conversation," by a common opposition to the appearance of the antichrist. But does the prosecutor’s office, my lords, have a voice in this dispute? It will be recalled that there once was, true not a prosecutor, but a procurator, who with all his might resisted the attempt of the Sanhedrin to drag him into condemnation of the new religious teaching and its founder. However fear before power turned out in him to be stronger than the voice of conscience. It would be better for Mrs. Kondratieva if she studied this extremely instructive story before spending time and effort and expenses in order to send the Witnesses to a civil crucifixion. However one looks at the accusation, from an evidentiary, moral, or religious point of view, it does not work. A letter was signed by 10,395 Muscovites, members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation, and sent to the Golovin court with the humble request to leave them in peace. "We do not have any hatred for followers of other religions; we do not wish them evil," they write. The trouble however is that Mrs. Kondratiev is trying to protect their rights that are being violated, in her opinion, by the congregation. These 10,000 law abiding citizens are a congregation that in an incomprehensible manner is subjecting them to some kind of amazing unpleasantness. It’s a puzzle! They are trying to persuade the prosecutor: everything is fine with our rights. Let us live in accordance with our faith and train our children in it. Tatiana Ivanovna is unmoved. I will protect. And the letter? And 10,000 signatures? Perhaps somebody has thought about it, but it is as clear to Mrs. Kondratieva as two times two that this is a collective delusion.
The trial in Golovin court still has not been completed. A group of experts named by the court is now supposed to be working. When they study the literature of the Witnesses and the materials of the civil case then they are supposed to answer questions composed mainly by Tatiana Ivanovna. Judge V.K. Dubinskaia added to them her own rather strange one: "What is the attitude of neighboring citizens to the religious practice and means of evangelism of the Jehovah’s Witnesses?" There will be as many opinions as there are citizens. For example, I am interested and I willingly engage in conversations with Witnesses on biblical subjects in those, admittedly extremely rare, instances when they stop me on the street or come to my home. But there are people who in such cases are immediately annoyed and are prepared to cut and run. However neither my answer nor the answer of any furious enemy of the Witnesses has the slightest juridical significance. The senselessness of this question seems to me completely symbolic. The trial is just like the question. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 July 2002)
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The Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Justice for Moscow has filed suit in the Nagatinsk district court for liquidation of the "Kingdom of God" church. The church is a member of the Russian United Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) and its representatives think that they are clean before the law. In 1997 the charter of this religious organization was registered officially and in 1999 the church successfully underwent reregistration. "Thus the claims of the directorate of justice cannot be called anything but absurd," says cochairman of the Slavic Legal Center Vladimir Riakhovsky.
Nevertheless at the Moscow directorate of justice it is thought that their demand with regard to the "Kingdom of God" is completely justified. As the chief of the center for public communications of the Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Justice for Moscow, Elena Kovaleva, told a "Vremia novostei" reporter, the law "on freedom of conscience and religious associations" prescribes in addition to registration actions also "informing the registering agencies about the continuation of their activity annually." According to Mrs. Kovaleva, failure to present this information became the basis for the judicial suit, since the law provides for just such a sanction for tardy religious ministers.
However representatives of the Slavic Legal Center think these claims are "purely technical." "If the church really had a problem with its charter then it would not have been reregistered," noted Tatiana Tomaeva, director of the information department of this rights defense organization, in an interview with a "Vremia novostei" reporter. In the opinion of rights defenders, the authorities are deliberately fighting with confessions that are not considered "traditional" in Russia. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 July 2002)
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Practical relations of the Plenipotentiary with heads and representatives of churches and religious organizations: In 1999-2001 meetings were held with Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, Chief Rabbi of Russia A. Shaevich, Chairman of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of the European part of Russia Mufti R. Gainutjin, Chairman of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Russia and the European Countries of CIS, Mufti T. Tajuddin, Apostolic Administrator for Catholics of the Latin Rite of the European part of Russia Archbishop T. Kondrusiewicz, President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists P. Konovalchik, Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Oldritualist church Alimpy, the leadership of the churches of Seventh-Day Adventist Christians. It became traditional for the plenipotentiary to visit religious centers, ecclesiastical educational institutions, monasteries, churches, and houses of worship and to meet with religious leaders and the directors of religious societies and believers. At the time of conversations questions of the observance of the rights of citizens and religious associations in accordance with Russian legislation on freedom of conscience were discussed, as well as forms of possible participation by religious association in social, cultural, and charitable activity.
In the past decade the situation of religious associations has changed substantially. At the beginning of 2001 there were more than 20,000 registered associations. Religious organizations have been organically incorporated into the social life of the country and they are actively and fruitfully engaged in social, humanitarian, cultural, educational, and economic activity. There is every basis to affirm that in the Russian federation there have been created the legal and organizational conditions for the exercise by citizens of rights in the area of freedom of conscience and religious confession.
At the same time this does not mean that the state and society have solved all problems connected with the guarantee of human rights in the sphere of freedom of conscience and religious confession. Often violations of existing Russian laws on freedom of conscience and religious associations occur on the part of state agencies. Information about this is contained in reports in the news media, in materials of Russian and international nongovernmental human rights organizations, and reports from citizens and representatives of religious centers.
During 2000-2001 the office of the plenipotentiary received about 1,000 reports, complaints, and statements from forty component entities of the Russian federation in which there was information about violations of the rights of citizens to freedom of conscience and illegal restrictions of the activity of religious associations. The plenipotentiary received reports from representatives of Orthodox, Muslim, Adventist, Baptist, and Pentecostal churches and associations, as well as adherents of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Salvation Army, Center of Krishna Consciousness and others. Analysis of the information contained in the complaints and reports of citizens, materials of nongovernmental human rights organizations, and reports in the news media give a basis for saying that the most widespread violations of rights in the area of freedom of conscience include the following: denial of registration or reregistration of religious organizations (Moscow, Kabardino-Balkaria and Tatarstan republics, Lipetsk and Cheliabinsk provinces); distribution in news media of unreliable information about the activity of religious associations and incitement of religious intolerance (Altai and Krasnoyarsk territories, Ivanovsk, Irkutsk, Omsk, Penza, Perm, Samara, Sverdlov, and Cheliabinsk provinces); illegal hindrance (or restriction) of the activity of individual religious associations (Moscow, Ivanovsk, Kaluga, Nizhgorod, Penza, Pskov, Rostov, Sverdlov, and Tver provinces); refusal of return of previously nationalized (or administratively confiscated) buildings of worship and other property (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Adygei republic, Volgograd, Samara, and Ivanovsk provinces); nonobservance of the principle of the equality of religious associations and use of state budget resources for constructing worship buildings (Mordova republic, Kaluga, Kirov, Lipetsk, Perm, and Tver provinces); blocking the constructing of new worship buildings (Stavropol territory, Kamchatka, Rostov, Riazan, and Tver provinces).
In Russia there are no federal state agencies and public human rights organizations that would monitor on a country-wide basis violations of the rights of citizens in the sphere of freedom of conscience or would investigate what is happening in this area. The lack of generalized information engenders diverse, opposing, and mutually exclusive opinions relative to the religious situation as a whole and the condition of corresponding rights of citizens in particular.
In accordance with the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" of 26 September 1997, in 1998-2000 the reregistration of religious organizations was conducted. Originally two years had been allotted for this process. This period proved to be clearly insufficient and at the end of 1999 the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian federation extended it to 31 December 2000. However by autumn 2000 only a little more than 50 percent of religious organizations subject to reregistration had undergone the corresponding procedure. The plenipotentiary suggested to the president of the Russian federation that a legislative initiative be launched for extending the period of reregistration another two years. This suggestion was not supported.
The situation with the reregistration of religious organizations in a number of regions of the country was accompanied by conflicts in connection with illegal actions by agencies of justice. Applications from believers were rejected and documents often were returned on the pretense that they were improperly filled out. There were violations of the deadlines for review of applications and sometimes the decisions to deny reregistration were made without adequate basis (republics of Tatarstan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Chuvashia; Voronezh, Kirov, Kostroma, Lipetsk, Orel, and Tula provinces). In these circumstances religious organizations were forced in accordance with point 2 of article 12 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" to appeal in court against the decisions of territorial agencies of justice. Judicial decisions obliging local authorities to reregister religious organizations were made, for example, in Viatskye Poliany of Kirov province (Evangelical Christian society), Irkutsk (Christians of Evangelical Faith), Moscow (Scientology church) and Kazan (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
There has been a growth in the number of appeals from representatives of religious organizations filing suit in court to refute information that discredits their honor, dignity, and business reputation disseminated by news media. It is not only these labels that are hung on one or another legally existing religious associations. There also is "sect," and "destructive cult," and "totalitarian cults."
In his report to the Ministry of the Russian federation for Press, Television, Radio, and News Media the plenipotentiary suggested a discussion of the question of arranging legal education for reporters who specialize in problems of freedom of conscience and the conditions of religious associations. In developing this suggestion for the city of Suzdal, Vladimir province, the plenipotentiary conducted, along with the Institute of Religion and Law, a seminar for reporters "Freedom of Conscience in a Law-based state, juridical and informational aspects."
At the beginning of the 1990s the state began returning to religious associations previously nationalized or illegally confiscated buildings. Today thousands of these have been renovated and restored and worship services and religious rites are being conducted in them. We are talking primarily about Orthodox and Old Believer churches and Muslim mosques. However, news media report that serious conflicts have flared up over former church property, which have a long history and which cannot be resolved easily. Representatives of the most diverse religious organizations have written the plenipotentiary about this. For example, in Samara there are five active congregations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, numbering around 1,000 persons. Only two of them have their own houses of worship and three are forced to meet in premises that are not suitable for religious meetings. For more than ten years believers have petitioned in vain for the return to them of a building that was nationalized back in the 1930s and now is used for municipal housing. They appealed to the city and provincial administration and to the government of the Russian federation. All appeals have remained without results. The mayor’s office of Samara, while recognizing the legality of the believers’ requests, still has indicated that "resettlement of residents is not possible" because of problems in the budgetary finances of the city. For more than a year there has been correspondence between the plenipotentiary and the mayor’s office of Samara about the return of the building to believers. The administration of the city proposes waiting until 2004, when it will be able "with sufficient budgetary resources" to achieve a "plan for the gradual return to the church of property that earlier belonged to it."
Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation of Alagir (republic of Northern Osetiia and Alania) appealed to the plenipotentiary. They reported that with the permission of local agencies of authority the congregation built a new house of worship. However on the eve of its opening the authorities suddenly forbade conducting worship meetings in it, padlocked the building, and threatened to confiscate it. For more than six months the believers were not able to achieve the opening of their house of worship, appealing to local and republican offices. The appeals were not reviewed. A tense situation developed in the city. After an appeal by the federal plenipotentiary to the president of the republic of Northern Osetia-Alania, A.S. Dzasokhov, suggesting the rescinding of the illegal decision, the conflict was removed and believers got the possibility of using their house of worship.
There have also been other illegal restriction on activity of religious organizations that are permitted by law about which believers report in their appeals. In connection with this the plenipotentiary has sent more than 100 inquiries to federal and regional agencies of authority, law enforcement agencies, and offices of local administration. Forty declarations have been received directly by the plenipotentiary for review. In a number of cases, it has been possible to get a restoration of the violated rights of citizens and religious associations. For example, a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was registered in the city of Lipetsk, a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was reregistered in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria; a decision of the administration of Pskov province was rescinded, which infringed upon the rights of non-Orthodox associations to use municipal buildings for conducting religious educational events; the distribution in the N.N. Burdenko military hospital of circulars calling for refusing to permit non-Orthodox associations to work with patients was stopped; illegal restriction on the activity of the "Dianetika" administrative center in Ekaterinburg was removed; an employee of the administration of Penza province was disciplined for illegal hindrance of the activity of the "Zhivaia vera" religious association; a conflict between the administration of Irkutsk and the "Slovo Zhizni" religious organization over publication of false information about the organization in a pamphlet "Religious organizations of Irkutsk" was resolved.
The growth in recent years of the number of violations of the rights of citizens in the sphere of freedom of conscience and illegal restrictions on the activity of religious associations has led to the need for the development by the Supreme Court of the Russian federation of means for the implementation by courts of the legislation on freedom of conscience. This will permit a clearing up of the most widespread violations of these rights both on the part of agencies of government and administration and on the part of certain religious associations and an end to typical judicial mistakes in the review of cases connected with the protection of human rights in the sphere of freedom of conscience. It also will be beneficial to develop the work of agencies of the prosecutor’s offices in conducting supervision of the implementation of legislation on freedom of conscience and religious organizations as well as of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian federation and its territorial agencies for overseeing observance by religious associations of the purposes and procedures stated in their charters. It is suggested that only on this basis will it be possible to raise the question of introducing additions and amendments into the currently existing federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." At the same time it is necessary to try to get it to correspond to generally accepted principles and standards of international law and the international obligations of Russia for guaranteeing human rights in the sphere of freedom of conscience. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 July 2002)
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The Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Justice for the city of Moscow sent a suit to the Nagatinsk district court for recognition that the "Kingdom of God" church has ceased its activity and for its liquidation. Thereby the directorate of justice has united itself to attempts of the authorities to hinder the normal activity of the church that have been going on several months already.
The "Kingdom of God" church of Christians of Evangelical Faith successfully underwent reregistration, although last year the notorious V. Zhbankov, a former deputy head of the directorate, demanded that the church make changes in its charter. Despite the fact that the church’s charter is in full conformity with the law and does not need any changes, the church cooperated with the directorate of justice. The "Kingdom of God" church three times submitted documents for registration of changes in the charter, and three times it was refused. The third refusal, dated in June of this year, stated that the registration of changes and additions to the charter were denied because a suit had been filed in Nagatinsk court of the city of Moscow for recognition that the church had ceased its activity and for its liquidation.
The directorate of justice filed suit in court for recognition that the church had ceased its activity on the basis that it supposedly had not submitted to the registration agency information about its activity over the course of the past three years. However, during all these years the church properly informed the directorate in writing about the continuation of its activity, to say nothing of the unsuccessful attempts to register the changes in the charter, which it had full rights not to make. "The attempts of the directorate of justice against the church cannot be called anything but absurd," says the co-chairman of the Slavic Legal Center, Vladimir Riakhovsky.
"The directorate of justice is crudely violating the law and ignoring the determination of the Constitutional Court according to which nobody has the right to liquidate a religious organization on a purely technical basis," says Anatoly Pchelintsev, director of the Institute of Religion and Law. "It is amazing that such lawlessness is issuing specifically from the agencies of justice."
What are the underlying reasons of this case? As always, they consist in the obsessive desire of the authorities to destroy a religious organization that they dislike for some reason. We recall that this year under the pretext of conducting an antiterrorist operation officers of the power structures conducted a raid on the church’s building. Attempts were also made to confiscate from the church the building that it had legally obtained. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 July 2002)
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The head of Russian Catholics, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who prefers to be called "metropolitan," addressed the world community with the words "Freedom of conscience in Russia is under threat!" This inevitably brings to mind our recent past and the proclamations of rights defenders about the infringement of civil rights in USSR.
But where, in the opinion of the archbishop, is the threat to freedom of conscience in our fatherland coming from this time? It turns out, from the Pskov newspaper "Blagodatnye luchi." This small publication of the Pskov diocese of the Russian Orthodox church dared to protest against the uncontrolled Catholic expansion in Russia. The newspaper published a letter from its ruling bishop to the president of the Russian federation with a call to limit Catholic proselytism. Apparently Archbishop Kondrusiewicz is sincerely convinced that any criticism of the Catholic church is a blow "to freedom and democracy" in Russia. It is amazing how easy it is for His Eminence to tie the particular to the general and to transform the expressions of separate individuals into a "threat" for the whole country.
The archbishop also is frightened by the demonstrations of peaceful protest by Orthodox believers that are spreading across the country. In their demonstrations, prayer vigils, and letters people expressed (quite democratically) disagreement with the policy of the Catholic church that divided Russia into dioceses and called it its "church province." Do these alarmist, not to say panic-stricken notes in Archbishop Kondrusiewicz’s words mean that only his flock has the right to express their point of view? It seems that we are again confronted with a manifestation of a "double standard," when the creation of Catholic dioceses is lightly called a "normalization of canonical status," and any other point of view is characterized as none other than a threat to the principle of freedom of conscience. In such a framework Russian Orthodox risk becoming second-class people in their own country because they do not share the values of European civilization in the form that the Catholic hierarchs declare them, transforming themselves for a time from spiritual pastors into rights defenders and jurists.
And there’s yet more. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz has appealed to an authority in Russia that is higher for him, the prosecutor’s office, with a request "to take control" of the demonstrations of Orthodox believers. He is not alone in such requests. Thus, the head of Catholics of western Siberia, Bishop Joseph Werth, did not wish to meet with Orthodox believers for a discussion of substantial problems, and he also preferred to appeal to law enforcement agencies with a statement "about violations of freedom of conscience."
But are there really instances of some kind of offenses against Russian Catholics or, more than that, of some actions that prevent them from meeting together and praying? Absolutely not, and no Orthodox people intend to act in such a way. We will not forget that it was the Russian Orthodox church that bore the most frightful losses in the twenties to the sixties of the twentieth century, and the right to confess freely Christ Crucified was won by us with the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs and confessors.
The head of Russian Catholics cannot help but know what the adventure of creating Catholic dioceses in Russia will turn into. Meanwhile his appeal abounds in citations of the constitution and federal legislation. One gets the impression that the head of Russian Catholics is trying with all his might to add to all of his merits yet another one: a bastion of law-abiding. The lines where he speaks of the refusal of a visa to the priest Stefano Caprio reek with righteous indignation. But whether to grant or not to grant a visa to one or another foreign citizen is the right of every state, and freedom of conscience has nothing to do with it. In recent days Catholics have complained about the exile from Russia of one of their brethren, Bishop Jerzy Mazur. But also, by no means is there innocence on the Catholic side. His Eminence forgets that the structure headed by Mazur, the "apostolic administration" for Catholics of eastern Siberia, just two months ago contained in its name the Japanese occupational designation of southern Sakhalin, the "prefecture of Karafuto." Besides, this former administrative structure and the current diocese do not even have state registration and they are operating without legal bases. Therefore there were more than enough formal bases for expelling Bishop Mazur. The only thing that is not clear is why in this case the Catholics talk over and over about freedom of conscience?
But for Kondrusiewicz it is "under threat" in Russia. Perhaps it really would be possible to agree with this statement. Actually, the attempt to portray their own miscalculation and incompetence in the adventure of creation Catholic dioceses in Russia as persecution on the part of Orthodox believers creates a dangerous precedent. In the event of subsequent mistakes it will be possible to use this hasty approach easily. In so doing the rights of the religious majority of the country, the children of the Russian Orthodox church, will be struck a real blow. The archbishop’s cynical frankness in his statement forces one to think on this and to endeavor to guarantee firmly the freedom of speech for all. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 July 2002)
Russia Religion News Current News Items
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