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Russia Religion News Current News Items

Armenia adopts law on alternative military service

Interfax, 16 January 2004

Armenian President Robert Kocharian has signed laws on the mass media and alternative service that were earlier approved by parliament.

The Law on Mass Media guarantees freedom of the press and regulates journalists' work and accreditation, as well as the liability of media groups.

This was welcomed by most of Armenia's mass media groups and journalists' organizations.

The Law on Alternative Service gives Armenian citizens the right to choose between military and alternative service, if military service violates their religious or moral principles.

In Armenia, mandatory military service lasts for 24 months, alternative military service for 36 months, and alternative civilian service for 42 months. The law will take effect on July 1, 2004.

Armenia passed these laws in line with the commitments it assumed when joining the Council of Europe in 2001.

BBC Monitoring International Reports, 19 January 2004

The law on alternative military service does not threaten the Armenian army's combat effectiveness, Armenian Defence Minister Serzh Sarkisyan has said in an interview with Armenian Public Television.

He stressed that the Armenian army, according to international assessments, was the most effective army in the region today and that it would preserve its combat readiness in the future. The minister said that new laws would be adopted and amendments would be made to the existing laws regulating the military sphere in the nearest future, which would allay people's concern about the adopted law on alternative military service. Serzh Sarkisyan denied exaggerated rumours that the term of the active military service would be increased.

The minister believes that the greatest achievement of the Armenian army in 2003 was that the army's combat effectiveness was maintained, the number of casualties decreased, its infrastructure and armament improved, and the army recruited 400 young trained officers.

"Certainly, this is not only the army's achievement but also the achievement of the country's political leadership," the minister noted. He also stressed that one of the priority tasks of the ministry in 2004 would be to preserve the army's combat effectiveness.  (posted 23 January 2004)


Third Reading

The present law governs the treatment of the citizen of the republic of Armenia with regard to the substitution of alternative service for mandatory military service and it establishes procedures for organization and conduct of the draft for alternative service.

Article 1. The legislation on alternative service

The legislation on alternative service consists of the constitution of the republic of Armenia, international agreements of the republic of Armenia, the present law, and other laws and juridical acts.

Article 2. The concept and forms of alternative service

As used in the present law, the basic concept has the following meanings:
Alternative service: special state service carried out by a citizen of the republic of Armenia that is not connected with bearing, keeping, maintaining, and using weapons and it consists of two forms:
1. alternative military service: a form of special state service carried out within the armed forces of the republic of Armenia.
2. alternative labor service: a form of special state service carried out outside of the armed forces of the republic of Armenia.

The goal of alternative service is accomplishing the fulfillment of civil obligation to the motherland and society, and it does not have the character of punishment, or the demeaning of the honor and dignity of the individual.

Article 3. Basis of the performance of alternative service

The citizen who is subject to mandatory conscription into the military service has the right to transfer to alternative service if the performance of military service within military detachments and the bearing, keeping, maintaining, and usage of arms contradicts his religious confession or conviction.

Article 4. The citizen who is sent into alternative service

Into alternative service is sent that citizen who before the 1st of March or 1st of September preceding the regularly scheduled draft has declared to the military commissariat for the place of his residence on the basis of article 3 of the present law concerning the absence of the possibility of performing mandatory military service, and with respect to whom the local draft commission has issued a corresponding decision.

The provisions of the present law do not extend to citizens who have been exempted from obligatory military service or who have the right to deferment.

Article 5. Term of alternative service

The term of alternative military service is established as 36 months.

The term of alternative labor service is established as 42 months.


Article 6. Conscription into alternative service

Conscription into alternative service and discharge into the reserves are carried out in conjuction with conscription into obligatory military service and discharge into the reserves for a term established by order of the president of the republic of Armenia. After the announcement of the conscription into alternative service a citizen who has applied for alternative service is obliged, within a period of time indicated in the notice, to appear at the military commissariat for the place of his residence. Questions of alternative service are dealt with by local, provincial (or Yerevan municipal) and republican draft commissions. The procedures for their formation and activity are determined by the procedure established by the law of the republic of Armenia "On military obligation."

Article 7. Application for substitution for mandatory military service by alternative service

The citizen who is subject to conscription into mandatory military service who selects alternative service presents a written application to the military commissariat for the place of his residence, within the period of time established by article 4 of the present law, indicating the form of alternative service preferred by him and setting forth his intention of substituting alternative service for mandatory military service. The citizenšs application, following its registration in the military commissariat, is presented within ten days to the local draft commission for review.

Article 8. Review of the application for alternative service

The local draft commission reviews the application for alternative  service in a separate session. The applicant is notified beforehand of the time and place of the commission session. The draft commission makes a decision on each application.

Article 9. The basis for refusing substitution of alternative service for mandatory military service.

By decision of the local draft commission, the application of a citizen for substitution of alternative service for mandatory military service may be rejected if
1. the citizen who has presented the application for alternative service is summoned again to a session of the local draft commission and does not appear for invalid reason.
2. the application for alternative service contains false information.

In the event of a rejection by the local draft commission of an application of a citizen, he is given within ten days an excerpt from the minutes of the session of the local draft commission in which the reason for rejection of his application for performing alternative service is noted.

Article 10. Suspension of the application for alternative service without review.

The local draft commission ceases its review of an application for alternative service and makes a corresponding decision if during the review of the application for alternative service it transpires that the citizen who presented the application is not subject to conscription or has the right of deferment from mandatory military service.

Article 11. Resolution of disputes relative to conscription into alternative service

If the local draft commission rejects the application of a citizen for substitution of alternative service for mandatory military service, the conscript has the right to appeal to the republican draft commission within ten days time.

In the event of disagreement with the decision of the republican draft commission, the conscript has the right to appeal it in court by a procedure established by law.

Article 12. Exemption or deferment from alternative service

Exemption or granting a deferment from alternative service is carried out by a procedure established by the law of the republic of Armenia "On military obligation."

Article 13. Beginning of alternative service

On the basis of the decision of the draft commission, the military commissariat delivers to the conscript a summons regarding appearance at the military commissariat for dispatch into alternative service. The day of appearance at the military commissariat for dispatch to the place of alternative service is considered to be the beginning of alternative service.

Article 14. Guarantee of the performance of alternative service.

The organization and conduct of the draft into alternative service is supervised by the agency of state administration in the sphere of defense that is authorized by the government of the republic of Armenia.

The list of places for performing alternative service in the republic of Armenia is established by the government of the republic of Armenia.

Costs for arranging and performing alternative service are financed out of the state budget.

Article 15. Substitution of alternative military service for mandatory military service

Alternative military service is substituted for mandatory military service if the alternative military serviceman presents an application for this to the command of his military detachment in the course of six months after the draft.


Article 16. Procedure for performing alternative service

1. The procedure for the performance of alternative service is established by the present law and by other laws and juridical acts.

2.  A citizen who performs alternative service takes an oath before the state flag of the republic of Armenia and assumes the corresponding obligations.

3. Alternative service personnel wear a uniform whose appearance and rules of wearing are established by the government of the republic of Armenia.

4. Alternative service personnel may not be assigned duties that are intended for conscript or contract service personnel of the  military forces of the republic of Armenia and of other military detachments.

Article 17. Rights and obligations of alternative service personnel

Alternative service personnel enjoy in equal measure the right of service personnel performing obligatory military service and they have the same obligations, with the exception of situations provided by the present law.

Article 18. Protection of the rights of alternative service personnel

Commanders and other immediate supervisors of detachments and military units of the armed forces are forbidden to impress alternative service personnel into service in military detachments, or to give them orders of a battle character or assignments connected with the bearing, keeping, maintaining or use of weapons and explosives. Upon receiving orders, instructions, and directions violating the requirements of the present law or other clearly illegal commands from supervisors mentioned in the present article (immediate or direct), or from other authorities, the alternative service personnel are governed only by the requirements of law, of which they inform the superior.

Article 19. Discharge into the reserves from alternative service

Discharge into the reserves from alternative service and enrollment in the reserves is carried out by the procedure established by legislation.

Article 20. Social security of alternative military service personnel and members of their families

Matters of the social security of alternative military service personnel and members of their families is governed by the law of the republic of Armenia "On social security of military service personnel and members of their families."

Article 21. Responsibility of alternative military service personnel

Conscripts of alternative military service bear responsibility for violations of law and crimes in equal measure with conscripts into military service and service personnel in accordance with the procedure established by law.

Article 22. Application of certain restrictions with regard to citizens who have performed alternative service.

1. Citizens who have performed alternative service may not receive by established procedure the right to have, bear, and use arms.

2. Citizens who have performed alternative service may not be appointed to such state offices as have responsibility for such operations that are connected with keeping, bearing, and using arms.


Article 23. Effective date of law

The present law will come into effect on the first day of July 2004.

Article 24. Adoption of juridical acts proceeding from the present law.

1. The adoption of a law establishing the social security of alternative labor service personnel and members of their families is to be carried out before the present law takes effect.

2. A law establishing the responsibility of alternative service personnel is to be adopted before the present law takes effect.

3. Juridical acts proceeding from the present law are to be adopted by the government of the republic of Armenia before the present law takes effect.

(tr. by PDS, posted 23 January 2004)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Patriarch Says Better Relations With Vatican To Hinge on Deeds

MOSCOW, January 12 (Itar-Tass) - A possibility of improving relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican is hinged on real moves, and not words, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexis II said in an interview with Agence France Presse.

Its text was placed at the official website of the Russian Church Monday.

"Vatican officials have many a time given assurances of their brotherly feelings for the Russian Orthodox Church and have denounced proselytism or unifications as a means of attaining genuine unity .125among the Western and Eastern Christians.375," Alexis II said.

Their statements have failed to bring about a real improvement of the situation so far, he indicated.

He denounced the practices of Roman Catholic proselytism and said: "The Russian Orthodox Church has never put up obstacles to the Roman Catholic clergy in the spiritual fostering of their traditional laity here".

"What happens in reality is that dozens of Catholic missionary orders are now operating in Russia and other countries of the CIS and their real target is somewhat different from the spiritual guidance of traditional believers," Alexis II said.

"They are working to convert to Catholicism the believers who have been born, baptized, and brought up in the Eastern Orthodox faith and culture and are its historical inheritors," he said.

"This is happening in a country with a millennium-old Christian tradition, and the Catholic missionaries do not bother to take account of the opinions of the Russian Orthodox Church; they are actually ignoring the presence of this Church on its historical canonic territory," Alexis II said.

As he described the situation in western Ukraine, Alexis II stated: "Hundreds of thousands of Eastern Orthodox believers have found themselves in the position of an outcast minority there, while the Greek Catholics are aggravating the situation by eastwards religious expansionism to the traditional Orthodox southern and eastern regions".

He voiced concern over the attempts of the Greek Catholics to move their episcopal see from the western city of Lvov to Kiev and to raise its status to that of a patriarchate.

"They are thus trying to impose their own style of religious union in the parts of Ukraine where unification trends have never existed," Alexis II said.

"How the situation will develop there in the future is highly contingent on the Vatican's position," he said.

Alexis II voiced the hope that "sober thinking of the Roman Catholic leadership will avert an irreparable worsening of the situation". (posted 15 January 2004)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Uzzell challenges US State Department analysis

by Lawrence A. Uzzell
Moscow Times, 12 January 2004

Washington is bureaucratizing the cause of human rights -- for both good and ill, as one can see in the U.S. State Department's latest annual report on worldwide religious freedom, released in the latter half of December. Bureaucracies can be superb at collecting information, and simply by publishing catalogues of specific abuses they deter abusers and encourage victims. But government reports, produced by compromises between bureaucratic factions, are less adept at creative analysis. They tend to fall back on standard formulas, repeating them every year rather than providing new insights into the changing dynamics of repression. They often flinch from telling hard truths.

For example, the new report's section on Russia states that "there was no change in the overall status of respect for religious freedom" during the period it covers -- the year 2002. Contradicting that conclusion are facts that the report itself acknowledges. It provides a commendable wealth of detail on expulsions of foreign clergy and missionaries, but fails to state explicitly that such expulsions have sharply increased in recent years.

The year 2002 was dramatically worse for Roman Catholic clergy than any previous year since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the expulsion of one bishop and four priests. In essence, 2002 was the year when the Roman Catholics abruptly caught up with the Protestants as targets of religious repression -- but the State Department report fails to make this clear, or to make any serious attempt to analyze the reasons why.

The report cites the groundbreaking research of Geraldine Fagan, now Moscow correspondent of the Forum 18 News Service, but fails to share her finding that the number of known cases of expulsions of foreign Protestant missionaries in 2002 alone was about the same as the total for the previous four years combined.

Combining Fagan's data and other sources, Mark Elliott of Samford University recently estimated "a current total of 84 known expulsions of foreign religious workers (1997-2003), including 54 Protestants, 15 Muslims, seven Catholics, three Buddhists, three Mormons, and two Jehovah's Witnesses." He stressed that "these totals undoubtedly are incomplete because of the desire of many to avoid publicity." Nor do they include missionaries who have suffered lesser forms of harassment such as finding that they are stuck in Moscow, barred from returning to the provinces where they had been serving.

In carefully neutral language, the State Department's report notes that Russian officials often cited "state security" as the justification for expulsions. It fails to make clear, however, that they consistently failed to provide any evidence for that vague allegation. When bureaucrats make a habit of patently false, sensational charges against vulnerable minorities, outside observers -- even diplomats -- should explicitly state that those charges are false.

On the other hand, the report provides a useful summary of the draft report by a Russian government task force on "religious extremism," leaked to the press in December 2002.

It correctly observes that this draft "appeared to reflect the types of concerns that prompted government actions in a number of visa and registration cases" -- such as the view that Roman Catholics are a prime security threat. Unfortunately, the State Department fails to mention an essential piece of context: a policy document on national security issued by Vladimir Putin himself in January 2000, warning against "foreign religious organizations and missionaries" as tools for "the cultural-religious expansion of neighboring states into Russian territory."

Indeed, one of the report's striking features is that every specific reference to Putin is either neutral or positive -- mostly the latter. It is as if U.S. officials have accepted the old Russian view of the tsar himself as being above criticism, no matter how oppressive his ministers.

The report deserves credit for focusing on repression of Muslims, an issue sometimes neglected in the past. It rightly highlights the demagogic use of the term "Wahhabi" to smear a broad range of Muslim groups no matter what their actual beliefs. It lists specific government actions such as Sochi's refusal to let that city's Muslims build a new mosque, and also positive steps such as a court decision allowing Muslim women to wear head-scarves in their passport photos.

But on some other indigenous minorities, especially those without vocal co-religionists in America, the State Department continues to be unsatisfactory. As in past reports, the Old Believers and the unregistered initsiativniki Baptists are barely mentioned. The latter especially have suffered more in recent years than mainstream Protestant groups -- but since they are not partners of well-connected groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention, America's evangelical Protestant lobbyists are not interested. Human rights advocates should defend the weakest of the oppressed, not just those with the best legal and public-relations machines.

Another flaw is the report's excessive emphasis on "tolerance" and "interfaith dialogue." These may be good things, but they are not identical to religious freedom and can even undermine it. When the state promotes feel-good ecumenical meetings in which groups with radically different belief systems are coached to avoid offending each other, it marginalizes those who oppose ecumenism out of strong conviction and who just want to be left alone. Unlike America's culture, Russia's takes ultimate metaphysical questions seriously; the challenge for Russians is to find ways to disagree about such questions without enslaving each other, not to smother disagreements under U.S.-style political correctness.

Finally, the State Department report fails to use the word "corruption" even once. Admittedly this is a difficult topic to investigate -- but in church-state relations, as elsewhere in Russian life, it is crucial. For example, the Salvation Army's refusal to pay a bribe in 2001 was one of the major reasons for its subsequent difficulties with Moscow officialdom.

Russia is not a militant persecutor like China. It does not penalize individuals simply for praying at home or attending worship services, though it denies some groups the right to disseminate their beliefs in public.

Nor is it a theocracy: There is almost no correlation between a religious minority's disagreement with Orthodox Christian teachings and its likelihood of suffering repression. Overall, Moscow's current agenda is not so much ideological as bureaucratic: It does not chain religious leaders but leashes them, keeping them dependent on the state and intimidated from speaking out on issues such as Chechnya.

To understand that agenda we need deeper, more nuanced analysis. The State Department needs to raise its sights.

Lawrence A. Uzzell, president of International Religious Freedom Watch, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.

(posted 14 January 2004)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Orthodox spokesman unsympathetic to defendants in exhibit case


It is hoped in the Russian Orthodox church (RPTs) that law enforcement agencies and the court will investigate attentively the criminal case that has been opened with respect to the leadership of the Andrei Sakharov Museum of Moscow, "" reports, citing Interfax.

The charge on the basis of article 282 of the RF Criminal Code, "incitement of national, racial or religious strife," was delivered recently to the museum director, Yury Samodurov, by the prosecutor of the central district of the capital.

The basis for this was the contents of the "Beware, Religion!" exhibition that was presented in the museum from 14 to 18 January 2003. In it were represented exhibits that aroused indignation of the part of many believers, in particular an icon of the Savior against a background of a "Coca Cola" ad with the inscription "This is my blood," and also a figure of a saint with a cut-out face, where those who wished could place their head.

There was also a poster with a photograph of a nude prostitute crucified on a cross and an image of an Orthodox cross with a garland of sausages on it, and other similar "creative discoveries."

"Of course, to determine whether in this case a crime has been committed is a matter for the courts and law enforcement agencies, but one would hope that no well-intentioned person would give approval to these masters of the wild paintbrush," the vice chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarch, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, told Interfax in an interview on 8 January. He also expressed the hope that the "court will listen to not only the artists and organizers of the exhibition but also those whose feelings were seriously aroused."

"In any society it is not accepted to insult what is dear to people, for example, the personality or memory of the dead, state symbols, and so forth. It is not clear why some think that it is possible to insult religious symbols which for many people symbolise what is most dear," the representative of the Moscow patriarchate said.

"For the believing person the value of a religious symbol is no less important than the value of the human individual, the memory of the departed, or symbols of the state, and therefore religious symbols should be protected by law," Chaplin thinks. He is convinced that "there exists a line between the freedom of the artist and offense against the feelings of another person, and people who intentionally cross this line for the sake of provocation, cheap praise, or in order to cover up the absence of real talent are people who should be seized by society."

Previously the organizers of the "Beware, Religion!" exhibition were sharply condemned by famous figures in Russian culture, and six believers poured paint on the walls and exhibits and broke glass in the Andrei Sakharov Museum as a sign of protest. A criminal case was opened against the "pogromists" but in October of last year it was closed. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 January 2004)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Pro-Orthodoxy undercurrent in Russian affairs

by Sophie Lambroschini
RFE/RL, 7 January 2004

One year after a Moscow museum ran a provocative art exhibit challenging the sanctity of Russian Orthodox Christianity, two museum officials and three artists are facing charges of up to five years in prison for inciting religious hatred. As RFE/RL reports, the case has spurred a debate on the limits of free expression in Russia and has many wondering about the political undertones.

Moscow, 7 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A year ago, the talk of the Moscow art community was an exhibit at the city's Andrei Sakharov Museum titled, "Caution -- religion!"

The exhibit featured paintings of human figures nailed to crosses and even to a swastika. A larger display featured a model of a church fashioned out of vodka bottles -- an allusion to the Russian Orthodox Church's tax breaks on alcohol imports. Another showed an Orthodox icon with its face cut out.

In short, it was provocative -- as modern art can often be. But Yurii Samodurov, the director of the Sakharov museum, had little idea at the time to what degree it would provoke the authorities.

He found out late last month, when the Prosecutor-General's Office leveled charges that might earn Samodurov up to five years in prison. The charges are based on Article 282 of Russia's Criminal Code, which prohibits the "inciting of national, interracial, and religious hatred."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Samodurov read from the official notification of the charges leveled against him, the museum's artistic director and three artists who contributed to the exhibit. They are being charged with "the public exhibition in the museum of specially collected displays that incite hatred and hostility and offend the dignity of people on the basis of their belonging to the Christian faith in general, and Orthodox Christianity, and the Russian Orthodox Church in particular."

The "Caution -- religion!" exhibit was causing controversy just days after its opening, when members of a radical religious organization entered the museum, breaking some of the displays and covering others with spray paint. The assailants -- whose vandalism cases were later dismissed -- explained that the exhibit had insulted their faith.

The museum quickly closed the exhibit, but not soon enough to stem a wave of protests from political and religious groups. A representative from the Moscow Patriarchate called the exhibition "illegal." Writers and artists like film director Nikita Mikhalkov wrote open letters condemning the exhibit. And the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, demanded that prosecutors take legal action against the museum's director.

Samodurov firmly rejects any suggestion that the exhibit amounted to religious heresy and says the charges violate his freedom of expression.

"It is clear that religious symbols like icons have one meaning when they're in a church, but a completely different meaning when they're hanging in an exhibit hall, when they're represented in the works of secular artists that may often express some criticism, including of the church," Samodurov said.

Aleksandr Verkhovskii, the editor of the "Sova" religious affairs website, says the outcome of the case is uncertain.

"There is a precedent in such cases -- not here [in Russia], but in the West -- cases of insulting people's beliefs. And it did happen that sometimes the artists or the organizations that organized the events would lose, even in front of the European Court [of Human Rights]. So it's difficult to say a priori what is justified and what is not," Verkhovskii said.

But the cases rejected by the Strasbourg court involved the simple banning of provocative films and exhibits -- not criminal charges. Verkhovskii says such cases in Russia usually die "a natural death" in the prosecutor's office. But now, he says, the atmosphere in Russia appears to have changed. And pro-Orthodoxy factions, which often keep close company with nationalist groups, have been on the rise since the Duma elections in early December.

"Part of those people who insisted on opening a criminal case [against Samodurov] have now become Duma deputies from the Motherland [Party] bloc. And I guess [their stance] is now considered to be a more respectable public position," Verkhovskii said.

Motherland, which emerged from the relative political wilderness to come in fourth place in last month's election, is supported by a number of groups seeking a more prominent role for the Russian Orthodox Church. Motherland leader Sergei Glazev is a prominent member of a group called the Union of Orthodox Citizens, which has been a vocal critic of the Sakharov museum. And a recent article in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" newspaper noted what it called the new Duma's "unprecedented loyalty" to the church.

Pro-Orthodoxy trends, feeding on the nationalistic belief that faith is key to Russia's identity, have been an undercurrent in Russian affairs for over a decade. They compete with factions who believe that strict state neutrality in matters of religion is the only way for multiethnic Russia to exist.

But the church has appeared to make certain gains in recent years. Instruction in "Orthodox culture" in schools was recently pushed through after years of lobbying by the church. And Russian President Vladimir Putin is often shown attending church services. Speaking today during a visit to a monastery outside Moscow on the occasion of Orthodox Christmas, the president said that in Russia the state and church are separate, "but in the people's souls, they are one."

Aleksandr Chuev, a Motherland deputy, says Russia needs to do more to punish what he calls religious blasphemy, and that the Duma should adopt an amendment specifically aimed at punishing those who insult religious beliefs.

"You know, if we judge and send people to jail for inciting war, if we judge and send people to jail for racist propaganda, and if we think that is a normal and democratic thing to do, then why aren't religious believers also protected in our country? I don't think that's right. It shouldn't be like that," Chuev said.

Political scientist Vladimir Pribylovskii says the Samodurov case reflects a trend that reaches even beyond the growing role of the church, comparing it to initiatives by a pro-Putin youth organization to ban and even burn famous avant-garde novels they deem to be provocative or pornographic.

Pribylovskii says such trends reflect the growing support of "nationalistic-conservative" ideals that represent a swing of the pendulum away from the openness of the first post-Soviet decade. "Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable for Samodurov to be charged, or for kids to be allowed to burn books on the street," he said. "Now it's allowed. It's the spirit of the times."  (posted 8 January 2004)

Regnum, 29 December 2003

The "Common Action" initiative group distributed an appeal in connection with the presentation of a criminal charge against the famous rights defender and director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Community Center, Yury Samodurov, and an employee of the center, Liudmila Vasilovskaia, as well as three artists and curators of the exhibit Anna Alchuk, Arutiuna Zulumiana, and Narine Zolian.

They all have been charged on the basis of part 2 of article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian federation, "Arousal of hatred or hostility and similar demeaning of human dignity," which provides for punishment "by fine of between 100,000 and 500,000 rubles or the amount of wages or other income of the convicted person for a period of from one to three years, or deprivation of the right of employment in certain positions or of engagement in certain activity for a period of up to five years, or compulsory labor for a period of 120 to 240 hours, or correctional labor for a period of from one to two years, or deprivation of freedom for a period up to five years." They are charged on the basis of the organization in January 2003 of the "Beware, Religion!" exhibit, where among other exhibits there were works of contemporary art that entailed the polemical profanation of religious symbols. Several days after the opening of the exhibit in January 2003 vandals, who were members of the "For the moral rebirth of the fatherland" public committee, wrecked it. A criminal case was opened against six of the vigilantes in July on the basis of article 231, part 2 ("hooligan activity"), but it was quickly closed. The events dealing with the exhibit became the subject of bitter controversy that even a number of State Duma deputies became involved in, who demanded that the prosecutor general of Russia open a criminal investigation against the organizers of the exhibit themselves, which was done.

Among the charges filed there was "desacrilization of sacred images by means of the creation of associative connections." "Thereby the investigator of a secular state considered sacredness a legal concept and found a crime is the creation of emotional associations. As a result now the real threat has been created that the accused will be convicted on the, in effect, medieval charge of blasphemy," the appeal notes.

"The history of Russia of the past 100 years has no instance of anyone taken to court for artistic criticism and profanation of religious symbols. The last example of such persecution was the excommunication of Leo Tolstoy from the church at the beginning of the last century. But even then nobody got the idea of opening a criminal prosecution against him," this document states further. "We are convinced that extension of the case by the prosecutor is an attempt to find a pretext for repression of the museum and its employees."

The authors of the appeal call for "action to protect Yu. Samorurov, L. Vasilovskaia, A. Alchuk, A. Zulumiana, and N. Zolan from the reprisals that are being prepared and to prevent the restoration of political and religious censorship."

The appeal was signed specifically by rights defenders Andrei Babushkin, Lidia Grafova, Valentin Gefter, Svetlana Gannushkina, Lev Ponomarev, ecological scientist Aleksei Yablokov, priest Gleb Yakunin, and others. The appeal also was supported by the scientific director of GUVShE [State University Advanced School of Economics] Evgeny Yasin, vice president of the "Liberal Mission" foundation Professor Igor Kliamkin, RGGU [Russian State Hamanities University] Professor Leonid Batkin, member of the policy council of SPS [Union of Right Forces] Boris Nadezhdin, and others. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 January 2004)

Posted on the site, 30 December 2003
Original of the appeal posted on "Common Action " site.

by Marina Ovsova
Moskovskii komsomolets, 6 January 2004

Before the New Year the organizaers of the "Beware, Religion!" exhibit were charged with criminal activity. From being victims of a pogrom they were turned into the accused. The pogromists were not even reprimanded. Marina Ovsova has observed the case.

The director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Community Center, Yury Samodurov, and his associate Liudmila Vasilevskaia were charged on point B of part 2 of article 282 of the RF Criminal Code (for actions directed to arousing hatred and enmity and also to demeaning the dignity of a group of persons on the basis of national identity and attitude toward religion, committed publicly by employment of official position). The certification of the initiation of a criminal case was signed by the investigator for especially important cases of the central administrative district of Moscow, Yu.A. Tsvetkov.

Much has been written about the destruction of the scandalous exhibit. Let's recall briefly. "Beware, Religion!" opened on 14 January of last year and lasted all of four days, in which approximately 80 persons were able to view it. Thirty-nine artists, including some with famous names, decided to present their artistic view on the place of the Russian Orthodox church in contemporary society. And this view in the majority of exhibits was presented impartially. Among the exhibits there were, for example, the acronym "RPTs" cut from plastic foam hung like Christmas decorations; images of saints with faces cut out so that any who wished could insert their own face; bottles of vodka with cupolas in place of stoppers, etc.

An insult? Absolutely not. In the past decade ministers of the church provided many occasions for such artistic ridicule.

And on 18 January six persons broke into the museum building and conducted a pogrom in the exhibition hall; they tore the canvases and poured paint on the exhibits. Two of them were arrested. They turned out to be members of the "For the moral rebirth of the fatherland" public committee which is directed by Archpriest Alexander Shargunov. A criminal case was opened but soon it was closed and another case was opened against the organizers of the exhibit. Deputies of the State Duma acted as initiators of the case, sending to Prosecutor General Ustinov a request to investigate the incident of incitement of religious hostility by the organizers of the exhibit.

The Sakharov museum now appears like a besieged fortress. Believers have sent to law enforcement agencies of various levels thousands of letters (the prosecutor's office alone received approximately 4,000 of them), museum workers have received threats, and artists now do not know what they can portray on their canvases and what they cannot.

This story has yet another continuation. Approximately a month ago this same committee "For the moral rebirth of the fatherland" also "went after" one of our greatest museums, the Russian Museum. Its director, Vladimir Gusev, received from the committee a warning that he should not exhibit sixty works given to the museum by a single Moscow gallery. That was simply because, you see, the painters of some of the pictures participated in the scandalous exhibit in the Sakharov museum. Judging by everything, history is beginning to repeat itself in accordance with some invisible laws. For seventy years the governmental authorities deliberately crushed the church; it destroyed church buildings and exiled and shot priests. Now we observe a different tendency. With the complicity of the authorities one of the religious confessions (at least its most radical representatives) has begun to dictate conditions to all of secular society.  And the main one of these conditions is that the Russian Orthodox church and its symbols must be above criticism. In addition, the fact arises that neither this church nor the government has condemned the pogrom and thereby is provoking radically minded believers to commit similar actions in the future. And so it is not very far to the inquisition, which reminds one of medieval history.

"When in the USSR the church and believing people were subjected to persecution, rights defenders (including me) always were on their side," says the director of the Sakharov museum, Yury Samodurov. "But, it seems, this has been forgotten. We agree that there may exist various kinds of prohibitions and taboos in the area of art, but they should be defined and regulated by law and by the ethical codes of the profession or by decisions of the administrations of museums and galleries. But what is most important is that these 'restrictive' laws should not contradict fundamental constitutional principles of freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and freedom to disseminate and receive information. As well as the secular character of Russian society and the state."

We have still not received any answers to questions that interest us from the committee "For the moral rebirth of the fatherland," which is always prepared for pogroms. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 January 2004)

Posted on site, 8 January 2004

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Russian president observes Orthodox Christmas


Vladimir Putin considers that Orthodoxy is a part of our culture. "One must not draw a line between culture and the church," he said during a visit to an orphanage in the monastery of St. Savva of Mt. Storozha, RIA Novosti reports.

"Of course, in our country the church is separated from the state," the president stressed. "But in the people's souls everything is together."

At tea during the visit at the orphanage, in which residents and clergy participated, talk dealt with the relations between the monastery and the Zvenigorod architectural museum located on the grounds of the monastery. The president was told that in 2005 it is planned for the museum to be removed from the monastery and for a special building to be built for it. "We must not act in a way that one is treated and another crippled," the head of state noted. He said that relations must be arranged very precisely. "There should not be artificial barriers," he said.

As one of the priests explained to RIA Novosti, at the present time a gradual transfer of monastery buildings to the church is underway. He said that this is happening in full harmony and mutual respect. He was talking about the fact that those exhibits from the museum's collection that "reflect the heritage of the cloister" will remain in the monastery. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 January 2004)


Russia's president attended the Christmas divine liturgy in Suzdal's church of the Mother of God of the Sign, RIA Novosti reports. Vladimir Putin entered the church, lit a candle, and stood to the left of the altar. The service was conducted by the parish priest Father Pavel.

The church of the Sign, which accommodates around thirty parishioners according to the NTV television company, is located on the Mzharka river on the outskirts of Suzdal. In antiquity a convent was located here, which was burned and looted in 1237 by Mongol Khan Batu. Later a wooden church of the Presentation was built on this place, which was destroyed in 1611 by Lithuanians. "After that it stood deserted. . ." a historical note preserved in the altar of the  church of the Sign [Znamenskaia] states.

Under Metropolitan Illarion the wooden church of the Sign was moved here from the marketplace in Suzdal. In 1749 a stone church replaced the wooden church, which was built from parishioners' resources. In the soviet period the church was closed, and in the 1990s it was planned to refurnish the church as a restaurant. In 1991 in Vladimir Suzdal Museum Trust turned the church over to the Vladimir Suzdal diocese, after restoration.

The summer church of the Sign is a part of a network of Suzdal church buildings. It is cube-shaped with decorative portals, topped by a four-pitch roof and a single dome. The interior space is covered by a closed vault. At the present time the church of the Sign is an active parish church. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 January 2004)


Suzdal became the seventh city of the Golden Ring that Vladimir Putin has visited in the capacity of president of Russia. Suzdal dates itself from 1024 and in the past 250 years the city that stands of the brink of it first millennium celebration has not expanded territorially. In the territory comprising nine square kilometers in all are preserved 33 churches and another 17 chapels and 5 monasteries.

As "First Channel" reports, Vladimir Putin began his stay by visiting the St. Efimy Savior monastery where he placed flowers on the grave of Dmitry Pozharsky, which is located on the grounds of the monastery. After this he visited the museum of Dmitry Pozharsky. There Vladimir Putin was shown a bell whose ringing once summoned residents of Suzdal to city assemblies, and then the head of state viewed the cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior that is located on the grounds of the monastery, where the frescos of the outstanding Russian painters Gury Nikitin and Sila Savid are splendidly preserved. During his visit to the monastery the president gave Christmas greetings to the residents of Vladimir province and wished them "happiness, prosperity, success, and health."

A concert was given to the high-ranking guest in the bishop's resident of the Suzdal kremlin. The "Goodness" male choir performed first, beginning the program by singing "Field" from the repertoire of the group "Lube." Also heard at the concert were Russian folk and army songs "Rise up, falcons, like eagles," "Goodbye, Slavs," and "A birchtree stood in a field." The holiday concert ended with a performance by foster children of the "Hope" home in the Holy Trinity monastery.

After the concert the residents of the home surrounded the president and the director wished the head of state happiness, saying that "the girls had awaited the president eagerly and they always pray for him." The president personally thanked the smallest of the foster children, six-year-old Anna, for the good singing, NTV reported.

In the time remaining before the start of the Christmas service, the president held a meeting with the governor of Vladimir province, Nikolai Vinogradov, and Suzdal Mayor Andrei Ryzhov. On his trip the head of state was accompanied by the presidential envoy for the Central federal district, Georgy Poltavchenko.

Late in the evening Vladimir Putin arrived at the church of the Most Holy Mother of God of the Sign on the outskirts of Suzdal. The rector of the church, Father Pavel, met the president at the doors of the church. Entering, the president greeted the parishioners, and then he stayed for the whole service from beginning to end. The church of the Sign is very ancient and small; it accommodates no more than thirty persons, and thus many had to stay out on the street where the service was carried by loudspeakers.

Several dozen Suzdalians waited for the president in twenty-below temperatures for several hours in order to greet the head of state. As RIA Novosti reports, Vladimir Putin approached the citizens and gave them holiday greetings and asked whether they were freezing. The Suzdalians warmly welcomed the president and gave him Christmas greetings and asked why he had come to Suzdal without his wife. To this Vladimir Putin replied that she stayed at home because 6 January was her birthday. The Suzdalians asked the president to relay their greetings to his wife.

We recall that in 2003 the head of state spent Christmas in the small village church of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God in Agapovka in Cheliabinsk province. In the Christmas days of 2002 the president made a working trip around several of the cities of the Golden Ring: Pereslavl-Zalessky, Gus-Khrustalnyi, and Vladimir, where he attended the Christmas liturgy in the Dormition cathedral church.

The Putin couple celebrated Christmas 2001 along with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, his wife, and daughter. The Putins and Schroeders attended the holiday service together in the church of Christ the Savior. Acting President Putin also celebrated Christmas in 2000 in Moscow and attended the holiday service at the church of the Life-giving Trinity on Sparrow Hills. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 January 2004)

Commentary, 6 January 2004

President Vladimir Putin, who is famous for his habit of going away somewhere far from the capital on the great Orthodox holidays, traveled to greet the current Christmas in Suzdal. For a relatively well informed Orthodox Russian the name of this city evokes associations not only with ancient Russian history or the tourist and museum business, but also with division in the church. As is known, in Suzdal is located the ecclesiastical administrative center of one of the "alternative" Orthodox churches, probably the most famous after the schism of ROCOR, the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (RPATs). Probably for many on either side of the line of the church division there is a temptation to link the visit of the "Orthodox president" to Suzdal with this situation. How well based are such presuppositions?

Much already has been said and written about why the head of the Russian state prefers to travel far into the countryside on the most important days for the Orthodox Christian, the feasts of the Nativity of Christ and Pascha. Several analysts think that in this way he shows his vital religious sense, as a sincere Orthodox Christian, who is trying to escape from the spotlights and the official protocol to some place where it is easier to get into the "hidden cell of one's heart." Others suggest that the president is demonstratively distancing himself from the present leadership of RPTsMP, avoiding participation in services conducted by Patriarch Alexis II. Whatever the case, departure from Moscow on Christmas and Easter has become for the president the rule that he did not violate this year also.

However just why was it Suzdal, an ordinary burg with a population of 12,000, on which the choice of his majesty fell? From a crude point of view one wants to explain the act of the president as his attempt to bury himself in the "native Russian" atmosphere of the "chief winter holiday." And the fabled Suzdal creates the most appropriate setting for this. Besides, a picture showing Vladimir Putin against the background of dozens of church domes, snow-covered fields, and a Russian troika is very effective from the PR point of view; it creates a solid association of the president with the national culture and national spiritual values. It is also noted that some of the president's relatives live in Suzdal. From an economic point of view, the choice of Suzdal as the object of the head of state's visit could be explained by his concern for the development of the tourist business. Suzdal, which attracted every year the attention of tens of thousands of foreign tourists even back in soviet times but has in recent times gone into decline, should by rights become the center of such business.

In addition, the president's inner circle contains several persons who want to turn Putin's attention to the church problems that have become synonymous with the word "Suzdal." And even the president himself, who already has taken an active part in overcoming the division between RPTsMP and ROCOR, is surely not unaware of these problems. The visit to Suzdal began with a meeting of the president with city Mayor Andrei Ryzhov, who gained office almost two years ago thanks to the active support of the militarized extremist organization "Our Business" [Nashe delo], which is based in Suzdal for the specific purpose of "fighting schism." Andrei Ryzhov, who has considerable experience of working in the KGB-FSB ranks, from the very beginning of leading the city has actively involved himself in church affairs, supporting RPTsMP in every way and restricting the activity of RPATs. During his tenure as mayor the notorious trial of the head of the "alternative church," Metropolitan Valentin, has been going on, which was supposed to put an end to RPATs but turned out to fall flat. Vladimir Putin is being accompanied by numerous clerics of RPTsMP who, one should not doubt, will "immerse" the president in the "problem of schism." Finally, the head of state is visiting churches in the village of Kideksha where a former archpriest of RPATs and aged secretary of its synod, Andrei Osetrov, serves, who was later again consecrated a priest in RPTsMP. The church in which he serves is the object of a judicial investigation since, according to all documents, it belongs to the Suzdal diocese of RPATs.

Nevertheless, the president's visit to Suzdal most likely will cool down the fervor of those who, while singing Hosanna to the "devout Orthodox president," in reality try to defend their corporate or personal interests by means of the state, including those that are concealed by ecclesiastical rhetoric. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 January 2004)

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