NEWS ABOUT RELIGION IN RUSSIA
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STATE DUMA ADOPTS LAW ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE; PRESIDENCY, CHURCH PLEASED
by Galina Filippova, RIA-Novosti
MOSCOW, 19 September. The law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" in the version proposed by the president of Russia [see text] was adopted today by the State Duma, despite the attempt of a number of deputies to withdraw it from consideration.
Tatiana Astrakhankina (Communist party), Sergei Ivanenko (Yabloko), Anatoly Greshnevikov (Narodovlastie) and the independent deputy Galina Starovoitova proposed removing the bill from consideration on the basis that it contained serious conceptual changes and that deputies needed time to propose their own amendments.
The suggestion received support from fewer than half of their colleagues and word of it was given to a representative of the president of the Russian federation in the State Duma, Alexander Kotenkov. He remarked that the law, which has received wide public support and a stormy response from various religious confessions, was rejected by Boris Yeltsin in light of its violations of the constitution and a number of laws. Kotenkov said that the amendments introduced by the head of state were agreed upon with the profile committee of the State Duma and also approved by a majority of religious organizations.
He noted also that in the new version of the preamble of the law the role of Orthodoxy in Russian history is emphasized and in addition the provision that Russia is a secular state is underscored. The new version of the law reenforces the right of every person, including foreign citizens and persons without citizenship legally residing on Russian territory, to profess any religion and to create religious organizations. At the same time, the president's representative said, the law retains the provision whereby local religious organizations may be registered if they have confirmation of their existence for at least fifteen years in the given territory. However such restrictions do not apply to religious groups, which have the right to perform religious rites without registration and receive the status of legal entity. In addition, Kotenkov noted, the restrictions on opening foreign religious organizations were removed.
The repeated consideration of the law, according to the rules of the State Duma, did not include discussion by representatives of fractions and groups of deputies. The law was adopted by a majority of votes, with 358 for, 6 against, and 4 abstentions.
MOSCOW, 19 September. Representatives of the leadership of the administration of the presidency of Russia declared that today's adoption of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" in the version proposed by Boris Yeltsin is an example of successful cooperation between legislative and executive authority.
In a conversation with an RIA-Novosti correspondent they emphasized that this also testifies to the possibility of conducting successful dialogue between the state and representatives of the most diverse confessions. (tr. by PDS)
YELTSIN ADVISOR HOPES FOR QUICK ACTION FROM PRESIDENT by Andrei Poskakukhin
THE HAUGE, 19 September. Russian President Boris Yeltsin possibly very soon will sign the law adopted today by the State Duma on freedom of conscience, according to the director of administration of the president for domestic political matters, Andrei Loginov. In an interview with a correspondent from RIA Novosti he remarked that according to the rules the Federation Council may send a law for signature to the head of state without consideration.
Nevertheless, in the opinion of the director of administration, it is desirable that the Federation Council approve this law because it is expected that in the future it will be difficult to introduce local laws in keeping with it. He considers that it is at this stage it is necessary to fight against the infringement of rights of religious associations and organizations, inasmuch as in various regions normative regulations have been partially adopted which either completely prohibit the activity of missionary organizations or have other discriminatory provisions.
However, Andrei Loginov emphasized, in any case the adoption of the law in the presidential version means that a way out of the crisis that developed around this problem in recent months is "rather near." He noted that the version of the law which was adopted and which had been proposed by the administration of the president and the government, on the one hand, and by religious confessions, on the other, eliminates to a great extent the earlier incompatibilities of the law with the constitution, existing legislation, and international legal obligations of Russia and it removes the internal juridical contraditions of this document.
Andrei Loginov noted that now "the most important work" will consist in ensuring the new law by regulatory acts and consistent practice of its implementation, which must not by any means infringe upon the rights of any confessions, "irrespective of whether they are traditional for Russia or not, for the law must be identical for all."
Andrei Loginov explained the restrictions with regard to registration of religious organizations and associations that exist in the version of the law adopted today by noting that Russia today is going through a very complex period, "when along with the revival of very many valuable spiritual traditions there also is occurring a splash of the most unusual movements, including some that present a danger for society." He considers: "The main thing is that measures of a restrictive nature must not in any way be extended to serious religious organizations and movements."
Andrei Loginov participated in the closed international conference on freedom of conscience held 17-19 September in the Palace of Peace in the Hague, which was organized by the Association for Rights of Minorities." The main attention at this forum was devoted to a discussion of questions about the law on freedom of conscience in Russia. (tr. by PDS)
ORTHODOX CHURCH APPROVES DECISION
ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii
MOSCOW, 19 September. "Of course the Russian Orthodox church approves the decision made by the State Duma as a positive act in the life of our society," Archbishop Sergius concluded in an interview with a correspondent of ITAR-TASS. The archbishop is the director of affairs of the Moscow patriarchate and a member of the group that prepared the new version of the bill in the light of the amendments of the president.
The new version, according to the master, did not diverge essentially from the former version and it retained what was most important, that the law must create order with regard to new sects that manifest a destructive character. " As the result of many hours of conversations in which representatives of the administration of the president, government, and State Duma, and attorneys, as well as heads and representatives of the basic confessions of Russia participated, a flexible compromise was found, which could remove the existing contradictions with the constitution of Russia," the archbishop said.
Speaking about the prospects for the implementation of the new law, the master expressed the hope that in practice a one-sided, bureaucratic approach can be avoided and that it will work for the benefit of society and the state. (tr. by PDS)
(posted 19 September)
LAW ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE WILL BE REVIEWED BY THE STATE DUMA ON 19
Blagovest-Info/Pravslavie v Rossii
MOSCOW, 18 September. The Council of the State Duma decided on 18 September to include the draft on the law on freedom of conscience and religious association proposed by the president on the agenda of the session scheduled for 19 September. The review of the presidential draft will occur in the first half of the day, inasmuch as laws previously adopted have priority over new acts, Lev Levinson, aide to deputy Valery Borshchev, told Blagovest-Info.
The agency has learned that at 9:20 at the entrance to the duma building there will be a demonstration organized in which several hundred believers will take part, most of protestant denominations. According the Levinson, the law probably will be adopted in its entirety. "It is curious that a fraction of the Liberal Democratic Party is opposing it," an expert stated. "Supporters of Vladimir Zhirinovsky think that the duma should adopt its own version of the law and not the president's." (tr. by PDS)
ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS
Rossiiskaia gazeta, 18 September 1997
The official government newspaper published the text of the bill "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" that was released by the State Duma on 11 September, after its general approval by committee, but before the final revision work of an editing committee.
Here is the letter that President Boris Yeltsin sent along with the proposed version of the changed law:
BORIS YELTSIN: THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGIOUS PROFESSION MUST BE
Rossiiskaia gazeta, 18 September 1997
The president of the Russian federation sent to the president of the State Duma, G.N. Seleznev, a letter in which he substantiated his position on the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations."
On the basis of part 3, article 107 of the constitution of the Russian federation, I have rejected the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," adopted by the State Duma on 23 June 1997 and approved by the Federation Council on 4 July 1997. This decision was not made lightly, since, while I recognize well the need for fundamental changes in the legislation of the Russian federatin on freedom of conscience, I was forced to reject the federal law for reasons of principles that were stated in my letter to the State Duma of 21 July 1997.
The intensity of discussions associated with the adoption of the new federal law on freedom of conscience and the recognition of my responsibility for the formation of a system of law in the Russian frederation, which would not only objectively reflect public needs but also fully correspond to the constitution of the russian federation and generally accepted principles and standards of international law and the international treaties of the Russian federation, did not permit me to confine myself to the articulation of critical observations. In this regard I am sending concrete suggestions which are intended to remove the deficiencies that I indicated at the time I rejected the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations." These suggestions were discussed in the course of regular working sessions with representatives of religious associations and deputies of the State Duma. At the expanded session of the Council on Relations with Religious Organizations of the Presidency of the Russian federation on 1 September 1997 they were approved by representatives of various confessions, deputies of the State Duma and members of the Federation Council, who participated in the session of the council.
The suggested changes pertain to such matters as the expression in the preamble of the law of the role and place of traditional confessions, the equality of rights of citizens in the satisfaction of their religious needs, equality of religious associations before the law, the legal status of religious associations, and a number of other matters. Besides this, they are intended to remove the imprecision of the wording of separate provisions of the federal law as well as its internal contradictions.
In order to simplify the work of the deputies on the suggested amendments to the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association," I am sending to the State Duma a draft of a version of the federal law, including the clarified wording of its preamble and separate articles. All of the changes and additions are marked in the text in italics.
I hope for mutual understanding and cooperation with the deputies of the State Duma in this difficult work of building in the Russian federation a law-based state which guarantees, inter alia, the human and civil rights and freedoms in the area of freedom of religious profession, choice of religious convictions and their dissemination, equality of religious associations before the law, as well as defends citizens from spiritual aggression. (tr. by PDS)
Moscow, Kremlin 3 September 1997
Link to Russian text of bill: O sbovode sovesti
(posted 18 September 1997)
LAW ABOUT FAITH MAY SINK INTO A "BLACK HOLE"
by Alexander Gubanov
Rossiiskie vesti, 17 September 1997
Even though we all indeed have shed the soviet overcoat we are by no means able to reach a compromise in conditions of freedom because we easily submit to dictatorial decisions. Take the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations." It seemed that only yesterday it was possible to speak with assurance about its imminent adoption in the new presidential version. But no, new circumstances of life breathe rather a funereal mood.
RV already has written that the draft of amendments to the above cited law satisfied practically all confessions of Russia. It also eliminated the basic incompatibilities of certain provisions in its predecessor with the constitution of the Russian federation and international legal standards. What more could seem necessary? For whose sake, in the first place, was the law written? Clergy and believers. And they agreed with the new presidential version. It seems that the representatives of the confessions who have their own distinctive canonical requirements and their own perspective on the problems had to reach a certain compromise. Representatives of all leading religious confessions signed an appeal to State Duma President Gennady Seleznev requesting support for the agreed upon document. But at the same time there remained and still remains a danger that deputies of the left majority of the duma, returning from vacation, will revive the conflict of July and August to a purely emotional level. That is they may deliberately go to an override of the president's veto of the law. However, it now seems that there is no less a danger to the new document from the right.
Representatives of democratic organizations gathered in the Russian-American Information Press Center, from the president of the Public Chamber of the Presidency of the Russian federation on Human Rights, State Duma deputy Valery Borshchev to the unfrocked priest Gleb Yakunin. They sharply attacked the presidential version of the law, emotionally and with publicistic acuity. In their perception of the law they seem much like their ideological opponents. The same evasion of the essence of the question, inattention to the contents, slander of opponents, and even the search for enemies. For example it is completely mystifying why, say, the stress on Orthodoxy in Russia which one way or another appears in the law is being associated with communist influence; someone, namely the followers of Lenin, suppressed Orthodoxy far more than any other confessions.
In general, it turns out, that the "amended" law, approved in the first place by those for whom it was undertaken--clergy and believers--seems to be a hostage to political ambitions. The shepherds and the flocks are "for," but others are "against." It appears that the new presidential version of the document may not be able to garner the necessary number (226) of votes or it will be subjected to criticism from both left and right. To override the presidential veto, 300 votes are needed. And this, we predict, will not happen. It turns out that the law on faith, which society needs so much, is sinking into a "black hole."
What will happen instead? in the opinion of the director of the administration of the president of the Russian federation for domestic politics, Andrei Loginov, it is necessary to adopt the version of the law on which all confessions are agreed, as a base. And then corrections can be introduced. Otherwise we will turn out to have nothing but the current spiritual anarchy. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
(posted 17 September 1997)
ADDRESSES OF PARTICIPANTS IN THE SESSION OF THE CHAMBER ON HUMAN RIGHTS
OF THE POLITICAL CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL OF THE PRESIDENCY OF THE RF,
28 AUGUST 1997
Representatives of the Orthodox church, Old Believers, Baptists, and Muslims, and a deputy from the State Duma expressed their opinions on the revision of the law on freedom of conscience proposed by the Yeltsin administration at a hearing on 28 August. The Political Consultative Council gave its approval to the law on 2 September.
Transcripts of the addresses were published in Tserkovno-obshchestvenyi vestnik on 4 September. The English translations of these transcripts are available at these links:
Galina Starovoitova, State
Duma deputy, vice president of the Chamber on Human Rights, Mikhail Dziubenko,
aide to Metropolitan Alimpy of Moscow and all-Rus (Russian Orthodox Old
Yury Sipko, vice president of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of the Russian federation
Nafigulla Ashirov, president of the Supreme Coordination Center of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Russia
(posted 17 September 1997)
by Lev Simkin, doctor of juridical science
Moscow News, 16 September 1997
The differences are evident from the first page: Christianity as a whole (and not just Orthodoxy) is recognized as a part of the Russian historical heritage. True, this fact was sufficiently well known earlier but its verification did not have immediate legal meaning. Far more important is how much the essence of the law has been changed and most important is whether those provisions which the president in his veto message identified as discriminatory have been removed.
With respect to foreigners, evidently, the law has become more lenient. If its duma version permitted only citizens of the Russian federation to become members of a religious association, now "any persons permanently and legally residing on the territory of the Russian federation" may be members. But as regards the immediate subjects of the law--Russian religious associations--little has changed. As before the law is constructed like a two-story building, on the first floor of which space is allotted to the so-called religious groups (with extremely restricted rights) and on the second floor space is allotted to religious organizations with full rights. It is possible to ascend to the upper floor when agencies of local administration confirm the existence of the given religious group on the given territory for at least fifteen years. Where did this number fifteen come from? What was the reasoning of the law's authors by which they required all previously formed religious organizations to undergo reregistration before the year 2000? Possibly one can find a simple arithmetic action--if one subtracts 15 from 2000 one gets 1985. First year of perestroika. Only from that time did it become possible for confessions to be registered, which in previous years operated illegally (like Pentecostals and Mormons). But now by the will of the legislators several of them have been placed under threat of liquidation. It seems that they have forgotten the constitutional principle that "a law does not have retroactive effect," which means that a person cannot be held responsible for actions which formerly were permitted.
The compromise version, proposed by the president, is somewhat mitigated for existing religious organizations that do not have documentary confirmation of their fifteen-year existence. Unlike newly created congregations, they will be able to continue to enjoy the rights of legal entity until the achievement of the required term. This means that they will not be deprived of their property or be thrown out of their leased premises. However this generous concession is circumscribed by a fence of qualifications. During this period they are forbidden to create educational institutions, conduct religious rites in hospitals and prisons, and invite foreign preachers.
As regards new religious associations, for the first fifteen years they will be deprived of the status of legal entiry and, consequently, of the right to rent buildings for their needs or to own any kind of property. And this while our constitution (art. 14) specifically states the principle of the equality of religious associations before the law. Moreover international legal documents frequently emphasize that freedom of conscience includes the right of creating philanthropic and humanitarian institutions, publish appropriate publications, and the establish ties with individuals and organizations on an international level (art. 6 of the Declaration on Liquidation of all forms of intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion or convictions, resolution 36/55 of the General Assembly of the UN of 25 November 1981). There are corresponding provisions in the Final Document of the Vienna Meeting of 1989 of representatives of member states of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
True, in practical reality one does not always find complete equality of religious organizations. In Germany, for example, there is legislative provision of two forms of juridical status: "public corporations" and ordinary religious societies. In contrast with the second, the first have tax privileges and the legislation on bankruptcy does not apply to them. But the rights of each to the performance of religious services and dissemination of their faith are identical. Besides, in order to become a "public corporation" it is not necessary to be a member of the great world religions; this status is granted to Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Even in such a country as Italy where the status of simple religious organization is not commensurate with the position of the Catholic church, they all can conduct religious activity to the fullest extent. This permits them to engage in any form of activity that is available for a "traditional" confession. And evidently in all countries of Europe religious societies can be registered as legal entities without hinderance.
More complex is the question about the permissibility of the fifteen-year period of existence required for a religious organization to obtain registration. In creating this juridical novelty our legislators tried to create defense mechanisms against so-called "spiritual aggression," by which they understand activity of pseudoreligious organizations that infringe upon the rights of citizens and public security. Of course, the motives are quite understandable. But it is true that there are other ways for controlling such organizations, primarily the possibility of their judicial prosecution. At the same time we also can question the establishment of a unique kind of "probationary" period for newly formed religious organizations. In European legislation, however, I have not found anything like it. With one exception--in Latvia the charters of nontraditional religious organizations that are just beginning their activity can be registered no sooner than three years after their establishment. I think, if one generally agrees with the necessity of some kind of "probationary" period, such a period of time is more than sufficient for ascertaining the legality (or illegality) of the activity of a religious association. The Russian legislation would not be exceptional if it provides for state support for some traditional religions, even if this is not completely fair to the "nontraditional." But it is too much to agree to depriving religious associations of those rights for which they have been formed. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
(posted 16 September 1997)
PATRIARCHATE: WITHDRAWAL OF SUPPORT OF RELIGION LAW NOT CONFRONTATIONAL
RIA-Novosti/Pravoslavie v Rossii
MOSCOW, 16 September. The decision of representatives of a number of confessions to remove their signatures from a declaration that accompanied the revised text of the law on freedom of conscience is not "an act of confrontation." This was the opinion expressed at a press conference in RIA Novosti by the administrator of affairs of the Moscow patriarchate, Archbishop Sergius of Solnechnogorsk. He stated that the decision of representatives of the Catholics, Baptists, and Pentecostals to withdraw their signatures was their "sacred right." In addition the archbishop emphasized that the text of the law draft that recently was sent to the State Duma is identical to that which was worked out by a reconciliation commission in which representatives of those confessions that removed their signatures recently participated. "It is possible," Archbishop Sergius suggested, "that the decision was made by them after consultations in their societies." On his part, the president of the ecclesiastical administration of Muslims of the central European region of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, expressed amazement that the "brothers" who removed their signatures "are annulling what had been done." "We worked together on the document and those representatives of confessions that are retracting their signatures did not express any concerns about the text of the draft as it finally was revised," the mufti said. (tr. by PDS)
PARLIAMENT OF BURIATIIA SUSPENDS SECOND READING OF LAW ON RELIGIOUS
ITAR-TASS/Pravoslaviia v Rossii
ULAN-UDE, 16 September. The draft law "On Religious Activity on the Territory of Buriatiia" today was the principal item for discussion at the regular session of the republican parliament. On second reading the deputies did not come to agreement on a number of the articles of the document regulating the activity of foreign religious organizations. Disagreements arose over a list of the bases for refusing registration to such organizations, as well as on the procedures for holding foreign citizens and persons without citizenship accountable for illegal missionary work. As a result the parliament created a reconciliation commission. The deputies who make up the committee must present draft of compromises by the end of this week. Representatives of the Orthodox clergy and Buddhist societies are supposed to be included in the work.
It should be noted that the listing of "confessions and belief systems that have arisen historically" was not one of the disputed points. The parliamentarians considered that these included Buddhism, Orthodoxy, Ancient Orthodoxy (the Old Believer church) and Shamanism. In addition, there was no particular debate among the lawmakers about the mechanism for registration of religious associations in Buriatiia. It stipulates that before the ministry of justice reaches a decision about registration, a religious association that does not have a hierarchical structure at the federal level in Russia must undergo a governmental investigation by specialists in the study of religion. In order to implement this an expert-consultative council on religious affairs is supposed to be created within the government of the republic. (tr. by PDS)
(posted 16 September)
BOTH GODLY AND LEGALLY
Rossiiskaia gazeta, 13 September 1997
(Next week the draft of the version of the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" will be published in Rossiiakaia gazeta in the "documents" section, including the president's amendments and specifications. But today we recall how the complex fate of this draft law has unfolded.)
The fate of the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" has for several months on end been bothering both its creators and those to whom it is properly addressed, millions of Russia's believers. And not them alone.
It is well known that the the president of the Russian federation rejected the law as a violation of the constitutional principle of free religious profession. After Boris Yeltsin's veto concern dominated for some time both in religious associations, and the State Duma and Federation Council. In the event this did not happen without extremes: in some of the media the statements of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus were interpreted arbitrarily and even without this the anxiety was intensified by representatives of several confessions.
Nevertheless, it seems that a compromise has been found and the draft law seems to have good chances of achieving conformity with the constitution of the Russian federation and international legal norms. At the beginning of Sepetember there were several representative meetings where the fate of the law received careful attention.
The Council on Relations with Religious Association of the presidency of the Russian federation expressed its opinion. At the session of the council over which the director of the administration of the president, V. Yumashev, presided the participants included deputies of the State Duma, members of the Federation Council, and representatives of the government, religious centers, confessions, and academic institutions. As was noted by the head of the administration of the presidency of the Russian federation on matters of domestic politics, A. Loginov, after the president's veto of the law the adminstration had numerous consultations with representatives of religious associations. Various suggestions were studied, analysed, and considered in the revision of the draft. In the end a draft of amendments to the law was generated and presented for discussion at a session of the council.
Participants in the meeting reached agreement on such matters of principle as equality of rights in exercising the rights to freedom of conscience and freedom of religious profession, the legal position of religious associations, registration and reregisgration of religious orgnaizations; religious education; representation of foreign religious organizations, etc.
Also worthy of notice is the unanimity which was achieved by representatives of prominent religious associations. The declaration which they adopted contained the signatures expressing the opinion of twelve religious associations: Russian Orthodox church, Central Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Russia and European countries of the CIS, Buddhists of the Russian federation, the Congress of Jewish religious societies and organizations of Russia, the Apostolic Administration for Catholics of the Latin rite of the European part of Russia, and others. "We are persuaded of the need for immediate adoption of the new federal law 'On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," the declaration said, "which would reflect the distinctives of our fatherland and create effective mechanisms for protecting citizens from spiritual aggression. . . . We are persuaded that the implementation of this law will facilitate Russia's progress along the path of constructing a law-based society and securing of civil peace and harmony."
The Permanent Chamber on Public Associations and Religious Orgnaizxations of the Political Consultative Council supported the amendments of the law. Having noted the broad public support which the law adopted by the Federation Assembly received even after the president had vetoed it, members of the chamber emphasized in their session that the amendments offered for the law remove the provisions that existed in several articles that violated the constitution of the Russian federation and international legal documents. The chamber requested that deputies of the State Duma and members of the Federation Council review and adopt the new version of the law in the shortest possible time. And so there should be no bases for concern about the fate of the federal law among believers. We recall that in the explanations that Boris Yeltsin gave there was doubt about the right of a person "to make a choice in the sensitive matters of conscience and faith. It is quite another matter to make a definitive barrier to the activity of totalitarian sects and pseudoreligious groups that damage the morality and often even the health of people. Both the president and his most holiness Alexis II frequently talked about this.
In the current fall session Russian parliamentarians have a great deal over their heads. The draft of the 1998 budget, a criminal code, the remains of dozens of draft laws held over from the spring. . . But obviously a special place is occupied in the deputies "obligations" by the law "On freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations." No single political party or public movement can compete in size, traditions, and, if you will, in sincerity and depth of faith with the multi-million member party of world religion. Its history extends for centuries, even millennia, and its influence and place in the lives of people have not slackened in the least.
So the deputies and senators must place their trust in God in the heavy work, but they also must not fail themselves. It is better to give an account for work accomplished to the president from the start.
And this is what the State Duma did yesterday. The parliamentarians supported ninety percent of the amendments introduced by the Russian president into the draft law on freedom of conscience. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
(posted 16 September)
CATHOLIC COMPROMISE ON RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS LEGISLATION
by Paul Goble, RFERL
In an analysis from Washington, Paul Goble foresees that Catholic consent to support President Yeltsin's version of the law will blunt western opposition to it and lead to its adoption.
Goble concludes: "The Kremlin's success in wearing down the religious inside Russia will be even greater if the decision of the Roman Catholic Church there to change sides leads as appears likely to passive Western acceptance of a Russian law that will seriously circumscribe the freedom of religion in the Russian Federation."
Complete text of RFERL analysis.
Here is Keston's translation of the 11 September statement signed by the Adventist, Catholic and Pentecostal leaders in the form of an open letter to President Yeltsin:
Respected Boris Nikolaevich,
When on 22 July 1997 you rejected the unconstitutional law passed by the State Duma, 'On freedom of conscience and religious associations', the entire Christian world expressed its gratitude to you as a consistent and firm defender of freedom and democracy in Russia.
We thank God that the President of the Russian Federation is indeed the guarantor of its Constitution and of the rights and freedoms of man and citizen.
We fully supported all the remarks on the draft law set forth in your 21 July letter to the Duma. We also welcomed your initiative for pursing agreement on the provisions of the legislation and took part in the working meetings conducted by the presidential administration.
However, the 'improved' version of the legislation transmitted to the Duma on 4 September arouses serious bewilderment.
The fundamental violations of the Constitution which you yourself pointed out in rejecting the law have not been removed from the new bill. The new bill, like the previous one, still contains a series of discriminatory provisions which contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation and generally accepted norms of international law.
The new bill's proposed differentiation of religious associations according to the period of their 'legal' activity into religious groups (Article 7), religious organisations with the rights of legal personalities (Article 8), and religious organisations with 'limited' rights of legal personalities (point 4 of Article 27) would establish by statute the inequality of religious associations before the law. The new bill preserves the previous bill's 15-year 'probationary' period before religious associations can obtain the status of legal persons (Article 9). Like the old bill, the new one would limit the educational and child-raising activities of religious associations to their own circle of 'followers' (Articles 6, 7) and would limit the right of citizens to the creation of a religious association to the places of their permanent residence.
We categorically disagree with these and with several other provisions of the 'improved' version of the bill.
We expressed our support of the work of the negotiating group after being assured that our proposals would be taken into account in the writing of the bill's final text. But that did not happen.
You also were misled, into supposing that the new amendments to the bill had been agreed to and approved by 'the representatives of the various religious confessions'.
On the basis of the above, we appeal to you as the guarantor of the Constitution and request that you take all steps necessary to block the enactment of this anti-constitutional law.
We have trust in you!
from Keston News Service, 12 September 1997
(posted 12 September)
COMMITTEE APPROVES PRESIDENT'S DRAFT
Blagovest-Info/Pravoslavie v Rossii
MOSCOW. 11 September. Today the Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Relgious Organizations of the State Duma supported the text of the law on freedom of conscience suggested by the president, according to Lev Levinson, assistant to deputy Valery Borshchev, speaking with Blagovest-info. He said that at the session members of the committee did not reach a unanimous conclusion regarding a number of articles of the draft law and thus its final editing has been entrusted to a working group consisting of Viktor Zorkaltsev, president of the committee, Genrikh Mikhailov, head of the department on relations with religious organizations of the Russian government, Alexander Kudriavtsev, representative of the ministry of justice, Andrei Loginov, head of the administration of the president of the Russian federation for internal policies, Andrei Sebentsov, assistant administrator of the government apparatus, and Viktor Kalinin, an attorney for the Moscow patriarchate.
Levinson stated: "It now is obvious that the working group will not manage to prepare the text of the draft law in time for the plenary session of 12 September. However on that day, in all likelihood, there will be another session of the committee at which its members will review the agreed-upon text." Basic discussions of the law on freedom of conscience in the State Duma will extend into the following week. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
(posted 12 September)
ALMOST ALL THE PRESIDENT'S SUGGESTIONS ACCEPTED BY DUMA COMMITTEE
by Galina Amelkina
MOSCOW, 11 September. At a session today the duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations approved "practically all amendments of the president to the law draft "On Freedom of Confession and Religious Associations," according to the president of the committee Viktor Zorkaltsev, speaking with reporters. Thus he did not rule out the possibility that on Wednesday, 17 September, at its plenary session the duma will proceed to discussion of the new version of the draft.
As is known, in the summer Boris Yeltsin rejected the law, which had been adopted by the duma and approved by the Federation Council, has "violating the constitution and not corresponding to international standards." After this the document was returned to the State Duma with the head of state's amendments. Thus, there now are two versions of the law--the original duma version and the president's--in the chamber.
Zorkaltsev clarified that the duma still has two points of principle on which it differs with the president. First, the question remains open as to who can serve as a founder of religious organizations. Second, the duma "categorically insists" on the annual reregistration of new religious orgniazations for a fifteen-year period which, in the president's opinion, contradicts generally accepted world standards.
The president of the committee hopes that the chamber will approve the president's version of the draft, but he does not rule out the possibility that the deputies may even override the president's veto. (tr. by PDS)
(posted 11 September)
PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SECRETARY SEES NO BASIS FOR WESTERN CRITICISM OF
ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii
MOSCOW, 10 September. The Kremlin considers that "western critics" have no basis to speak out negatively regarding the new version of the draft law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations." Press secretary of the president of the Russian federation Sergei Yastrzhembsky declared: "nevertheless, for us the chief matter is not the reaction of western critics; for us it is more important to secure freedom of religious profession and the equality of confessions in accordance with the Russian constitution."
According to Yastrzhembsky, "many questions were answered" in the reconciliation commission that worked on the new version. Now the press secretary of the president considers that the issue is for the State Duma to approve the new version of the law, which has been supported "by all representatives of confessions who participated in its revision."
"If representatives of the Catholic church have expressed their satisfaction with the way the law has been revised, then which article could western critics object to, in any case from the point of view of Catholicism?" In Yastrzhembsky's opinion, there always "were, are, and will be" such critics, but that does not mean that "we should give attention to every peep from abroad."
The earlier version of the law "On Freedom of Conscsience and Religious Associations," which was adopted by both chambers of the Federation Assembly, was rejected by Boris Yeltsin in July 1997. The head of state perceived in it violations of the constitution, particularly the trampling of the rights of a number of confessions. In order to prepare a new version of the document, a reconciliation commission was created that included representatives of the basic confessions, parliament, and the presidential administration. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
(posted 11 September)
DEPARTMENT OF THEOLOGY OPENED IN TVER STATE UNIVERSITY
Pravoslavie v Rossii
TVER, 10 September. A department of Orthodox theology has been opened for the first time in a Russian state university. In response to an initiative from Archbishop Viktor of Tver and Kashinsk and priests of the Tver diocese Nikolai Vasechko and Alexis Zlobin, the academic council of the Tver State University decided in June of this year to create a university department of theology within the pedagogical faculty. The department comprises priests of Tver diocese, teachers of the ecclesiastical schools of the Russian Orthodox church and of institutions of higher education of the city of Tver.
A new academic specialty has been created: theology. Thus, in addition to their regular course of study, students will be able to attend a series of supplementary lectures on the teaching and history of the Orthodox church and of other Christian confessions as well as the history of world religions. In the future, lectures on the foundations of Orthodox teaching will be offered in all faculties of the university and in other educational institutions of the city.
By creating a department of theology in a state educational institution, higher education and the church have united their efforts not for training future clergymen but to achieve the spiritual enlightenment of our society. The church provides to the intelligentsia the spiritual treasures of the Russian Orthodox tradition while itself being restored to the life of contemporary academia, from whose fellowship it has been removed throughout the past decades. (tr. by PDS)
SEVENTH ANNIVERSARY OF ASSASSINATION OF ALEXANDER MEN
ITAR-TASS/ Pravoslavie v Rossii
MOSCOW, 9 September The seventh anniversay of the tragic death of Father Alexander Men was commemorated by memorial activities in the suburbs of Moscow. In the morning the divine liturgy was celebrated at the church of the Presentation of the Lord in the village of Novaia Derevnia of Pushkin district, where the spiritual children, friends, and relatives of the priest and all who remember and love him worshipped. It was in this church that he ministered until his tragic death. After the service a monument was unveiled at the grave of Father Alexander, after which a requiem was held.
On the same day there was a memorial (panikhida) in the chapel that was built on the spot of the death of Archpriest Alexander in the village of Semkhoz of Sergiev Posad district. In the evening an exhibit titled "The Life of Alexander Men" was opened in the exhibition room of the state historical art museum of Sergiev Posad.
Seven years have passed from that tragic day when the murderer's hand cut short the life of the priest, but the memory of Archpriest Alexander Men lives in the hearts of our contemporaries. His legacy is studied in many countries. Tomorrow the annual international conference devoted to his memory will open in Moscow. (tr. by PDS)
NINA SVETOVA KILLED HUSBAND FOR LOVE OF GOD
Tatyana Filippova, Vladimir Province
Komsomolskaia pravda, 5 September 1997
We became acquainted with Nina Artemovna Svetova, who is serving a term in the Golovinsk women's colony, in her surroundings. She introduced herself as "The prisoner Svetova, who for forty four years never was taken to the police station or convicted in court." That phrase was spoken in order to emphasize that she, Nina Svetova, is in the colony by chance. Really, had it not been that her husband, Vasily Nikolaevich Svetov, fell in by chance with Vissarion and his "Church of the Final Covenant" sect, then everything in her life could have been different. The Svetovs lived on Lenin Prospect in Moscow. For both it was a second marriage and acquaintances of the Svetovs found it successful. Nina's son Ilia from the first marriage pleased her with his success in school. The problems began when Vasily Svetov, an attorney by training and an employee of the ministry of internal affairs, retired because of his health. Neither trips to the sauna with his friends or working at the dacha could fill the void that came into his life.
Nina does not know how he happened upon the first of Vissarion's preaching meetings. However they went to the next meeting together. Nina also liked Vissarion; she sensed his inner power. It confused her. Vissarion called himself the new Christ and Nina knew from her husband that he had been removed from the police force because of bad behavior. Or there was John the Divine who bustled about beside the "new Christ." Although John wore a white robe and delivered splendid addresses, when Nina saw him she inevitably heard within her head "My Blue-eyed Litte Girl," because John was none other than the drummer Vadik Redkin.
True, Vissarion had a theory on this matter. The transformation that happened at age thirty to the son of Mary and Joseph also was not accepted as he explained from the start. When Vissarion was thirty he also "was awakened" and declared the Final Covenant to the people. There is no need to repeat it--all the ruminations by which sectarians exploit the unfortunate masses who are desolate without the party committees.
Unlike Nina, Vasily Svetov heard Vissarion's preaching with delight. And he did not tire of predicting: "Civilization is doomed. Abandon the cities." The place to which one should go to save one's soul, it seems, was Krasnoyarsk territory. From there the most mighty energetic flood in the world would come. And at that place, 150 kilometers from Minusinsk, the city of the future, the New Jerusalem, was destined to be built. Of course, on the contributions from those who believed in the awakened Vissarion.
When he came back from his investigation of Krasnoyarsk territory Svetlov said: "In Moscow it is death; and there is life. We will sell everything and go." Nina ran to her relatives: "Help me bring him to his senses." "Go," they told her, "that is your cross."
Nina went, because she remembered the happy years and their life together. Besides, she kept a secret hope that her husband would come to his senses.
With part of the proceeds of the sale of their Moscow "stalinka" Svetov bought a house in the village of Guliaevka. The rest he put into the "Source" center established by Vissarion. How many times it was repeated to the world--it is all of no use.
To tell the truth, at first Nina liked it in Guliaevka. It was out in the bookdocks, but what magnificient nature! Having looked it over, Nina brought her son from Moscow, who had finished school by this time, and she rented out the apartment she had gotten from her parents.
Immediately upon arrival, Vasily Nikolaevich set them down and for three hours described what life in the Final Covenant style was like. Get up at six in the morning and then work around the house and garden. Breakfast at twelve,but meat, milk, sugar, eggs, and any butter are forbidden. Only cereals and vegetables permitted. The second meal was the last, at six in the evening.
Nina told how one young family coming from Kazan had a child who was not able to stand up for two years because of such a diet. Two young boys died, who stuffed themselves with paste bought on the sly from parents. And once Nina hid in her closet a youth from Minsk who stared with an insane gaze because he choked on salted cabbage. Nina herself constantly fainted from hunger.
"What did you live on?" I asked. "How did you buy the cereals?" "We lived from the produce of the garden," Nina described. "And such produce! Siberia is not Georgia. Those whom Vissarion considered true believers were elevated highly by New Jerusalem. They built for Vassiarion an enormous house in the village of Malaya Minusa, where he lived with his children and domestics, John the Divine, and the repentant sinner Mary Magdalene. There was a rumor that Magdalene was the singer Svetlana Vladimirskaia, it is true, and latter it was revealed that Vladimirskaia had come to the church of the Final Covenant under her own name. Vladimirskaia gave birth there to a child, but not in a barrel with water, like other "sisters" but in the bath. In the villages where the followers of Vissarion lived she gave concerts. When the "new Christ" traveled in his Nissan on preaching tours around the country, the flock had to listen to him on audio and video tapes. The tape player worked round the clock in Vasily Svetov's house. He warned Nina and Ilia: "If I come and the player is turned off, it will be bad for you." "It's going to be bad for him," Ilia cried when he slapped the mother on her cheeks in his presence with the leg of lamb that Nina had not been able to sell at the market.
Svetov acted brutally because he wanted to earn the right to live in New Jerusalem. For this reason he attacked Ilia who was a threat to him because of his skeptical attitude toward the society. Nina sent her son to Moscow to get him as far away from harm as possible. Once Ilia sent a letter that caused Nina great despair. He wrote that he was very sick and claimed it was from malnutrition. But something wlse was more horrible. Some unknown people had come and forced him to sell the apartment. She threw herself at her husband's feet: "For Christ's sake, let me go. I will take nothing with me; I will leave everything to you." He hissed: "Over my dead body." And by this he wrote his own sentence. Nina stood in the market with that cursed meat for a long time. A buyer approached and they conversed. "Killing him for this is too little," the young peasant calculated, having heard Nina's story. "Come now, I can't," Nina said with fright. "You do not have to do anything. The money is ready." Ten thousand dollars, that Nina received from the rent of the apartment were stashed in the cellar. Svetov intended to use it to get into Jerusalem. Nina decided to arrange things differently.
On the appointed day, as if she were presenting the last word against a defendant, she asked Svetov without stopping: "Let's do it, let's leave. Vasya? We can again go to the beach, we can ski together. . . ." Svetov just resisted his wife and Nina reached her verdict without mercy.
After the second shot from the sawed-off gun Svetov still was alive. Nina was waiting for him to die in the kitchen, when one of the hitmen ran in. He worked for a long time with a knife to get a cartridge out of the barrel and then he ran into the bedroom again. Nina thought vaguely: "They can't even kill like they should." Nina learned from the investigator that Svetov's body had been thrown off a bridge into a stream. He called her in Moscow and said: "Your husband's body came to the surface. Come out here." Nina understood what she was being summoned for. She gathered her things and said goodbye to her son. She was indicted.
"Why are you pretending to be a sheep," the prosecutor said angrily in court. "You could have run away from him. It's a big country."
"I tried to run away, even more from madness," Nina says. "The only bus leaves Guliaevka at six in the morning. It is three hours to the regional center Kurarino, and there you wait a half day for the train to Minusinsk. If someone wants to catch you, he can."
This was the route by which Nina was conveyed after the trial in Golovino. It turns out that for each year of the sentence she paid a thousand dollars. "When I write to the president for clemency then, of course, I will write that I have repented for my crime," Nina says, "although my anger at Svetov still remains." Ilia went to see her. She asked him: "Have you forgiven me, sonny?" "I had forgiven you, mama," he answered, "even before you did it."
She asked me as we parted: "Do you know what's happening with the law on freedom of conscience? If there were not such vampires as Vissarion perhaps Svetov would still be alive and I would not be in this prison. I am going to write Patriarch Alexis. No, better, the State Duma. Or maybe the president? (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
Also on Vissarion's sect: "If you are believers," Russkaia mysl
(posted 6 September)
DUMA TO REVIEW RELIGION LAW AT END OF NEXT WEEK
MOSCOW, 4 September. On 3 September the draft law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" prepared by the reconciliation commission of the administration of the presidency was reviewed by President Boris Yeltsin and send to the State Duma with observations and amendments.
Lev Levinson, assistant to duma deputy V. Borshchev, told Blagovest-Info that among the president's amendments should be noted the change in the preamble from which "the horrible gradation of religions" was removed. Also, according to Levinson, the president "restored the rights of foreign citizens to creat religious organizations in Russia."
According to other amendments, Levinson added, religious groups that do not have official confirmation of their existence over the course of fifteen years have the possibility to receive the status of "legal entity" without receiving the status of "religious organization," provided that they inform the agencies of the state about their existence every year. In Levinson's opinion, this amendment worsens the version of the draft law since it deprives religious groups of the rights and privileges that are provided for religious organizations.
Next Thursday, 11 September, the draft will be reviewed by the duma committee on public organizations and religious associations, after which, on Friday, the amended draft will be presented to a session of the State Duma of the Russian federation.(tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
NEW GOD APPEARS IN UKRAINE.
Blagovest info/Pravoslavie v Rossii
MARIUPOL, 3 September. Various religious organizations of Ukraine, primarily protestant ones, have begun receiving letters over the signature of residents of Mariupol, G. Kupriianov and A. Suvorov, about the necessity of worshiping the "new Jesus Christ, the prophet Elijah, and Moses," who is named Grigory Gomeniuk. The letters specifically speak of the "fallibility" of the Bible and its "fictitious god" and about the truly existing god, Grigory Gomeniuk. According to Kuprianov and Suvorov, who call themselves disciples of Gomeniuk, "there is no other god beside the man with a divine mind." They emphasize that Gomeniuk is the "only source of wisdom, knowledge, and power on earth," and that it is "necessary to seek wisdom from him alone and to pray only to and with him." The "disciples" do not rule out the possibility that in the struggle with their "god" Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostals, and Adventists will finally achieve mutual understanding. (tr. by PDS)
Lawrence Uzell of Keston News Service obtained on Thursday a copy of the document that President Boris Yeltsin sent to the State Duma with suggested changes in the law on freedom of conscience. The suggestions for Article 27 of the law contain substantial revisions. The translation made by Uzell reads as follows:
"Religious organizations which cannot establish the fact of their legal existence on the corresponding territory for more than fifteen years before their re-registration are to enjoy the rights of a legal person on the condition of re-registration every year until the expiration of the indicated fifteen-year period. During this period these religious organizations are not to enjoy the rights stipulated in point 4 of article 3, points 3 and 4 of article 5, point 5 of article 13, point 3 of article 16, points 1 and 2 of article 17, point 2 of article 18 (as applicable to educational institutions and mass media), article 19, and point 2 of article 20 of this federal law."
Article 3 deals with clerical deferment from military service;
Article 5 deals with religious education, including in public schools;
Article 13 deals with hosting foreign religious organizations;
Article 16 deals with religious rites in public institutions;
Article 17 deals with printing and distributing religious literature;
Article 18 deals with forming subsidiary institutions;
Article 19 deals with forming religious educational institutions;
Article 20 deals with inviting foreign guests.
See other amendments at Law on Freedom of Conscience.
(posted 5 September)
GOVERNMENT OF MOLDAVIA APPEALS APPELATE COURT DECISION REQUIRING IT
TO LEGALIZE ROMANIAN ORTHODOX METROPOLIA
ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii
KISHINEV, 3 September. The government of Moldavia submitted to the supreme judicial chamber a protest against the decision of the appelate court requiring it to legalize the metropolia of Bessarabia that is subordinate to the Romanian church, Georgy Armashu, director of the state service for problems of cults who is representing the cabinet of ministers in the courts, told journalists.
From 1992 to the present the government has refused to review and recognize the metropolia of Bessarabia, which with the cooperation of Bucharest has withdrawn from the metropolia of Kishinev and Moldavia, which is recognized by the state and is within the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarchate. In connection with this the nonrecognition of the metropolia of Bessarabia was submitted to the courts. After several years of litigation the appelate court satisfied the suit. However now that decision has been protested.
Metropolitan Vladimir of Kishinev and Moldavia told journalists: "Appeals already have come to me with the suggestion of creating a metropolia of Pridnestria and Gagauzia. But tiny Moldavia is not the kind of country where there can be several major jurisdictions. They will compete among themselves for believers and that will lead to schism of both church and state." Metropolitan Vladimir emphasized that the overwhelming majority of believers and clergy in Moldavia condemn the schismatic activity of the metropolia of Bessarabia.
Last week hundreds of priests from throughout the republic gathered in front of the residence of the president of Moldavia and delivered their protest to Petr Luchinsky. In conversation with journalists they stated that the metropolia of Bessarabia was created for political purposes in order to promote among the people unpopular ideas about unification with the neighboring Romania. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
PRESS SERVICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION
4 September 1997
President of the Russian federation B.N. Yeltsin sent to the State Duma a draft of a version of the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," which includes wordings for the preamble and separate articles of the document that have been made more precise.
In the letter that he sent to the president of the duma, G.N. Seleznev, the president notes that he is sending specific suggestions aimed at removing the shortcomings that he pointed out at the time of his rejection of the above-named law. These suggestions were discussed in the course of regular working meetings with representatives of religious associations and deputies and then were approved at an expanded session of the Council for Relations with Religious Organizations of the presidency of Russia.
The proposed changes pertain to the equal rights of citizens in the satisfaction of religious needs, the equality of religious associations before the law, and a number of other matters. In the letter the president expresses hope for mutual understanding and cooperation with the deputies of the State Duma "in the difficult work of constructing a government of law in the Russian federation," which guarantees, among others, human rights in the area of freedom of religious profession. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
YELTSIN SEND SUGGESTIONS TO PRESIDENT OF DUMA
by Natalia Salnikova, RIA-Novosti
MOSCOW, 4 SEPTEMBER. President Boris Yeltsin sent a letter to the president of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznev, in which he made specific suggestions aimed at removing shortcomings from the law on freedom of conscience and religious associations, according the the press secretary of the head of state, Sergei Yastrezhembsky, at a briefing today in the Kremlin. According to Yastrezhembsky, these suggestions were the result of the discussion and revision of the present law in the course of regular working sessions of representatives of religious associations and deputies. In addition, as the press secretary noted, at a session of the councin of religion of the presidency, held on 1 September, these suggestions were approved.
According the Yastrezhembsky, in his letter Boris Yeltsin expressed hope for mutual understanding and cooperation in the matter of creating a government of law, including in the religious sphere. (tr. by PDS)
RELIGIOUS REPRESENTATIVES SUPPORT REVISED LAW
MOSCOW, 4 September. The new version of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" adequately expresses the interests of various parts of the Russian confessional spectrum and society as a whole, according to a statement distrubuted today from the heads and representatives of leading religious associations of Russia.
Expressing the conviction of "the necessity of a quick adoption of the new federal law, which would express indigenous distinctives and create effective mechanisms for defending citizens from spiritual aggression," the authors of the document emphasize that the amendments to the law which have been developed take into account a number of supplementary juridical requirements and do not, in essence, change the conception and basic provisions of the law and they preserve the integrity of its basis. "While we do not have the right to interfere in the discussion between branches of state power that has arisen," the authors of the declaration write, "we at the same time are convinced that the adoption of the law in the new version will help to eliminate the opposition that has arisen." They decided "to support the amendments to the federal law on freedom of conscience which have been prepared for presentation to the president of the Russian federation because of the specifics of the results of the discussion that occurred on 1 September of this year." The heads and representatives of leading religious associations of Russia appeal to the president of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznev "and through him to the deputies of the State Duma" with the request that they review and adopt the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" in the version offered by Boris Yeltsin, in the very shortest period of time. (tr. by PDS)
(posted 4 September)
LAW ON CONSCIENCE AND DUMA'S CONSCIENCE
by Alexander Gubanov
Rossiiskie vesti, 3 September 1997
For almost a month and a half passions have raged over the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," which was adopted by the State Duma on 23 June of this year and approved by the Federation Council on 4 July. However on 21 July it was rejected by the president of Russia. A genuine struggle was ignited in society over the document which, it would see, is very far from politics. The conflict infolved not only two branches of the highest state authority but also numerous Russian confessions and arguments raged between public and human rights organizations. Nineteen thousand letter and appeals in the past six weeks arrived at the president's administration alone. Before the opening of the fall session of the lower chamber of parliament rumors began to circulate more persistently that the duma members would devote the first days of their work to overriding the president's veto of the above-named law. And that means that society will be threatened with a new cycle of tension and a virtual frontal shut down of power.
However, it seems, there is hope for a favorable resolution of the conflict. Yesterday Boris Yeltsin was supposed to receive the draft of amendments to the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," which was approved by the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the head of state. During August a working group created under the council, which included representatives of all Russian confessions, the administration of the president and government, State Duman, ministery of justice, and various kinds of public organizations worked out thirty-seven agreed upon changes in fourtheen articles of the law. This was truly a titanic labor aimed primarily at removing the incompatibility of separate provigions of the document with the Russian constitution and international legal standards and the optimal curtailment of the requirements by the state upon religious associations and securing of their equality of rights before the law. It also was titanic because each confession has its own canonical rules, perception of the problem, etc. It is understandable that the issue was not about an ideal version which would be one hundred percent satisfactory for all but about a compromise. But, as was observed by the director of the administration of the president, Valentin Yumashev, who presided over the deciding session of the council, the participants in the working group "were able to demonstrate that crisis situations do not remain and it is possible to find a way out of the most complex situations."
And here is the evaluation of Metropolitan Yuvenaly: "The amendments that have been worked out, which take into account a number of the supplementary juridical requirements, do not essentially change the conception and the basic provisions of the law as it was approved by the Federation Assembly. These amendments in no way contradict the position earlier expressed by the Russian Orthodox church."
So what is ahead? The new version satisfies those for whose sake primarily the law was created. But is there the danger that political considerations have triumphed over practicality, common sense and conscience? That is, does there remain the possibility of an attempt by the duma to override the president's veto or to agree with it (again demonstrating to the voters their opposition to the cost of "closing" a law that is so necessary for society)? Certainly. In the opinion of the director of the administration of the presidency on domestic policy and the executive secretary of the council, Andrei Logunov, the deputies who return from vacation may reproduce the conflict situation of July-August on a purely emotional level. However the state of affairs today has changed substantially: between the state and confessions qualitatively new relations have arisen that, one wishes to believe, parliament cannot ignore. If the president agrees with the suggestions that have been worked out, the new version of the law will immediately be sent to the State Duma. Representatives of Russian religious confession have decided to appeal to the president of the lower chamber of parliament, Gennady Seleznev, with a request to support the reconcilation document. One wishes to believe that the parlimantarians will honor this request. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
(posted 3 September)
DECLARATION OF THE PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL-RUS ALEXIS II AND THE HOLY SYNOD OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
The episcopacy, clergy, and laity of the Russian Orthodox church and the broadest strata of Russian society continue to be concerned about the fate of the Russian law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association," that was adopted by the State Duma on 23 June and this year, approved by the Federation Council on 4 July, but rejected by the president of Russia on 22 July.
In regard to this matter we declare: The Russian Orthodox church fully supported the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association," adopted by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council, as was stated in the declaration of the patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus, the Holy Synod, and the bishops who assembled in the Saint Sergius Holy Trinity Lavra for the holiday of Saint Sergius of Radonezh on 17 July and in the declaration of the patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus of 24 July. The above-mentioned law guaranteed the freedom of the individual to choose a world view, the equality of religious associations before the law, and the possibility for unimpeded profession and dissemination of religious convictions. At the same time the law provided for creating mechanisms which would establish a rational regulation of the activity of religious associations and create conditions so that each of them would be completely open for society. The law permitted the erection of impediments in the path of religious extremise, false missionary activity, and pseudoreligious activity that are dangerous for the individual and society. These specific ennumerated provisions of the law evoked the proper approval of the church plethora.
The disagreement of the positions of the president and the Federation Assembly of the Russian Federation with regard to the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" gave rise to conflicts between the branches of the higher Russian state authority which was extremely troubling for society. As a peacemaking force and not wishing to have its interests increase the tensions that have arisen, the Russian Orthodox church has responded positively to the suggestion of the president of Russia, B.N. Yeltsin, to take part in the reconciliation procedures aimed at revising the detailed text of the law.
The preparation of appropriate amendments was carried out by representatives of the administration of the president, the State Duma, and the Russian government with the participation of the heads and representatives of the leading Russian religious associations. Representatives of the Russian Orthodox church firmly declared in the course of implementing the reconciliation procedures that our church never will and cannot abandon its earlier position, because it is a matter of the spiritual health of the nation, the future of the fatherland, and the preservation of its unique form. The amendments that have been worked out for the law, taking into account a number of supplementary juridical requirements, in essence have not changed the conception and basic provisions of the law as approved by the Federation Assembly. These amendments in no way contradict the earlier expressed position of the Russian Orthodox church. While preserving the integrity of the basis of the law, they at the same time permit the achievement of harmony on the issue that arose between the branches of state power, which will serve to strengthen civil peace in society at the present difficult time. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
REVISED VERSION OF LAW ON PRESIDENT'S DESK
by Marianna Shatikhina
RIA-Novosti, 3 September 1997
MOSCOW, 3 September. The version of the presidential edition of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," agreed upon with representatives of all religious confessions, is on Boris Yeltsin's desk, according to the secretary of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations and director of the administration of the presidency for domestic politics, Andrei Loginov, who reported this to the RIA "Novosti" correspondent.
The new edition of the law was prepared in light of the amendments approved by the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the Russian presidency. Its expanded session under the presidency of the director of the administration of the president, Valentin Yumashev, was held on Monday.
Loginov emphasized that the date for sending the new draft of the law to the State Duma will be determined by the president himself. However the secretary of the council considers that it will first be useful to acquaint the deputies of the lower chamber of parliament with the declaration of Patriarch Alexis of Moscow and all-Rus and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church and also with the appeal of the leadership of all religious confessions to Gennady Seleznev, which requested support for the presidential version of the law. According to the declaration of Alexis II and the Holy Synod, the revisions worked out for the law do not change the essence of its conception and do not go against the position of the RPTs, but they permit the branches of the state to achieve agreement.
Loginov noted that the State Duma has three possible courses of action: to agree with the law in the president's version, to override the veto of the head of state, or to agree with the veto and thus "bury" a very important and necessary law. As regards overriding the veto, the secretary of the council suggests that this will not promote peace and harmony in society. The president will be forced to protest against the unconstitutional provisions of the law in the Constitutional Court.
Meanwhile the president of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznev, speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, did not rule out the possibility that the profile committee of the lower house will get to the review of the amendments and suggestions for the law by Thursday. (tr. by PDS) 03.09.97
Link to Russian text.
PERMANENT CHAMBER ON RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS APPROVES AMENDMENTS
by Liudmila Valina
MOSCOW, 2 September. A majority of the Permanent Chamber on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations of the Political Consultative Council (PKS) approved the amendments to the law on freedom of conscience and religious associations. At the session the decision was made to send to the deputies of the State Duma and members of the Federation Council of the Federation Assembly a request to review and adopt the new version of the law in the shortest possible time.
Speaking at the session of the chamber, the vice president of the chamber, the president of the Russian Christian Democratic Party,Alexander Chuev, reported that all amendments were discussed and agreed to with representatives of various religious confessions, with deputies of the State Duma, and with attorneys. In his turn, the assistant director of the apparatus of the government, Andrei Sebentsov, noted that the law now in effect "does not permit the state to regulate professionally in a positive direction" the religious processes. He emphasized that the law provides a list of violations on the strength of which the activity of religious groups and organizations that affect the "internal processes of a person" can be halted. (tr. by PDS)
ALEXIS II THINKS LAW HAS NOT BEEN CHANGED
by Alexandra Utkina RIA-Novosti
MOSCOW, 2 September. The amendments to the law on religious associations that were worked out in the course of consultations among representatives of the basic religious confessions and the administration of the Russian president "do not change its conceptions and basic provisions in their essence," according to a declaration of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church, which was circulated today. The documents notes that the amendments to the law that was rejected earlier "in no way go against the position of the Russian Orthodox church that was expressed earlier." The declaration further stated: "The difference in the positions of the president and the Federation Assembly with regard to the law gave rise to extremely a conflict between the branches of the highest Russian state authority which was extremely emotional for society." At the same time it noted that while "preserving the basics of the law unchanged," the amendments permit "the achievement of harmony on the question that has been discussed between the branches of state power and will serve to strengthen civil peace within society." (tr. by PDS)
(posted 3 Sept. 1997)
PATRIARCH'S POSITION ON LAW UNCHANGED
ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii
KAZAN, 2 September. "With regard to the draft of the law on freedom of conscience and religious association our position remains a principled one," Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus declared yesterday at a reception at the place of President Mintimer Shaimiev of Tatarstan. "And we will not budge from it."
Representatives of not only Orthodoxy but also of other traditional religions decided to participate in the work of the reconciliation commission, his most holiness continued. The primate expressed the hope that as a result of the work with representatives of the administration of the president and government and with the participation of traditional confessions an agreement can be reached on the wording which will not change the conception and essence of the law. The most holy patriarch Alexis reported that this permitted the acceptance of the wording of a new law at the session of the president's council, which will be presented by Boris Yeltsin to the duma.
"As a peacemaking force we responded to the invitation to take part in the reconciliation commission so there would not be conflict in our society and mutually acceptable wording would be found. This is not a compromise: we consider that the activity of foreign sects and false missions, who today have come to Rus, should be restricted. Why should people who influence the ideological consciousness and try to educate other people carry on their activity without accreditation? I consider that the adoption of this law will restrict the activity of foreign false missionaries and destructive sects which have inundated Rus," the primate of the Russian Orthodox church emphasized. (tr. by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
(C)INTERFAX 1997. RF-RELIGION-LAW-AMENDMENTS
TOP RUSSIAN CONSULTATIVE BODY APPROVES CHANGES TO RELIGION LAW
MOSCOW, Sept 2 (Interfax) - Russia's top consultative body, the Political Consultative Council, on Tuesday approved draft amendments to a controversial law "On the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations." The law was passed by parliament but was vetoed by President Boris Yeltsin in July this year. The council's Standing Chamber for Public and Religious Associations called at a meeting for the earliest possible passage of the suggested amendments, endorsed on Monday by a presidential council for contacts with religious organizations. Chamber Deputy Chairman Alexander Chuyev said the amendments had had the approval of various religious communities, public organizations and parliamentary deputies. The amended law expands the number of religions recognized as part of Russian history. It would lay down rules for the formation of religious associations by Russian citizens and stateless persons, for the opening of branches in Russia by foreign religious organizations and for the use of religious organizations' property. Senior government official Andrei Sebentsov told the Chamber meeting that if the passage of the law was delayed there would be local legislative acts to replace it and limit religious organizations' activities. He said 26 Russian regions were debating local laws to put restrictions on religious associations. The Chamber decided to ask parliament to pass the new version of the law "as soon as possible."
RUSSIAN PATRIARCH SUPPORTS REVISED RELIGION BILL
MOSCOW (AP) - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church said Tuesday that a revised version of a controversial religion bill sticks to the essence of the original legislation. "It was not a compromise for us,'' Alexy II said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. An advisory commission met Monday to discuss changing the bill, which has been the center of controversy since it was approved overwhelmingly by parliament and then rejected by President Boris Yeltsin in July. There has been little word of the results of Monday's session, and the patriarch gave no details of any revisions to the bill, intended to curb the activities of faiths considered foreign to Russia. Russia's parliament, which begins its fall session Wednesday, is expected to take up the legislation again soon. The original bill would enshrine the Russian Orthodox Church as Russia's dominant religion. It designated three "traditional'' faiths - Judaism, Islam and Buddhism - that could operate nationwide. But all others would be subjected to arduous registration requirements. The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant denominations have strongly objected to the proposed law, which also has come under criticism in the U.S. Senate.
(posted 3 Sept 1997)
Patriarch Alexis honors capital of Tatarstan
ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii
KAZAN, 1 September. "Each of us bears responsibility for the country's future. Before both the president and the simple believer stands the task of overcoming the division which recently has separated the church from society and people of various confessions and of building instead a new Russia." Addressing believers after the all-night vigil in the cathedral church of Kazan on Sunday evening, Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus declared this while on a pastoral visit in Tatarstan.
The most holy patriarch noted that Tatarstan, where representatives of 110 nationalities live, is especially able to set an example for other regions of how to live in peace and harmony with one another. Sharing his impressions about his brief stay in this territory, his most holiness noted that both the church and secular authorities had particvipated in the church's regeneration. For example, in the organization of the recently opened ecclesiastical school in Kazan diocese both city officials and entrepreneurs gave assistance because they recognize, according to the primate, the need for a rebirth of spiritual bases in the life of society. Without them, he emphasized, it is impossible to resolve those tasks which now face Russia. To confirm these word his most holiness noted the successes of residents of the republic, in particular, in the area of agriculture. "Happily, I am told, a good harvest is expected and that is the basis for stability in the people's life support. It is impossible to count on the help of the West all the time," the head of our church said.
For Orthodox Christians Kazan is principally the city where the great sacred object, the Kazan icon of the Mother of God, appeared. Therefore immediately after his arrival here the most holy patriarch performed a prayer service and akathist before this image in the Saint Nicholas cathedral church. During the postwar years, during the time of state atheism when the church was forbidden to engage in charitable and educational activity, it was this church that was the focus of the city's religious life. In recognition of their contribution to the church's rebirth Most Holy Patriarch Alexis bestowed the Russian Orthodox church's medal upon representatives of the public, entrepreneurs, and bankers of Tatarstan.
Today the patriarch and the mufti of Tatarstan will participate in the ceremony of the oath in the Kazan tank school. Then he will visit the island of Sviiazhsk where recently the Dormition monastery was returned to believers. In the evening the primate will celebrate a prayer service in the Raifsk men's monastery located near Kazan. (tr by PDS)
Link to Russian text.
01.09.97 ITAR-TASS/Pravoslavie v Rossii
(posted 2 September 1997)
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