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Foreign missionary activity a political threat


Religious extremists intensify their activity in northern Caucasus

by Alevtina Poliakova
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 13 May 1998

On 4 February of this year a quite ordinary flight from Moscow landed at the airport in Mineralnye vody in Stavropol territory. Among its passengers a group of foreigners were clearly distinguished. In white turbans and long eastern robes, with luggage on their shoulders, they looked like pilgrims who had just returned from holy places. These were eight citizens from Syria who had arrived in Moscow from the city of Aleppo and then continued their trip to the northern Caucasus.

All the visas of the Aleppo residents had been obtained as business travelers and, from the official point of view they were supposed to be engaged in trade at local markets or making a business tour around our country. But all eight "businessmen" did not earn a ruble during their stay on Russian territory. They did not even try to test their skills in the marketplace, although a part of the group indicated that the receiving party was a certain Moscow firm "Sanalina Company," supposedly engaged in trade. Later investigation revealed that in registering the firm false identification passport data were used.

After the northern Caucasus, the Syrians visited Ufa, Kazan, Saratov, Cheliabinsk, and other Russian cities, several of which they visited illegally. So who really were these travelers from Aleppo? What was hidden behind this false business trip and what were their true intentions? The answer is simple. Under the pretense of the "good" goals of Islamic missionaries, on the territory of the republics neighboring Stavropol territory and several other Russian regions the next phase of a planned ideological war was being conducted, the essence of which has already been revealed and which now is expanding.

Groups of missionaries who call themselves "preachers of Islam" appear, regularly replacing one another, for three to six months, gradually expanding their field of action. In the main, at first they arrived in Moscow from Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia in groups of six to ten persons. The destination of their travels around the northern Caucasus was the airport at Mineralnye Vody, from where, as a rule, they went into Dagestan, Karachaevo-Cherkesiia, Adygei, Kabardino-Balkariia, and then throughout Stavropol territory and later territories of our country that attracted them.

At the beginning of the 1990s a certain Magomed Bidzhiev, a native of Karachaevo-Cherkesiia who called himself the representative of the "Islamic Party of Regeneration," arrived in Stavropol territory from Moscow. Soon after his appearance and under his direction reactionary societies began to form in Karachaevo-Cherkesiia, whose members did not delay in showing their intentions. In 1992 at the second congress of Muslims of Karachaevo-Cherkesiia and Stavropol territory in Karachaevsk, a group of twenty persons led by Bidzhiev, under the green flag of Islam, demanded the adoption of a political decision on the secession of the Karachaevo-Cherkess republic from Russia with the suggestion of concrete actions. Later they abandoned this demand, but the tactic of conducting a "struggle with infidels" was already formulated and all that remained was strengthening their influence in the territory of northern Caucasus.

During this period a wave of mass demonstrations and protest actions spread throughout Karachaevo-Cherkesiia with the goal of overthrowing the authority of the [Muslim] ecclesiastical board of this republic and adopting a new political course. At the time there already were several dozen people who openly called themselves Wahhabis and summoned their fellow citizens to unite for a jihad--a Muslim holy wa.r

Magomed Bidzhiev and his associates, who did not win support among the leadership of the ecclesiastical board, began to organize their own schools and to build mosques. The money for their projects arrived from Saudi Arabia, and unfinished mosques frequently were photographed for the "account for work performed," and financial support was not refused. Then the Wahhabis began to conduct study abroad. Groups of young people of 15 to 30 persons each went to Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Returning after their foreign study, the fellows dispersed about the villages and engaged in teaching, primarily young people, by their own methodology.

On the territory of Karachaevo-Cherkesiia and neighboring republics, according to the estimates of specialists, covert preparations are under way for the creation of an Islamic state on the Chechen model. At present a definite base for the developed scheme is being prepared. First the ideological process is under way. Missionaries from far-off countries are serving as preachers of the necessary ideas and as instructors who are distributing pertinent literature and coordinating the work of their associates "in the countryside." At the time of home visitations and conversations with Muslims they summon them "to struggle for the purity of Islam and to uproot infidels from the villages," declaring that "murder of a Russian is not considered a great sin." Often the question of the increase of Islamic influence on local agencies of government is raised. It should be noted that this information has been received by NG from various sources.

Today in many villages of Karachaevo-Cherkesiia there are adherents of Wahhabism and their influence is extending even to the eastern regions of Stavropol territory. Among them there are their own spiritual instructors, mullahs, who have established close contacts with Islamists of Chechnia and Dagestan. To attract like-minded persons Wahhabis use material incentives which are categorically condemned by traditional Islam. For example, mullahs who agree to become supporters of Wahhabis are given a one-time payment of 1000 to 1500 dollars and then are paid 100 to 150 dollars monthly, which are extremely fine sums for the north Caucasus region.

Within the "community" itself relations are structured on the principle of the proverbial financial pyramid. For each new associate enlisted here the one who enlisted him receives 50 to 100 dollars, and then he receives a percentage from each one whom his protege converts. The mullah receives currency transfers through the branches of banks and has accounts in various international organizations. The "spiritual instructors" themselves are required not to divulge their membership in Wahhabism to official agencies so they zealously conceal their own views and convictions in the presence of those who do not agree with them, revealing their essence only to trusted people.

The further plan for "strengthening ideological convictions" unfolds in the following way. At first the "faith" is strengthened by ideological exercises in the spirit of Islamic extremism. Then a certain selection process occurs and a portion of the more avid adherents are sent for training in the camps of one of the Chechen field commanders, Khattab, who is subordinate to Jordan. There are four such camps on the territory of the Chechen republic. According to data that we have, in May of last year these fellows had a "graduation exam" in the Dagestan village of Karamakh.

The greatest concentration of Wahhabis on the territory of Dagestan is located in several regions: Buinak, Kazbekov, Khasaviurtov, and Botlikh. This is where the extremist religious leaders work most actively, organizing mass demonstrations and protest actions, covering themselves with the "sacred banner of Islam." They use the most varied methods of persuasion. For example, not so long ago on the territory of Dagestan, Mineralnye Vody and the eastern districts of Stavropol an ordinary pamphlet was distributed whose authors were identified as "Mujahadin of Dagestan and all Caucasus, the staff of the central front for the liberation of Dagestan." We quote individual sections: "We want to liberate Dagestan from Russian caphirs (i.e. infidels--author's note) . . . We are creating our own army, the army of Free Dagestan. We will come and uproot all Russian laws and we will establish our own laws of Allah. . . . Mujahadin have brought joy to the Muslims of the Caucasus by freeing a part of Caucasian land, Chechnia. But Russia does not want to give them complete independence nor give them breathing space; there is no outlet to other states. The liberation of Dagestan from the caphirs will give an outlet to other states. You are witnesses to what fifty Mujahadin did in Buinaksk; in five minutes these captured the whole division" (this refers to the attack on the 136th motorized division of the Russian army last year--author's note).

But in addition to theory the Islamic fundamentalists foresee the development in practice of their unique examination for reinforcing the lessons learned. In such cases armed conflicts proliferate, which from time to time break out in individual villages. One of the most serious cases developed in May of last year in Buinaksk district, when in the village of Karamakhi a large detachment of soldiers, which had undergone pertinent training, made an attack on local inhabitants and, having machine guns and mortars at their disposal, disarmed the police posts. To settle the situation it was necessary for the internal affairs forces of Dagestan to use armoured vehicles.

I managed to meet in Kislovodsk with the imam of the Kislovodsk mosque, Abubikir Kurdzhiev, who has witnessed the way in which religious extremists have expanded their activity in northern Caucasus.

Abubikir Kurdzhiev said: "People who call believers infidels are themselves considered apostates. That is what the adherents of Wahhabism are. To draw believers to their side they employ money. Financial considerations play a chief role in this matter and this is condemned by Islam. Such people are categorically forbidden to preach. These people have their own schools. In one of them in Dagestan, elders came to the examination to view how they had taught their charges. There was almost nothing about religion in this exam; the certification consisted in the disassembly and assembly of machine guns and other weapons, and in this part the students were far more prepared than regular soldiers.

"Back in 1992 at the funeral of one of my relatives in Karachaevo-Cherkesiia, where many people had gathered, people suddenly appeared in the cemetery who began openly to call for war with the words: 'Every family and every home must donate from 3,000 to 5,000 rubles or one soldier.' Before leaving the grave I began explaining to people what this could lead to and since then open conflict has developed between us. One of their leaders perished in the war in Chechnia, but his associates have remained. Around these people always gather those who had never previously attended the mosque and those who had criminal ties. While preaching the new religion they have not forsaken their dark deeds. These people continually threaten our elders who are not following them. They said to me: 'If we cannot win you over with talk we shall find another way for you.' At one of the meetings they even 'removed' me from my office and those who supported me were threatened with physical harm."

Last spring visitors from Syria who called themselves preachers called on Abubikir Kurdzhiev. There were twelve persons along with translators from Dagestan and two residents of Stavropol territory. They requested lodging in the mosque, but the imam refused their request, since it is forbidden to lodge in a mosque since it is a "house of prayer." The preachers refused to settle into a hotel and they suggested that Kurdzhiev go with them "to summon people to religion" and to preach under their direction. But the imam did not go with them, answering "The people have more faith than you do."

But, alas, many do not think this way. Incidentally, preachers from the Near East have come already six times to Stavropol territory, every time to the same address and to the same people in the village of Kangla, which is near Mineralnye Vody. Here they meet two local residents, the Shaltumaev brothers. Then translators from Dagestan arrive there. More than a year ago the foreigners became acquainted with the Shaltumaevs, who became allies and loyal helpers of the missionaries.

The Shaltumaevs were hardly chosen by the preachers because of a "religious attraction" or a "sign from above," as the younger of the brothers, Ismael, tried to explain to me during a conversation. Three years ago he and his brother, Shamgir (who, incidendally, has a record and spent several years in prison), began to build a mosque in the village of Kangla, having collected some of the money for construction materials from fellow villagers. Before the construction of the mosque, Ismail affirms, he did not consider himself a believer and did not abstain from alcohol, nor observe the prayer ritual. Now he considers himself a profound believer but his faith has a strange fanaticism.

Thus he said in the first minutes of our conversation that I should repeat after him a phrase in a language I could not understand. After I pronounced the unknown words with difficulty, Ismail translated them for me: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet." Then he explained that now the mercy of Allah would descend upon him and I also would receive something from it. Then Ismail said that he recognizes Allah only and he would never submit to any mullahs. Shaltumaev described his first meeting with the Syrians in an extremely restrained manner, trying to avoid details:

"The Syrians came to our place a year ago. Before their arrival there were fellows from Dagestan (why the Dagestanis came Ismail did not explain, but it is not difficult to guess that it was necessary in order to find out about the situation--author's note). The foreigners arrived early in the morning by bus and they had about five Dagestanis and one Russian convert to Islam with them, all of them young men. We talked together for a while and they said that they would stay in our mosque. They asked me to gather fellow villagers there for preaching. Then I traveled with them to Piatigorsk, helped them fill our their visas, and helped them with transportation. When they were living in the mosque (which, as already said, is impermissible according to Islamic tradition--author's note), we prepared their food for them, cut firewood, and lit the stove. Not only Syrians arrived at my place; there also were Arabs and Jordanis."

During the conversation Ismail took from the shelf two pamphlets which the missionaries had given him. He read to me excerpts from them, which threatened "infidels" with the torments of hell, and then he carefully tucked them away. But I managed to read one sentence at the bottom which said that it was forbidden to keep the pamphlets but they were to be burned after reading in order to avoid the wrath of Allah. It is curious why Ismail, leading a "righteous" form of life, had not followed the prescribed instructions.

This year he hopes to finish building the mosque for which he needs, according to his words, around 200 million old rubles. Then he will begin construction of a new house. His children are growing up and he must be concerned about good living conditions for them. Ismail himself works as a private builder in Piatigorsk and, according to him, he is engaged in farming. Why the visitors from far away always come to his place, Shaltumaev is not able to explain, saying only that "probably they see in him the most believing person of the village." Regarding what the foreigners pay him for his help, he had nothing to say and the changed the subject. At the end of the conversation he said that perhaps the foreigners, not those but others, will come again.

The story of the latest visit by missionaries from Syria ended in a way not entirely in accordance with their plans. The whole group was deported on 18 March from Mineralnye Vody "for frequent violation of the rules of stay in Russia." The travelers from Aleppo visited several Russian cities illegally without filling in their visas in their documents, which also served as a basis for their deportation. They were forbidden to visit the Russian federation during this year which, of course, clearly distressed them. They had not completely fulfilled their "mission."

But it cannot be ruled out that others will come to replace these Islamic emissaries, who also will appeal "to their faith." Against the background of the political destabilization in the Caucasus region their words sound rather convincing; the most propitious moment has been chosen. After the trip of the foreign religious groups, the situation in many villages have sharply intensified, interethnic conflicts have appeared, and old grievances between neighbors of differing nationalities have been recalled. And what is most interesting, the itinerary which the emissaries from the Near East follow is repeated in an amazing manner, as if all the groups had agreed to it beforehand. The pilgrims are persuaded that the paths which they must travel have been dictated by the Almightly himself.

But a fact remains a fact. This path precisely coincides with the petroleum lines along the route from Baku to Novorossiisk. There is information that in this way attempts are being made to remove Russia from the world petroleum markets and a version of the secession of the Caucasus range from our state is just about the most successful projected step in this direction.

The Criminal Code of RF, article 282, provides for punishment "for encitement of national and religious enmity," but, as a rule, it is very difficult to prove a direct link between the destablization of conditions in the region and the activity of foreign emissaries. Thus the deportation of some of them out of Russia still does not mean that it will serve as a good lesson to their successors, who, hiding behing the Koran, will again "preach" in the regions that they are interested in.

The Chechen version already has been tested. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Vakhkhabizm v importnoi upakovke

(posted 15 May 1998)

Orthodox church to take possession of treasure

from Agentstvo RosBalt/Pravoslavie v Rossii

MOSCOW, 14 May. One of the chief sacred items of Orthodox Rus, the Vladimir Mother of God, will soon be returned to the church and placed in the church of Saint Nicholas in Tolmachi on June 2, according to Archpriest Nikolai Sokolov, rector of the church of Saint Nicholas in Tolmachi at the Tretiakov Gallery.

The transfer of the relic is scheduled for the Feast of the Icon of the Vladimir Mother of God, which is commemorated by Orthodox Christians on 3 June. Until now the Vladimir Virgin, which represents religious, historical, and artistic value, has been a part of the exhibit of the Tretiakov, where it has been since the time of the October revolution. Previously the Moscow patriarchate and the Tretiakov had agreed on the return of this icon to the church for liturgical purposes, although the icon has continued to remain federal property.

At the present time a Moscow metallurgical factory is making a special display case for the icon. The church where the icon will be located has special security and air conditioning systems just like the ones used in the Tretiakov Gallery. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 15 May 1998)

Terrorism against synagogues moves to Moscow


Holiday turned to tragedy

Moskovskii komsomolets, 15 May 1998

It seems that serious interethnic conflict is slowly flaring up in the capital. Passions had still not settled down in Luzhniki, where last week Russian merchants killed an Azerbaijani, when a new unexpected outbreak of violence followed, this time affecting Jews.

A powerful explosion shook the walls of the synagogue at 2 Vysheslavets Lane Wednesday evening. This was not simply an act of intimidation; everything points to the fact that the terrorists were thirsting for the blood of the parishioners. The bombers had carefully studied the Jewish religious calendar. The thirteenth to fourteenth of May is the national holiday Lag ba-'Omer. The holiday is devoted to the memory of Simeon ben Yojai, one of the most famous sages and ancestor of the Kabbala. Hundreds of hassidic believers attend the synagogues on these days.

The nazis made one miscalculation--the time. The peak time of attendance at the synagogue came at seven p.m. and by 11:10, when the bomb went off, almost everyone had left. Around twenty people remained on the third floor, while the children who had participated in the holiday (in all around 100 attended) had gone to the bus stop.

The explosive charge equivalent to a kilogram of TNT was placed on the ground in a corner of the building. It is still not clear how the criminals detonated the infernal device; probably with a timer mechanism. A large piece of brick foundation was torn up at the base and a large hole was blown in the wall.

In order to injure as many as possible the sadists had filled the bomb with shrapnel. The brunt of the explosion was taken by the vehicles parked at the synagogue: a Chevrolet, five Zhigulis, and a Volga belonging to the Center of International Trade.

Experts found 25 fragments in the rooms. Besides this, bricks blown out of the wall hit sheds in which construction workers were living (repairs were underway here), and three workers from Ukraine were slightly wounded. To the credit of the believing citizens remaining in the synagogue, they were not frightened. "Alas, we were morally prepared for such incidents," the head of the news service of the Moscow synagogue admitted. Actually, clergymen don't get used to such "attention."

In 1992 the synagogue burned down and in August 1996 a strong explosion occurred near the walls, which in design was almost identical to yesterday's device. But the impact then was not so powerful. It cannot be ruled out that the two explosions were the work of the hands of the same people. Incidentally, five days before the incident, the telephone rang at the synagogue. An unidentified person declared that in the near future the building would be destroyed. But nothing dangerous was found in the course of an inspection of the premises. Nevertheless the leadership of the synagogue informed visitors of possible terrorism.

Nor did the vandals restrict themselves to the bomb explosion; on the walls of the building next to the synagogue a slogan "Moscow without pigs" had been spray-painted along with the six-pointed star. Despite the explosion, yesterday a previously planned procession of Jews in celebration of the holiday was held nonetheless, moving from the synagogue to Suvorov Square. Here the parade participants boarded busses and went to continue the holiday in Istrina district in the suburbs, a bit removed from the dangers of Moscow.

Incidentally, the television hastily reported that the procession was a "protest demonstration," like that of the Azerbaijanis. But the believers stated that they were not protesting against anybody. The misfortune had merely united them; many more people came for the holiday than had been expected.

In addition to the religious interpretation, according to which the prime suspects were apparently skinheads and other nazi organizations, the police worked out several others. As for the victims of the terrorist act: "we have no suspects," a representative of the synagogue told MK. "It is another matter that after the explosion in 1996 the newspaper Russkii poriadok published the addresses of other Moscow synagogues with the schedule of services and holidays which, apparently, guided the organizers of the terrorist act."

In principle, the terrorist act at the synagogue could have been organized by representatives of any oppositional organization. It is impossible to rule out the possibility that fascists could have planted the bomb. In recent time among the "brown" organizations someone has begun to circulate rumors that certain young radicals have been trying to resurrect the "legendary" legion of the "Werewolf." In 1994 this organization tried to conduct a series of terrorist acts in Moscow. But it was headed off in time. Now the legionaires who were left at large after the breakup of the organization have created a neonazi group "Russian Aim" which has as its goal cleansing Moscow of blacks, people from the Caucasus, and Jews. The warriors of this organization take pride in their recent attack upon an employee of the USA embassy.

It cannot be ruled out that the terrorist act was organized by leftist radicals who call themselves the "Revolutionary Military Council of RSFSR." We recall that last year they conducted a series of terrorist acts in Moscow. In particular, the monument to Peter the First by the sculptor Zurab Tsereteli was mined. The director of the security service declared to MK in an interview that the problem of the Revolutionary Military Council had been resolved, but the leader of the radical wing of the Komsomol, Pavel Bylevsky, considers that the "idea has spread to the masses. Several groups calling themselves revolutionary military councils have been created." (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Vzryv v sinagoge

by Celestine Bohlen
New York Times, 15 May 1998

[see also "Synagogue bombing in Latvia"]

MOSCOW, 14 May -- A bomb ripped through the outer wall of Moscow's Lubavitch synagogue Wednesday night, and alarmed Jewish leaders called on Russian authorities Thursday to act to halt the growing threat of violence directed at ethnic and religious minorities.

The bomb went off at 11:05, minutes after 60 young women had left the synagogue, Marina Roscha, after a holiday celebration. The blast extensively damaged the sanctuary on the ground floor, destroyed cars parked outside and caused minor injuries to two people in an adjacent building. Eight members of the congregation on the third floor were not harmed.

Calling the bomb a clearly anti-Semitic act, Rabbi Berel Lazar, emissary of the Lubavitch movement to the former Soviet states, said the culprits should be sought among the xenophobic movements that have been surfacing here.

"There are groups who go around with swastikas, and they are allowed," Lazar said. "There are people who are organizing those groups, and we believe that they are the same people who planted the bomb."

The original wood Marina Roscha synagogue burned to the ground in December 1993. The new three-story brick building opened in 1996. Several months later, it suffered its first bomb attack. No arrests have been made in those cases.

Jewish leaders said Thursday that the explosion Wednesday, estimated to have been caused by half a pound to more than a pound of TNT, was more serious, more professional and -- in view of an outbreak of racist attacks by young skinheads here -- more disturbing.

"In general," the chief rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, said, "we are aware of a heightening of tensions against minorities in general, and Jews in particular. The Marina Roscha bomb is not a lone incident."

Goldschmidt said in another anti-Semitic attack this week two young men shouted anti-Semitic slogans as they attacked a young rabbi from Yaroslavl, Yitzhak Lipshitz, in the subway and broke his nose. The suspects, described as skinheads, 17 and 21, were arrested, Rabbi Goldschmidt said.

Weeks ago a black U.S. marine was severely beaten by a group of skinheads in daylight in a park, not long after the U.S. Embassy had issued a warning to Americans of Asian and African descent to be alert for unprovoked attacks.

Last week more than 1,000 Azeris who are living here held a protest after a young Azeri trader had been stabbed to death at a large open-air market. Although the police said the killing was the work of racketeers, the attack demonstrated the tensions felt among the myriad non-Russian minorities. The police use the strict residential laws to hound minorities, particularly those from the Caucasus.

"It is not just a problem for Jews," said Vladimir Gusinsky, a press magnates and a prominent Jewish leader who went to inspect the damage at Marina Roscha. "There are millions of people in this country who are not Russian. Ethnic or fascist movements are a very big, very serious problem for the Ministry of the Interior, for the government and, above all, for the president of Russia himself."

Sarah Mondshine, an American who lives in Moscow with her Israeli husband and three children, was one member of the congregation who went to the synagogue Thursday morning to join in celebrating the Lag B'Omer agricultural and historical holiday.

"When my husband was leaving our house this morning," Mrs. Mondshine said, "for the first time there was a skinhead who yelled out, 'Jew.' It had never happened before until today."

The bombing prompted denunciations from Russian politicians, and the city government pledged a full-scale investigation. The Foreign Ministry called the bombing an act of barbarity, and the Russian Orthodox church condemned it as a sinful deed.

But as a reminder of the suspicion of Jews that lingers not far below the surface of Russian politics, a top-ranking Communist deputy described the attack as a possible reaction to the prominence of Jews in the current Russian government. A number of important government figures, including Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko and Boris Nemtsov, one of three vice prime ministers, have, at least in part, Jewish ancestry.

"The country's government is formed as if it had forgotten that there are talented people of different nationalities," the head of the Security Committee in the Parliament, Victor Ilyukhin, said to the Interfax news agency. "For some reason priority is bestowed on one nationality, Jews. Unfortunately, I do not preclude that there may be more explosions."

(c) New York Times


By David Hoffman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 15, 1998

MOSCOW, May 14A synagogue in central Moscow was bombed late Wednesday only minutes after 70 children and teachers had left the building, ripping a hole in its side and damaging nearby cars. No one was seriously hurt.

Russian politicians and Jewish leaders denounced the attack, which comes at a time of unease among minorities in Moscow and follows other recent incidents in which neo-Nazi skinheads have threatened Asians and beat up a black American Marine.

President Boris Yeltsin decried the bombing as an act of barbarism, his press secretary, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, told Interfax news agency. Russian Chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich said, "Such actions, whoever they are targeted against, must not leave either the authorities or ordinary people indifferent."

Police said the bomb, which went off at 11 p.m. Wednesday, was made of 1.1 pounds of TNT. Several construction workers, laboring on a nearby Jewish community center adjacent to the synagogue, suffered minor injuries. The attack was aimed at the rebuilt Lubavitch Maryina Roshcha Synagogue, which had burned down in 1993.

The children and teachers, celebrating the Jewish holiday of Lag b'Omer, had left the building just minutes before the explosion. Today, they carried on with a planned march through Moscow streets to celebrate the holiday.

Tsvi Magen, Israel's ambassador, said in a radio interview that Russia was not doing enough to fight the rise of hate groups. "Both in Russia and in other former Soviet republics, the activity of pro-fascist organizations not only exists but is increasing," he said.

Vladimir Gusinsky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress and one of Russia's leading financial and media barons, also urged the authorities to take a tougher line.

"People walking around with swastikas in a country that lost dozens of millions of lives during the war, people declaring nationalistic slogans in a country where every second child is born in a mixed family -- are criminals," Gusinsky said. "Inaction of the authorities, or pseudo-activity, is dangerous for the country itself."

The synagogue's original wooden structure was razed by a 1993 fire which the authorities said was arson. The new three-story structure was hit by a bomb just two months after it opened in August 1996.

"This time we count on the authorities," said Rabbi Berel Lazar. "It's not just one explosion or another. It's a whole chain of actions, which cannot be overlooked."

Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

(posted 15 May 1998)

Royal funeral under question


Discussion of the solemn ceremony of burial has evoked a new round of conflicts

by Ekaterina Grigorieva
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 12 May 1998

Next week the State Commission for Investigation of Questions Connected with the Identification and Burial of the Remains of the Royal Family is supposed to make the final decision on the conduct of the ceremony. Shortly before the holidays there was a relatively closed conference in the White House at which all preliminary suggestions were drawn up. From the time that Viktor Aksiuchits, advisor of Vice Premier Boris Nemtsov, made these suggestions public, the issue that had quieted down again took on a noisy character.

Aksiuchits was the first to dare to put forward a rather bold suggestion: Boris Yeltsin will not take part in the ceremony of burial. The logic of this idea was quite obvious: it was not good for the president to be there when the patriarch had decided not to go. But all the other leaders in this case also would be put in a rather delicate position: if the president himself decided to ignore the funeral of the last emperor, would it be worthwhile for officials of lesser rank to go there? In the end the ceremony might turn out to be a gathering of assistants and delegated representatives, and this clearly would not approach an "all-Russian act of repentence."

The situation also was complicated by the position of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, whose authority is undoubted. This weekend he expressed his doubts about the authenticity of the remains and declared that he is convinced of the necessity of a temporary burial. His words took on special weight because they were spoken at the time of his meeting with Grand Prince Leonid, and the latter fully supported him. Nevertheless Viktor Aksiuchits tried to fix the situation by showing a letter from Yuri Luzhkov which he had presented at one of the last sessions of the state commission. In it the Moscow mayor first speaks naturally about the choice of the place of the burial and insists that it should be in the capital. So only a few months ago he expressed no doubts about the authenticity of the remains. However, whatever you say, the voice of Yuri Luzhkov always sounds more loudly and effectively than the voice of an advisor to the vice premier.

So now it is possible to draw up a tentative list of the influential and authoritative people who prefer not to go to the ceremony: the president and patriarch, who have decided to keep the peace between themselves, the miffed Rossel and Luzhkov, whose suggestions about the place of burial were rejected, priests, who consider these ceremonies to be nearly sacrilege, and representatives of the Romanov family, who do not believe the authenticity of the remains. Who is left?

This situation can only be saved by a miracle: but could the Holy Synod suddenly reconsider? In all likelihood, this miracle is not fated to happen. According to reliable sources, the heads of the ecclesiastical and secular forces, at the time of their holiday meeting, preferred not even to deal with such a controversial question.

There is still one, admittedly rather weak, chance for a peaceful resolution of the situation. Viktor Aksiuchits declared that some of the remains will not be buried. Consequently, the investigation can continue and thereby lead to a reconciliation of all the most contradictory positions. However this compromise decision can hardly satisfy at least one of the sides; in any case the idea of half-measures regarding funerals is inapplicable. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Tsarskim ostankom ne daiut pokoia

(posted 14 May 1998)

Related material from St. Petersburg Times:
"Tsar's funeral: Another final decision to undo?" Editorial
"President May Miss Burial of Last Tsar," by Alice Lognado

Buddhists restoring communities

Moskovskie novosti, 12 May 1998

Buddhism is one of the three largest religions alongside Christianity and Islam. It arose in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. in India. . . .

Today there are two million Buddhists and more than fifty Buddhist communities functioning in RF. They live in Buriatiia, and the Chita and Irkutsk regions, Kalmykiia and Tuva. In the 1930s practically all Buddhism temples in the country were destroyed. Today with the support of the state and by the efforts of believers, many of them have been restored. (tr. by PDS)

New Belarussian Jewish center

Agentstvo BelaPAN/Pravoslavie v Rossii

MINSK, 12 May. The central synagogue of Belarus and the Minsk Jewish congregation held a "gate opening" ceremony for the grounds of the construction of a synagogue and Jewish religious center in the capital of the republic. The new building will contain a restaurant and stores selling kosher food and religious objects. In the religious center people of any age will be able to study Jewish history, Hebrew language, and Jewish traditions. For the celebration a new Torah scroll was brought from Israel, which, in accordance with Jewish tradition, was solemnly installed in the building of the old synagogue. Hand-written on parchment using a special pen and India ink, it took a special place of honor among the ancient local scrolls.

Participants in the ceremony included the American ambassador to Belarus, Daniel Specard, charge d'affaires of the state of Israel, Zvi Peer, assistant of the head of the administration of the president, Ivan Pashkevich, president of the state committee on religious and national affairs, Alexander Bilyk, rabbis from Austria, Israel, USA, Russia, and South Africa, and representatives of the embassies of Germany and France and of charitable funds and public organizations. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 14 May 1998)

Moscow's Ukrainian Orthodox rebuff competitors

Pravoslavie v Ukraine/Pravoslavie v Rossii

KIEV, 12 May. The primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox church, Metropolitan Vladimir, refused to participate in a supplication service marking the opening of the work of the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine along with the "head" of the schismatic groups, Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarch and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The supplication service was scheduled for 11 May in the cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Kiev. As a result, the "ecumenical" service did not occur at all. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Pravoslavie v Rossii

(posted 14 May 1998)


KIEV, 15 May. A small group of people's deputies of the new convocation on 12 May received the blessing from "patriarch" of Kiev and all-Ukraine-Rus Filaret in the Kievan cathedral church on the initiative of National Rukh of Ukraine. Blessing the group of parliamentarians, the head of UPTsKP Filaret noted that the economic situation in the country is complex. Therefore the newly elected parliament will have a hard time coming to correct decisions. Thus he will pray that the Lord will endow the deputies with wisdom and preserve them from all evil. Despite the appeals of Rukh, only about thirty newly elected people's deputies came for "blessing." At the same time, women led by the daughter of a Catholic priest, Liliia Grigorovich, came to the church without their heads covered. The men were not all able to cross themselves properly, some of them crossing themselves in the Catholic manner in an Orthodox church. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 4 June 1998)

KGB-style tactics used on clergy

by Aleksei Markevich, Lilia Solomonova, Radiotserkov (Moscow)

The Obninsk EKhB church received a warning from the district administration of justice, according to the miniter of this congregation, Igor Filatov, in a communication to a Radiotserkov reporter. The warning contains the strict requirement of annual reporting of all sorts of information about the church, including "Family name, given name, patronymic, and information certifying the permanent and legal residence on the territory of RF of the leader and members of the organization." The warning includes citations to the laws on freedom of conscience and noncommercial organizations which are by no means clear. It seems that stern warnings have been received also by other EKhB churches in central Russia. It is evident that the leaders of the churches are being insistently urged to inform on members of their chruches and to report how many of them are residing "on a legal basis." (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 14 May 1998)

Protestant higher education in FSU

by Aleksei Markevich, Lilia Solomonova, Radiotserkov (Moscow)

KIEV, 12 May. From 4 to 6 May a seminar and session of the council of the Eurasian Accreditation Association (EAAA) of Evangelical Educational Institutions was held in Kiev. At the session the procedure for accreditation of educational institutions was reviewed.

At the present time five of the forty members of EAAA have already submitted applications for accreditation. Among them are the Odessa Theological Seminary of EKhB and the Saint Petersburg Logos Christian University. The periods for visitation of their accreditation commissions were worked out. Several other institutions have expressed the wish to join the association, including the theological seminary of Pentecostals, according to the report from EAAA council member Gennady Sergienko to our reporter. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 14 May 1998)

Presbyterians advance in Russia

by Yuri Kolesnkikov, Radiotserkov

NOVOSIBIRSK, 13 May. At the end of May the Novosibirsk Christian Presbyterian church plans to conduct a celebration opening its recently erected building for services. The grand construction with a four-story building in Gothic style is a real architectural decoration for Novosibirsk. The hall for conducting meetings of believers accommodates up to 200 persons. Besides this, there are facilities for a Sunday school, guest rooms, and storage space for equipment.

Six years ago a Korean missionry U Donsu appeared in the capital of Siberia. The first small meetings were held in rented clubs and even in the apartment of the missionary himself. At the present the church has about 50 people, but, as Pastor U said in an interview with a reporter from Radiotserkov, it is counting on an increase in the number of parishioners. Before U Donsu's arrival in Novosibirsk, he ministered on Sakhalin, in the city of Yuzhno-Sakalinsk. The history of the existence of a Presbyterian church on this island, according to the pastor, goes back to 1928. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text at Radiotserkov

(posted 14 May 1998)

Fear of Islamic fundamentalism


Fergana Valley has become a zone of struggle with religious dissent

by Valery Uleev
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 3 April 1998

The region of the Fergana valley, which in the classification of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe is a zone of potential interethnic conflicts, has become the arena of a struggle with religious dissent. In Uzbekistan this struggle has taken on an extremely repressive form. An enormous campaign for rounding up all who are suspected of belonging to Wahhabism has extended even into the south of Kyrgyzstan.

The intraconfessional conflict between true believers and ordinary believers has never gone beyond the platitudes of theological debates of individual religious activists at the mosque level. Many consider that the active penetration of the ideology of fundamentalist Islam into central Asia is related to an external political factor; that is, such countries as Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia are actively participating in this process, sharing enormous means with their fellow believers. Likely the news about this has been greatly exaggerated. If such help exists, then it is occurring at the official level.

There is a logical explanation for the appeal of the fundamental sources of Islam to a certain portion of believers. In conditions of the liberalization of public life in the first years of sovereignty a certain Islamic response occurred. Today when all restrictions have been removed there are people who are concerned for the purity of Islam. At present in a substantial portion of mosques the flock is being ruled by charlatans, who do not know even the basics of Islam. However it has become prestigious to be a believer and since the early 1990s thousands of people have made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

There has been an impoverishment of the popular masses and a sharp differentiation among people in terms of social and property status. Many believers see the cause of their misery and suffering in social injustice when during the division of the "all-national" property everything was seized by the former party and soviet nomenklatura who walled themselves off from the people by an enormous repressive apparatus.

Today there is a politicization of Islam; that is, on the one hand, the exploitation of the sentiments of believers by the ruling political elite for their own mercenary goals, and on the other hand, crude interference of the state in confessional affairs.

We should be cautious about the way, by reason of theological illiteracy, fundamentalism takes on a negative coloration in our understanding, following the slant of the news services and mass media. We were taught long ago to place an equality sign between the concepts "fundamentalism" and "Islamic terrorism." However, fundamentalism can be not only armed with machine guns and not only in Islam, although it is in Islam in recent years that it acquired such a clear aggressive character. Rather this is a reflexive response to the policy of the West by people who have been driven into a corner. Evidence of this is in the events in Tajikistan, the Balkans, Algeria, and many undercurrents of Islamic life.

"Our" fundamentalists have never declared the idea of the creation of an Islamic theocratic regime to be their basic goal. In our region there has not been a single case where the differences between fundamentalists and believers has gone beyond the bounds of theological disputes and only the interference of the state in religious affairs has intensified the situation and divided Muslims into the "pure" and "impure."

The government has painted all our fundamentalists as Wahhabis for some unknown reason. Meanwhile from an academic point of view, there is no sense in talking about Wahhabism in Central Asia since it can occur only on the basis of the Hanbali , one of the four canonical Sunnite schools of Islamic law which historically never existed on the territory of Central Asia. It is necessary to take into account that Wahhabism as religious dissent poses no threat to the security of our republic, especially since our constitution officially enforces freedom of conscience.

After the famous Namangan events of the end of last year and the beginning of this year, when a criminal group clashed violently with officers of the Uzbek police and members of their families, official law enforcement structures evaluated these actions as terroristic acts of indigenous Wahhabis. In Uzbekistan there began an unprecedented campaign of "witch hunts" which seized the territory of southern Kirgizia. This happened because Islam Karimov incautiously declared at a press conference after the recent summit of the heads of central Asian states that Uzbek Wahhabis were preparing military raids on the territory of the neighboring republic.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of people today are languishing in the prisons of the Uzbek special services merely on suspicion of participation in Wahhabism. It seems that having disposed of political opposition, the dictatorship of Karimov has taken on religious opposition and the Namangan events were the occasion for repressive actions. Meanwhile many consider that the murder of the policemen had nothing to do with religion.

Law enforcements agencies of Uzbekistan are operating on the territory of southern Kyrgyzstan as if they were on their own land. With the open connivance (and perhaps direct support) of the Kyrgyz authorities, the special forces of Uzbekistan are running wild in Dzhalal-Abad and Osh districts, detaining at the border of kidnapping suspects (Kirgiz citizens) and conducting searches without any authority. The Uzbek police use of technique of planting: they discover on all suspects during the search from one to four grams of marijuana or three or four shells from a Makarov.

The prohibitive and repressive measures have still not produced the desired results. As a rule they have led only to the growth of the opposition. In our opinion the situation will get worse and the number of adherents of fundamentalist Islam will grown inexorably. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Chistie i nechistie

(posted 13 May 1998)

RFE/RL Newsline, 15 May 1998

A number of religious organizations have established a committee in Bishkek to counter anti-Islamic measures by the Kyrgyz leadership, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 14 May. Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov said that the Kyrgyz government is cracking down on religious organizations under the pretext of combatting Wahhabism, which, he claimed, does not pose a threat in Kyrgyzstan. Also on 14 May, Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii invited Kyrgyzstan to join the tripartite alliance created by Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan earlier this month to combat religious extremism, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

(posted 15 May 1998)

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