EVERYONE IS READY FOR CONCESSIONS
Moskovskie novosti, 27 August 1997

Pressure has been put upon the president again at the stage of revising the law. Participants in several sessions of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the presidency have advocated its unconditional acceptance; "the united opposition," in the person of Gennady Ziuganov, declared that for it this law is "a matter of political principle;" a pile of various kinds of appeals and calls has been sent to Boris Yeltsin and the public, mainly Orthodoxy, believed that the refusal to accept the law creates a "direct threat" to the security and integrity of the Russian federation. The heat of emotions in June and especially in July of this year created the impression that the Orthodox were fighting not for the law but for the Creed. The leadership of the Russian Orthodox church gave a hostile reception to the news of Yeltsin's refusal to sign the law. Metropolitan Kirill Gundiaev warned of a raid upon the officials of the governmental and legal administration of the presidency who prepared the negative recommendation regarding the law. "We know the names of those officials," the metropolitan declared in a threatening manner.

The assistant head of the president's administration, Maxim Boiko, met with the director of affairs of the Moscow patriarchate, Archbishop Sergius Fomin. Apparently at the time of this meeting the question was raised about the need for a personal meeting between the president and patriarch. The president himself called the head of the RPTs and a meeting occurred on 6 August, the nameday of the president, for whom the government of Moscow had prepared a present, the completion of the construction of the chapel of saints Boris and Gleb on Arbat Square. The patriarch consecrated the chapel and after the consecration he and the president addressed to nation. The patriarch was paternalistically kind and condescending to the president: "If the vacation period had not interfered," he said, "many of the well-known difficulties would not have arisen." Both sides showed complete unanimity. The president made a completely unprecedented declaration about the unity of the church and state in Russia, whose constitution, on the contrary, separates them. The patriarch condemned the "principal culprits" in the rejection of the law, the American congress and the Roman pope.

It seems that rumors of the conflict between the patriarch and the president , and the church and authorities, were greatly exaggerated. How will events unfold? The president has to solve a difficult dilemma: friendship with the opposition leads to international isolation and to the gradual transformation of Russia into Belarus, but partnership with the West leads to a growth of social and political tension within the country. The opposition, which, properly speaking, created this trap by writing and adopting a fateful law, is interested in a categoral refusal by Boris Yeltsin to sign the law. The opposition lives by the principle, the worse, the better.

If parliament displays steadfastness and will not make any compromise, Boris Yeltsin can take the unprecedented step about which he warned the deputies. If the duma overrides the president's veto, Yeltsin, at the same time as he signs the law, will publish a letter in which he will list those provisions of the law which cannot be enforced because of their inconsistency with the constitution. Thus by an original device the action of the law will be blocked and it will be nothing more than a declaration. Apparently, the Council of Europe can be satisfied with such a situation. But, as already noted, the balance that will satisfy the Council of Europe will not satisfy the opposition and that means it will lead to a growth of social tension. The other extreme is Yeltsin's capitulation to the opposition and acceptance of the law in its present version. It is difficult to imagine that the president will take that step. Besides a conflict with international organizations, this would weaken his authority within the country and again cast doubt on the stability of the concept of "guarantor of the constitution."

Finally, the third and most likely variant of the course of events: the path of mutual compromise. At the meeting of the patriarch and president on 6 August Boris Yeltsin stated: "A reconciliation commission will be created that includes representatives of the church, duma, presidential apparatus, and the government. . . After this the law will come into effect." The readiness to compromise has been expressed. The speaker of the duma Gennady Seleznev, declared at a press conference at the end of July: "The committee on affairs of public associations and religious organizations has studied the amendments of the president. If the committee accepts some of them, we can give it consideration." But what direction will the work of the reconciliation commission take--democratization of the law taking into account the interests of all religious confession of Russia or polishing up the complex wording for the sake of concealing its discriminatory essence? That is the question. Besides it is not known on what principle this commission will be composed. What is the meaning of the president's words "with the participation of representatives of the church"? Which church? What authority would its representatives have? However, we shall hope for the best. That the law has still not been adopted is a great victory for the principles of freedom of conscience over the archaic model of church-state relations that is being pushed by the Moscow patriarchate. We shall hope that the commission really will become a reconciliation and not a consenting one and the president will maintain his firmness in defense of one of the main human rights. (tr. by PDS)

Link to Russian text.