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Controversy swirls around Ukrainian 'patriarch' Filaret

by Filipp Taratorkin, 11 March 2001

In connection with disorders that occurred in Kiev on 9 March, the Union of Orthodox Citizens sent an open letter to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. The union called the Ukrainian president "to take all legal measures for punishing participants in attempts at a national fascist putsch in Kiev that was undertaken by militarized organizations of UNA-UNSO, the Social Nationalist party, and other profascist forces."

It seems special concern was evoked in the Union of Orthodox Citizens not so much by the political but by the ecclesiastical aspects of the opposition that has developed in Ukraine. The Orthodox citizens' anxiety was provoked by the direct participation in the activity of Ukrainian nationalistic associations of Filaret Denisenko, the self-proclaimed "patriarch of Kiev and all-Rus/Ukraine," who is recognized by nobody. The former metropolitan of Kiev and Galich was unfrocked in 1992 for schismatic activity and violation of his monastic vows, and in 1997 Filaret was excommunicated from the church. Since that time the chief church schismatic in Ukraine has indefatigably sought the support of authorities. While former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk  unconditionally supported Filaret and his self-proclaimed hierarchy in 1992-1994 (so that in those years Filaret had a euphoric sense of complete impunity and hope for protection from the government), the current head of the Ukrainian state behaves toward Filaret much more cautiously, although he attends from time to time large official events of the "Kiev patriarchate."

Calling attention to the splash of civic activitism by Filaret, the Union of Orthodox Citizens notes that Filaret "on 9 March personally 'blessed' the warriors for an attack on the administration building of the Ukrainian president." At the same time the Union of Orthodox Citizens' letter said "it is no secret that the structures of UNA-UNSO are financed by the 'Kiev patriarchate.' The current putschists who have been arrested 'rehearsed' the events of 9 March for many years, seizing by force church building of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate. But since then not one single criminal case has been raised on these blatant incidents."

The Union of Orthodox Citiznes appealed to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma "to cancel the registration of the self-proclaimed 'Kiev patriarch' since in 1992 it was conducted with crude violations of Ukrainian legislation."

The authors of the letter to Leonid Kuchma have in mind, apparently, the generally known fact that one of the first actions of Filaret after his rupture with the Moscow patriarchate was the appropriation of the treasury of the Kiev metropolia, which one can guess was quite rich. Back in 1992 adherents of the canonical church in Ukraine, upset by Filaret's attempts, tried to call the attention of law enforcement agencies to this blatant theft, but it was extremely difficult to do this under conditions of the high protection that Filaret had.

The letter to the Ukrainian president suggested "conducting a careful investigation of the connection of the 'Kiev patriarchate' with the organization of the disorders of 9 March and with the financing of UNA-UNSO and attempts to recruit Ukrainians in Chechnia on the side of international terrorists that were made by this organization and initiating criminal cases with regard to the numerous instances of seizure by the 'Kiev patriarchate' of churches and diocesan administration buildings of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate. We also ask for the return of the confiscated buildings of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate."

Activists of the Union of Orthodox Citizens stated also their distrust of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, inasmuch as the Constantinople patriarchate indulges the activity of Filaret and his "hierarchs." The SPG appeal states directly that the Constantinople patriarch "not only trampled the holy canons of the Orthodox church by interfering in the canonical territory of the Moscow patriarchate but also tainted itself by close cooperation and support of the so-called 'Kiev patriarchate,' which provides a legal cover for the illegal armed profascist formations that attempted to overthrow the government of Ukraine on 9 March." In connection with this the Union of Orthodox Citizens expresses the hope that any contacts between the state leaders of Ukraine with the patriarch of Constantinople will be broken off since such contacts are compromising the governmental leadership of Ukraine.

The Constantinople patriarchate has never directly and unconditionally supported the Ukrainian schismatics, but it also has not condemned them. In the fall of 1992 the patriarch of Constantinople received Filaret personally in his residence along with his closest aides. Soon it was revealed that this was an extremely incautious action by Constantinople, after which the ecumenical patriarchate has refused to give direct support to Filaret.  But covert support continued and was expressed in the Constantinople patriarchate's unwillingness to acknowledge the seemingly obvious fact:  the only legal Orthodox jurisdiction on the territory of Ukraine from the point of view of the canon law of the Orthodox church is the Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate headed by Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan of Kiev and all-Ukraine. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 March 2001)

by Filipp Taratorkin, Dmitry Safonov, 14 March 2001

Interesting details about events in Kiev on 9 March have begun being clarified from day to day. If there is nothing surprising in the Ukrainian opposition's statements themselves just like in their being timed to correspond with the anniversary of Taras Shevchenko (it long has been used by the most diverse public forces for their own purposes), there is something remarkable in something else, in the role played in the events of 9 March by Filaret Denisenko, the self-proclaimed "patriarch of Kiev and all-Rus/Ukraine."

As is known, on 9 March Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma went to the monument to Taras Shevchenko at 8:30 in the morning. Such an early visit by the president to the Kobzar monument was related to his work schedule; Leonid Kuchma flew off on an emergency working trip through regions that suffered from flooding. Even in the morning there was unrest on the square in front of the monument, but disorders began later while at 8:30 everything was decorous and everybody was orderly: the Ukrainian president, his entourage, and the inevitable participant in ceremonial events of this type, Filaret Denisenko, who was excommunicated from the Orthodox church in 1997 who had been metropolitan of Kiev and Galich and now is the self-appointed "patriarch."  He was counted as the only representative of the church at the presidential flower laying (although, strictly speaking, he did not represent the church but only himself).

President Kuchma flew out of Kiev while at the noon requiem for Taras Shevchenko a demonstration of the united opposition began. As "Ukrainskaia pravda" reports, the requiem was conducted "entirely by the same Filaret who a few hours earlier had been with Kuchma. There was another politician who attended the demonstration and acted in a two-faced manner, the leader of UNR Yury Kostenko, who was with Kuchma in the morning and then spoke at the opposition demonstration."

Was Yury Kostenko two-faced? if so, experts will explain the political life of Ukraine.
Something else is important for us: Filaret has again demonstrated to everybody his mind-boggling lack of principle. This is so like the excommunicated former Kievan metropolitan--pledge loyalty first to one and then, in the blink of an eye, pledge the same to another. At the same time, most likely, Filaret has an incontrovertible (from his point of view) argument in his defense. The church, he will say, is outside politics and in principle stands above political parties and their struggles.

Let's review this potential argument more carefully. The current situation was provided to Filaret by ex-president of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk, his all-powerful protector at the beginning of the 90s. Kravchuk was supported at the time (or so it appeared) by the nationalistic politicians of Ukraine. These same politicians who were deputies of the Supreme Soviet demanded "a fruitful church for a fruitful Ukraine."

But in 1994 Kravchuk lost and that removed from the center of real political power and influence the former enthusiasts of the "liberation" of the Orthodox church in Ukraine from the canonical church authority of the patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus. In 1995 Filaret declared himself "patriarch of Kiev and all-Rus/Ukraine" after he buried (in a literal and figurative sense) all of his jealous brethren who expressed doubts about his canonicity even from their particularly schismatic point of view. And he made for himself on that occasion a patriarchal cowl on the Moscow (!) pattern such as is worn by the patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus (other Orthodox patriarchs have headdresses that are somewhat different).  What he did not become, thank God, in 1990, Filaret wanted  to see himself as in 1995. Even though Kievan, still a "patriarch." The main thing for Filaret was that he managed to preserve even after Kravchuk and with the departure from active political work of his friends from the Supreme Soviet the immovable property, the residence in Kiev, the Vladimir cathedral that he had seized with its great shrine, the relics of the holy martyr Barbara, the church treasury, and, judging by all indications, a large number of sponsors, including some overseas. It is not surprising, for example, that Filaret does not willingly travel around his dioceses in Ukraine (where he once was doused with water from a bucket and an attempt was made to crown his "patriarchal" head with the bucket), although he has made "archpastoral visits" with great pomp and clear pleasure to America, where sentimental foreign Ukrainian nationalists lavish on Filaret the most generous gifts and collect large contributions (just officially known and registered) for his, Filaret's, needs. And for these needs Filaret does not have to account to anybody.

With Kuchma, as Filaret understood, it was necessary to establish relations almost from square one. Some mere loud nationalistic declarations did not have the effect on the new president that had been guaranteed under Kravchuk. Then Filaret found out for himself the main thing: it is possible to coexist with Kuchma although somewhat more cautiously and cleverly.

Filaret has begun implementing a new scenario in his ecclesiastical political game, consistent in a new style. Filaret's new style differs from the earlier one much like the official style and rhetoric of the soviet proletarian 1920s differed from the "soviet classicism" of the stalinist empire of the 1930s. In the 1920s the soviet regime needed the currupt renovationists ("church scum," as the chekists called them) while in the thirties they needed something more respectable, not so communist, so that the renovationists had to drape themselves with expensive pectoral images and be concerned about splendor and dignity. So Filaret, too, has had to move from the "fruitful" rhetoric of the beginning of the 90s to the creation of an image of "sovereign church." Filaret has wagered on elaborate celebrations, propagandistic events, and more frequent appearances in ceremonial occasions. From now on his favorite associates are displayed in the Filaret photo gallery and internet chronicle, "Filaret and Kuchma," "Filaret and Yushchenko," "Filaret and statesmen." Thus almost all pictures in the official Filaret "Church calendar for 2001" were variations on a single theme, how closely Filaret is associated with state authority of Ukraine.

However even Filaret's sense (not to say nose) failed. It seems that at the beginning of 2001 the "patriarch of Kiev and all-Rus" missed the mark. He imagined that in the complex situation that had developed in Ukraine one could try to bet on "Kuchma-gate," and Filaret hoped for the return of his oldest comrades, Ukrainian nationalists, to their former influence. It was dangerous for Filaret to act openly; suddenly Kuchma did not disappear, there was no impeachment, and Kuchma completed his presidential term successfully.  And it was necessary for Filaret to signal his loyalty and readiness to head and lead into the "fruitful church" Kuchma's current opponents as well as to remind them of his former services. But the issue is not just his astounding lack of principle. What is most awful for Filaret, which just could happen in Ukraine, would be rapprochement with Moscow. Cordial meetings between Putin and Kuchma, the visit of Prime Minister Yushchenko to Russia, a certain invigoration and warming in bilateral relations--all of these are rather dangerous and undesirable for someone about whom so much is known in Moscow. They can explain to the Ukrainian president solidly and convincingly who Filaret is, who may be behind him, and why he can never be trusted in anything.

Now, while Filaret is ready to "ally against Kuchma" something quite undesirable for him could happen. Having identified in the Ukrainian president the chief enemy of a "fruitful Ukraine," and in his opponents it chief saviors, Filaret has again shouted "wolf." But nobody will support him because it's been heard before, and this will be the end of Filaret Denisenko. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 March 2001)


The "Blagovest-info" news agency reported, citing the Kievan metropolia of the Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate, that the Union of Orthodox Citizens (SPGU) included a number of inaccuracies in its report of events in Kiev on 9 March. The statement of the agency said: "As 'Blagovest-info' was told at the Kievan metropolia of UPTsMP, this church has nothing to do with this statement, since SPTU is a 'nonchurch organization.' Nobody in the metropolia gave permission for such statements, especially since the primate of UPTsMP, Metropolitan Vladimir, is at the present on a visit to the Holy Land."

The statement of SPTU contains a substantive inaccuracy: Patriarch Filaret Denisenko did not "bless" UNA-UNSO for any action. On the contrary, on 9 March he placed flowers at the monument of Taras Shevchenko along with President Leonid Kuchma. The press secretary of SPGU, Kirill Frolov, is a citizen of Russia and his activity on the territory of Ukraine, in the opinion of many representatives of UPTsMP, has a provocational nature," the report of "Blagovest-info" states.

In connection with this the press secretary of the Union of Orthodox Citizens, Kirill Frolov, issued a declaration. Responding to the charge in the report of the Blagovest-info agency from an unidentified representative of the Kievan metropolia to the effect that the Union of Orthodox Citizens is a nonchurch organization, Kirill Frolov stressed that the Union of Orthodox Citizens was created five years ago with the written blessing of Patriarch Alexis II (it is the only church public organization that has such written blessing).   In accordance with the resolution of bishops' councils of RPTs in recent years, laity have the right to engage in politics, but they do not have the right to express their point of view as that of the church. The Union of Orthodox Citizens has never offered its point of view as the position of the whole plenitude of the Russian Orthodox church."

The SPG press secretary's statement says also that "on 9 March Filaret Denisenko not only served a requiem at 14:00 for Shevchenko, along with oppositionists, but also delivered a speech before oppositionists in which he stated that their actions were directed toward the salvation of Ukrainian sovereignty.  Kuchma laid a wreath at 8:30; Filaret was there, but gave no speech. The goals of the opposition include the overthrow of "Kuchma's regime," which they actively stated at the time of the event. The presidential wreath was torn up. Filaret was present. Besides back in January Filaret actively participated in and blessed the activity of the 'Ukrainian Right' association, which unites more than 30 nationalistic organizations, which for the first time advocated the removal of Kuchma as the goal of its political struggle and the installation of Yushchenko. So there was no disinformation in the union's statement. We take responsibility for the contents of our statements."

Kirill Frolov also noted:  "The assertion that 'many in UPTsMP' consider my activity provocational" is unsubstantiated. It is no secret that people who are working for the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox church from the Moscow patriarchate have penetrated it, but they constitute, by no means, a majority. It suffices to note the mass protests of believers of UPTsMP against autocephaly in the past years. I regularly communicate with many bishops, priests, and church leaders of UPTsMP, who approve my activity and support the contents of my publications.  The claim of the 'provocational nature' of my activity, whose anonymous origin must be ascertained, is unproven and it slanders my honor, worth, and business reputation. If such words really were spoken by someone in the Kiev metropolia, then I do not have any desire to defend my honor in court (although I am obviously right) since court struggles among fellow believers are strictly forbidden by the holy canons.    Let this slander remain on the conscience of the one who issued it," Kirill Frolov said in his statement. The press secretary of SPG also drew attention to the fact that the primate of PTsMP, Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and all-Ukraine, is now on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 March 2001)

Satanists; patriarch and ministry; Fr Georgi Kochetkov

NTV, 17 March 2001

According to information from the Russian special services, including Russian FSB, at the present time in Moscow alone around fifteen satanic sects are accounted for, Interfax reports. The largest and best known of these is the "Black Angel," which was organized in 1974-1975 in Moscow and Tver.

During the seventies satanism spread in all major cities of the former Union. More or less large groups of satanists appeared at the beginning of the eighties. Satanist groups are constructed on the principle of a strict five-layer hierarchy with a council as the highest level. Women often are elected to higher levels. Nobody possesses precise data about the number of satanists, but specialists suggest that in Russia the number of adherents of satanism is not less than several thousand.

In recent years, according to information from sources in law enforcement agencies, an increase in the activity of crime-breeding sects has been noted. They have penetrated institutions of higher education and they freely grant interviews. Law enforcement agencies know the locations of satinist gatherings: they are a church-like bulding in the industrial zone of the Medvedkovo microdistrict, a base in a Moscow suburb, a cafe at Kuznetsky Most, a building near the Bolshoy Theatre, and Lubianka square.

According to information from the capital GUVD, on 28 July 1999 officers of the criminal service of UVD police of the western district arrested two participants of a satanist sect who on the night of 8 October 1998 set fire to the chapel of the great martyr Princess Elizabeth on the territory of the Rublev settlement cemetery.

In 2000 at the Arbat metro station in Moscow officers of the Moscow crime investigation arrested the leader of the "Black Dragon" satanic sect. During a search a foreign-made revolver was confiscated from him. A number of components for making explosive devices were taken from his home. The arrested leader and his followers intended to create an explosion and fire at one of the churches on Moscow territory during one of the Christian holidays.

According to information from capital law enforcement agencies, satanic sects regularly buy animals at the Ptichy market and use them for sacrifices. For now all attempts by agents to identify and arrest criminals have been unsuccessful because the activity of the sects is surreptitious.

Satanist sects pose a threat to public security abroad, as well. In just 1989 and the beginning of the nineties more than 100 murders were committed in western Europe, USA, and Canada in sects associated with cults of Satan, Interfax reports. (tr. by PDS, posted 18 March 2001).


Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Rushailo met on 16 March with Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, according to reports from Russian news agencies citing the press service of the Russian federation Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). Items discussed at the meeting included questions of relations between agencies of internal affairs and the Russian Orthodox church (RPTs) on matters of spiritual, ethical, and legal education, preservation of religious and historic values, and restoration of peace in the Chechen republic.

The minister took note of the substantial contribution which the clergy of the Russian Orthodox church has made in working with children and youth who are inclined to criminality and are on police rolls. He also stressed that close relations between the Russian MVD and RPTs have a positive impact on the moral condition of police units and their conduct of their official duties.

Vladimir Rushailo said that in the past year MVD officers of Russia had solved more than 100 crimes connected with theft of church property. Valuables recovered in these cases were returned to RPTs.

During discussion of the situation in the Chechen republic the parties reviewed questions on guarantees of the security of priests who are performing their ministry not only in churches but also in divisions of interior forces and temporary departments of internal affairs on Chechen territory.

Patriarch Alexis II praised the humanitarian activity of the Russian MVD in Chechnia, primarily in the form of protection of schools, aid to innocent children, and help in restoration of an Orthodox church in Grozny. (tr. by PDS, posted 18 March 2001)

by Dmitry Safonov, 16 March 2001

The newspaper NG-religii published an article by its editor-in-chief Maksim Shevchenko dealing with the session of the presidium of the theological commission held on 9 March that was devoted to a review of the theological views of Fr Georgi Kochetkov. In particular the author writes:  "the examination of the theological views of Archpriest Georgi Kochetkov, which was begun in the summer of last year on order of the most holy patriarch, proceeded in an atmosphere of such secrecy and closedness that the impression was created that what was being discussed was not some books but some financial documents of extraordinary importance. The 'top secret' stamp always accompanied the work of the commission under the leadership of Sergei Pravdoliubov." Further the writer accuses the media of pressure on the synodal commission:  "On 9 March the document of the 'Pravdoliubov' commission (which as before remained terribly secret) was presented for review by the Synodal Theological Commission. Despite personal requests of the chairman, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, not to exert pressure on the work of the synodal theologians, opponents of Fr Kochetkov disregarded this request and in a number of media published texts filled with hopes and desires for reprisals against the 'neorenovationists.' This forced the press service of the Presentation Orthodox Educational and Charity Brotherhood (led by Fr Georgi Kochetkov) to issue on 7 March a special declaration 'On pressure of mass media on the Synodal Theological Commission.'"

Then the writer quotes almost entirely the text of this document. [The article then repeats the text, that also is in the Shevchenko article--tr.]

Then the writer continues:  "Despite the Kochetkovites' concern, pressure on the commission made no sense and had not effect. The 'Pravdoliubov' commission document was received simply for information."

We turned to the secretary of the Synodal Theological Commission, Fr Vladimir Shmali, for a comment on this article. Here is his response.

"1.  No statement in the mass media asserted any pressure on the work of the presidium of the Synodal Theological Commission, and, I hope, will have no effect in future. The commission comprises authoritative, solid theologians, professors, leaders, and employees of synodal institutions, people who clearly recognize their responsibility before God and the church, while all the time valuing their scholarly reputation.

2. "It is necessary to stress that the commission that was created to study the theological explorations of Fr Georgi Kochetkov named in Shevcheko's article in NGR as the "Pravdoliubov" commission(from the name of its chairman, Archpriest Sergei Pradoliubov) occupies high official status. It was established by a special edict of the most holy patriarch and it could be called "patriarchal,' although is more properly designated as 'Muscovite.'

3. "'The text of the accusation against Fr Kochetkov is considered, as formerly, a closed working document' (NGR). This is only partially true. Thus, the text of the conclusion of the Muscovite commission (not the 'text of the accusation') was given to Fr Georgi Kochetkov for study and response. This gives evidence of the attempt of the theological commission to achieve objectivity and seriousness of the decision. But on the other hand, in reality, the presidium of the Synodal Theological Commission agreed not to make public any working materials on Kochtekov's theological views prior to the adoption of a final decision In respect of such a sharp polarization of attitudes toward the personality and works of Fr Georgi Kochetkov both in Russia and abroad, this approach will assure a calm conversational atmosphere for the work of the Synodal Theological Commission. But there is no 'top secret' issue regarding the work of the Synodal Theological Commission since even by the NGR article Shevchenko thoroughly informed readers of the course and results of the presidium's session.

4. "The commission's document really was received for information, but not 'merely' and with thanks from the chairman and members of the commission who dealt with it; it was adopted as a basis for further work of the SBK. During the presidium's discussion the document was assessed in different ways: naturally, it was criticized, but more often it was treated positively. Actually the presidium did not manage to review the Moscow commission's conclusions in detail. Thus it was quite reasonable that the concluding document was received 'for information.'

5.  "The presidium of the Synodal Theological Commission determined the procedure for further work on assessing  the works of Fr Georgi Kochetkov. Members of the presidium acted on the basis of the report of Archpriest Sergei Pravdoliubov, who presented the conclusion of the Moscow commission for studying the theological statements of Fr George Kocketkov, which included the assertion that Fr Georgi's works contain statements inconsistent with Orthodox doctrine. Inasmuch as in his explanatory memo presented by Fr Georgi Kochetkov to the presidium he maintains that a number of the conclusions of the Moscow commission were the product of misunderstandings and that by their nature his texts are subject to a different interpretation, for an appropriate evaluation of such places they must be subjected to a most thorough examination. Further, the members of the presidium thing that Fr Georgi Kochetkov should be given a list of such places from which works which 'unquestionably' appear to be a departure from Orthodox doctrine. Then he should be given the opportunity to specify his position with regard to them: either to recognize that they are erroneous statements and renounce them or to stand by them at the price of open contradiction between his views and Orthodox doctrine. A working group of members of the presidium and consultants (including a number of members of the Moscow commission), under the chairmanship of His Blessedness Evgeny, archbishop of Vereisk, rector of the Moscow ecclesiastical academy, and vice chairman of SBK, was created to draw up such a 'list.' The 'list' should be presented to the presidium of the Synodal Theological Commission at the next session which will be held 8 May and which with determine the final procedure for review of the theological  investigations of Fr Georgi Kochetkov."

We want to emphasize that our publication regarding Fr Georgi Kochetkov did not in any way have the intention of putting pressure on the synodal commission and it remains a puzzle to us where Mr. Shevchenko saw in this article "hopes and desires for reprisals against the 'neorenovationists.'" (tr. by PDS, posted 18 March 2001)

Zhirinovksy's attacks concern Catholics

by Frank Brown
Catholic News Service, 13 March 2001

In a highly unusual move, Russia's parliament has asked the Foreign Ministry to explore ways of combating "intolerable Catholic expansion'' in Russia and other predominantly Orthodox Christian countries.

In early March, the Russian Duma approved a nonvoting resolution to instruct its international affairs committee to work with the Foreign Ministry on a plan to impede the growth of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, a country of 145 million people with about 500,000 Catholics.

The measure, sponsored by Duma Vice Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has little practical weight but highlights a growing closeness in the interests of Russia's executive and legislative branches with the dominant, 80-million-member Russian Orthodox Church.

Russian Orthodox leaders routinely accuse the Vatican of orchestrating a well-funded campaign of expansion through proselytism in the former Soviet Union, a charge Catholic prelates vigorously deny.

Two days after the Duma action, the Russian Catholic bishops' conference reacted with an indignant open letter expressing the bishops' "bewilderment and serious anxiety'' that the country's Catholic minority would be singled out as a potentially suspicious element.

The letter, signed by the head of the bishops' conference, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, apostolic administrator of Northern European Russia, argued that Russia's Catholics are "law abiding and loyal to their government.''

The letter said the bishops were especially troubled "that the request to the Foreign Ministry was made by the state Duma, a representative body called to articulate and defend the interests of all of society, including religious minorities, which include Catholics.''

Zhirinovsky, one of the country's best orators and most colorful politicians, is known in the West for his nationalist and sometimes anti-Semitic rhetoric. After a second-place showing in the 1994 Duma elections, his Liberal Democratic Party has steadily lost support in nationwide balloting.

Despite his sometimes outlandish ideas -- like a recent proposal to rename Russia as a way of evading the country's colossal foreign debt -- Zhirinovsky and his party usually vote the Kremlin line. The Kremlin often uses Zhirinovsky to launch trial balloons.

As the Kremlin-connected Russian Web site,, approvingly noted in commentary on the Duma's measure, "a fact is a fact: Vladimir Zhirinovsky is one of the very few Russian politicians to be working on questions of church diplomacy.''

In mid-February, Zhirinovsky met with Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's Department of External Church Relations. Since then, Zhirinovsky has spoken out several times in favor of increased government support for the Russian Orthodox Church.

Like Russian Orthodox leaders who have asked the pope to put off a planned June visit to predominantly Orthodox Ukraine, Zhirinovsky criticized the Catholic Church as a destabilizing, divisive force.

Following his meeting with Metropolitan Kirill, Zhirinovsky told the independent NTV television network that Ukraine and Russia "are linked economically; you cannot stop trade, but through religious forces, including aid to Uniates and sects, Western countries are trying to break the ties between our peoples and to do what is necessary to get citizens of Ukraine to stop feeling themselves Orthodox.''

"Uniates'' is a pejorative term for Byzantine Ukrainian Catholics.

The Duma also demanded an explanation from Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as to why he recently met with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. Following that meeting, the Russian Orthodox Church's leader, Patriarch Alexei II, complained of politicians meddling in church affairs and, specifically, of prodding Kasyanov to meet with the pope.

And finally, the Duma requested the Ministry of Culture to explore ways to facilitate the return of the Kazan Mother of God icon from the Vatican to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Vatican's diplomatic envoy to Russia, Archbishop Giorgio Zur, does not grant interviews to journalists and would not discuss the Duma's actions, an official at the nunciature said March 13.

Father Sergei Timashov, vice chancellor of the apostolic administration in Moscow, said there are no ongoing discussions on the return of the icon, which many Russian Orthodox believers hold to have miracle-working capabilities.

Father Timashov said Catholic leaders in Russia were quite concerned with the Duma's measures.

"It was an official request -- not just from Zhirinovsky personally -- so this is serious. This is an official action,'' he said. ( Copyright (c) 2001 Catholic News Service/U.S. Catholic Conference, posted 17 March 2001)

Georgian fanatics fight non-Orthodox

NTV, 12 March 2001

Supporters of the priest Basil Mkalavishvili, who was excommunicated from the Georgian Orthodox church, burned several tons of religious literature at a police post in the city of Mtskheta, which had been sent from France to Baptists of Georgia, "Echo of Moscow" reports, citing Interfax.

As Basil Mkalavishvili told reporters, he possessed information that several days earlier a container with clothing for refugees from Abkhazia had arrived at Poti from France, in which also there was Baptist literature printed in Georgian. He said that Georgian customs permitted this load to pass although his supporters stopped the vehicle with the "Satanic literature."

Representatives of the police who arrived at the place of the incident did not prevent the aggressive actions of the supporters of the unfrocked priest. This was not the first such case. The former priest with several dozens supporters had already conducted pogroms at congregations of Georgian "Jehovah's Witnesses." Now the Baptists' turn has come.

Basil Mkalavishvili claims that he is a "true warrior for Orthodoxy in Georgia and therefore he is repelling every appearance of sectarianism in the country." (tr. by PDS, posted 16 March 2001)

by Lorna Howard,
Keston News Service, 15 March 2001  (excerpts; full text at Keston News Service)

Late last night (14 March) five men broke into the central Baptist church in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, tied up the night-watchmen and forced their way, using a blowtorch, into the room where all the church_s valuables were kept in a safe, Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Georgian Baptist church told Keston News Service today (15 March). "They took everything, leaving the church without a penny". As well as the usual funds for the needs of the church, there was money for aid to refugees, and extra donations for forthcoming Easter celebrations. . . .

It is unclear who the attackers were, but this is the third action in recent weeks against the Baptist church and organisations--the Bible Society and an old people's home under construction --associated with it. The fact that a blow-torch was used gives rise to speculation, Bishop Songulashvili said, that the men are associated with defrocked Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili, who took part in an attack in January on the offices of the Tbilisi newspaper Resonance, which had published materials about the violence Mkalavishvili and his supporters employ. They used a blowtorch then to seal the iron of the office door so that no-one could enter, and spoke publicly about the attack afterwards. . . . (posted 16 March 2001)

from Jehovah's Witnesses Georgia, 6 March 2001

On March 6, four Orthodox priests led a mob of about 150 men on a violent rampage against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Sachkhere, western Georgia.

According to Alexi Ichkitidze, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses living in Sachkhere, "A mob led by the priest Avto Tshabadze and fellow priest Bartholomew of the Chorvila parish, invaded my home. They viciously assaulted me and a visiting friend, Savle Gotsadze. Then they savagely beat my wife, Nana."

The mob then targeted an adjacent apartment on the same property, where religious meetings are held. They broke in through a window, looted the premises and burned the religious literature from the apartment.

The priest-led mob went on a rampage through the city. They found a local Witness at his workplace and beat him. Witness passengers in a car were able to escape on foot as the mob damaged and looted the vehicle.

This is the second day of such attacks by the same four Orthodox priests with Avto Tsabadze in the lead. Yesterday, on March 5, they led a mob of about 20 men in an attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting on private property. Four Witnesses were physically assaulted on that occasion.

Alerted to these attacks, the mayor and local police refused to intervene. Amiran Macharashvil, the local deputy police chief, and A. Tsutskiridze, the local prosecutor, threatened that there would be further attacks. Even though this and similar recent attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses were brought to the attention of the authorities, no one has been arrested for viciously assaulting members of this religious group.

 On February 22, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not banned in Georgia and are entitled to the constitutional right to hold religious services and import their literature.   (posted 16 March 2001)

Ananova, 17 March 2001

A defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest and his followers have broken into a printing house and burned copies of a book for a Jehovah's Witness community.

Vasily Mkalavishvili and several dozen followers broke into the Margalita printing house, seized 5,000 copies of the book and burnt them outside the building.

Jehovah's Witnesses are seeking to be recognised as an official religious denomination in Georgia and the Supreme Court is expected to rule on their status shortly.

After the book burning, the court issued a statement saying it "condemns such actions and other manifestations of religious extremism and intolerance".

Mkalavishvili told the independent Georgian television Rustavi-2 on Friday that he will continue to burn the literature of Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists and other religious minorities.

Last week, the priest formerly known as Father Vasily and his followers burned several tons of Baptist literature in the town of Mtskheta.

Georgia's Orthodox Patriarchate stripped Mkalavishvili of his church post in 1995, accusing him of pursuing an anti-Christian policy through his efforts to introduce ecumenism. (posted 18 March 2001)

Procurator acted improperly in Jehovah's Witnesses case

by Boris Klin
Kommersant-Daily, 15 March 2001 (excerpts)

The European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg is being swamped with complaints from Russia. But the greater part of them are not even being reviewed here.  This is one of the problems that were discussed yesterday in a "round table" in the topic "Standards of the Council of Europe on Human Rights and Russian Legislation." Its participants declared that the chief violator of human rights in Russia is the General Procuracy. . . . The majority of Russian residents do not know that the European court merely ascertains whether particular decisions of national judicial and governmental agencies are in conformity with international obligations. . . . The European court does not evaluate the correctness of sentences passed by national courts. . . .

The first Russian judge on the European Court on Human Rights, the current chairman of the Commission on Jurisprudence of the Russian presidential administration, Vladimir Tumanov, stated that not only ordinary citizens but even many attorneys are poorly informed on the competence of the European court. "Often after losing a case, attorneys declared in an interview, 'We will appeal the decision to Strasbourg.' Apparently they think that the court is a fourth instance," Mr. Tumanov noted with regret. nevertheless he thinks that Russia's participation in the Council of Europe is having a positive effect on the protection of human rights in our country. At the time of the recent trial against the religious society of "Jehovah's Witnesses" Mr. Tumanov warned the chairman of the Russian Supreme Court that the Strasbourg court had already made several decisions protecting that organization from persecution in other European countries. "I do not know whether this influenced the decision of the court, but the court refused to liquidate the Moscow 'Jehovah's Witnesses,'" Vladimir Tumanov noted. At the same time he subjected to sharp criticism the activity of the offices of the procuracy both during the course of that trial and in general. In the famous jurist's opinion, it was the General Procuracy that prevented the adoption of amendments in the Criminal Procedural Code which would have removed the right of procurators to arrest and remand to the courts. But according to European standards, interference by the procuracy in civil cases is a violation of the principle of independence and equality of the sides. . . . (tr. by PDS, posted 16 March 2001)

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