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Pentecostal leader interviewed

Interfax, 13 June 2005

Bishop Sergei Riakhovsky, co-chair of the Consultative Council of Heads of Protestant Churches of Russia, president of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), and member of the Council for Relations with Religious Organizations of the Presidential Administration of RF talked about contemporary life of the Pentecostal community in Russia and its relationships with other religious organizations and authorities in the country with Aleksei Sosedov, a correspondent for the "Interfax-Religiia" portal.

--Sergei Vasilevich, how many protestants are there in Russia and what proportion of them are Pentecostals?

--I will give two figures. Officially, according to data of the Ministry of Justice, in Russia around 5,000 protestant religious organizations are registered, and, I guess, there are also on the order of five to seven thousand congregations that are not registered for a variety of reasons. If one talks about the number of parishioners, then unfortunately nobody has yet produced such accounting. One can say with assurance that in Russia there are no fewer than two million active members of protestant churches. As regards Pentecostals, on average they constitute approximately a third of the whole protestant community in the country.

Contemporary protestant movements--Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists, Methodist, Presbyterians--have existed in Russia now for 100 to 130 years. This is the official history of registered congregations. I think that any confession that has existed in the country, within its cultural milieu, about a hundred years has already established itself in a definite way. We did not appear yesterday. Protestantism is an inseparable part of the history and culture of our country. In the soviet period there was the harshest persecution upon Orthodox and protestants and representatives of other religions. We went through all of this together. For example, my father was imprisoned along with Orthodox priests in the so-called political camps. Before the revolution there were Molokans in Russia, one of the branches of protestantism which arose on a specifically Russian basis, independent from the West. In our congregations in the south, along the Volga, there are now very many believers who were born into Molokan families. Of course, Russia is for the most part an Orthodox country, but Orthodoxy is Christianity and protestantism is also Christianity.

--You recently declared that protestants are being deliberately restricted in Russia. Who and why, in your opinion, is doing this?

--That is a complicated question for us because the Pentecostal movement and the protestant movement in general really are experiencing restriction on the basis of their confession (the fact that we are not Orthodox serves as a kind of motive for persecution and discrimination). There is activity of definite structures, the so-called "sect-fighters," who are trying to mould the attitude of bureaucrats and the public directed against protestants and specifically against Pentecostals in a number of Russian regions. Recently we have become witnesses of such a situation even in Moscow.

I think that the reason for this is ignorance and the religious illiteracy of bureaucrats. "Sect-fighters" try to include protestants and especially Pentecostals in the list of the most harmful sects while throughout the world it is a very respectable religious movement. In the West, in Africa, in Latin America, and in Asia it is recognized by governments as a powerful movement. There are about a billion protestants in the world, of whom about half are Christians of Evangelical Faith--Pentecostals, that is, 500,000,000. The absence in our country of a clear governmental position with respect to this very great religious community is also, to a certain extent, a motive for such attitudes. Often we confrontre an openly negative attitude in general to the role of contemporary protestants in the public life of Russia.

--Would you agree with the claim that in this case somebody is artificially and from the outside stirring up passions in order to achieve their own political goals?

--I absolutely agree with that. The other day I made a statement in the name of the leadership of our union that somebody is intentionally igniting passions in order to set protestantism against Orthodoxy in order to make the protestants into a "fifth column," and an instrument of the "orange" revolution. And I said that any such provocations are doomed to failure because we, Russian protestants, are patriots of our country and we are people who especially respect the Russian government and the president of Russia. And at the height of the "orange revolution" in Ukraine I issued a warning to both protestant and Orthodox churches who allowed themselves to get drawn into political activity.

The church is separated from the state and it does not have the right to interfere in political processes. It is a different matter that believers may have various political convictions and be active, but, I repeat, the church should not allow itself to be drawn into such processes. Somebody today is striving for political reasons to harm the authority of the leadership of Russia and of Moscow. They are trying to make it so that this authority will decline in the eyes of both Russians and the western public. It is no secret that western society is, in the main, a protestant society. And unfortunately today there are attempts to discredit Russia in the eyes of other protestants of the world.

--Could the restrictions of which you have been speaking be provoked by actions of the Pentecostals themselves, who by their actions might possibly evoke tension in interconfessional relations, specifically by declaring that recently there was no beating of priests in Ekaterinburg?

--With respect to the Ekaterinburg events Patriarch Alexis expressed profound concern that the rights of believers had been violated, and I share his concern. On the other hand, I was not present in Ekaterinburg. Evidently there was conflict, but just what happened should be determined by responsible agencies on the spot. Each confession or each religion enjoys in one or another region a certain preeminence and, unfortunately, often it tries to suppress others. This should not be; it is not in accordance with God's word.

If one speaks of Pentecostals, actions like those that were in Moscow have occurred in a number of regions and they have one and the same cause--a prohibition on construction of church buildings and refusal to allocate land for construction, despite the provisions of the law. And in those places where our parishes have obtained land, bureaucrats invent new problems and imaginary accusations. The law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" is not a bad law, but when will we, and especially people who are entrusted with authority, begin living in accordance with the laws of our country and not according to "conceptions" and personal ambitions? When will decisions made in Moscow reach to the provinces and small cities and villages without distortion?

Could our pastors have been wrong? Of course. In any confession and any religion there are today people who can be disrespectful and think that their position is the truth in the final analysis. That is also the case with some bureaucrats and with representatives of one or another confession--lack of information and ignorance of the constitution and laws of Russia.

--How are your relations now going along with the Russian Orthodox church and other organizations that are members of the Interreligious Council of the country?

--We are not represented in the Interreligious Council of Russia, but I view it with great respect. In terms of numbers, protestants in registered parishes occupy second place behind the Russian Orthodox church. Probably it will take some time for us to occupy a fitting place in the public religious life of the country. For a number of years the Consultative Council of Heads of Protestant Churches of Russia has been functioning. This is an extremely representative and solid body. We have formed very serious working relations with representatives of Islam, particularly with the Council of Muftis of Russia and we have very good relations with the chief rabbi of the country, Berl Lazar. Not so long ago there was a regular, extremely important meeting with the head of the Department of External Church Relations, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, at which was discussed the possibility of an official meeting of heads of protestant churches with Patriarch Alexis, questions of evangelism and proselytism, and our attitude toward common Christian values.

This year we participated in the World Russian Assembly, and we participated together in the action for combating drug addiction, "Train to the future," whose organizing committee is headed by Georgy Poltavchenko and Yury Luzhkov. Along with other confessions we participate in this in order to overcome the syndromes of the transitional period of our country. Protestants are a very active part of society. But I want to stress that it would hardly be possible to do anything global without active joint work with the Russian Orthodox church, which today represents the majority of our society and plays a dominating role, along with other basic confessions that are respected in society. This is our clear position.

--Would you be able to comment on the recent picketing that was organized in Moscow by the "Emmanuel" church of Christians of Evangelical Faith.

--I did not go out for these demonstrations and pickets since I consider that a religious person can achieve more by prayer and his own peacemaking activity. These pickets were not directed against the mayor of the capital. I have fellowshiped with the pastor of "Emmanuel" church, Alexander Purshaga. In addition, this church as a rather respectful attitude toward Yury Luzhkov because this person has done very much for Moscow.

On the other hand, I would want to separate the mayor of Moscow from several bureaucrats of the capital. The latter have done everything possible to make this action occur so that the protest would spill out onto the streets of Moscow. The question is rather complex. So far as I know, the city government is ready to review the question of providing the church an adequate plot of land for construction in one of the districts of the capital and to draw up all necessary permits for reconstruction of the church's building in Solntsevo. I would like to believe that this will happen. I think that the ignorance of several bureaucrats, on one hand, and the desperation of representatives of "Emmanuel" church as the result of nine years of fruitless treks to bureaucrats' offices, on the other, gave rise to this situation. Each is operating on principle. The pastor is under arrest and has been given five days. Several representatives of the church have been fined by decision of a justice of the peace of the central district of Moscow. This confrontation has reached an emotional phase. The pastor declared a hunger strike. It would be better if he would declare a fast as a Christian and say as a clergyman: "I will fast and pray to the Lord." For me a hunger strike is still a kind of political act and it is unacceptable to me as a clergyman. A fast is a different matter, when a person addresses himself not to earthly but to heavenly authority.

--Both Orthodox and Muslims and Jews often complain about incorrect expressions and actions on the part of so called "messianic Jews," who, in essence, are protestants, and also about the organizations "Word of Life" and "New Generation."  Do you somehow oppose the manifestation of intolerance within the ranks of your own followers?

--I have already expressed myself on the activity of the leader of "New Generation," Pastor Aleksei Lediaev, and I gave a very stern assessment to several points of his teaching, defining them as theological heresy. His attitude and harsh expressions with respect to other confessions also is impermissible. We fight against such manifestations because for us and for Christians love and tolerance are the bases of our life and ministry. Again I stress that in any religion you can always find people who behave in an excessive way, but, speaking about "New Generation," I want to note especially that we hold to a stern position specifically in regard to the doctrine and leaders of this organization and not to the ordinary people, the parishioners. If one speaks about "Word of Life," then today this is a church that is well respected in our union. It is enrolled in the Russian protestant family. In the religious world there always have been and there will be disagreements; what is important is that they not get beyond the boundaries of our church buildings and of theological disputes.

--How do you distinguish traditional Pentecostals from nontraditional ones?

--Among protestants, Orthodox, and Muslims there is not a single world center as, for example, there is for the Catholics. And, of course, this variety evokes questions: "Why is there no single standard as to who is considered a Pentecostal?" and the like. But there is not such a standard even in other religions. It is good that there is diversity, and in this diversity there is beauty. Evidently this is the uniqueness, that the Creator made us different, but this is why we should live one another. It is another matter that there should not be extremist processes. That is another question. Who is more traditional, those Pentecostals who have ultracontemporary musical worship and clap for the Lord joyfully or those who stand still with their heads covered? I am not able to call one or the other more traditional. They both have a common doctrine and get their inspiration from the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 June 2005)

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Appeals of decisions in antisemitism cases to be filed


The Basman district prosecutor of Moscow on 9 June 2005 rejected the statement by a member of the rights defense organization "For Human Rights," Evgeny Ikhlov, regarding holding criminally liable the authors of the "Letter of 5000," not finding in its text calls for actions against any nation. Several days previously the St. Petersburg prosecutor's office declined a similar statement by rights defender Ruslan Linkov.

According to a report from the press service of the Federation of Jewish Religious Organizations of Russia (FEOR) the chief rabbi of Russia, Berl Lazar, has commented on these events.

"If workers at the prosecutor's office do not see signs of propaganda of extremism in the demand to forbid one of the traditional religions of Russia, this is an extremely dangerous development of events which could have a destructive effect not only upon interreligious and interethnic peace in the country but also on the relations of Russia with the surrounding world. If the demand to forbid ethnic, cultural, and religious organizations of one of the peoples traditionally living in Russia is not extremism, then what is extremism? And why has parliament not done anything to adopt a law combating extremism?

Unfortunately, such a position of the prosecutors of Moscow and St. Petersburg does not simply undermine the efforts of the central government in the struggle with extremism but it gives a signal to intensify extremism. Now all the preachers of antisemitism and ethnic and religious hatred feel protected. All responsibility for the consequences of such a situation, including possible manifestation of violence on ethnic and religious grounds, lies on the prosecutor's office.

And if workers of the prosecutor's office do not restrict themselves to vindicating those who demand prohibition of Jewish organization but even contrive a way to discover signs of 'extremism' in one of the official Jewish religious books, 'Kitzur Shulchan Aruch,' then this speaks, if not of evil intent, at least of great ignorance. It is evident that it is impossible to understand adequately books of another religion without consultation with teachers of law and specialists.

The conclusions and explanation of specialists relative to the meaning of one or another provisions of 'Kitzur Shulchan Aruch' have been made recently in abundance. What a pity that workers of the prosecutor's office have not found the time to talk with specialists but have taken on faith the fantasies of preachers of hatred."

* * *

FEOR Executive Director Valery Engel has stated the following in this matter:

"FEOR will now conduct conversations with a major law firm which also will conduct a case regarding these letters. We intend to present to the Prosecutor General exhaustive materials viewing this problems from all possible points of view. Rights defenders from Moscow and St. Petersburg addressed the prosecutor's office on the matter of these letters on their own initiative and not in the name of the federation. But on the basis of the results of their appeals we have a notion of the possible difficulties awaiting us."  (tr. by PDS, posted 13 June 2005)

Posted on site, 13 June 2005

by Boris Klin, 10 June 2005

In publishing the book "Kitzur Shulchan Aruch," Jews offended people around them without intending to do so, and thus they will not be held criminally liable. Similarly, the authors of the "Letter of 5000" addressed to the Prosecutor General. Their assessment of Judaism as satanism might be taken as insulting, but it does not constitute the substance of a crime. These are the conclusions to which the Basman prosecutor's office of Moscow came. A similar decision with regard to the authors of the "Letter of 5000" was made by the prosecutor's office of St. Petersburg a few days earlier.

As reported to Izvestia by the rights defender and director of the information and analysis service of the "For Human Rights" movement, Evgeny Ikhlov, yesterday he received a response to his declaration to the Prosecutor General for holding criminally liable the authors of the "Letter of 5000." Based on the data of an expert analysis conducted by the director of the Institute of Development of Preschool Education of the Russian Academy of Developmental Sciences, doctor of psychgological sciences, professor, and corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Social Sciences, V.I. Slobodchikov, Investigator A.S. Ulianov of the Basman district prosecutor's office came to the conclusion that the letter "does not contain information that incites actions against any nation, race, or religion, or individual persons as its representatives." To be sure, the text as published on the site of the newspaper "Rus Pravoslavnaia" contains editorial corrections and the expert analysis found expressions that could be taken as insulting and negative: "morality of Jewish fascism," "provocateurs and humanity haters," "Jewish aggressiveness as a form of satanism." But the investigator did not find any bases for holding anyone criminally liable.

Commenting on this decision, Evgeny Ikhlov said: "It turns out that Putin has been making excuses for antisemites if the prosecutor does not see anything criminal in calling Judaism satanism and accusing Jews of ritual murders." In Ikhlov's opinion, the position of the Basman prosecutor's office reflects the position of the prosecutor general. In this, the St. Petersburg rights defender Ruslan Linkov agrees with him. He addressed the prosecutor's office of St. Petersburg with a similar declaration about holding the authors of the "Letter of 5000" criminally liable. Recently it again refused to open a criminal case. Moreover, it did not find anything insulting in the word "zhid."

And here the author of "Letter of 5000" himself, Mikhail Nazarov, told Izvestia he is satisfied with the result: "We did not have any hope for an official prohibition of world-dominating racist talmudism. For us it was important to expose its essence and its proponents as an antistate factor. The prosecutor recognized that the book 'Kitzur Shulchan Aruch' is offensive for non-Jews, and did not find signs of a crime (that is, notorious "antisemitism") in the text of the 'Letter of 5000' submitted to the prosecutor general. Now every Russian person may call the moral code of Judaism offensively extremist."

The chief rabbi of Russia, Berl Lazar, expressed his regret: "The position of the prosecutor's offices of Moscow and St. Petersburg undermines the efforts of the central authority in combating extremism. If the demand to prohibit ethnic, cultural, and religious organizations of one of its peoples traditionally residing in Russia is not extremism, then what is extremism?"

The Department of Information of the prosecutor general's office refused comment on Thursday, citing the absence of documents. But it was noted that the legality and basis for the decisions made will be ascertained by higher offices of the prosecutor's office. And Evgeny Ikhlov and Ruslan Pinkov intend to appeal the decisions of the prosecutor's offices in court. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 June 2005)

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Pentecostal prayer vigil broken up


After the Sunday morning service on 12 June members of the central church of Christians of Evangelical Faith went on the holiday [i.e. Russian Independence Day] to Tver Square across from Moscow city hall, the press secretary of the church, Yury Popov, reported. The believers sang Christian hymns and recited the "Lord's Prayer," without advancing any demands upon the city government. The only slogan used was "God bless Russia! God bless Moscow!"

According to law such a gathering cannot be considered a picket and there is no necessity of submitting a notification for it. From 14.30 to 16.15 the police calmly observed what was happening from a short distance, since the believers were not disturbing public order. But at 16.15 police Major A. Krylov appeared at the square in civilian clothes and began "plucking" individuals from the crowd. Three police busses approached city hall with him.

In the morning of this day, the pastor of the "News of Hope" church of Zelenogorsk, a suburb of St. Petersburg, Ilia Astafiev, was released after five days of detention. He had been among the first arrested.

At the time of the breakup of the peaceful holiday crowd Major Krylov shouted to elderly women believers: "There is no place here for you to stroll! Go away to your dachas! Russia is entirely Orthodox." And when one of them tried to tell him that she is a native Muscovite and does not intend to go anywhere, the enraged major began yelling: "I don't care! Go away!" Yury Popov reported.

While breaking up the praying believers around thirty persons were illegally arrested. Ten of them were taken to the Meshchansk district Department of Internal Affairs, where they were forced to write explanations. The other believers who were arrested on the square were detained in a bus parked in front of the police precinct in Khamovniki. The people were locked in the bus sweltering under the sun without water and without any kind of explanation on the part of the police, Popov said. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 June 2005)


from Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) regarding the situation that has developed concerning the "Emmanuel" church of Christians of Evangelical Faith of Moscow

10 June 2005, Moscow

The Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) [ROSKhVE] expresses its serious anxiety over the situation that has developed concerning the "Emmanuel" church of Christians of Evangelical Faith of Moscow after conducting a demonstration on Tver Square and picketing Moscow city hall. We express our concern regarding the decision of Tver district Justice of the Peace A.B. Kovalevskaia, who sentenced the senior pastor of "Emmanuel" church, A.A. Purshaga, to five days confinement. At the present time Pastor A. Purshaga has declared a hunger strike of indeterminate length and he has addressed a statement to the mayor of the city of Moscow.

The leadership of ROSKhVE expresses its confidence that the conflict will be resolved in accordance with the Russian constitution and existing legislation of the Russian federation, and that the government of the city will find a legal and constructive way out that will satisfy both sides.

One gets the impression that some forces are intentionally provoking the outrage of civil society and are discrediting in the eyes of the public both protestants and the Russian government, which frequently has declared its commitment to the course of democracy and protection by the state of the legal rights and freedoms of its citizens and to strict observance of legality.

Thus we call upon the clergy of ROSKhVE not to shrink from spiritual ministry for people in political activity. We are not supporters of the "orange" or any other revolution.


excerpt from the decision of the administration of ROSKhVE, protocol No. 3, 19 May 2005

The administration of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) recognizes the right of every minister of religious associations that are members of the ROSKhVE structure to have one's own personal opinion and individually to express it on various questions of religious, public, and political life. At the same time we declare that an opinion expressed by an individual minister is not the official opinion of ROSKhVE. In accordance with the bylaws of ROSKhVE, official statements are authorized by the General Conference of ROSKhVE, the administration of ROSKhVE, the president of ROSKhVE, or persons authorized by them.

We caution ministers and pastors of the union against forsaking the ministry of the Word and prayer and against turning away into political activity. While encouraging believers in our churches to be active in public political life, we support the principle of the separation of the institution of the church from the state and we call pastors to succeed more in spiritual labor. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 June 2005)

Posted on site, 13 June 2005

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Dispute over antisemitic publications


The order of the Prosecutor's Office of St. Petersburg refusing to open a criminal case with respect to the "Rus Pravoslavnaia" newspaper and its editor Konstantin Dushenov has been appealed to the Prosecutor General by the petitioners, Ruslan Linkov and Yury Vdovin. As reported to a correspondent by the vice-president of the "Civil Control" rights defense movement, Yury Vdovin, in the new statement, like in the former one, there is a request to hold the chief editor of the publication liable for articles of an antisemitic character. In particular, this pertains to the notorious "Letter of 500."

As already reported, on 10 June it became known that the Basman district prosecutor of Moscow did not find the substance of a crime in the actions of the authors of the appeal to the Prosecutor General which became by now the "Letter of 5000." The refusal to open a criminal case "on the basis of a declaration by two groups of citizens requesting that the authors of the 'Letter of 5000' be held criminally liable and also that the publishers of the book  'Kitzur Shulchan Aruch' be held criminally liable" has been reconfirmed by the prosecutor's office of Moscow.

Yury Vdovin assessed the prospects for new examinations and actions by the Prosecutor General pessimistically. "The prosecutor refused us because this pleases the authorities; the dissatisfaction of citizens with socio-economic problems is transferred to ethnic ones. In addition, among agents of the special services who are supposed to deal with extremists and fascists there are many whose sympathies are not on our side," he told a Portal correspondent. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 June 2005)


An investigator of the Basman district prosecutor's office of Moscow, A.S. Ulianov, handed over on 6 June to a worker of the "For Human Rights" movement, Evgeny Ikhlov, an order of 30 May refusing to open a criminal case on the basis of article 282 of the Criminal Code of RF (incitement of ethnic and religious hatred and enmity) of the basis of the conducting of two antisemitic campaigns, the "Letter of 500" and "Letter of 5000." This was reported to by the "For Human Rights" news agency.

The refusal was addressed to E.V. Ikhlov and L.L. Lamm ("Volunteer Corps" military history society). It was based on the absence of the substance of a crime in the actions of the author of the antisemitic appeal "Jewish Happiness, Russian Tears," M.V. Nazarov, and one of the signatories, V.V. Khatiushin, inasmuch as "the text of the appeal does not promote actions against any particular nation, race, religion, or any of its representatives," and no direct intention has been established for arousing hatred or enmity or disrespecting the dignity of groups of people on the basis of national identity and connection with religion.

The prosecutor's order cited the study conducted by the director of the Institute for Development of Preschool Education of the Russian Academy of Education, the specialist in the area of general, social, medical, and age psychology, Professor V.I. Slobodchikov.  Similarly, according to his conclusion, the substance of a crime is not present in the publication "Kitzur Shulchan Aruch," a medieval collection of laws, whose contents were the basis for the demands by the authors of "Letter of 500" to ban all Jewish religious organizations in Russia. The article and the letters both maintain that Jews perform ritual sacrifices and drink Christian blood. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 June 2005)


The Moscow Prosecutor's Office confirmed the legality and correctness of the decision of the Basman district Prosecutor's Office of the capital regarding the absence of the substance of a crime in the actions of the writers of the so-called "Letter of Five Thousand," an appeal to the Prosecutor General calling for prohibition of several Jewish religious organizations, "" reports, citing Interfax.

"During the course of the investigation an assessment will be given of the legality of the decision made by an investigator of the Basman district Prosecutor's Office of Moscow on a presentation by two groups of citizens asking that the authors of the 'Letter of Five Thousand' be held criminally liable, as well as that the publishers of the book, 'Kitzur Shulchan Aruch,' also be held criminally liable," an official representatives of the prosecutor's office of the capital said on Friday.

Previously an investigator of the Basman district Prosecutor's Office issued a decision, based on the results of a study that had been conducted, refusing to open a criminal case on article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (Incitement of ethnic and interreligious hatred) in connection with the publication of the "Letter of Five Thousand," and the distribution of the Jewish book about ancient Jewish rules. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 June 2005)

by Irina Titova,
St. Petersburg Times, 3 June 2005

The City Prosecutor's Office has again refused to open a criminal case for inciting ethnic or religious intolerance over anti-Semitic articles printed in two city newspapers, Za Russkoye Delo and Rus Pravoslavnaya.

In a written explanation of the refusal, deputy city prosecutor Alexander Korsunov declared that the derogatory term "zhid," or Yid, does not denote adherents of a specific religion.

"The term 'zhid' [mentioned in the article] and its grammatical modifications are not officially recognized as ... belonging to a certain religion," he wrote.

"The pretentious attitude of the author of the article and editors-in-chief to Judaic dogma, introduced in the article 'Jewish Happiness, Russian Tears," is based on an analysis of the officially published book 'Kitzur Shulchan Arukh,' which contains instructions of the rules of behavior for people of Jewish nationality towards non-Jews," Korsunov wrote.

The book is an ancient Jewish text.

"An appeal by the author [Korsunov] to the Prosecutor General with the request to check the data given in the book, and in case of its confirmation to forbid the activities of Jewish national religious unions as extremist ones, his desire to attract readers' attention to existing differences between dogmas ... in the absence of any calls for committing illegal actions against representatives of this or that nation, race or religion, provoking hatred or hostility ... does not constitute a crime as described in article 282 part 1 of the Criminal Code ... ," he said.

The request to open a criminal case came from Ruslan Linkov, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Democratic Russia, and Yury Vdovin, co-chairman of human rights organization Citizens' Watch.

Linkov and Vdovin in January 2005 criticized Rus Pravoslavnaya for publishing a so-called "letter of 500," which was "saturated with extremism and hatred toward Jews."

The letter was signed by 20 State Duma deputies.

The City Prosecutor's Office first rejected opening a criminal case, deciding that a warning to the newspapers was sufficient. In May they decided to reconsider the rights activists' request.

The newspapers' editors have argued that the prosecutor's office has been too harsh toward them.

In repeated comments to The St. Petersburg Times, the editors of the newspapers have denied the charges, saying all they did was analyze historical materials.

Vdovin said he did not accept city prosecutors' explanation.

"It could be a consequence of the secretive sympathy of such bodies for xenophobic moods, including anti-Semitism," Vdovin said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

"Our administration supports such moods on purpose to divert the public's dissatisfaction with the social and economic situation. This way people tend to blame Jews for all their problems rather than the authorities," he said.

There is a danger that "in a while officials would not be able to control such moods," he added.

Linkov said he planned to write a letter to the General Prosecutor to explain his concerns, and to bring an lawsuit against the city prosecution office for its "illegal" and "absolutely unjustified" refusal to open a criminal case against "a blatant crime."

Linkov also said modern Russian dictionaries define "zhid" as an insulting name for Jewish people.

Rabbi Michael Farbman, of the Progressive Jewish Community Shaarei Shalom, said of nationalism in Russia that "Russian nationalism should find the positive in itself, not the negative in others."

"A strong nation is not afraid of anyone," Farbman said, adding that nationalists do not represent all Russians.  (posted 11 June 2005)

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