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Russia Religion News Current News Items

Patriarch pushes for new churches in Moscow

Moscow mayor orders churches brought on line one per month
by Alexander Voronov, Pavel Korobov
Kommersant, 17 April 2013

Patriarch Kirill joined the conflict surrounding the program of the construction of 200 churches in Moscow yesterday. Earlier, Orthodox public organization had complained to City Hall of the capital about sabotage of the program by deputies of municipal assemblies. The patriarch declared that construction and the budget which may exceed one billion dollars are being opposed "by ideologically oriented flying squads." Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobianin ordered an acceleration of the program and bringing one church per month into use.

The patriarch spoke yesterday about the conflict surrounding the program of construction of 200 churches at a session of the board of trustees of the Foundation for Support of Construction of Churches. Reporting on the first two years of the program he said that "parish life is boiling" in the churches, but something is obstructing construction. At first the primate said that "rumors about special conflicts are more than exaggerated," but his subsequent speech testified to the contrary. Patriarch Kirill referred to "young ladies" who complain at public hearings that with the construction of churches "they will have no place to park their Porsche Cayennes," and especially to "ideologically oriented flying squads." As to the methods of operation of these squads the patriarch reported the following:  "They said [to residents—Kom.]: Have you agreed that coffins will be carried past your windows? or they said: You will have church bells ringing all the time." What these squads are and who is in them the primate of RPTs did not specify. Earlier Orthodox public figures told Kommersant that the most ardent opponents of construction are municipal deputies from Yabloko and CPRF.

We recall that in March 2013, fifteen Orthodox public organizations addressed a complaint to City Hall about sabotage of the program by deputies of municipal assemblies. In their turn, deputies stated that they are only defending the interests of voters. Earlier Patriarch Kirill had sent to City Hall in 2009 the idea of building 200 churches in Moscow. Moscow supported the initiative, adopting a corresponding program. Now 8 churches have been built and another 15 are under construction. Budgetary funds for construction have not been allocated but the authorities  have connected churches to utilities at their own expense. In the estimate of the supervisor of the project, State Duma Deputy Vladimir Resin, construction of a single church complex costs about 150 to 170 million rubles. Thus, the estimated cost of the program exceeds 30 billion rubles.

The program of church construction had been criticized not only by municipal deputies but also by representatives of the government. The chief architect of the city, Sergei Kuznetsov, told Kommersant that houses of worship in the capital "should be generated naturally and not according to a plan of compulsory placement." He considers construction of identical churches "a step away from the ideology of harmonious urban development." Yesterday Patriarch Kirill enter the remote polemic, declaring that the churches will not be identical, "we are not talking about typical churches, as some people have spoken ironically," and the patriarchate does not intend to encumber the capital with "low-quality architecture." At the same time the patriarch advanced an idea that is clearly intended to solve problems with residents: plant trees and gardens in the church yards and build playgrounds in them and give all comers access to them.

Sergei Sobianin supported the "green" idea, ordering prefects to include construction sites for churches in plans for improvement of the territory. Then the mayor spoke more softly about conflicts over construction, stating that "the stalled conflict" is not about a single site and City Hall is always ready to find another site for a church in the event of objections.

Yesterday Mr. Resin made clear that implementation of the program may take 10 to 15 years. "I had thought that in a year we will build all these complexes. It did not work out," he said, explaining that "every fool can work with money, but without money, this requires skill to work." "Fifteen years, that is still scary," Patriarch Kirill responded, suggesting to reduce it to ten. But Mr. Sobianin inserted his own corrections, ordering to produce one church per month. At the same time the mayor noted that this way builders will be done in 8 years, although actually at such rates implementation of the program will take 16 years.

The director of the Association of Orthodox Experts, Kirill Frolov, was pleased with the session of the council's board of trustees: "We saw that the patriarch and mayor have listened to us and they have understood that the protests have been artificially exaggerated and that the people are, in their majority, in favor of churches." The president of the Federation of Jewish Organizations of Russia, Alexander Boroda, said that he does "not have feelings of envy" for the Orthodox, but that he would wish "that one synagogue per year would be built in Moscow." The vice-chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Rushan Abbiasov, would build "one mosque for each district of the capital" in all. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 April 2013)

Russian original posted on Interfax-Religiia site, 17 April 2013

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Intimidation of alternative Orthodox


Five unidentified persons, including two who were in police uniforms and one dressed as a priest, tried in the morning of 16 April to get into the house of priest Valery Leonichev, the rector of the Moscow parish of ROCOR(A) in the town of Dubki in the Odintsov district of Moscow province, InternetSobor reports.

The attackers acted extremely aggressively; they kicked in the doors, threw snowballs at the windows, and knocked on them with sticks. They strolled through the yard and photographed the house from all sides.

Yesterday, 15 April, Fr Valery left for Odessa, where the residence of the First Hierarch of the church, Metropolitan Agafangel, is located, for a Lenten retreat of clergy. Matushka Liubov, who had remained at the house, called the local police by telephone, who checked and stated that the local police department did not know anything about the incident. The police advised her not to open the door, and if such a thing was repeated, to turn to them for help.

Considering that siloviki had already sent an inspection to this house on the day that Metropolitan Agafangel came there, parishioners maintain that these "actions of intimidation" are inspired by the Moscow patriarchate which is striving for a cessation of Fr Valery's activity.

Fr Valery's family intends to contact the prosecutor's office in connection with this incident. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 April 2013)

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Changes in believers' feelings bill revealed to nonparliamentary parties

Deputies to correct draft law about protection of believers
by Tamara Shkel
Rossiiskaia gazeta, 16 April 2013

A special place in the Criminal Code of RF has not been found for offending believers' feelings. Under pressure from the public, deputies of the State Duma decided to reject the idea of adding to the Criminal Code a new article that would provide for a penalty for offending religious feelings. Instead, the existing 148th article will be redacted. The amendment proposed for it speaks about "actions" and not "feelings."

It is for "public actions expressing obvious disrespect for society and carried out for the purpose of offending the religious feelings of believers" that a punishment is prescribed, from a large fine or compulsory labor up to incarceration. This clarification was made yesterday for the Council of Nonparliamentary Parties under the State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin by the chairman of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Yaroslav Nilov (Liberal Democrat). He asked critics of the bill not to confuse the usual understanding of offending feelings with the juridical understanding: "A cell phone ringing in church or a babushka without a head scarf is not offending religious feelings in the juridical sense."

Duma members do not intend to renounce the adoption of a law protecting believers' feelings. "We live in a society in which there are both believers and people who consider themselves atheists, and we are obliged to work out rules that apply to everybody and to follow these rules," Naryshkin declared in opening the council session. And he recalled that "desecration of sacred things and religious objects has always been punished severely, including by the state, since these could be the cause for rather acute social conflicts, including even wars."

Leaders of nonparliamentary parties did not argue with that and each one could name many examples: both murder of religious leaders and sawing down crosses and desecration of worship sites. But the question took on an unexpected form in specifics: which believers' feelings require protection? The chairman of the "Russian National Union" party thinks that this should pertain to religions that constitute "an integral part of the historic heritage." "We do not intend to protect sectarianism," Sergei Glotov from the "Patriots of Russia" party supported Baburin. However Yaroslav Nilov disappointed them:  the law will not stress the religions that are traditional for Russia so as not to violate "the principle of constitutional equality." Thus the law will also protect the rights of atheists. For example, it introduces responsibility for desecration of worldview symbols and paraphernalia.

But these arguments of the head of the standing committee did not by any means persuade everybody. Representatives of "Yabloko," "Communists of Russia," and "Alliance of Greens" remained in their own opinion—we do not need such a law. Instead of this law the chairman of the "Alliance of Greens People's Party," Gleb Fetisov, suggested to Sergei Naryshkin initiating in the fall session the adopting of a law on the equality of men and women. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 April 2013)

Russian original posted on Interfax-Religiia site, 16 April 2013

State Duma prepared to mitigate penalties
by Sophia Samokhina
Kommersant, 16 April 2013

Deputies of all fractions in the State Duma yesterday introduced amendments for the second reading of the draft law on protection of believers' feelings: for public actions expressing disrespect toward society and performed for the purpose of offending religious feelings of believers one may face up to one year incarceration. At a session of the Council of Nonparliamentary Parties under the speaker of the State Duma, participants supported the bill, calling it timely.

The bill to protect believers' feelings may undergo changes for second reading. The bill approved on first reading on 9 April provided for introducing a new article into the Criminal Code of the Russian federation according to which for offending religious feelings of believers and desecrating religious objects one could receive a prison term of from three to five years. Now the deputies have decided to rewrite the title and contents of the already existing article 148 of the Criminal Code (obstruction of the exercise of the right to freedom of conscience and religious confession). These amendments were introduced by Yaroslav Nilov (LDPR), Mikhail Markelov (United Russia), Sergei Obukhov (CPRF), and Alexander Tarnavskii (A Just Russia). It is proposed to reduce the punishment: the amendments speak of terms from one to three years. Thus, for "public actions expressing obvious disrespect toward society and committed for the purpose of offending the religious feelings of believers," one will face a fine of up to 300 thousand rubles or incarceration of a term up to a year. In the event that these actions are committed in places for worship services, then the total of the fine grows to 500 thousand rubles and up to three years of prison. The deputies also proposed increasing by 100 times the fines provided by article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law (violation of legislation on freedom of conscience and religious confession, and on religious associations) from 300 rubles to 30 thousand rubles.

Sergei Naryshkin tried to discuss amendments to the bill yesterday in the Council of Nonparliamentary Parties under the speaker of the State Duma. Despite the fact that the amendments did not suit the participants, this did not prevent the majority from approving them. The chairman of the Russian National Union, Sergei Baburin, is convinced that the bill will help "to restore the spiritual core of society." The secretary of the policy council of "Rodina" party, Mikhail Kolchev, thinks that the punishment could be made "even more severe." The chairman of the "Party of Peace and Unity," Sazhi Umalatova, suggested that the punishment for hurting believer's feeling be "to cut out the tongue." And in the opinion of the chairman of the federal council of the "Party of Free Citizens," Pavel Sklianchuk, the state needs the law as an instrument: if something like the action of the "Pussy Riot" group is repeated "the punishment will be inexorable and really cruel."

The chairman of the "Alliance of Greens People's Party," Gleb Fetisov, was indignant: "The authors of the draft law have not glanced at the constitution for a long time; after all there it is written in black and white that Russia is a secular state, and nobody has removed freedom of religious confession from it." The secretary of the bureau of "Yabloko" party, Galina Mikhaleva, urged deputies "not to multiply things;" after all the Code on Administrative Violations of Law provides punishment for offending religious feelings. In response, Sergei Popov (United Russia) stated that "not a single court will for the sake of 500 rubles (that is the fine now provided for hurting believers' feelings) consider a case." Therefore "some hooligan antics" (the "Pussy Riot" action) was considered by the court not in accordance with the Code of Administrative Violations of Law but in accordance with an article of the Criminal Code, "Hooliganism" (with a maximum penalty of seven years). (tr. by PDS, posted 16 April 2013)

Russian original posted on Interfax-Religiia site, 16 April 2013

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Church shortage in many parts of Moscow

Interfax-Religiia, 15 April 2013

The Russian church has called for peace and a search for compromise on the topic of construction of a church in the Gagarin district in southwest Moscow.

In a statement delivered to Interfax-Religiia on Monday the head of the synodal Information Department, Vladimir Legoida, expressed the hope that in the future, discussion of this question "will be accompanied by an honest search for compromise relative to the place of construction and an open dialogue and respect for the interests of everyone whose feelings, legal interests, and rights may be affected."

As has been reported, believers led by retired priest Dimitry Nenarokov regularly perform prayer services for construction of a church on Molodezh Street, which usually are accompanied by skirmishes. According to Orthodox believers, they are provoked by a group of unidentified persons whose side the police take. During the last prayer service, its participants were dispersed by OMON troops. The prayer service itself was conducted without the blessing of the church.

"The actions by the forces of law and order, taken with regard to persons who had assembled for a peaceful prayer vigil, cause us regret," V. Legoida's statement says.

Speaking in general about the program for construction of 200 churches in the capital, the representative of the church pointed out that this project is aimed at providing Orthodox believers worship premises which are not available in many districts of the city or do not accommodate all who desire to worship. In addition, he said, any church built in Moscow is "an island of Orthodox culture for those seeking spiritual guidance in a sea of cultural syncretism and moral relativism." "The creation of a house of God is based on the right of local residents to profess their faith, but it should not be accompanied by a violation of civil peace or escalation of hatred and division and it rules out the use of force against anybody," V. Legoida declared. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 April 2013)

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Current crackdown hits Jehovah's Witnesses

SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, 15 April 2013

In the middle of April 2013 it became known that agents of the police, FSB, the Center for Combating Extremism, OMON special forces, prosecutors' offices, transportation police, the Federal Migration Service, agencies of fire safety, the Sanitation and Epidemiological Service, the Federal Service for Drug Control, and other institutions have been conducting since March inspections of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and local religious organizations.

On 1 April an inspection was conducted in the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses itself, in the village of Solnechnoe in Leningrad province. During the inspection, violations were committed. In particular, the inspectors came to the yard of the organization in the guise of tourists. Believers did not have freedom of movement, since the entrances and exits of the center were blocked. Not all of the inspectors presented documents. Some of the inspectors wandered about the yard of the center independently, unaccompanied by representatives of the religious organization.

During the inspection a book with internal instructions for the clergy was confiscated. The book was sent for expert analysis in the Kazan Inter-regional Center of Expert Analysis.

In addition, since early March similar inspections have been conducted in 117 local religious organizations and 19 religious groups of Jehovah's Witnesses in various regions of Russia.  (tr. by PDS, posted 15 April 2013)

Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses of Russia, 15 April 2013

On 1 April 2013 approximately 60 officials and representatives of the police, FSB, Center for Combating Extremism, OMON, a number of district prosecutors' offices, transportation police, Federal Migration Service, agency of fire safety, Sanitation and Epidemiological Service, Federal Service for Drug Control, and other institutions arrived at the Administrative Center shortly before noon. During the inspection that lasted in the yard and in the buildings of the Administrative Center until approximately 8:00 p.m. the following violations were committed:
*entry into the yard of the Administrative Center was carried out in the guise of citizens coming for a tour, without the consent of representatives of the organization;
*all entrances, exits, and gates to the yard of the Administrative Center were blocked by service vehicles of law enforcement agencies, as a result of which free movements of believers was restricted;
*the assistant prosecutor of Kurort district, D. Oreshko, stated that the reason for the complex inspection was an appeal registered in the KUSP Department of MVD for the Kurortnoe district of St. Petersburg that supposedly some citizens was being held on the territory of the Administrative Center against his will. However, D. Oreshko refused to provide information about this person: sex, age, markings, etc. Instead of trying to find the "wanted person," law enforcement officials inspected the religious publications of believers;
*only representatives of the prosecutor's office presented their documents;
*the prosecutor was not able to identify the specialists (approximately 30 to 40 persons) who were with him: names, job, workplace;
*in some cases specialists invited by the prosecutor wandered independently about the yard without the prosecutor or a representative of the Administrative Center;
*during the inspection a person accompanying the prosecutor made a videotape without the consent of individuals, in violation of their right to privacy.

During the inspection a Jehovah's Witnesses' book was confiscated that contains internal canonical instructions for clergy. Despite the large number of highly qualified expert institutions in St. Petersburg, F. Sultanov, a commander of the Russian internal affairs ministry for Kurort district of St. Petersburg, sent the book for study by specialists of the "Kazan Inter-regional Center of Expert Analysis" (Republic of Tatarstan), located 1500 kilometers from St. Petersburg. The Jehovah's Witnesses think this choice of expert organization is illegal and unjustified.

On 3 April 2013 the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses received a fax from the prosecutor's office of Kurort district of St. Petersburg demanding the submission by noon on 4 April 2013 of an enormous quantity of documents and responses to numerous questions regarding the activity of the Administrative Center. Believers fulfilled this demand in a very unreasonably short time. However requests from the prosecutor's office have continued to arrive.

Inspections of local religious organizations.

Beginning 1 March 2013 local prosecutors' offices, acting on instructions from the Prosecutor General's office, have conducted full-scale inspections with respect to local religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses. Up to the present time, 117 local religious organizations and 19 religious groups of this confession have received official requests and been subjected to onsite reviews and inspections. (tr. by PDS, posted 15 April 2-13)

Russian original posted on SOVA site, 15 April 2013

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Website collects signatures opposing believers' feelings law


[We demand] rejection of bill No. 142303-6 regarding protection of believers' feelings.

This bill does not have a precise indication of which religions constitute an integral part of the historic heritage of the peoples of Russia. There is no indication of what is considered public desecration and debasement of worship services, religious rituals, and ceremonies. There also are no indications of which persons fall into the category of believers and on what basis it will be proven that a person really is a believer of a certain confession. In this regard, the law can be interpreted against any citizen of the Russian federation on the basis that no one citizen of the Russian federation can belong to all religious confessions at once.

This bill not only violates the rights of citizens who do not belong to one religious confession, but it can generate inter-confessional and inter-ethnic conflicts. Thus, one and the same judicial proceeding can be considered differently in different regions of the Russian federation, on the basis of which religious confession is more prevalent in a particular region.

This bill in itself is offensive for believers of any confessions since it declares that believers are unable to defend themselves and places them in the position of national minorities which need protection by legislation.

In addition, this bill cannot be effective in resolving disputes. In the example of the conflict between Orthodox believers and Muslims in Egypt one can see that the government is unable and does not have the right to support one or another side in the conflict without infringing the rights of the other side.

Please reject consideration of this bill or improve it to the point where it will not be used for infringing the rights or interests of a particular group of citizens.  (tr. by PDS, posted 15 April 2013)

[ed. note: This petition was posted on the website on 15 April 2013 and provides a link for signers. The site reported that 500 signatures had been collected as of 3:55 p.m. Moscow time on 15 April.]

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Kiev planning its own baptism jubilee

Institute of Religious Liberty, 15 April 2013

On 10 April 2013 a session of the Kiev City Council of Churches and Religious Organizations was held in the capital. The meeting of the city administration with representatives of the confessions was devoted to questions of the celebration of the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, the Institute of Religious Liberty reports.

During the session members of the organizing committee reported to the clergy about the course of preparations for the celebration of this anniversary, which will be observed at the highest state level.

Representatives of the capital authorities reported that at present work is continuing on preparing a reconstruction of Vladimir's Hill and the restoration of the panorama "Golgotha." Among the priorities is the restoration of the monuments to St. Vladimir, Princess Olga, and Cyril and Methodius.

Also in the plans is the restoration of the belfry and façade and carillon of the St. Michael's cathedral. Repairs are also being carried out in the Pokrov monastery.

As the city government reported, special attention at the session was paid to the question of renovating the stairway and reconstructing the columns of the Magdeburg Rights column. They will become part of the whole complex devoted to the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. In addition, a fountain in the likeness of a spring, which once was there, is being constructed.

Also on the bank of the Dnepr it is planned to erect a memorial to the Baptism of Kievan Rus. Plans for the monument will be considered as part of a competition which the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning is conducting, and they will be approved in consultation with representatives of various confessions of the capital.

Clergy of the capital supported the city authorities' intentions for preparing and celebrating the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus and they made their own suggestions. Among them was the conduct of both inter-confessional and citywide educational activities, conferences, round tables, and worship services, which will be included in the general program of the celebration.

"It is impossible to overstate the importance of the celebration of the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. This is our historic date, a common holiday, and therefore we will work together on its program with representatives of various confessions. I am extremely pleased that the Kiev City Council of Churches and Religious Organizations has taken a positive view of the suggestions by city authorities for celebrating this anniversary, and I am ready to actively join the planning of their own events in the course of the jubilee year," the had of city government, Alexander Popov, noted. (tr. by PDS, posted 15 April 2013)

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