Government opposition to protestants in eastern Russia


Administration of Transbaikal territory forbids agencies of government to cooperate with those who help people

by Roman Lunkin

Religiia i pravo, 7 March2017


The principal victims of the anti-evangelism Yarovaya Law have been ministers of evangelical protestant churches, although, of course, formally the law on freedom of conscience does not indicate whose mission police should pursue. Orthodox activists in various regions of Russia periodically include in the ranks of "sectarians" believers of non-Orthodox Christian congregations—Baptists, Pentecostals, and Adventists. However it rather rarely happens that representatives of agencies of government officially declare whole religious movements to be outside the law or express an opinion with regard to their undesirability since government servants may not do this because of their office. Bureaucrats who do so inflame inter-religious strife and hostility and set society and various branches of government against one or another church.


The administration of the Transbaikal territory in the person of the head of the governor's administration and the first deputy head of government (since March 2016), Dmitry Kochergin, officially spoke out for the restriction of the rights of protestant churches in the region. On 10 February 2017, the heads of regions and city districts of the territory received a directive letter over the signature of Dmitry Kochergin. Its first part emphasized the necessity of paying attention to the activation of Pentecostals, Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses (who also are ranked among the protestants, although to a great extent they are considered a new movement that arose on a protestant base, and Baptists and Pentecostals themselves do not recognize them as protestants). Moreover, the head of the territorial governor's administration noted the great contribution of the Salvation in Jesus Pentecostal Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (KhVE) in Chita to the struggle against drugs (the church is a member of the Russian Church of KhVE; a former pastor of this church, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, is the rector of the Moscow Theological Institute). Dmitry Kochergin wrote about the effective work of the organization "Parents against drugs," and the adaptation and crisis centers for drug addicts and alcoholics and for prisoners which have been organized by both Pentecostals and members of the Antioch Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (EKhB).


Given the complex social situation in rural areas, the representative of the administration notes that believers there have also begun to actively aid people: "In 2016 protestant religious organizations began to focus on conducting work in individual villages of the Transbaikal territory. Missionaries of these organizations have arranged various holidays, provide help with foodstuffs and items, etc. In this way religious groups have been formed in residential areas into which youth are actively recruited."


However Dmitry Kochergin further declares all these achievements of the Baptists and Pentecostals to be "the result of well established psychological work of nontraditional religious organizations." For this state servant and director of the regional executive committee of the Transbaikal division of the United Russia political party (since 2009), Kochergin, it is completely clear what must be done. Dmitry Kochergin was involved with problems of security back in 2005 when he defended his kandidat's dissertation at the department of national security of the Russian Academy of State Service under the president of the RF on the topic "Legal regulation of the activity of agencies of state power in Chita province in the sphere of guaranteeing social and economic security."


In the letter of 10 February 2017, the director of the governor's administration recommends:

"1. To refrain from cooperation with these organizations and from participation in their projects.

2. Not to provide facilities of institutions of culture, sports, and education, or facilities of social sphere and other buildings that are at the disposal of agencies of local administration for conducting various kinds of religious events.

3. To notify the administration of the governor of the Transbaikal territory of the conduct of mass events by these religious organizations and to conduct close cooperation and consultation with the prosecutor's office, the directorate of the Russian Ministry of Justice for Transbaikal territory, and the FSB.

4. To give corresponding orders to the heads of village and urban settlements (territorial administrative districts)."


As the governor of the Transbaikal territory, Natalia Zhdanova, noted when she appointed Dmitry Kochergin to his position on 25 March 2016: "I know you as a modern, mobile-thinking man with all-round knowledge. I consider that you possess all the necessary professional and human qualities for fulfilling these tasks." But the tasks outlined in the letter contradict both the provisions of the Russian constitution and the law on state service of the Russian federation.


It is not known just how fully the directive of Dmitry Kochergin will be implemented. Back in the 1990s evangelical churches began playing a leading role in revival of the Christian life in the territory, along with Orthodoxy (historically parishes have existed since the early 20th century).


Since the early 2000s agencies of the prosecutor's office and the FSB have conducted in Chita events for bureaucrats and representatives of the news media during which calls have resounded to avoid cooperation with protestants and the most horrendous antiwestern phobias have been repeated with regard to these churches. As a result, evangelicals have been squeezed out of the public space (as also in Russia as a whole), but the mission has not disappeared. In real life, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Adventists have remained vital and open Christian churches that bureaucrats' orders cannot defeat. Therefore letters coming from the administration to the regions of the territory, where the congregations are helping people, are both offensive and pointless at the same time. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 March 2017)


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