American Missionary Expelled From Russia Under New Law

Saturday, April 18, 1998 The New York Times

Dan Pollard, a Baptist missionary from Oregon, settled his wife and teen-age daughters in Vanino, a remote town in eastern Russia, four years ago, built a congregation of local families and a church of local timber.

Now Pollard and his family have become the first American missionaries reported to be evicted from Russia since the passage of a law last fall that restricts the rights of minority churches and religions and protects the Russian Orthodox Church from competition.

Pollard's case, and other recent reports of religious discrimination in Russia, could jeopardize as much as $30 million in American foreign aid to Russia under legislation passed by Congress last year that restricts the aid unless the Clinton administration can certify that the Russian government is not violating religious liberty.

"We are appealing to the leaders in Russia to please help us return," Pollard said in a telephone interview from Salem, Ore. He said he believed that he had been ousted because a regional official misapplied the new religion law.

"The people there want us," Pollard said. "We have a congregation that has sent a letter to President Yeltsin saying please let our pastor come back. They have no one else to be their pastor."

Preachers and proselytizers from many nations and religious movements have flocked to Russia since the fall of the Soviet communist government, which for many years repressed religious expression.

The law passed last year restricts the activities of any religion not registered by the Soviet state 15 years ago. The law cites only the Russian Orthodox Church, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism as traditional religions native to Russia, and it excludes Roman Catholicism, Protestant groups like the Baptists, and Russian Orthodox breakaway movements, even though most of them have a long history in Russia.

Human rights monitors in Russia say the law has been enforced haphazardly and has not resulted in a widespread crackdown, but they have reported scattered cases of priests refused visa renewals, congregations denied meeting places, and a theologian dismissed after he challenged the law. Much of the harassment has been directed at indigenous Russian clergy, and not foreigners. Pollard is the first American church worker to be forced out since the law was passed, these human rights workers say.

Mikhail Shurgalin, spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, said he had no information about Pollard and could not comment on his case. But he said the main intent of Russia's new religion law is to restrict "totalitarian sects, those who order their followers and require total submission," the kinds of groups Americans often call cults.

The law was not intended to target Baptists and other Christian denominations, Shurgalin said, so the eviction of Pollard "sounds like it is at least an overreaction on the part of the local authorities."

With a shipping crate full of Bibles, building materials and medicines, Pollard moved to Vanino in 1994 at the invitation of a local Baptist church led by Russians. He is an independent Baptist missionary affiliated with Baptist Mid-Missions, an agency based in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. It has about 1,200 missionaries in 50 countries, with five of them in Russia and six more preparing to go, said the Rev. William Smallman, a spokesman for the agency.

Pollard formed his own congregation, planning to train a Russian who could eventually serve as pastor to the church. He ran children's programs and harvest festivals, helped build school equipment, and said he had good relations with the only Russian Orthodox church in town. He said city officials in Vanino were so supportive that they gave him the land for his church and adjacent parsonage. He registered his church, as required by law, and received accreditation as a pastor.

But he says he recently ran into problems with the regional official in charge of religious affairs in Khabarovsk in eastern Siberia, Viktor Nikulnikov. Pollard says that when he went to renew his visa and his accreditation this year, Nikulnikov told him that under the new law, all American missionaries must leave Russia.

Pollard and his family took a plane from Russia on March 25, leaving behind their house and most of their possessions in Vanino. They have asked Moscow officials for permission to return, and their case was pressed by State Department officials and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., on a recent visit to Moscow.

It was Smith who proposed the legislation last year that links American aid to Russia to religious freedom. As a youth he served two years as a Mormon missionary in New Zealand and is now chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on European Affairs.

Smith said that in his recent meetings with "religious dissidents" in Moscow and St. Petersburg, he found that some were experiencing "all manner of woe," while others had no complaints at all. He said he had not yet decided whether to advise the administration to cut off or continue aid to Russia. The administration's certification report is due in late May.

"I am very torn at this point," Smith said. "I want to apply enough pressure to help these people of faith in Russia, and yet I don't want to be counterproductive. Nor do I want to waste American tax money on a government that seems to be stepping back into former times. "

Not all financial aid to Russia is at stake. The Smith Amendment would not cut off funds to nongovernmental organizations in Russia, or Defense Department financing for the decommissioning of Russian weapons.

Lawrence A. Uzzell, Moscow representative of the Keston Institute, a British organization that monitors religious liberty in Russia and Eastern Europe, said he had found that "the situation varies widely from province to province -- one province is an island of freedom, another a bastion of repression."

The Keston Institute has found that in Khakassia, Siberia, the regional authorities have tried to close a Lutheran church, and in Semnadtsat, about 25 miles west of Moscow, a Pentecostal congregation has been evicted from the school where it was meeting.

Uzzell said Russia has still not experienced the full impact of its new religion law because "local officials charged with implementing this law don't even have the regulations yet."

"Information travels so slowly, it's as if they passed a law in Albany, but no one had the text of the law anywhere else in New York state," he added.

"If the law were enforced in its full vigor," Uzzell said, "there would be a direct holy war going on between Moscow and the Vatican."


Dan Pollard, an American missionary who was evicted from Russia in March under a new law that restricts minority religious groups, has been granted a visa for three months to return to his church in Vanino, a remote port town in the Far East. He received the visa Thursday from the Russian Consulate in Seattle, and plans to leave for Russia on Saturday.

The religion law passed last year in Russia requires that every religious group or faith that has not been active in Russia for 15 years must be certified by the government in order to practice freely.

Pollard is an independent Baptist missionary whose church may have been vulnerable because it is not affiliated with any pre-existing Christian alliance. In March, he was refused accreditation as a pastor by a regional official for religious affairs in Khabarovsk in eastern Siberia. Pollard says that now, in order to extend his stay beyond three months, he must reapply to that same official for accreditation.

Pollard's case had been pressed by the State Department and several members of Congress. But Pollard says he was granted a visa only because his attorney in Russia secured an invitation for him from a Russian religious group, which he declined to identify. He hopes to preach again in his church in Vanino next Sunday.

Saturday, May 2, 1998 Copyright 1998 The New York Times


by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service, 2 June

American Baptist missionary DAN POLLARD is probably going to win long-term permission to remain in Russia - but not without a struggle, predicts his lawyer. YEKATERINA SMYSLOVA of Moscow's Institute of Religion and Law told Keston News Service that she had advised the missionary, who was briefly expelled from Russia this spring but is now back with his church in Khabarovsky krai, to have the congregation join a 'centralised religious organisation'. As Russia's new law on religion is currently being interpreted, the mission would then not be subject to the notorious '15-year rule' and would thus be free to have foreign religious employees such as Pollard.

Lawyer Smyslova told Keston that Pollard would probably have to leave Russia again in the near future, at least to comply with the bureaucratic formalities usually required for getting a new visa. But this time, she said, she was optimistic about his chances of getting a full-year visa rather than a 3-month one. She said that she understood that Khabarovsky krai had about 10 other American missionaries, but Pollard was the only one currently having difficulties with the authorities. The blame for those difficulties, she said, lay with the authorities' soviet-style, 'anti-kulak' hostility 'toward anyone who works hard and builds something new'. She said that Pollard's greatest problem might now be not his visa but his highly visible construction projects and imports of charitable aid.