Tuesday 16 September 1997

RELIGION BILL STALLED IN PRESIDENTIAL APPARAT     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     For the third consecutive working day, Duma deputies arrived at their offices near Red Square on 16 September expecting the religion committee to meet and consider the Yeltsin administration's response to yet another revised draft of the proposed bill on church-state relations.  But for the third consecutive time, no such meeting took place.  Duma sources told Keston News Service that the bill is stalled within the executive branch, where its supporters such as ANDREI LOGINOV so far seem unable to mount the final push for what until recently looked like an unstoppable juggernaut.     A source on the religion committee told Keston that it will now be impossible to schedule a Duma vote on Wednesday 17 September as hoped on Tuesday morning.  He said that the Duma's hard-line, communist and ultra-nationalist majority was getting more and more 'unhappy about the delay' and disinclined to accept any further changes.  He thought that the deputies might pull back from compromise and vote in an 'emotional reaction' simply to override the president's veto of the bill which the parliament passed in July.  But he added that the deputies realise that such a reaction could play into the hands of the opponents of both bills, setting the stage for the Constitutional Court to strike down a restrictive law passed over PRESIDENT YELTSIN'S objections.  He also opined that the Federation Council, the parliament's upper house, might well vote to sustain the veto. Further bad news for supporters of the Loginov bill came as word spread in Moscow that Russia's largest minority Christian confessions - the Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals - are now against that bill, as are the Adventists.  In a sign of dissension within another key minority, two leaders of Russia's Union of Muslims sent Yeltsin an open letter opposing both Loginov's bill and the Duma's.  The 'new version does not remove the questions which disturbed hundreds of millions of Russian Muslims and believers of other confessions', wrote Sheik NAFIGULLA ASHIROV and Duma deputy from Dagestan NADIR KHACHILAYEV.  Declaring that the controversial '15-year rule' as formulated in either version 'violates fundamental human rights and contradicts the Russian Constitution and norms of international law', the two Muslim leaders asked the president to withdraw the bill and make significant changes in it.     Supporters of the Loginov bill countered with a 16 September press conference, in which ARCHBISHOP SERGI of the Moscow Patriarchate was joined by Islamic mufti RAVIL GAINUTDIN, reform Jewish rabbi ZINOVI KOGAN, priestless Old Believer leader ALEKSEI KHVALKOVSKY, and head of the representative body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia VLADIMIR PUDOV.  The mufti criticised the Catholics for first saying that they were satisfied with the law, then withdrawing their signature.  (In fact, the Catholics - like the Baptist, Pentecostal and Adventist representatives - had not yet seen the Loginov bill's final text when they expressed their support at the beginning of September.) A Keston representative at the press conference asked Archbishop Sergi whether he believes that the '15-year rule' ought to apply retroactively to already existing religious bodies, and whether he considers that this rule in fact will have retroactive effect if the Loginov bill is enacted.  The archbishop declined to answer, saying that he and his fellow clerics had not gathered in order to 'criticise' the text of the law.  Mufti Gainutdin said that the law would not apply retroactively.  In that case, asked Keston, why did METROPOLITAN KIRILL of the Moscow Patriarchate insist on removing draft language from an August draft which would have clearly stated that the 15-year rule will apply only to religious bodies created after the new law goes into effect?  The mufti replied that he had never seen that text. (END)