Monday 22 September 1997

KREMLIN OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO CLAIM CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT SUPPORT by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service In what may be part of a continuing disinformation campaign about Russia's new legislation on church-state relations, Kremlin officials repeated at a 20 September briefing the fiction that the bill enjoys the support of all the country's major religious confessions. Two journalists who attended the invitation-only briefing told Keston News Service that Yeltsin aide MIKHAIL KOMISSAR said that all the religious confessions who had taken part in negotiations to write a compromise bill support the version proposed by President Yeltsin in early September.  In fact, as previously reported by Keston, on 11 September the Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and Adventists issued an open letter to President Yeltsin explicitly opposing that bill - a letter in which the Baptists joined on 12 September.  Russia's largest Old Believer group, led by METROPOLITAN ALIMPI, also opposes the bill. These facts have gone almost completely unreported in the Russian mass media. The 20 September briefing, in which Komissar was joined by Yeltsin advisers YURI SATAROV and RUSLAN OREKHOV, also offered an apparently new interpretation of the bill's controversial 15-year rule. According to this reading, a religious association would meet the 15-year standard if it could prove that it had existed for any 15-year period at any time in the past, even a century ago.  The association would not have to demonstrate a continued 15-year existence from the early 1980s to the present. The Yeltsin advisers did not explain why this principle is not stated in the bill itself - which does not offer any rules for judging the claims of a religious body proclaiming itself as the descendant of one which went out of existence generations ago. This apparently new interpretation - which Keston had never encountered before 20 September - would seem to contradict another interpretation, voiced by Yeltsin aide ALEKSANDR KOTENKOV and others: that the 15-year rule is not retroactive.  If Kotenkov is right, and the rule does not apply to religious bodies registered before the new law goes into effect, then it would not seem to matter whether these bodies existed for 15 continuous years up to 1997 or only for an earlier 15-year period. (END)