Thursday, 4 September 1997

YELTSIN ACCEPTS HIS STAFF'S 'COMPROMISE' BILL ON CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     On Thursday, 4 September, President Yeltsin signed and sent to the Duma a so-called 'compromise' version of new legislation on church-state relations.  At 3 pm on that day, the Keston News Service called the offices of ANDREI LOGINOV and ANDREI PROTOPOPOV, the key officials in the drafting and lobbying of this 'compromise', to ask for a copy of its final text.  Both offices refused, even though the text of the new bill had already been officially transmitted to the Duma.     In its secrecy and haste, the campaign for the 'compromise' bill is strikingly similar to the rush to enact the parliament's version which Yeltsin vetoed in July.  Independent analysts who want to study its provisions in detail are forced to use the latest draft available, which is the one presented to the meeting of the presidential council for cooperation with religious associations on 1 September.  According to well-placed sources, the final text approved by Yeltsin includes only slight changes from the 1 September text.  What follows is one observer's assessment of that document, a translation of which has already been distributed by Keston.   On the issue of teaching religion only to 'followers', there is no essential change from the parliament's July bill.  The word has simply been dropped from one section and added to other sections; the new wording adds no guarantee that religious bodies have the right to teach their faith to people who are not already members.  Like the parliament's bill, the new 'compromise' is hostile to the idea of spreading religious faith to those who are not already believers - an idea which is at the heart of all mainstream forms of world Christianity, including Orthodoxy.     On the issue of applying new requirements retroactively to existing religious bodies, the bill represents a significant hardening as compared to an earlier draft compromise which was being circulated in mid-August.  It omits that draft's provision that the harsh registration requirements of Article 11 are to apply only to organizations created after the new law takes effect.  In Article 27, it adds a new requirement that 'Religious organizations which cannot establish the fact of their legal existence on the corresponding territory for more than 15 years before their re-registration are to enjoy the rights of a religious group until the expiration of the indicated 15-year period.  These organizations are to enjoy the rights of a legal personality on the condition of re-registration once every three years.'  One of the key novelties in this formula is the phrase 'establish the fact of their LEGAL existence'; unlike the parliament's bill, which left a ray of hope for a more optimistic interpretation, this latest version makes it unmistakably clear that religious bodies which were not willing to make the compromises necessary to receive state registration from the Soviet regime before the end of the Brezhnev era cannot enjoy full legal rights today.  Even if such religious entities in fact have centuries-old roots in Russian history, they will be treated as if they were alien newcomers.     Even more striking is the use of a similar formula in Article 8- the requirement that a religious organization must 'have been active on the territory of the Russian Federation ON A LEGAL BASIS for no fewer than 50 years' for it to be allowed to use the words 'Russia' or 'Russian' in its name.  This provision legitimizes as the norm, by which current decisions in church-state relations are to be made, the legal standards of 1947 - when such decisions were being made by Stalin and Beria. The utterly unacceptable, core concept of the July bill - its invidious distinction between first-class 'religious organizations' and second-class 'religious groups' - remains fully intact. The so-called 'compromise' bill even adds a new restriction: religious 'groups' may worship only in places provided by their own participants, such as private flats.  This rule would legitimise the practice already common in many Russian provinces, whereby local bureaucrats prohibit the directors of cinemas, 'palaces of culture' and other such buildings from renting them out to disfavoured religious minorities, even when these buildings are readily available for rent by every other kind of entity from rock bands to computer dealers.       The provision that new or newly legalised religious bodies which seek the status of 'religious organizations' are to have the rights of a legal personalities 'on the condition of re-registration once every three years' seems to be in one sense milder than the July bill--but not as much so as it may first appear.  Like the July bill, the new 'compromise' includes a long list of rights which would normally be associated with 'legal personality' status but which it specifically provides only to 'religious organizations,' not 'religious groups': the rights to own buildings, engage in educational and charitable activities, publish books and periodicals, worship in public places such as cemeteries.  The only rights explicitly stated for 'groups' are to conduct worship services and to teach religion to their own followers.  What the bill grants with one hand it takes away with the other.  (And of course, those religious 'groups' which do not seek or cannot get full-fledged registration as 'organizations', such as the 'initsiativniki' Baptists, are to remain without any of the rights of legal personalities.)   Another limitation, of course, is the condition that new or newly legalised religious organizations are to enjoy the rights of a legal personality ONLY if they undergo the burdensome process of re-registration once every three years.  With its detailed reporting requirements such as providing information on church history, and its opportunities for bureaucratic harassment such as accusations that a minority faith promotes 'religious dissension', this process gives the state ample scope to suppress new religious bodies which are not well-connected politically. On the principle of a state-defined 'territorial sphere activities' for a religious body, the new 'compromise' withdraws a concession offered by the draft which was being circulated in mid-August.  As worded in both the parliament's bill and the new 'compromise', Article 8 allows the state to force even a fully registered a religious body to confine its activities only to the geographical areas in which it is already functioning.  This wording even allows the state to consult with favoured religious groups in order to decide what limits to place on disfavoured ones.  The Moscow Patriarchate, for example, could be allowed to decide for the state which towns or provinces will be off-limits to the Roman Catholic revival in Russia.  One effect of this provision would to legitimise Bolshevik real-estate thefts from religious minorities: the Catholics, like all other historic confessions, are still far from restoring all the parishes which they had in Russia before 1917.  (One can easily find century-old Catholic church buildings deep in the Russian provinces, still occupied by the state and still used for secular purposes).   The most bizarre change in the 'compromise' is the completely new prohibition on any religious activities by representative bodies of foreign religious organizations in Russia.  If rigorously enforced, this provision would virtually wipe out the complex of western churches' missionary and charitable activities which have emerged in Russia over the last decade.  The parliament's July bill had nothing even remotely like this provision; even more clearly than the rest of the new bill, this section suggests that the Yeltsin appointees who were charged with trying to find a middle ground between the president's position and the parliament's simply ignored that mandate, but instead set about trying to write as repressive a law as possible. (END)   Tuesday, 26 August 1997 NEGOTIATORS RACE TOWARDS COMPROMISE ON CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service Kremlin officials are racing to draft a compromise bill on church-state relations, acceptable both to the hard-line parliament and to leaders of Russia's minority religions, before the parliament's lower house reconvenes next week. One possibility, informed sources have told Keston News Service, is a draft which would try to satisfy the objections of Roman Catholics but not of Protestants. A Catholic source told Keston on 25 August that GENNADI SELEZNYOV, the Duma's speaker, 'wants to buy us out'.  The communist deputy is seeking an amendment which according to Keston's source would add the Catholics to the list of privileged, 'traditional' confessions but would make 'only cosmetic changes' in other areas.  Other sources confirmed that the Yeltsin administration is cooperating with this tactic, negotiating separately with the Catholics and the Protestants. ANATOLI KRASIKOV, head of the Russian branch of the International Religious Liberty Association and a former official of the Yeltsin administration, told Keston on 25 August that the administration's negotiating team is now being led by MIKHAIL KOMISAR, who recently replaced MAKSIM BOIKO as Yeltsin's deputy chief of staff.  Komisar is also head of the Interfax news agency.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Interfax reported on 22 August that the president's team was on the verge of agreement with religious leaders.  But other well-placed sources told Keston that negotiations between the Kremlin team and representatives of Orthodox PATRIARCH ALEKSI were still continuing on 25 August, suggesting that agreement had still not been reached as of that date. Krasikov said that even if Yeltsin's men manage to write a compromise draft acceptable both to the Patriarchate and to minority religious leaders, they will probably not be able to convince the Duma to accept it.  He predicted that the Duma will soon schedule a vote to override the president's July veto of the parliament's bill.  Other sources told Keston that such a vote might come as early as 3 September, the Duma's first day back in session. Meanwhile VIKTOR ZORKALTSEV, chairman of the Duma's committee on religion, cancelled a meeting which had been scheduled for 26 August to discuss the administration's compromise proposals.  A Duma source told Keston that Zorkaltsev is under pressure from GENNADI ZYUGANOV and other Communist Party leaders to take a hard-line position.  The source said that Zorkaltsev had reacted favourably to a compromise text drafted and informally circulated by Boiko's team of Kremlin negotiators in mid-August, but that the Patriarchate had opposed it. Keston's sources stressed that the mid-August text had no official status as a formal proposal of the Yeltsin administration.  Its own authors were still circulating suggested amendments to it as late as 21 August. The mid-August draft would change the controversial '15-year rule' for newly-formed religious associations in the bill passed by the parliament on 4 July to a less harsh five-year rule.  It would explicitly affirm that this rule does not apply retroactively to associations created before the law takes effect.  But, like the July bill, it would distinguish between so-called 'religious organisations' and 'religious groups' and would deny the rights of legal personality to the latter.  It would also make it easier for the secular authorities to ban 'religious groups' by court order.  The compromise draft would allow - but would not require - Russia's secular authorities to permit foreign religious organisations to open branches in Russia even if they are not specifically invited by Russian religious organisations. Russian religious-rights activists believe that this compromise draft still has many defects.  ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV of Moscow's Institute for Religion and Law told Keston on 22 August that if he were a deputy, he would vote against it.  VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY of Moscow's Christian Legal Centre told Keston that he is advising leaders of minority confessions to take a strong stand. In his view the very concept of second-class 'religious groups' is unacceptable, and even a five-year probationary period is too long. Ryakhovsky also believes that the proposed preamble, specifically mentioning certain religious confessions, should be excluded altogether as a violation of Russia's constitutional provision that all confessions are equal before the law. Pchelintsev nevertheless predicted - disagreeing with Krasikov - that negotiators from the Duma and the Yeltsin administration will soon reach agreement on a compromise text, and that the compromise will go to a 'second reading' in the Duma in September.  Ryakhovsky warned that the bill's supporters may repeat the 'tactics of disinformation' which they used in June and July - pretending to have consulted a wide range of religious minorities and to have won their support without in fact having done so. Quotations from various religious leaders opposed to the bill: 1. Baptist human-rights activist VLADIMIR OIVEN said that the parliament's bill would make it harder for independent-minded Baptist and Pentecostal congregations to leave the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, which was founded during the Soviet era and would therefore be eligible for preferential status as a so-called 'religious organisation' rather than as a far less privileged 'religious group'. He acknowledged that many of the independent Baptists prefer in any case to avoid all contact with the state, but the new bill would deny them this option. 2. 'There are no prohibitions against other Orthodox denominations in the new legislation on religious bodies recently passed by the lower house of the Russian parliament,' said VIKTOR KALININ, legal adviser to Orthodox PATRIARCH ALEKSI of Moscow in an interview with an American journalist. FR MIKHAIL MAKEYEV, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Free Church's only parish in Russia's capital, disagreed. 'If this bill becomes law,' he told Keston News Service in a 24 June interview, 'our rental contract will be annulled immediately and we will be kicked out onto the street'. 3. The 15-year rule would also deny the rights of 'legal personalities' to congregations of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which traces its descent to pre-Bolshevik Russian Orthodoxy through bishops and priests who fled abroad after the Russian Civil War. This body is now trying to reestablish itself in its members' ancestral homeland. 4. Roman Catholic Church: ARCHBISHOP KONDRUSIEWICZ pointed out to Keston that Moscow's St Thomas Aquinas College was founded in 1991; St Petersburg's Our Lady Queen of Apostles Seminary in 1993; the Caritas charity programme in 1991; and Russia's two Catholic 'apostolic administrations', his in Moscow and its counterpart in Novosibirsk, in 1991.  By treating church-state relations in 1982 as the norm, the Duma's proposal would de-legitimise every Catholic institution created in Russia since then.   The archbishop also predicted that the proposed new procedures for registering religious organizations would create 'chaos'. The need to provide detailed documentation of the history of the organization's faith would be an impossible burden for a church which is many centuries old.  'What am I supposed to bring with me', he said, 'all the documents of all our church councils?  Who is going to judge them, and how?'  He forecast that decisions by secular bureaucrats would inevitably be 'subjective'.   Provincial authorities in Russia are already labelling Roman Catholic parishes as 'foreign' organisations in violation of Russia's current laws, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz told Keston. Recently, he said, a parish in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia was told that it must provide massive documentation to rebut the presumption that it is a foreign structure, even though every member of the parish is a citizen of the Russian Federation.  He conceded that the parish priest is from Poland, but emphasised that the reason for this is simply that until recently Russia had no seminaries for training indigenous Catholic clergy.  Of the 104 Catholic priests and 112 nuns currently serving in Russia, all but a handful are foreigners. The church's goal is to train a new generation of Russian citizens to fill these vocations, if the educational institutions for doing so are allowed to continue functioning.     Confirming what Keston has learned from other sources, the archbishop said that his office received the text of the new bill only on 11 or 12 June, nearly a week after it was approved by the Duma's religion committee - and then only through informal contacts.  To this day, he said, the Catholics have still not received a copy through any official channel. Roman Catholic Church. Confirming what Keston has learned from other sources, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said that his office in Moscow received the text of the new bill only on 11 or 12 June, nearly a week after it was approved by the Duma's religion committee - and then only through informal contacts.  To this day, he said, the Catholics have still not received a copy through any official channel and were not represented at the 26 May committee of religion meeting. ************************************************************** 15 year registration: 1. Through the provisions which would condition the current rights of a religious body on its status 15 years ago and 50 years ago, FR GLEB YAKUNIN said, today's Russia would be accepting as normative the times when there was 'full police control of religion' under officials such as STALIN'S secret-police chief LAVRENTI BERIA. 2. The Roman Catholic Church's centralised hierarchical structure would not be recognised as the authority over its members within Russia. Protestant legal scholar VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY emphasised that the bill would mandate 'state interference in the internal hierarchal structures' of churches.  By allowing citizens to form only local rather than national religious bodies and by confining the activities of these bodies within territorial limits to be set by the state, he said, the legislation would violate the provisions of Russia's Civic Code on legal personalities and of the Constitution on freedom of association.     3. When a Keston representative discussed the bill with a high- ranking official in PRESIDENT YELTSIN'S administration on 25 June, the official expressed surprise on hearing that the proposal's '15-year rule' would deny full legal rights not only to religious bodies which did not exist in 1982, but also to churches which did exist then but were not formally registered by the Soviet authorities. Such churches include all the dissident Orthodox bodies which refused to compromise with what was then a totalitarian atheist state - in other words, all Russian Orthodox groups other than the Moscow Patriarchate. These include both the jurisdiction of Fr Mikhail Makeyev's, priest in the only Russian Orthodox Free Church parish in Moscow, and the quasi-underground True Orthodox Church. Friday, 18 July 1997 POPE JOHN PAUL WRITES TO YELTSIN ON PROPOSED RELIGION LAW by Felix Corley, Keston News Service POPE JOHN PAUL II has written to Russian President BORIS YETLSIN to express his 'serious concern' about the proposed legislation on freedom of conscience and religious associations. The deputy director of the Vatican Press Office, FATHER CIRO BENEDETTINI, confirmed on 17 July that the Pope had written a 'personal letter' to the Russian president on 24 June. The Vatican released the text of the letter, the original of which was in French, late in the afternoon of 17 July. The Vatican Information Service also released an English translation. It is not clear why there has been a delay in releasing the letter, although the Pope may have wanted to give the Russian president time to consider it before making it public. The letter speaks about the original draft of the bill, submitted to the Duma on 15 June. 'This text, very restricitve in relation to the 1990 law on "religious confessions", if it were to be adopted, would constitute, for the Catholic Church which is in Russia, a real threat for the normal development of her pastoral activities and even for her survival,' the Pope wrote. 'The Holy See has noted with regret that, in this text, no mention is made of "traditional religions", among which Catholicism has always been numbered, and that not even once is the Catholic Church cited. 'If the principle of freedom of religion, which can be practised individually and in community, is clearly affirmed, as well as the equality of religious communities before the law, other especially precise dispositions considerably reduce its scope. 'The dispositions of Chapter II, quite especially, lead one to think that the Russian civil authorities wish to equate the Catholic Church with a foreign community, without any consideration for her presence and centuries of activity in Russia, or for her specific hierarchical organization.' Pope John Paul reminds President Yeltsin of Russia's obligations made in the final document of the Vienna CSCE conference in January 1989 to respect the right of religious communities to organise themselves in accordance with their own hierarchical and institutional structure. The Pope expresses confidence that President Yeltsin will 'know how to be discerning' and will take 'opportune decisions' to ensure no 'legal or administrative obstacle' hinders the religious life of Russia's Catholics. He hopes a new draft of the law can be drawn up which will guarantee religious peace' in the great Russian nation'. The Pope's approach to President Yeltsin came just one day after the controversial bill - which many in the Catholic Church fear would hamper its work in the Russian Federation - was passed by Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma. As reported extensively in previous Keston News Service articles, it was subsequently approved by the upper house, the Federation Council, and now awaits a decision from President Yeltsin. (END) Monday, 30 June 1997 KEY YELTSIN AIDE WORKS TO PREVENT VETO     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     When the Russian parliament's legislation restricting religious minorities reaches PRESIDENT YELTSIN'S desk - perhaps as soon as the week of 7 July - one of the strongest voices within the president's staff urging him to accept it will be that of ANDREI LOGINOV.  In a 25 June meeting with the Keston News Service at his office on Moscow's Staraya Ploshchad, four blocks from the Kremlin, Loginov expressed complete confidence that Yeltsin will indeed sign the bill into law.     Keston asked Loginov how he could be so sure of victory when other highly-placed Yeltsin aides such as RUSLAN OREKHOV, head of the presidential staff's legal directorate, will be pushing for a veto. In the autumn of 1996 Orekhov succeeded in getting the president to sign a letter criticising an earlier bill on religion as flagrantly unconstitutional - and that bill was less restrictive than the one passed by the Duma on 23 June.  Since Orekhov won that internal duel in 1996, asked Keston, what is to stop him from winning again in 1997?  Loginov replied that in 1996 Orekhov managed to bypass the presidential staff's Directorate for Cooperation with Political Parties and Social Organisations, headed by Loginov himself.  This time, he said, Orekhov will have to consult Loginov's directorate because of the strong 'consensus' which has now been achieved for new religious restrictions.  He said that he and Orekhov had not yet met to discuss the Duma's new bill, but that they would do so before Yeltsin makes his final decision.     Loginov portrayed Orekhov and other opponents of the bill as formalistic lawyers, out of touch with the concrete realities of Russian life.  What Orekhov 'cares most about is privatisation and creating a stock market', he said.  He emphasised that a decisive consideration for himself and for other members of the president's staff is the key place of the Russian Orthodox Church 'in today's ideological vectors'. The Moscow Patriarchate, he said, has tremendous weight in politics and policy.  He said that polls have shown that the Orthodox Church enjoys greater popular trust than any other social institution, more than the army or the president.   Loginov told Keston that the 'consensus' behind the new legislation includes leaders of 'traditional religions' which he said 'represent 95 per cent of all Russians'.  Among those religions, he said, are the Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Seventh-Day Adventists and Baptists. Keston asked if all those groups specifically support the bill as passed by the Duma; he replied that they took part in the 'working group' which met to advise the Duma in drafting the bill and that they did not express opposition at a meeting of a presidential council which  discussed the legislation.  Keston asked when that meeting took place; he said he was not sure.  Keston asked him to comment on a statement from the Roman Catholics, charging that they were never given a copy of the new version of the bill until after the Duma's committee on religion had voted on it.  Loginov blamed the committee for the uncertainty; he said that it had not 'properly organised its work'.     According to other sources, the last time the 'working group' of  religious leaders met was in December 1996.  The bill which they discussed then lacks several of the most controversial features of the June 1997 bill, including the '15-year rule' denying full legal rights to religious bodies which were not legally registered in the Soviet Union before 1982.     Loginov said that he and other supporters of the new bill 'completely support the abstract model of religious freedom accepted in civilised, bourgeois societies.'  In principle, he said, he agrees with pro-freedom Duma deputy VALERI BORSHCHOV that Russia must adopt such a model.  'I don't consider him my opponent', he said of Borshchov.  But at the same time, he insisted, 'it would be a great mistake if we suddenly broke with the past'.  In his view, he said, Russia needs 'evolution, not revolution'.   What of his opponents' claim, asked Keston, that the current bill represents a step backward, not an evolutionary step forward?  In particular, what about their charge that the bill is directed not only against newly arrived foreign missions but also against churches such as the 'initsiativniki' Baptists or dissident Orthodox, which have existed for many decades in Russia but which were not legally recognised by the Soviet state?  Loginov expressed surprise on hearing that the law would deny these groups the right to practice public ministries such as charitable activities. 'That is not our intention', he said.  Keston showed him that the final version of the bill, adopted on 23 June, had been amended almost at the last minute to exclude charitable and other activities from those authorised for the so-called 'religious groups' which will not enjoy the same rights as full-fledged 'religious organisations'. He said that he would have to study the bill further.     In the final analysis, Loginov said, the state needs to create a 'filter' to protect Russians.  He pointed out that last year more than 40 Roman Catholic missionaries around the world were killed at their posts - though none in Russia - and suggested that this shows how determined the Vatican is to expand. (END)     Monday, 30 June 1997 STAROVOITOVA ACCUSES DUMA OF 'FALSIFICATION'     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     The Russian Duma's recently-passed bill on religion violates human rights not only in its contents but in the way it was passed, Duma deputy GALINA STAROVOITOVA charged at a 27 June press conference.  The veteran human-rights activist and specialist on ethnic minorities in the former Soviet Union, joined by former deputy FR GLEB YAKUNIN and by Protestant legal scholars ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV and VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY, told a sometimes skeptical and even hostile audience that the bill is a 'falsification' and an act of 'vandalism' against the Russian constitution.   Adding depth and detail to arguments which have already been made, the four speakers emphasised that the bill passed on its ostensible 'second reading' on 18 June was not just a revised edition of the one passed on 'first reading' in July 1996, but a fundamentally new piece of legislation.  Pchelintsev likened the Duma's tactics to the old Soviet practice of rushing laws through the Supreme Soviet with no serious discussion.     Starovoitova pointed out that the concluding document of the 1989 Vienna meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe called on member states to consult religious bodies on questions related to religious freedom.  While representatives of all major confessions were invited to study and comment on the 1996 bill, she said, this did not happen with the June 1997 text. Pchelintsev noted that several religious bodies, including the Baptist Union, the Pentecostal Union and the Adventists, specifically protested that they were not informed of the new legislation.  He said that the Jews also protested, though they later withdrew their protest. In effect, he said, the representatives of more than 4,000 local congregations across Russia were simply ignored.     Ryakhovsky emphasised that the bill would mandate 'state interference in the internal hierarchal structures' of churches.  By allowing citizens to form only local rather than national religious bodies and by confining the activities of these bodies within territorial limits to be set by the state, he said, the legislation would violate the provisions of Russia's Civic Code on legal personalities and of the Constitution on freedom of association.     Fr Yakunin pointed out that the bill would give atheists more freedom than religious believers to form organisations with the rights of a legal personality.  Through the provisions which would condition the current rights of a religious body on its status 15 years ago and 50 years ago, he said, today's Russia would be accepting as normative the times when there was 'full police control of religion' under officials such as STALIN'S secret-police chief LAVRENTI BERIA.     The questions which followed reinforced the impression created by the news coverage of this issue in the Russian media over the previous ten days. Opponents of the Duma's proposal face an uphill battle to win over even those journalists who are generally pro-reform.  With a few exceptions, such as a 24 June broadcast on the NTV network which featured Pchelintsev and other opponents along with supporters of the bill, the secular media have paid little attention to the bill.  Even articles in mainstream newspapers such as Segodnya ('Today') have been superficial, tending to accept at face value the claims of the bill's supporters.  The controversy has actually received more prominent and more detailed coverage in the west's secular news media than in Russia's.     A reporter from the weekly Argumenty i Fakty, which in its popular style and huge circulation is roughly comparable to America's Reader's Digest, raised one of the favourite issues of the bill's supporters. It is taken for granted, she said, that children need their parents' permission to be treated in a hospital or to switch schools; why not require such permission for them to join sects?  Ryakhovsky answered that the bill is written in such a way as to put the state on the side of an irreligious father who wants to block a believing mother or grandmother from baptising a child.  Starovoitova noted that the bill would also forbid religious bodies to teach their doctrines to anyone except their own followers - a prohibition which would affect adults as well as children, and which has no clear basis other than the desire to suppress competition.     YEVGENI NIKIFOROV of the arch-nationalist religious monthly Radonezh accused the four speakers of 'demagoguery'.  Repeating an argument which has often been made by the bill's supporters, he said that the Duma's bill is simply 'a variant on European law' and that all its limitations have their counterparts in the church-state laws of western Europe.  Pchelintsev answered that 'to put it mildly, this is an error'.  There is no country anywhere in Europe, he said, where it takes 15 years for a newly formed religious body to acquire the rights of a legal personality.  In the oft-cited case of Lithuania it takes 25 years for a new group to gain symbolic recognition as a 'traditional religion' - but such a group has the full rights of a legal personality right from the beginning.     Polish radio journalist SVETLANA FILONOVA suggested that if the Duma's bill becomes law and is strictly enforced, most Roman Catholic activities in Russia will have to cease.  The Catholic apostolic administration for European Russia was registered in its current form only in 1991, she said - less than the 15-year period required.  She predicted that Catholic monasteries would have even greater difficulties since they are subordinate directly to the Pope rather than to diocesan structures. Starovoitova answered that the newly revived pagan cults of small peoples in Russia's far north would face similar problems.  As for so-called 'foreign' religious organisations, she accused the Duma and the Moscow Patriarchate of a double standard, in that Russian Orthodox parishes located abroad are able to function independently rather than only as invited guests of their host countries' domestic churches.     Pchelintsev said that the increasingly repressive climate of church-state relations in Russia has led to a new phenomenon among Russian Protestants: 'spiritual emigration'.  Even non-mainstream faiths such as the Dukhobors which were originally indigenous to Russia, and which were returning to their homeland from the west in the early 1990s, are now leaving again, he said.   SIBERIAN PROVINCIAL AUTHORITIES PLAN TO BAR RELIGIOUS MINORITIES FROM RENTING SITES FOR WORSHIP by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service In the centre of Irkutsk, nearly 3,000 miles east of Moscow, stands a neo-Gothic church which looks almost as exotic in this region near Lake Baikal as an onion dome would in Chartres.  The century-old Church of the Assumption serves a Roman Catholic community whose origins go back to the mid- nineteenth century, when Poles were exiled to Siberia in punishment for their unsuccessful attempts to secede from the Russian Empire.  In the decades before the Russian Civil War the Catholic parish flourished here in the heart of what today's Russian ultra-nationalists call 'Orthodox canonical territory'. During the Soviet period the church was turned into a concert hall, and local authorities are now trying to balance the rights of the revived Catholic parish against the needs of the Irkutsk Philharmonia. VLADIMIR LUKOVNIKOV, specialist on relations with religious groups for the Irkutsk oblast government, told Keston News Service that the church will be completely returned to the Catholics as soon as a new hall can be built to house the Philharmonia's organ.  In the meantime the Catholics have full use of the building for their worship services; the Philharmonia now even plans its concert season to avoid conflicts with Catholic holidays.  'In practise the church is already under the parish's control,' he said. The parish's FATHER IGNACY PAWLUS essentially agreed.  He told Keston that he has promised the Philharmonia that its musicians can continue using the Assumption Church as long as they need it even if the parish becomes the building's full-fledged legal proprietor. But not all religious minorities in Irkutsk are enjoying such good relations with the secular authorities. Especially vocal protests have come from the local community of Old Believers, led by convert FATHER VALERI SEKERIN who formerly served as a priest in Irkutsk's mainstream Russian Orthodox diocese.  'Unlike us Catholics, Father Valeri suffers discrimination; he is regarded as a traitor,' Fr Pawlus told Keston. Before 1917 the Old Believers had one church building in Irkutsk.  It was destroyed during the Soviet period, and the oblast authorities now refuse to return even the site which it used to occupy.  As an alternative Fr Valeri has suggested that the authorities transfer any of several church buildings, all now in ruins, which used to belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Both the local Orthodox diocese and the oblast authorities have refused, despite precedents for such transfers of surplus Orthodox church buildings to Old Believers in cities such as Vladimir and Tver.  Fr Valeri told Keston that it is no accident that no such transfers have taken place in Siberia, where the Old Believers are more numerous than west of the Urals and a greater competitive threat to the Orthodox. Non-traditional religious groups, such as the congregations founded in the 1990s by American Pentecostal missionaries, in general enjoy greater religious freedom in Irkutsk than in much of European Russia.  But this may soon change.  Oblast official Lukovnikov told Keston that he is pushing for a new policy which would prevent the directors of state-owned buildings such as cinemas or 'palaces of culture' from renting them out to religious groups.  Such a policy would fall especially hard, of course, on confessions without historic, pre-1917 church buildings of their own. Lukovnikov claimed that the oblast could implement such a new policy without changing the law, on the ground that 'cultural establishments' such as cinemas are not supposed to be used for non-cultural purposes.  He conceded that in practice this principle is often violated in Irkutsk as in other provinces, but insisted that such violations are contrary to federal law and must be stopped. Keston asked Lukovnikov just what federal law he had in mind.  He replied that the federal law on education forbids religious groups access to 'cultural establishments'.  Keston asked if this meant that a 'palace of culture' could rent out space to a private group which gives English-language lessons, but not to a religious group.  He replied that English lessons are cultural.  Keston asked if that meant that he believes that religion is not part of culture.  He replied that it is, but that Russia's constitution requires the separation of church from state.  Keston asked if Irkutsk has any cinemas which are not state-owned; he said No.  Keston asked if there were any auditoriums in the city which he did not consider to be 'cultural establishments'; he identified one, the House of Friendship ('Dom Druzhby') in the city centre. (A Protestant source later told Keston that the Dom Druzhby is prohibitively expensive and is not used by any religious group.)  Keston asked to see a copy of the oblast legal staff's interpretation of the relevant passages of the constitution and of federal law.  Lukovnikov refused. The policy favoured by Lukovnikov is apparently already being enforced - albeit selectively - in at least one city in Irkutsk oblast.  Local authorities in Bratsk, home of a massive dam and hydroelectric complex, have told U.S. missionary MITCH MIRE of the 'Global Strategy' Pentecostal organisation that the law forbids religious meetings in public buildings such as palaces of culture.  But they have refused to let him see a copy of the statute which they claim to be enforcing, and they continue to allow other groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses to meet in such buildings.  (The Jehovah's Witnesses have generally good relations with the secular authorities in the oblast, where their numbers have been unusually large ever since many of their faithful were exiled here during the Stalin years.)  Mire told Keston that his congregation has had to move to new locations four times in the last year. In a sign of worsening relations between western missionaries and indigenous Russian Protestants, Mire accused Bratsk Pentecostal bishop ALEKSANDR TURBA of helping to orchestrate the local pressures against the 'Global Strategy' congregation.  He said that Turba had called the congregation a 'cult' and had worked behind the scenes to try to persuade the authorities to revoke the American missionary's visa.  'Global Strategy' missionary VICTOR BAROUSSE told Keston that Turba had forced the cancellation of Mire's television broadcasts. VLADIMIR VELICHKA, who runs an Irkutsk Bible institute affiliated with Turba's church, denied the Americans' charges.  He said that the secular authorities' hostility to the 'Global Strategy' congregation was caused by the authorities' lack of familiarity with the Americans' style of worship.  'Falling on the ground and so on is un-Russian,' he said, and had led some parents of youths who had joined 'Global Strategy' to call for a psychiatric investigation.  He said that he and Turba do not consider the American group to be a 'cult', but that some of the secular officials do. In another clash between American and Russian Protestants, U.S. missionary DONALD BURNEY told Keston that local Baptists had lobbied the Irkutsk city government to impose restrictions on his non- denominational congregation.  At least partly as a result of this lobbying, the congregation experienced repeated harassment such as demands from the fire department that it remove the iron bars which it had installed over its ground-floor windows to keep out burglars.  (Such bars are a standard feature of Russian urban architecture.)  Eventually the city forcibly repossessed the church's building after the mission had invested 10,000 dollars (about 6,000 pounds sterling) in repairing and upgrading it. Baptist pastor IVAN TOMACHOV disputed Burney's accusations.  He told Keston that the city authorities had tricked the American by luring him to repair a building, then abruptly taking it away from him.  But he insisted that he and his own congregation had never discussed such matters with the authorities.  'This is the first time I've heard this charge, Donald should have discussed it with me first,' he said.  He and Burney both agreed that relations deteriorated after Burney and his wife, after having originally started in Irkutsk as Baptists, began organising an independent congregation directly competing with Tomachov's church. (END) NEW THREAT TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN RUSSIA'S CAPITAL by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service One of Russia's most westernised cities, Moscow, may join the growing number of provincial governments enacting restrictions on religious freedom.  The leading advocate of such new restrictions is a city legislator who in the past has supported Moscow's Roman Catholic minority in conflicts with the local bureaucracy. MIKHAIL MOSKVIN-TARKHANOV, a deputy in the Moscow city Duma, told Keston News Service that he is pushing for the city to enact legislation which would restrict the rights of some minority confessions to rent or buy property.  The city government would sign concordats with selected religious groups, and those groups would get free land allotments and taxpayer-financed subsidies for their charitable activities.  For churches without such concordats, meeting sites such as 'palaces of culture' would be unavailable at any price. The deputy said that his proposed system would not violate freedom of conscience because the city would consider not doctrines but only concrete activities in deciding which confessions would have concordats.  'If we decide that a religious group's activities have negative social consequences, then we will not sign an agreement with them', he told Keston. Would Orthodox groups which are rivals to the Moscow Patriarchate, such as the catacomb Orthodox Church or the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, be eligible for concordats?  Moskvin-Tarkhanov answered that the city government would refuse to sign any concordat with a non-mainstream Orthodox group which the Moscow Patriarchate declared to be harmful to the Patriarchate's own interests. The city would decide which non-Orthodox confessions to collaborate with 'on the basis of empirical research about the social effects of their activities, including their activities abroad', Moskvin-Tarkhanov said.  Groups found to be destructive of family life, for example, would be excluded.  He also suggested that if a group practises street evangelism in a way that 'upset' ('bespokoit') people, it would be less likely to win the city's approval. Moskvin-Tarkhanov agreed with Keston's suggestion that these research tasks would add significantly to the city bureaucracy's workload: 'We would need teams of sociologists and the like, and might have to create a special new city commission.'   He said that he has not yet discussed his proposal with his fellow deputies; instead he is working with Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov's staff.  He hopes to have the legislation introduced as a proposal of the city administration. (END) BELARUS: SOVIET STANCE ON RELIGION COULD RETURN by Vera Rich Belarus may introduce legislation which would give privileged status to what it terms the four 'traditional' faiths of the country - Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Judaism and Islam. Other faiths would be divided into 'non-traditional' - which would be allowed to function under restrictions reminiscent of those of the Soviet era - and 'destructive' faiths, which would be banned outright. A 'letter' setting out these proposals has been drawn up which, although it bears no signature, is apparently under the sponsorship of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. How far (if it all) these proposals have progressed through the legislative process is unclear. Last November, on the basis of a referendum of highly dubious validity, PRESIDENT ALAKSANDR LUKASHENKA disbanded the elected parliament, replacing it by a two-chamber National Assembly with membership hand-picked so as not to challenge the presidential will. Even if a bill on religion had already been drafted, it may well have fallen into the legislative limbo generated by these changes - just as an attempt to introduce similar legislation in Russia in 1993 was aborted by PRESIDENT YELTSIN's attack on his parliament in October 1993. However, the Belarusian referendum of November 1996 also gave the president the right to issue decrees with the force of law, bypassing the National Assembly altogether. Lukashenka is apparently not a believer; however, on a number of occasions he has spoken with enthusiasm about the role of the Orthodox Church in facilitating his aim of the 'integration' of Belarus with Russia (a process which he has repeatedly stated will in no way infringe Belarusian 'sovereignty'). Other branches of Christianity, in his opinion, are 'western', and hence potentially subversive. Should the proposals in the letter suit Lukashenka's political aims, he could, presumably, simply introduce them by decree in the name of public order and stability. The present religious spectrum can be gauged from a survey carried out in 1993 under the auspices of the Belarusian State University. In round figures, some 60 per cent of respondents identified themselves as Orthodox, 30 per cent as atheists/agnostics, eight per cent as Roman Rite Catholics, one per cent as members of the newly-restored Eastern Rite Catholic Church and one per cent as 'others'. (The 'others' include, apart from Jews and Muslims, a whole range of Protestant denominations, as well as some new and more-or-less exotic imports, including the Hare Krishna movement and even Aum Sinrikyo.) The restrictions envisaged in the 'letter' would appear to be aimed at these 'others'. Belarus has a population of some 10.2 million; hence (allowing for a small number of Jews and Muslims, whose faiths are defined as 'traditional') around 100,000 believers are targeted. Non-traditional (but not 'destructive') faiths, such as the mainstream Protestant churches, would be allowed to function, but not to conduct active missionary work. They could teach, instruct, and sell their books and publications, but only on their own premises. In particular, they could not hire halls or stadiums for large-scale gatherings. Thus major crusades of the type held by DR BILLY GRAHAM would appear to be ruled out. Faiths classified as 'destructive' would be banned altogether. According to the letter these include teachings which foster ethnic hatred, advocate violence or suicide, use methods of psychological manipulation (including narcotics and hypnosis) or forbid church members to carry out their duty as citizens. This could put the Quakers at risk, since Belarus has compulsory military service for young men and makes no provision for conscientious objectors. It could also affect Seventh Day Adventists, whose faith requires them not to work on Saturdays. (However, one of the main grounds for persecution of devout Adventists in Soviet times - the refusal to send children to school on Saturday - may disappear if the five-day school week, now being tried on a pilot basis in Belarus, becomes the norm.) 'Destructive' faiths also include those which use 'aggressive' methods of propagating their belief. What 'aggressive' means in this context is not clear - however, a recent report in the weekly Moscow News on a libel case involving Orthodox allegations about the new 'sects' indicates that, in the eyes of the Orthodox leadership, door-to-door canvassing as carried out by Jehovah's Witnesses is considered 'aggressive'. The letter names no specific examples of either 'nontraditional' or 'destructive' faiths. However, with regard to the latter, it states that in a number of West European countries 'sects such as Aum Sinrikyo, sun worshippers, Satanists and some branches of the Krishna movement, etc' are banned. This appears to be an attempt to defuse in advance criticism from human rights activists abroad, who over the past three years have become increasingly worried about the repressive nature of the Lukashenka regime. Apart from the banning of 'destructive' sects, the letter also envisages measures to 'fill the information vacuum' about religion by introducing optional and supplementary courses on religion in state schools and universities - dealing, of course, only with the 'historically traditional' faiths. It also suggests that the leaders of these faiths could be co-opted to work together with officialdom to address the moral ills of post-Soviet society. One may recall here the events of 26 April 1996, the tenth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster that seriously contaminated one quarter of the area of Belarus. At the official ceremony in Minsk, attended by 5000 representatives of 'the population' (co-opted Soviet style from workplaces, schools etc), President Lukashenka was flanked by Metropolitan Filaret and CARDINAL KAZIMIERZ SWIATEK, the head of the Roman Rite Catholic Church in Belarus. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the capital a citizens' march of some 30,000 people was violently attacked by the police, who smashed the special icon of 'Our Lady of Chernobyl' at the head of the march and then beat up the participants. One question which the letter does not address - perhaps deliberately - is the status of the two churches which are undoubtedly traditional in form but not in allegiance, the newly revived Eastern Rite Catholic Church in Belarus and the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Regarding the latter, in 1996 the doyen of the few remaining independent newspapers in Belarus, Svaboda, reported that one Orthodox parish had transferred its allegiance from Filaret's pro-Moscow church to the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and that fifteen more were preparing to make the change. How many have actually done so is unclear - however, it may be noted that two clerics from the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church are reported to have been among the leaders of a recent prodemocracy (i.e. anti-Lukashenka) rally. As for Eastern Rite Catholics, ARCHPRIEST JAN MATUSIEVICH, the dean of the Eastern Rite Catholic mission in Belarus, said recently that he knew little of the proposals, which he had heard of only from a brief report in the Grodno-based independent weekly, Pahonia. However, he felt there was little threat as far as his own flock was concerned. 'We are part of the Catholic Church,' he stressed, 'and Catholicism is listed as a traditional faith.' But Fr Matusievich had not seen the 'letter', which not only uses the term 'Roman Catholicism' consistently throughout the text (a term which in this part of Europe frequently implies a contrast with 'Greek' or Eastern Rite Catholicism), but also states in its preamble that traditional faiths are 'those which were through the course of centuries and have remained under all political and economic conditions a culture-forming factor on the territory of our country'. The 151-year gap between the banning of the Eastern Rite Catholic Church and its re- emergence in 1990 and the 70-year Soviet ban on the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church could well be cited to relegate these faiths too into the category of 'nontraditional'. Or - given the participation of Autocephalous Orthodox clerics in the demonstration mentioned above and the fact that several of the leading opposition activists belong to the Eastern Rite Catholic Church - if the current clampdown on opposition activities continues to grow they might even be classed as 'destructive'. The history of the church in Belarus Although at various times in history there have been attempts to impose restrictions on this faith or that, these orders have come from the rulers of whatever foreign power happened to be ruling the area at the time, not from the people. Belarus received Christianity from Byzantium at the end of the tenth century. However, it lies close to the 'georeligious' interface of the two great Christian traditions of Europe - Western and Byzantine. Indeed, the Icelandic sagas record how an Icelander named THORVALD KODRANSON died in the monastery of St John the Baptist near Polotsk around 1001-2 when returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, endowing the monastery with all his property. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as part of the multiethnic state known as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus and Samogitia, the people of Belarus shared a state with Europe's last pagans (the ancestors of today's Lithuanians) and then, after the conversion of the Lithuanians and the dynastic union of the Grand Duchy with Poland in 1386, with Roman Rite Catholics. Furthermore, Belarus has for centuries been host to two non-Christian monotheist faiths - a small Tatar community, whose ancestors turned northwards when the rest of the Horde withdrew from what now is Ukraine, and what was, until the Holocaust, a several-million-strong Jewish community. All this has left a strong tradition of religious tolerance which, in the absence of a unifying 'national church', may be said to be the hallmark of Belarusian religious tradition. Indeed, Belarus did once have a 'national church' - Eastern Rite Catholicism. Unlike Ukraine, where the union between the Orthodox and Catholic churches signed at Brest (on what is today the border between Poland and Belarus) was strongly resisted and generated religious wars, in Belarus it was accepted by virtually the entire Eastern Christian population. Under the terms of the Union all the rites and ceremonies of the Byzantine tradition were preserved, but the supremacy of the pope was acknowledged. A survey in the 1820s showed that almost 90 per cent of the population adhered to this faith, but by then Belarus had been incorporated into the Russian Empire. In 1839, in pursuit of the aim of TSAR NICHOLAS I: 'one people, one faith, one tsar', the Union of Brest was declared abolished and the Eastern Rite Catholics (Uniates) were declared to have been 'voluntarily' reunited with the Orthodox. However, many families remained secretly loyal to the banned church and to the pope, and many, rather than conform to Orthodoxy, became what were known as 'Sunday Poles' - attending Roman Rite services in the churches of the Polish minority in the area, in many cases gradually coming to consider themselves as Poles. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, meanwhile, the Orthodox Church was used deliberately by the state authorities as an instrument of russification. Indeed, today the 'Belarusian Orthodox Church' is in fact simply a section of the Russian Orthodox Church, and its head, METROPOLITAN FILARET, is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate. During the brief struggle for Belarusian independence of 1918-20, an independent Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was formed, but soon after the establishment of Soviet rule it was banned and for more than seven decades could exist only abroad. (Its present head, ARCHBISHOP MIKALAY, is based in Canada.) Such is the complex religious history behind the new proposals. Thursday, 3 July 1997 ARCHBISHOP WARNS OF THREAT TO RUSSIAN CATHOLICS     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     'Our activities will be suppressed,' if the Russian Duma's proposed restrictions on minority religions become law, Roman Catholic Archbishop TADEUSZ KONDRUSIEWICZ told Keston News Service in a 1 July interview.  Spiritual leader of Latin-rite Catholics in all of Russia west of the Urals, the archbishop warned that the Duma's bill threatens every Catholic institution which has been built up in Russia since the return of religious freedom in the late 1980s.     Like other minority faiths, the Roman Catholics have been hastily reviewing their own history and legal status in Russia to assess the likely impact of the proposed new '15-year rule', which was drafted under conditions of almost Soviet-style secrecy late this spring and released only after it was too late for opponents to lobby the Duma's religion committee.  For the Catholics the prospects are especially disturbing.  According to Archbishop Kondrusiewicz's analysis, both of their two diocesan structures in the Russian Federation, all their monastic institutions, all charitable programmes, all educational institutions, and all their para-church ministries in areas such as religious publishing and radio broadcasting would be swept away if the new law is enforced as written.  Of the roughly 150 local Catholic parishes across Russia, only two would survive: St Louis in Moscow and Our Lady of Lourdes in St Petersburg, both of which were legally registered and allowed to function during the Soviet period. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz pointed out to Keston that Moscow's St Thomas Aquinas College was founded in 1991; St Petersburg's Our Lady Queen of Apostles Seminary in 1993; the Caritas charity programme in 1991; and Russia's two Catholic 'apostolic administrations', his in Moscow and its counterpart in Novosibirsk, in 1991.  By treating church-state relations in 1982 as the norm, the Duma's proposal would de-legitimise every Catholic institution created in Russia since then.   The archbishop also predicted that the proposed new procedures for registering religious organizations would create 'chaos'.  The need to provide detailed documentation of the history of the organization's faith would be an impossible burden for a church which is many centuries old.  'What am I supposed to bring with me', he said, 'all the documents of all our church councils?  Who is going to judge them, and how?'  He forecast that decisions by secular bureaucrats would inevitably be 'subjective'.   Provincial authorities in Russia are already labeling Roman Catholic parishes as 'foreign' organisations in violation of Russia's current laws, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz told Keston.  Recently, he said, a parish in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia was told that it must provide massive documentation to rebut the presumption that it is a foreign structure, even though every member of the parish is a citizen of the Russian Federation.  He conceded that the parish priest is from Poland, but emphasised that the reason for this is simply that until recently Russia had no seminaries for training indigenous Catholic clergy.  Of the 104 Catholic priests and 112 nuns currently serving in Russia, all but a handful are foreigners.  The church's goal is to train a new generation of Russian citizens to fill these vocations, if the educational institutions for doing so are allowed to continue functioning.     Confirming what Keston has learned from other sources, the archbishop said that his office received the text of the new bill only on 11 or 12 June, nearly a week after it was approved by the Duma's religion committee - and then only through informal contacts.  To this day, he said, the Catholics have still not received a copy through any official channel. (END)