From - Mon Oct 13 10:16:36 1997

> RUSSIA'S FAR NORTH CHILLS RELIGIOUS FREEDOM > > by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service > > The Keston Institute recently obtained a copy of another of the > growing number of Russian provincial laws restricting religious > freedom.  Arkhangelsk oblast, 700 miles north of Moscow, enacted > in January a 'law on the regulation of the activities of > religious sects, representatives (branches) of foreign religious > organisations, and individual preachers and missionaries on the > territory of the Arkhangelsk oblast'.  The new statute reflects > the general trend of the last three years: these provincial laws > have become consistently harsher since the first one was enacted > by Tula oblast in the autumn of 1994. > > More brazenly than almost any other such law, the Arkhangelsk > statute consigns minority faiths to second-class status.  It > defines a 'traditional religion' as one 'historically continuous > for a large part of the population' within the oblast, and labels > all other confessions as 'sects'.  In Soviet style, it denies > that believers have a basic right to proclaim and practise their > faith outside tightly restricted places: it defines as a > 'missionary', subject to special licencing and regulations, > anyone 'carrying out religious, religious-educational, or > charitable activities outside the walls of a religious > congregation'. > > Article Five of the new law forbids 'sects' and 'foreign > religious organisations' to attract to their gatherings people > who are 'mentally ill or in a helpless state'; or to practice > 'individual or mass religious "healing" '; or to request > donations of any kind of property, including cash. > > Like other recent provincial statutes, the Arkhangelsk one > creates a new state organ similar to the former Soviet Union's > Council for Religious Affairs, empowered to grant or withhold > one-year licences for 'sects'.  But Arkhangelsk is unusually > forthright in the powers which it grants to this > 'Expert-consultative council for religious affairs' - explicitly > authorising it to conduct 'regular visits' to the activities of > 'sects' and to gather 'information from confidential sources'. > > Other provisions of the new oblast law are more familiar, such > as one denying use of municipal and state property to 'sects'. > In other provinces such provisions have been used to keep > disfavoured religious groups from renting cinemas and other > public halls - the overwhelming majority of which are still > state-owned in Russia - even when these sites are readily > available to groups such as rock bands. > > In a 30 May conversation with Keston, pastor NIKOLAI MAKUYED of > Russia's Pentecostal union said that apparently the new law is > being vigorously enforced.  Since its enactment, he said, the > Arkhangelsk congregations of his union have been forbidden to > rent meeting spaces, even in private flats, unless they receive > accreditation - for which they must pay a large fee.  (The law > states that this fee should be equal to 50 times the monthly > minimum wage.)  Makuyed said that pastor SERGEI DUBININ's > congregation had been expelled from the Arkhangelsk hall which > it had been renting and that Dubinin is now appealing to the > mayor and to other secular officials.  But at last word, said > Makuyed, the officials are refusing to receive him. (END) > > 15 March 1997 > AUTHORITIES BLOCK CATHOLIC WORSHIP IN RUSSIAN HEARTLAND SOUTH OF > MOSCOW > > by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service > > Authorities in Kursk, about 300 miles south of Moscow, have > forced that city's Roman Catholic parish to stop holding worship > services in the historic Church of the Assumption.  In January > the authorities informed FATHER YOSIF GUNCHAGA that they would > not renew an agreement by which the Catholics had enjoyed > limited, part-time access to the church - which was built by the > Catholics themselves during the tsarist era but stolen from them > by the Bolsheviks and turned into a secular 'house of culture'. > The Kursk parishioners have now been meeting for worship outdoors > on the street in front of the church, even in sub-freezing > weather. > > Fr Yosif also told Keston News Service in an 11 March interview > that local authorities in Belgorod, about 400 miles south of > Moscow, continue to withhold registration from the Catholic > parish in that city on the pretext that the parish is a 'foreign' > religious organisation.  Despite the fact that Belgorod's > Catholic Church of Sts Peter and Paul was built in the nineteenth > century, the authorities refuse to allow Catholic gatherings even > on the street outside the church. Fr Yosif told Keston that the > authorities plan to turn the church building, now under repair, > into a Russian Orthodox museum.  He said that when he tried to > visit Belgorod to lead worship services in July, the police > intercepted his car at the edge of the city and held him for > nearly three hours, telling him that he would not be allowed to > serve Mass even in a private flat. > > On the other hand, Fr Yosif told Keston that yet another of his > parishes, the one in Voronezh about 350 miles south of Moscow, > has not experienced such difficulties.  That city's historic > Catholic church building was destroyed by the Bolsheviks, but now > the Catholics are gathering for Mass in a private flat without > interference from the authorities. > > Monday, 30 June 1997 > PENTECOSTAL GROUP SURVIVES DESPITE PRESSURE FROM LOCAL > ADMINISTRATION > > by Xenia Dennen, Keston News Service > > On 26 June a representative of the Keston News Service visited > a small town an hour's drive eastwards from the centre of Moscow, > Staraya Kupavna, where convicts would stop for prayers in the > cathedral-type Church of the Holy Trinity during the nineteenth > century on their way to Siberia.  The local mayor's deputy > GRIGORI KUZNYANY, who deals with religious matters in the area, > granted Keston an interview in a ramshackle local administrative > building sporting a limp Russian flag over the entrance.  Grigori > Kuznyany had served in the army until 1993 (indeed he shouted out > his orders to female underlings and down the telephone to a local > Orthodox priest's wife) and said he was not a believer, although > he had great respect for the Muslims because one of his friends > in the army had been Muslim.  Only the Russian Orthodox Church > and Islam were acceptable religious denominations in his area, > in his view.  A Pentecostal group called 'Proryv' > ('Breakthrough'), members of which Keston had met on 18 March and > 30 April and which met three days a week in Staraya Kupavna, was > 'not legal' and 'used hypnotism', he said.  'I do not recognise > any sect at all'. > > Kuznyany's mention of hypnotism takes on added importance when > one considers that legislation recently passed by the Russian > Duma specifically includes the use of 'hypnotism' as possible > grounds for denying legal registration to a religious group.  If > the authorities decide to label as 'hypnotism' Pentecostal > practices such as 'speaking in tongues', hundreds of > congregations in Russia will be threatened. > > Although Proryv had informed Keston of the close links between > the local administration and the Russian Orthodox FR ANDREI, > priest-in-charge of the Church of the Holy Trinity, at the 26 > June meeting Grigori Kuznyany dismissed Fr Andrei as a fool who > had not completed training at a seminary and was only interested > in making money: 'He's really just a trader.' He even accused Fr > Andrei of putting money into his own pocket which had been given > for the restoration of his church by local enterprises.  FR > SERGI, priest-in-charge of the Church of the Epiphany in the > nearby village of Biserovo, was in contrast, said Kuznyany, > educated and knowledgeable about the area.  His church had been > destroyed by French troops during the Napoleonic invasion at the > beginning of the nineteenth century and then restored by French > students in the last few years. > > When asked by Keston about the new legislation which had received > its third reading on 23 June and was due now to go forward to the > Council of the Federation and then the President, Grigori > Kuznyany answered that he had heard nothing about such > legislation, despised the Duma 'which just takes a long time to > think' ('Duma dolgo dumayet') and considered his government was > deliberately destroying his beloved army and thus Russia in the > face of a threatening America.  Nevertheless, the word > 'registration' rang a bell, and he insisted that any religious > group had to produce documentation to prove that it was > registered before he would allow it to function.  Under the > proposed new legislation even religious associations which cannot > prove they have existed for 15 years, and therefore cannot obtain > the status of 'religious organisation' with the accompanying > right of legal personality, will nevertheless have to get > registration which will involve lengthy investigation by > government officials. Grigori Kuznyany was clearly not aware of > the powers he would acquire for banning all the non-Orthodox or > non-Muslim groups which he so disliked should this legislation > receive approval from President Yeltsin. > > Keston visited the Church of the Holy Trinity which was in a > dreadful state of disrepair. Unfortunately Fr Andrei had gone > away for three days so Keston was not able to speak to him, but > a lady who ran a shop in the church selling icons, candles and > books showed Keston round the first floor of the building where > services were held and which was filled with badly painted icons > and false flowers.  The building had been used as a sports hall, > had housed a bakery and restaurant, and only a few months ago had > managed to move out all these enterprises.  A retired scientist > called VIKTOR, the son of 'kulaks' whose agricultural efficiency > he had learned about long before Communist ideology had permitted > such free thinking, now devoted all his time to restoring the > church.  He spoke warmly of all the 70-year-old babushki who had > tirelessly  removed mounds of rubble from inside the church with > only a bucket and spade.  In contrast Fr Sergi's church in > Biserovo was fully restored: from the comments of those tending > the surrounding cemetery Keston learned that local residents > preferred Fr Sergi and came here to be buried, married and > baptised. Although Grigori Kuznyany had shouted an order down the > telephone asking Fr Sergi to ring him so that he could make an > appointment for Keston to see him, his command was not obeyed and > by the time Keston arrived at the church Fr Sergi had slipped > away to Moscow for the day. > > VALERI KUZMICHEV, a member of the Pentecostal Proryv group who > spoke to Keston on 26 June in Staraya Kupavna, described how he > and his fellow members now meet in a private flat. Unfortunately > there is room for only about 20 of them and they badly need more > space.  So now they are collecting money to buy land and build > what they need. > > At first Proryv had been able to rent a room for their services > in the Staraya Kupavna Palace of Culture until Fr Andrei, whose > church was only 50 metres from this building, had objected. > Local enterprise directors held weekly meetings with the Staraya > Kupavna mayor who under pressure from Fr Andrei asked the > director of the Palace of Culture to ban the Pentecostals from > his premises. > > Valeri Kuzmichev on  26 June showed Keston the one-storey music > school where Proryv had managed to hold meetings from July 1996 > until January 1997.  The building was collapsing like many in > Staraya Kupavna but unlike the fine new buildings put up in the > fields outside the town for the 'new Russians'.  In January of > this year, said the Pentecostals, Fr Andrei put pressure on the > local administration yet again to evict them. > > Valeri Kuzmichev described on 26 June Proryv's work in two > prisons, one in Mozhaisk and the other in Noginsk.  The prisoners > were responding to their preaching and the prison staff > appreciated their good influence, he said.  On the way to Staraya > Kupavna, Keston had called in to Proryv's administrative centre, > housed in a flat on the eastern edge of Moscow, and been given > six books which Proryv had translated and published.  These were > by Morris Cerullo and Richard Joyner, authors whom Proryv clearly > admired. > > Proryv describe themselves as Christians of the Full Gospel and > were founded in May 1996 as a result of a November 1994 mission > from Podolsk where a church, founded in 1993, had begun > 'planting' new churches first in Klimovsk and then in Staraya > Kupavna.  Now the Staraya Kupavna group were themselves > organising a mission, this time in the Kaluga region. > > Even if the new legislation is passed by the Council of the > Federation and then approved by President Yeltsin, and thus > becomes law, Valeri Kuzmichev told Keston that his group is not > worried.  'God is more powerful than political institutions.  We > will continue.' He said that if necessary his group will join the > nationwide union of Pentecostal congregations, which was > organised after the loosening of state controls enabled > Pentecostals to form their own counterpart to the old Union of > Evangelical Christians-Baptists. > > What Kuzmichev did not know is that the Pentecostal Union itself > fails to meet the new standards which the Duma wants to impose, > since it was legally registered only in the late 1980s - less > than 15 years ago. Thus if the proposed new restrictions are > strictly enforced, the Pentecostal Union will itself lose its > state registration and most of its legal rights. (END) > > >