From - Wed Oct 15 09:46:53 1997

Keston Institute wrote: > > SUMMARY: > 1. New Law on Religion in effect in Lativa; Bible Society unable > to register. > 2. Lutherans in Siberia: Ministry of Justice lets them keep their > parish open, but Khakassia's plenipotentiary for religious > affairs it still committed to shutting them down. > > Tuesday 1 October > LEARNING HOW TO LIVE WITH FREEDOM - RELIGIOUS LAW IN LATVIA > > by Valdis Teraudkalns, Keston News Service > > Like other countries in the former USSR and Eastern Europe, > Latvia experienced a renaissance in religious life after the > collapse of Soviet rule. Since freedom has been reestablished > many new congregations have been formed and church properties > given back to their owners. Now that time has passed we can > reflect not only on moments of excitement but also that freedom > is not simply something given to us but also something we have > to learn how to live with. The barriers which separated East from > West have been demolished but we cannot say the same about the > mindset of people. This is understandable because it takes time > for people to adapt to the totally new world into which we have > been thrown. However, it is alarming to observe that sometimes > the same old totalitarian thinking has been wrapped up in a > Christian uniform. The development of the legal framework and > regulations for the activity of religious organisations is just > one example which exhibits these tendencies in today's Latvia. > > I have watched these developments grow because of my work as > general secretary of the Latvian Bible Society - an > interdenominational organisation which, like other Bible > Societies all over the world, aims to provide everyone with the > Christian Holy Scriptures at affordable prices in the languages > they speak. > > The law on religious organisations of 11 September 1990 states > that religious organisations are voluntary associations of > residents of Latvia which are formed to satisfy the religious > interests and needs of their members. Under this law all > denominations registered according to it had the right to send > one delegate to the Consultative Council for Religious Affairs > (then linked with parliament) which had the power to initiate > legislation. A minimum of three congregations could organise > regional or central religious centres. These religious > institutions (centres) then had the right to establish convents, > institutions of learning, missions, societies and further > religious organisations. The Bible Society received registration > according to this law as an interdenominational religious > organisation. This corresponds fully with the nature of its work: > to serve all churches. > > The law on religious organisations of 7 September 1995 now in > force has a different character; it is easy to see the > undemocratic shift here by looking at some aspects of it: > > 1  The current law clearly defines religious organisations as > congregations, religious associations (churches) and their > convents. This leaves such organisations as the Bible Society as > 'odd-men-out' because there is no place for them in the existing > law. > 2 Originally  this law stated that the founders of a congregation > must include at least 25 Latvian citizens. Even some > congregations of larger and older denominations did not have so > many members. Moreover, in a situation where there are many > non-citizens among the Russian-speaking believers it is often > difficult to find the necessary 25 citizens. As a result of > discussions on 3 July 1996 an amendment was introduced which > states that there must be at least 10 citizens or permanent > residents of Latvia at least 18 years old among the founders of > a congregation - this is similar to the law of 1990. > 3 The law of 1995 states that congregations of one denomination > may run only one religious association - and only if there are > ten such congregations. This means that smaller denominations > like the Methodists cannot legally establish their centre. > 4 Under the existing law congregations may be founded separately > from existing denominations of the same belief - however, this > is not granted to denominations whose canonical laws do not allow > the existence of autonomous churches. I would comment that this > is undemocratic usage of legalislative power to safeguard the > unity of churches. > 5 According to amendments of 3 July 1996 Christianity can be > taught in schools by Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Old Believer > and Baptist teachers, and it is also possible to organise > religious education characteristic of a particular national > minority. This is a short-term perspective at a time when > contemporary society declares itself as multireligious. Instead > of giving children a basic understanding of different religions, > schools are in danger of becoming a place of evangelism for a > particular religious group: teachers are not always qualified or > tolerant enough to respect different traditions. If children in > Soviet times were fed up with atheism then the same could happen > with Christianity today. > > The parliament's Commission of Social Affairs and Human Rights, > is now looking through the proposal of revision of the existing > law. (END) > > Friday 10 October > REPRIEVE FOR LUTHERANS IN SIBERIA, BUT TENSIONS CONTINUE > > by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service > > The Ministry of Justice of Khakassia has reversed its decision > to close a Lutheran parish in that southwestern Siberian > province, but the Lutherans expect other provincial officials to > keep up the pressure on them.  Pastors VSEVOLOD LYTKIN and PAVEL > ZAYAKIN told Keston News Service in a 10 October telephone > interview that Khakassia's plenipotentiary for religious affairs, > NIKOLAI VOLKOV, had told them that day that he will continue to > do everything he can to close the parish in the town of Tuim. > > Pastor Lytkin told Keston that he and Pastor Zayakin had visited > the provincial Ministry of Justice in Abakan, the capital of > Khakassia, that morning.  For the first time they received what > he called a 'strange document', dated 6 October and confirming > the decision to close the parish.  The document cited Russia's > 1990 law on religious freedom, which is no longer in effect as > of 1 October - thus contradicting a September letter to the > parish from local authorities in the Shira district which > includes Tuim.  That earlier letter had cited the newly enacted > federal law which replaced the 1990 law - but which was not yet > in effect when the September letter was written. > > On receiving this new letter, the two pastors immediately filed > a complaint at the procurator's office in Abakan.  Within hours > they were given another document from the Ministry of Justice - > dated that same day, 10 October - canceling the 6 October letter. > > 'It was like a miracle', Pastor Lytkin said. > > But when the pastors visited the plenipotentiary Volkov, said > Pastor Lytkin, 'he continued to be very aggressive in his tone'. > Volkov warned the Lutherans not to seek help from outside > Khakassia; he said that he had received calls about the parish > from the apparat of PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN in Moscow. > > Pastor Lytkin said that the province's Ministry of Justice told > them that the procurator's office might also continue its efforts > to cancel the parish's registration.  To Keston's question about > the stance of the authorities at the local district level, he > answered 'it's not clear how they will react, but I think that > pressure from them will continue.  Our relations with them have > always been bad'. > > Pastor Zayakin told Keston that so far his congregation had > experienced no physical interference with its activities. > Worship services and visits to rural villages are continuing, he > said, but the mood of the parish is tense. > > The Lutherans have engaged the services of a lawyer, VIKTOR > NOSOV.  They will now 'wait a week and see what happens', said > Pastor Lytkin. (END) > -- >***