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. 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)     OTHER NEWS: A well-informed source within the Russian Duma told Keston News Service on 27 June that he expects PRESIDENT YELTSIN to veto the Duma's religion bill.  In addition to other controversial provisions, he predicted that Yeltsin and his advisers would dislike the 18 June amendment which allows the state to strip a religious organisation of its rights as a legal personality simply because the organisation has failed to file reports on time.  The result would be excessive, 'Soviet-style' penalties for merely administrative offences, he said. (END)   Friday, 27 June 1997 DELAY POSSIBLE IN UPPER HOUSE by Lawrence Uzzell, Keston News Service The Federation Council, upper house of the Russian parliament, is likely to insist on changes to the controversial bill on religious associations approved by the lower house on 23 June. That is the view of SERGEI IVANENKO, who as staff specialist for the Federation Council's Information and Analytical Directorate is in charge of preparing a preliminary analysis of the legislation for the Council's members. Up to now both supporters and opponents of the Duma's proposal have predicted that it will move swiftly through the upper house without any changes and will reach PRESIDENT YELTSIN'S desk by early July - but Ivanenko disagrees. 'I don't think the members of the Council will accept the bill without any changes', Ivanenko told Keston News Service in a 27 June interview. He cautioned that it is hard to predict the members' reactions, since none of them has read the bill yet. But he said that he is sure that most of them will want an 'even stricter version' ('bolyeye zhostky variant') of the legislation than the Duma does. They will be especially interested, he said, in strengthening the powers of the provincial governors to register and otherwise regulate religious bodies. (The upper house is dominated by the provincial governors to whom those bureaucracies are subordinate.) Ivanenko said that members may want to remove a provision in the Duma bill authored by pro-freedom deputy VALERI BORSHCHOV, which states that federal law is to prevail over provincial laws if there are contradictions between them on issues of religious freedom. Even though this provision only repeats a requirement in the federal constitution, he said, the members of the upper house 'won't like it on the emotional level'. Also, he observed, in several provinces such as Tatarstan the constitution is largely a dead letter in practice. Ivanenko said that the legislation will be considered next week at a closed meeting of the Federation Council's Committee on Science and Culture, probably on 1 or 2 July. It will then probably come before a session of the full Council later in the week. He cautioned that usually only a bare majority of members come to such sessions; thus if only five or six vote against for any reason(s), the measure will fail for lack of majority. If changes are needed in order to win the support of a majority, those changes must be negotiated by a joint commission of both houses - and it is already too late to form such a committee before the two-month summer recess. Therefore, he said, if there are any disagreements at all between the two houses of parliament there will be no chance of resolving them and reaching final passage before the autumn. (END)