Friday 19 September 1997

DUMA VOTES DOWN MOTION TO DELAY RELIGION BILL by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service Russia's Duma voted by an overwhelming 357 to 6 margin on 19 September to adopt the compromise bill on church-state relations negotiated between its religion committee and the Yeltsin administration.  But the vote came only after an attempt to delay the measure fell short by a surprisingly narrow margin. In Russia's asymmetrical parliament, the upper house now has only two options: either to pass or to defeat the Duma-approved 'compromise'.  It has no power to initiate an attempt to override Yeltsin's veto of the July religion bill.  A source in the upper house told Keston News Service after the 19 September Duma vote that passage by the Federation Council is now certain. The surprise motion to delay consideration of the bill was proposed by Communist Party deputy TATIANA OSTRAZHANKINO and supported mostly by deputies from the centrist Our Home is Russia and Regions of Russia parties; it also received near-unanimous support from the pro-freedom Yabloko party.  Yabloko deputy GALINA STAROVOITOVA told Keston after the vote that most of the deputies outside her own party believed that the president's proposal was 'not harsh enough'.  But some expressed concern that they simply had not been given enough time to study the bill's latest 'compromise' version. Before the vote there seemed to be some hope that a critical mass of hard-line deputies would oppose the new 'compromise' so that they could instead override Yeltsin's veto of the original July bill.  VLADIMIR ZHIRINOVSKY, leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, told Keston early Friday morning that he wanted to do just that.  But less than two hours later, most of his party's deputies voted against the Ostrazhankino motion to delay and for the president's bill.  In a floor speech the ever-volatile Zhirinovsky said that 'if the Patriarch of Moscow tells us to pass this bill we will do so; if not, we won't.'  In the end the Ostrazhankino motion failed by a vote of 147 votes for to 182 against. The debate over that motion did at least give pro-freedom deputy VALERI BORSHCHOV the opportunity to inform his colleagues that the Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals and Adventists all oppose the bill.  In response VICTOR ZORKALTSEV, chairman of the Duma's religion committee, claimed that all of these 'have their governing organs abroad' and accused the bill's opponents of taking an 'anti-Russian position'. Yeltsin's representative to the Duma, ALEKSANDR KOTENKOV, made a point in speaking for the bill which contradicts its actual contents, but which may be used in future court cases by defenders of religious freedom.  He said that the controversial '15-year rule' will not apply to organisations registered before the new law comes into effect. (END)