Summary: OFFICIAL PURSUES RELIGIOUS 'PROTECTIONISM' IN SOUTH-WEST

SIBERIA: A provincial government's adviser on church-state relations, NIKOLAI VOLKOV, still meets his colleagues (former CRA officials) to swap information on religions. He says Russia needs a federal organ to monitor religion, and recognises Lutherans and Roman Catholics as 'traditional' religions in the area - as long as they confine themselves to Germans and Poles respectively.   Friday 13 March 1998 OFFICIAL PURSUES RELIGIOUS 'PROTECTIONISM' IN SOUTH-WEST SIBERIA by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service NIKOLAI VOLKOV may well be the single most articulate, energetic, outgoing, self-confident and well-informed of all the provincial officials who are increasingly the real decision-makers about church-state relations in Russia.  Unfortunately for religious minorities in south-west Siberia, he is far from being the most pro-freedom. As adviser to the government of Khakassia on relations with religious organisations, Volkov occupies a modest office in the province's sleepy capital Abakan.  To his disgust, he has no staff: he told Keston News Service that he had to work all by himself to persuade the Ministry of Justice and other agencies to take the steps he considered necessary to protect Khakassia's 'traditional religions', and he did not always succeed. But he boasts that he never takes bribes - 'unlike some of my colleagues'. He told Keston that the  only  gifts  which  he  has ever  received are the religious tracts and journals which clutter his shelves - from both mainstream  and  fringe churches. 'My job has become my hobby', he said. In addition to collecting information  about religious bodies  he  gives lectures on the sociology of religion at the Abakan Pedagogical Institute. Volkov is not himself a believer.  But according to one minority religious leader in Khakassia, he believes that two religions are 'respectable'  Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism.  In Volkov's own words his goal is to promote a policy of 'protectionism of the religions which are traditional in Khakassia', shielding them against competition from newcomers. Asked by Keston which confessions should be considered 'traditional' in this province which has been ruled from Moscow only since the eighteenth century, he listed the Orthodox Christians, Old Believers, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Molokane (a small, Protestant- like sect which dates back to medieval Russia), Jews and Muslims. Interestingly, he omitted paganism - a sign of how weak the indigenous, aboriginal culture has become in a province where only 10 per cent of current residents are ethnic Khakassians. When Keston pointed out that not all of these are listed in the new law on religion enacted by the national parliament in September 1997 - a law which Volkov enthusiastically supports - he replied that the law's general category of 'Christianity' embraces all of them except for the last two.  To the observation that many would not accept the Jehovah's Witnesses as 'Christian', he replied 'I would be careful about calling them a sect; I've studied their writings and they are not as bad as I used to think'. Volkov's tolerance of the Jehovah's Witnesses contrasts sharply with the view of local Orthodox clergy.  One Orthodox priest, who serves a mixed Slavic and Khakassian parish in the town of Azkiz, told Keston that the Jehovah's Witnesses were a 'dangerous' and fast-growing competitor to Orthodoxy.  The Witnesses have been subjected to slanderous media attacks even in relatively tolerant cities such as St Petersburg.  But in places such as Khakassia and Irkutsk, where Stalin's deportations created artificially large local concentrations of Jehovah's Witnesses, they have better relations with the authorities than do many Baptists and other conventional Protestants.  In today's Russian semi- democracy, sheer numbers and good organisation seem to provide better protection than the constitution. Volkov is just barely old enough to have served as an official in the Council for Religious Affairs (CRA), the soviet agency in charge of suppressing religious life.  In the mid-1980s, when Khakassia was still part of what is now the neighbouring province of Krasnoyarsk, he was appointed the  Abakan  representative  of Krasnoyarsk's CRA  plenipotentiary ('upolnomochenny').  A recent graduate (in history) of  Tomsk  University, he had never expected that his career would involve religion.  He was then, and remains to this day,  an admirer  of  the  hard-line Tomsk Communist leader YEGOR LIGACHEV,  who is best known in the west as one of the soviet politburo's staunchest opponents  of MIKHAIL GORBACHEV's reforms.  To this day Volkov retains his Communist Party card. Volkov's views  made  it  inevitable  that  he would come into conflict with a no less energetic  graduate  of  a no less prestigious Siberian university: the Lutheran deacon and missionary PAVEL ZAYAKIN from Novosibirsk.  When Zayakin moved to the northern steppes of Khakassia two years ago to launch a mission in the depressed factory town of Tuim,  he went to see Volkov in the provincial capital, a three-hour drive to the south.  Zayakin and Volkov disagree about just what was said. But it is clear that Volkov encouraged Zayakin to work only among the province's German population, the only large group in Khakassia whose ancestors were Lutherans.  The deacon says that he made it clear that he would be working among citizens of all ethnic backgrounds. This is precisely the kind of religious movement that Volkov wants to stop. Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism are among the religions which he considers 'traditional' in Khakassia - but only as long as they limit their activities to certain people. 'I told Zayakin that I have great respect for Lutheranism,' he recalled. 'The Germans are an orderly people.'  Such reasoning is utterly alien to Zayakin, an ethnic Russian who converted to Lutheranism as a result of his theological readings and whose congregation now reflects almost perfectly the ethnic make-up of Khakassia as a whole  mostly Slavs with a scattering of ethnic Khakassians. In contrast to Zayakin's Lutheran mission, Abakan's Roman Catholic parish enjoys excellent relations with the authorities. SERGIUSZ LEONCZYK, the parish's lay leader (it still has no full- time priest), showed Keston the flat which it shares with the Polish Cultural Society, of which Leonczyk is vice-president. Most of the parish's members are ethnic Poles.  'We are not a threat here,' concluded Leonczyk, 'we are small and inoffensive.' He said that Volkov had attended the Catholics' services several times and had told them that they have nothing to fear. Joining the Lutherans on Volkov's target list is the 'Proslavleniye' or 'Glorification' church, an energetic charismatic body founded by formerly underground preacher  RUSLAN BELOSEVICH and now affiliated with the Scandinavian 'Slovo Zhizni' ('Word of Life') movement.  Pastor Belosevich's church in Abakan is the flagship congregation of this movement which has spread across several Siberian provinces and into nearby Mongolia.  It occupies a modern, western-style complex of buildings guarded by its own security force and housing two schools, a publishing enterprise and one of the largest religious bookstores in Siberia - as well as a football team called 'Reformation' on which, Pastor Belosevich proudly told Keston, the church spends $100,000 a year.   The 'Proslavleniye' congregation is clearly the fastest-growing church in Abakan; Pastor Belosevich claims that it is already the most influential. The Catholic leader Leonczyk likens the whole movement to chocolate candy: 'sweet but superficial'.  Volkov accuses the church of being a political machine and a business empire, to which  Pastor Belosevich replies that that it is only the church's members who engage in politics and business, not the church itself.  One of its members, a successful businessman, holds office in the Abakan city council and another in Khakassia's parliament.  Volkov also claims that the church practices bribery of government officials by offering them free trips to Sweden and cash payments as high as $25,000 - at least one of which, he told Keston, was accepted by one of his predecessors. Pastor Belosevich told Keston that when Khakassia's Education Ministry was inspecting  one of the congregation's schools in 1993, Volkov came along uninvited: 'He told our teachers that it's wrong to speak in tongues.'  But the Ministry gave the school full accreditation anyway: under Russia's tolerant 1990 law on freedom of conscience, mere affiliation with a novel religious body was no basis for taking action against institutions such as schools or newspapers.  The 1997 law on religion has changed that: if enforced literally it would require churches like Belosevich's, founded since the rise of Gorbachev, to suspend all educational and publishing activities. Such literal enforcement is exactly what Volkov is determined to seek  contrary to the words of Moscow officials trying to reassure western journalists and diplomats.  'The law is the law', he told Keston.  He believes that the 1997 statute clearly authorises the provincial government to close the 'Proslavleniye' church's schools, suspend its newspaper, silence its radio broadcasts and even suppress its bookstore.  He was publicly calling for the province to take such steps even before Keston's visit to Abakan in December 1997 - but the provincial procuracy took action only in February 1998. Volkov told Keston that he disagreed with steps taken by Khakassia officials which clearly violated the law - for example, a bizarre September 1997 letter in which local authorities in the Shira district (which includes Tuim) tried to invoke the new 1997 law against the Lutheran mission even before the new law had taken effect.  (See Keston News Service, October 1997.)  But he said that he had made no formal, written protest against the procuracy's excessive zeal.  Nor did he formally protest what about become the most controversial aspect of the Tuim case - the personal interrogations of members of Deacon Zayakin's flock by officers from the police and the ex-KGB to find out if they are in fact Lutherans. Isn't it dangerous for state officials to cross-examine private citizens about their religious beliefs, Keston asked Volkov.  No, he replied - not if they have signed an official document declaring themselves to be the 'founders' of a congregation. When he worked for the old soviet CRA, he said, he always attended the first meeting of a new congregation and verified the identities of its founders.  He believes not only that this practice should be revived today, but also that state officials can and should question a congregation's founders at length to confirm that they are in fact bona fide disciples of the confession to which that congregation adheres.  The mere fact that they have signed a document declaring their allegiance to that church is not enough, he said. Volkov complained to Keston that Khakassia had received more than its share of American missionaries from 'extremist' groups and less than its share from mainstream churches such as the Baptists.  But Khakassia is clearly less popular among the Americans than such well-known locations as Irkutsk near Lake Baikal: Volkov could not name a single American pastor of any denomination now living in his province. The Unification Church is at the top of his list of unwelcome American groups.  He said that 'an American Moonie named Mike Irving used to visit repeatedly from Novosibirsk', and in 1995 even managed to conduct a joint seminar with the provincial Ministry of Education for Khakassia schoolteachers before Volkov persuaded the Ministry to adopt a formal policy against such seminars.  Today, he said, the Unification Church does not have a single congregation anywhere in the province. Volkov confirmed that he and his counterparts in other provinces meet from time to time to learn from each other's experiences and to advise federal officials specialising in church-state relations.  He said that he had provided written comments to Moscow on the 1997 legislation before it was passed. A key forum for such exchanges of views, he said, is the religion department of Moscow's Academy of State Service - from which he himself obtained a graduate degree in 1992 before returning to Abakan.  (END)