by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 20 December 2000

With just two weeks to go till the deadline for re-registration of religious organisations in Russia, after which those that fail to gain re-registration are liable to compulsory liquidation by the courts, Keston News Service contacted a selection of regional Ministry of Justice departments in order to obtain what proves to be a varied picture of how the re-registration process is proceeding.


Ulyanovsk: Re-registration in Ulyanovsk (550 miles east of Moscow) is going `not badly', Marina Nechayeva of the region's department of justice told Keston on 15 December. Although 40 per cent of Ulyanovsk's 215 religious organisations had not reregistered at the beginning of 2000, she explained, there were now only about ten or 15 organisations outstanding. These included one Pentecostal association which did not intend to reregister at all, other Pentecostal congregations, and Muslim and Russian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate) associations, which in Nechayeva's view had probably all disbanded. No religious organisation in Ulyanovsk had been refused re-registration, she claimed, although the Scientologists had been denied first-time registration as a local religious organisation because they had neither a centralised religious organisation nor the mandatory 15 years' existence on Russian territory.

Tver: Specialist at the department of justice for Tver oblast (100 miles north-west of Moscow), Alla Maslakova, told Keston on 18 December that re-registration had `gone well', since almost all the region's 240 religious organisations had reregistered. A total of 196 had already reregistered, she said, while 22 had not (the shortfall being made up of organisations founded since the 1997 law).

According to Maslakova, the majority of those which had not re-registered were Russian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate) - `they probably don't exist any more' - and in all likelihood these would be liquidated, `although the Church might decide to close them down itself'. She maintained that there had been no cases in which re-registration had been refused, and that all religious organisations had submitted the correct documentation.

Moscow: Following several telephone enquiries and a written request from Keston for information on the re-registration of religious organisations in the city of Moscow, assistant head of the main municipal department of justice Vladimir Zhbankov responded in writing on 10 November that the 1997 law on religion, `does not require the registering organ to divulge information concerning religious organisations which have and have not been reregistered'.

Kursk: On 15 December Tatyana Basova of Kursk (350 miles south of Moscow) department of justice told Keston that 282 of the region's religious organisations had reregistered, while approximately 14 had not. These 14, she said, included organisations of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which had not yet received all the required documentation from the United States, a few remote Moscow Patriarchate parishes and five or six Baptist organisations. The Baptists, she said, had of their own accord provided official declarations that they would become religious groups rather than reregister since they did not have ten members, `so we will annul their legal status after the deadline'. The Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, said Basova, were initially refused re-registration but subsequently obtained it on amending their charters. Although the Hare Krishna community had only just submitted its documentation, she said, it could still be reregistered in January if the department did not manage to deal with the application by the deadline: `the main thing is that they have submitted the documentation in time.' According to Basova, the situation regarding re-registration was much worse in Siberia - she cited Irkutsk in particular - and the Far East. `In Krasnoyarsk they have only reregistered 50 per cent.'


Krasnoyarsk: On 18 December a consultant at the department for registration of social and religious organisations at the department of justice for Krasnoyarsky krai (2500 miles east of Moscow) told Keston that of the approximately 260 religious associations in the krai, only 166 were in fact liable for re-registration, since there were approximately 100 communities which had formed since the 1997 law and which for the most part were small and had the status of religious groups.

Of the 166, he maintained, 17 or 18 had not re-registered and would be liquidated: `We reminded everyone several times, even though the law doesn't require it, but they made no contact with us.' In his view, these organisations were either no longer be in existence or else situated in very remote locations (Krasnoyarsky krai covers a vast area and includes Taimyr and Evenk Autonomous okrugs). Some religious organisations had stated that they would become religious groups, he said, `as they are quite happy with that status'. He was unable to give Keston details of which confessions had re-registered, not re-registered, registered for the first time or volunteered to revert to the status of religious groups, since in each case, he maintained, they were `of the most varied kinds'.

Tomsk: Re-registration in Tomsk (2200 miles east of Moscow) is `going badly', according to specialist at the region's department of justice Tatyana Antsiterova. Speaking to Keston on 19 December, she said that just over half of those religious organisations which were obliged to reregister had done so, while ten had not.

(The remainder of the region's 108 religious organisations, she explained, had formed since the 1997 law on religion.) According to Antsiterova, the ten outstanding organisations are situated in very remote villages: `They are inaccessible and I have received no replies from them to my reminder letters.' Six of the ten, she told Keston, were Catholic, while the others were Muslim. `If they don't reregister then of course we'll liquidate them,' Antsiterova remarked. `I have warned them, we've done everything we could to reregister them.'

Tyumen: On 19 December a specialist at the department of justice in Tyumen (1350 miles east of Moscow) told Keston that of a total of 200 religious organisations in the region, 118 had reregistered and approximately 30 had not. She was reluctant to give further details, and maintained that she did not know the identity of the 30 which had not reregistered: `We will have a look at the documentation when the deadline has past. We don't have time right now as our hands are full.'

Khabarovsk: In the Pacific region of Khabarovsky krai (5300 miles east of Moscow), principal specialist at the department of justice Anna Vodnenko told Keston on 18 December that approximately 20 of the region's 150 religious organisations had not reregistered, `but there's still time left'. In her view these 20 were probably defunct, since they had not been in contact with the department.

Vodnenko was unable to say which confessions they represented, but did add that they were `mostly Protestant. I don't know what happened to them - maybe they were headed by a foreigner who left and the organisation ceased to exist.' She confirmed that there would be plans to liquidate them. When Keston asked if there had been any refusals, for example, to satanists, she replied that religious organisations had sometimes repeatedly been refused re-registration when they had not submitted the correct documentation, `but they were all reregistered in the end when they got their papers in order'.

Irkutsk: On 18 December Nina Kokourova of the department of justice in Irkutsk (3150 miles east of Moscow) declined to give Keston details of how re-registration was proceeding, explaining that only written enquiries addressed to the head of the department received an answer. `They may give information over the telephone in other subjects of the Russian Federation,' she told Keston, `but that isn't the practice here.' (END)