RUSSIA: End in Sight for 18-Month Evangelical Book Confiscation.

by Aleksandr Schipkov, Keston News Service, 11 January 2001

A large collection of books confiscated from an evangelical church in the southern Russian town of Krasnodar in July 1999 will be returned `unconditionally' by the end of January, the official in charge of relations with religious organisations in Krasnodar's regional administration has promised. The pledge - given to Keston News Service by Liliya Zub on 9 January - follows 18 months of fruitless attempts to recover the books by the senior pastor of the Krasnodar church of the Evangelical Christian Missionary Union (ECMU), Semyon Borodin (see KNS 20 September 1999).

Keston's enquiry about the fate of the confiscated books - which seems to have triggered the sudden change of heart - followed the stepping down as governor of Krasnodar Krai (region) at the end of last year of Nikolai Kondratenko, who is known for his anti-democratic, anti-minority and anti-semitic views and who had taken a personal interest in the confiscation of the books. Kondratenko was succeeded in December by Aleksandr Tkachev, who is affiliated to the pro-communist wing of the Agrarian Party.

Pastor Borodin told Keston by telephone from Krasnodar on 9 January that the books had still not been returned and that now the issue was being dealt with not by the department for work with the law enforcement agencies, but by Zub, head of the sector for relations with religious organisations who, according to Borodin, had unsuccessfully tried to prevent the church's re-registration last year. Borodin was pessimistic that the confiscated literature would ever be returned, believing that the policy of the regional administration had not changed despite the election of a new governor and that religious minorities would, as before, be subject to discrimination.

After speaking to Borodin, Keston telephoned Zub, who confirmed that the books were intact and that they were being stored in a building belonging to the regional administration. She declared that they could not be returned until the ECMU presented full documentation confirming that all the literature did indeed belong to that church. When Keston expressed surprise that, despite the change of governor, there had apparently been no change to the region's religious policy, Zub said she would try to find out exactly what was happening to the books.

When she rang Keston back ten minutes later she pledged that all the books taken from the church by the regional administration would be returned `unconditionally' by the end of January. Asked to explain such a rapid and positive resolution to a conflict that had dragged on for a year and a half, Zub replied: `There has been a change of leadership and a change of personnel in the administration.' Zub may possibly be frightened that, under pressure from believers dissatisfied with her work, she could lose her job.

In July 1999, unidentified persons removed all the religious literature that had been earmarked for missionary work from a collection of books belonging to the church. Several days later, Borodin was invited to the department for work with the law enforcement agencies of the regional administration, where the department's chief specialist, Aleksandr Ulko, told him that the books were in a building belonging to the administration and asked for an explanation of their contents. Ulko was particularly interested in the book `Who will encroach on my people?', which analyses the persecution of the Jews in the twentieth century from a New Testament perspective. When Borodin asked for the books to be returned Ulko refused, remarking that there would be no quick solution as governor Kondratenko was taking a personal interest in the case.

In September 1999 the head of the department for work with the law enforcement agencies Fyodor Dyavochka denied to Keston that anyone had confiscated the ECMU's books, claiming that they `had been found and placed in the basement of an administration building'. The same month Zub told Keston that examples of all the books had been sent to her for an expert evaluation. As a professional expert on religion, she characterised them as Christian, of a Protestant tendency, and containing no unconstitutional concepts. She was not aware of the identity of the owner of the books, and believed that the books should be given to the city library and church schools for children. (END)