RUSSIA Factfile: Varied Picture After Re-registration Deadline

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 12 January 2001

All religious organisations in Russia registered prior to the adoption of the 1997 law on religion face compulsory liquidation if they did not manage to re-register by 31 December 2000. Prior to this deadline Keston News Service interviewed officials in local departments of justice in a random selection of Russian regions, who gave some indication of those organisations which had not re-registered (see KNS 20 December 2000). Now that the deadline has passed, Keston has ascertained the effect on the organisations concerned wherever possible.


In Ulyanovsk (550 miles east of Moscow), according to local department of justice specialist Marina Nechayeva on 15 December, Muslims were among those organisations which had not re-registered. On 9 January a housekeeper to Mufti Ayub Diberdeyev, who leads the Ulyanovsk Muftiate affiliated to Talgat Tadzhuddin's Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims, told Keston that 96 of the muftiate's 104 mosques had re-registered. A separate group led by Tagir Shangareyev, she thought, were probably the Ulyanovsk Muslims without re-registration: `They're impostors, Wahhabis: they've been trying to seize our mosques for the past ten years.'

On 11 January, however, consultant lawyer to Tagir Shangareyev's Spiritual Directorate of Regional Muslims, Mikhail Vkortso, told Keston that all seven of the directorate's communities had been re-registered. He confirmed that the directorate faced strong opposition from Mufti Diberdeyev, but claimed that it had `not encountered any obstructions so far'.

On 15 December Nechayeva noted with some exasperation that there was a Pentecostal association in Ulyanovsk which categorically refused to register. On 9 January Pastor Anatoli Mukhin of Ulyanovsk Christian Centre, a Pentecostal community which has re-registered successfully, confirmed to Keston that another Pentecostal community in the city with whom he sometimes met `does not wish to register'. Led by Pastor Leonid Soldatov, whom Keston was unable to contact since he does not have a telephone, the congregation consists of approximately 70 people, said Mukhin, and currently meets in separate groups in private flats. (Since this congregation has never registered, it is not liable to re-registration, but is legally unable to do anything more than meet on the premises of its members and teach its existing followers.)

According to specialist at Tver (100 miles north-west of Moscow) department of justice Alla Maslakova on 18 December, the majority of the region's 22 organisations which had not re-registered were now-defunct parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church. On 3 January Yelena Petrova of Tver diocesan administration confirmed that there were some parishes which `existed only on paper'. These had formed in the early 1990s, she said, but had never received a priest and were no longer active. `They might just consist of the walls of an unfinished church building.' She was not sure of the number of such parishes, but was doubtful that they totalled anything like 22.

In addition to the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army (see KNS 24 December 2000), Keston is aware of several other organisations without re-registration in the capital. The Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order attempted to re-register without success on five occasions before June 2000. On 3 January monk of the order Feliks Shvedovsky told Keston that they had not made any further attempts to re-register since June: `as we have so few members, we've decided to exist unofficially.' He was under the impression that the late November 1999 constitutional court decision meant that those organisations registered before the adoption of the 1997 law retained their legal personality status after the re-registration deadline (this is the case, but only on condition that they have re-registered). However, since the order did not rent premises, he said, they would suffer no concrete effect. The order has not tried to invite their spiritual teacher - Japanese citizen Junsei Terasawa - since he was refused a visa to Russia last June. Without re-registration they no longer have the legal right to issue invitations, but believe that, regardless of the order's legal status in Moscow, Terasawa would in any case be denied a visa due to being on an FSB blacklist (see KNS 23 June 2000).

On 9 January chairman of the Severnaya Jewish community Anatoli Vladov told Keston that they had not been re-registered since they had not yet submitted the necessary documentation. It was unclear whether the municipal department of justice would still register the community, he said, but they had nevertheless agreed to accept documentation after the deadline, and a decision would be made by the end of February. The community, which belongs to Adolf Shayevich's Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organisations, was last refused re-registration in July 2000 (see KNS 22 September 2000).

On 15 December Tatyana Basova of Kursk (350 miles south of Moscow) department of justice told Keston that the 14 unre-registered religious organisations in the region included those of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), Baptists and Hare Krishnas. On 3 January ROCA parish priest in Kursk Fr Vladimir Tsukanov confirmed that the ROCA's four parishes had not been re-registered due to insufficient documentation. He had not received any notification of liquidation proceedings, but acknowledged that according to the 1997 law on religion `they should take our registration away - and I think they'll do it'.

On 5 January Baptist elder for Kursk region Gennadi Likhikh told Keston that all 18 Baptist congregations in the region for which re-registration papers had been submitted had been re-registered. These congregations come under the auspices of the Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptists headed by Pyotr Konovalchik. However, Likhikh was aware of a group of initsiativniki Baptists which had never registered - `that is their policy' - and met in a prayer house registered as the property of a private individual. (As in the case of the Ulyanovsk Pentecostals, these Baptists are therefore operating without the rights of a legal personality.)

On 9 January Sergei Zuyev of the Society for Krishna Consciousness in Moscow told Keston that the Kursk community had received confirmation of re-registration on 4 January. (Basova had expressed some doubt to Keston that they would be re-registered in time since they had only just submitted documentation.) According to Zuyev, 70 local Hare Krishna communities have been re-registered in Russia. Problems had arisen only in Bryansk (approximately 200 miles south-west of Moscow), he said, where an expert committee was still considering the local organisation's application.


According to Tatyana Antsiterova of Tomsk (2200 miles east of Moscow) department of justice on 19 December, six Catholic parishes in the region had not re-registered. On 4 January Tomsk parish priest Fr Andrei Duklewski confirmed that six parishes had been registered in the region under the 1990 religion law, but one of these had since disbanded. Of the 5 existing parishes, one of approximately 350 people was located in Tomsk city, he said, while four were in remote village locations. (Although there were around 170 Catholics in 35 different location in the region, Duklewski explained, there were only four cases in which they numbered more than the ten required for registration). Due to the inaccessibility of these parishes, said Duklewski, `it just wasn't possible to get things done quickly', and so re-registration documentation had not been submitted until Christmas 2000: `It is possible that they weren't re-registered in time.'

On 18 December Anna Vodnenko of Khabarovsky krai (region) department of justice spoke of 20 organisations which had not re-registered, remarking that these were mostly Protestant and that they might have been founded by a foreigner who had left and were now defunct. She was unable to give any details about one case known to Keston, that of the independent Baptist parish founded by US citizen Dan Pollard in the Pacific port of Vanino. On 27 November 2000, Pollard, who is now unable to obtain a visa to Russia, wrote to Keston that `it is very clear that our church in Vanino, which was legally registered before the new law on religion came into effect, will not be able to re-register before the end of the year.' On 4 January parishioner of the Vanino church Yelena Tolstopyatova confirmed to Keston that the parish was without re-registration, having again been refused re-registration on two occasions since March 2000. The parish had filed suit against the department of justice at a local court in Khabarovsk city, she said, since `according to the law there is no basis for refusing to re-register the church due to its legal address.' As documentation had been submitted to the court only in December, she did not know when the case would be heard: `We haven't been directly threatened with liquidation although we know we should be liquidated if we haven't re-registered.'

On 5 January Igor Zhimurshuk of the community of Jehovah's Witnesses in Chelyabinsk city (1200 miles east of Moscow) told Keston that his congregation of over 1,200 had tried to register ever since 1995 but were constantly being refused. Since October 1997, he said, the congregation had tried unsuccessfully to register on ten occasions, with different reasons for refusal each time: `One was that we had not given page numbers in the proposed charter.' The documentation submitted, he said, was identical to that in other Russian regions - where in all but a few cases the Jehovah's Witnesses have been re-registered. On 27 December 2000 fellow community member Vyacheslav Mayatsky told Keston that the congregation was forced to act as a `religious group', a lower status to `religious organisation' with fewer rights. As a result, he said, the congregation faced difficulties when trying to rent premises for worship; in April 2000, for example, Chelyabinsk regional plenipotentiary for human rights Yekaterina Gorina had arrived with police at a worship service on rented state property and forced the approximately 160 present to disperse. On 4 January specialist at Chelyabinsk department of justice Lyudmila Loginova told Keston that `everyone who wanted re-registration' had obtained it. The Jehovah's Witnesses, she claimed, had never submitted any documents, and could not be liquidated because `they never registered in the first place'.

On 31 December 2000 Keston received a message from Fr Jerzy Karpinski of the Moscow Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in which he stated that `on Christmas Day we received documentation from the Ministry of Justice about the definitive rejection of the re-registration of the Inigo Centre in Novosibirsk. We still have a chance to re-register in Novosibirsk.' (The Inigo Centre in Novosibirsk - 2000 miles east of Moscow - was subject to a search by the tax police: see KNS 30 May 2000). On 9 January Fr Jozef Macha of the Inigo Centre explained to Keston that the centre had applied for re-registration on the federal level `because we want to try to extend our activity to the whole federation'. They had been unsuccessful on several occasions, he said, and the Ministry of Justice had told them they should re-register locally. The centre had thus submitted re-registration documentation to the Novosibirsk justice department in early December and was currently awaiting a response. It had been impossible to act earlier, explained Fr Macha, since the Moscow Society of Jesus constituted the founding body of the Inigo Centre and had itself managed to gain re-registration only following the September constitutional court decision in its favour (see KNS 18 September 2000).

On 9 January Viktor Korolyov, head of the registration department at the Ministry of Justice in Moscow, remarked to Keston that it was unclear why the Inigo Centre had tried to re-register on the federal level: `According to the law it has to be at local level. We explained this to them twice.' He stressed, however, that they had not been issued a refusal, `since following the constitutional court decision they have a perfect right to re-register.' (END)