KAZAKHSTAN: Anti-Religion Drive in Almaty School.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 27 February 2001

Although a 19 December letter from first deputy education and science minister Erlan Aryn withdrew three provisions from the same ministry's September instructions outlawing any form of religious activity in schools (see KNS 16 January 2001), educational establishments have still not received this letter, a Protestant leader in Kazakhstan's former capital Almaty told Keston News Service.

Speaking on 7 February, the president of Emmanuel Christian Society for Evangelisation and Charitable Activity, Roman Dudnik, said the city's educational establishments were acting as if the three provisions - bans on visits by religious figures, receipt of humanitarian or other aid from religious organisations and rental of premises to religious groups - were still in force. Five Almaty Protestant churches - about which he was reluctant to give details in case their situation worsened - had still not had their rental agreements reinstated, he said.

According to Vladimir Leshevsky, president of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan, regional education authorities have the 19 December document `but they don't want to advertise it - they are trying to bury it.' Dudnik suggested that the reluctance to circulate the letter indicated that the educational establishment was in favour of the original instructions: `They were signed 26 September, schools received and implemented them just two working weeks later.'

One example of anti-religious activity by schools, Dudnik told Keston, was the recent attempts by teachers at Almaty School No. 154 to prevent pupils from attending meetings held by Khanaan Presbyterian Church. In a series of short video interviews conducted by Emmanuel last autumn and viewed by Keston, nine children of primary school age are asked about their, their parents' and their school's attitude to the church.

All the children say they enjoy attending church meetings: `We find out about God there: I like it very much', `They never tell us off there,' `It's good: they give us things, we draw and play.' Although one girl says her mother had reservations at first, the children all state that they have the permission of their parents, or whichever family member is responsible for them, to attend the church: `My parents said it is a good church, they help us to love God there.' A couple say they have this permission even though their families know the attitude of the school towards the church: `My mum says what they say in school about the church isn't right: that that headmaster doesn't know anything.'

Asked about the school's attitude, most of the children say they are told by their teachers not to attend the church. Several say their teachers ask in class who attends the church and make a list of their names. `They write down the names of who goes and shout at them,' `They threaten to punish us if we go to the church.' Those who attend the canteen run by the church also say their teachers warn them the food contains drugs: `They say the food is poisoned,' `They say the church puts drugs in the sweets they give us so that we will kill our parents.' The children do not believe the teachers' warnings, however: `I don't think it is that sort of church,' `They help us: they haven't done anything to us.'

Contacted by Keston on 9 February, headmaster of School No. 154, Verner Masalim, said his school currently did not have any problems with churches. There was a church called Khanaan nearby, he said, and at one time members of this church came to the school and tried to forge contacts with the children: `We had to chase them away.'

He believed the religious situation in the country was unsatisfactory: `There are too many churches. In Kazakhstan the indigenous nation is Muslim - in a period of social tension people can make the wrong choice.' (Although Kazakhs are traditionally regarded as Muslim, the pupils interviewed by Emmanuel included those of Russian, Kazakh, Uighur and mixed nationality.) Asked about the September and December instructions from the education ministry, Masalim said he was `familiar' with both, but would not say whether he had received the second set. According to one of the pupils and Dudnik, the school had prevented Khanaan Church from distributing warm winter coats there last autumn.

In Dudnik's view, the school's attitude towards religion was reminiscent of the Soviet period, with children being pressurised into admitting they had attended Protestant meetings: `The school is again taking upon itself the role of ideological provider.' (END)