RUSSIA: Re-registration Figures for Religious Organisations.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 2 April 2001

According to the as yet unpublished official Ministry of Justice figures, 20,215 religious organisations were re-registered in Russia by the deadline of 31 December 2000. Speaking to Keston on 2 April, head of the department for re-registration of religious organisations, Viktor Korolyov, confirmed that 10 per cent of those registered before the adoption of the 1997 law on religion, or approximately 1,500 organisations, had failed to re-register. He stressed, however, that no one was rushing to liquidate them, but that this would take place 'in accordance with the law'.

With 10,912, the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) comprises just over half the total of organisations re-registered by 1 January 2001. With 3,048 re-registered organisations, Islam appears to be the next largest, but taken together Protestant Churches account for approximately 3,800 organisations, and Protestantism may thus be considered to have overtaken Islam as Russia's second largest confession.

Considered separately, the largest Protestant Churches are the Pentecostals (1,323 organisations), the Evangelical Christian-Baptists (975) and evangelical Christians (612). Next come the Adventists (563) and the Jehovah 's Witnesses (330), whom Keston has not included in the 3,800 figure. Three traditional Churches, the Old Believers (278), Roman Catholics (258) and Lutherans (213), follow. Russia's two so-called traditional confessions besides Orthodoxy and Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, come next, with 197 and 193 re-registered organisations respectively. The only other groups to have more than 100 organisations re-registered are the Presbyterians (192), non-denominational Christians (156) and the Hare Krishnas (106).

If one compares the rate of increase over the past five years for those confessions who currently have 15 or more re-registered organisations, a different but no less interesting picture emerges. Compared with registration figures for 1 January 1996, the fastest growing groups are indigenous Russian sects - the Church of the Last Testament (the followers of Vissarion, based in Krasnoyarsk region) and the Church of the Sovereign Mother of God (previously known as the Bogorodichny Tsentr and led by Ioann Bereslavsky). Although both of these groups are small - with 15 and 28 organisations respectively - they have grown sevenfold since 1996.

The next fastest increase has been enjoyed by the pagans, whose organisations have increased by almost sixfold to 41. After them come the fastest growing Christian Churches - the Full Gospel Church (with 62 organisations) and the Pentecostals, who have both increased approximately fourfold. With just under a fourfold rate of increase, and a surprisingly small (33) number of organisations, are the Mormons. Both the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Adventists have had their organisations increase by significantly less - approximately 155 per cent since 1996.

Not renowned for their mission activity in the same way as many of those mentioned so far, two denominations from within Russia's so-called traditional confessions have nevertheless also managed an increase of 150 per cent - the Jews and the True Orthodox Church (65 organisations). Evangelical Christians and Evangelical Christians in the Spirit of the Apostles (a Pentecostal denomination with 54 re-registered organisations) also enjoyed this rate of growth. Next come the Methodists (85 organisations) and Old Believers, both of whom grew by approximately 75 per cent.

The majority of the remainder of those with 15 or more re-registered organisations have rates of growth hovering around the 50 per cent mark. Unsurprisingly, these include confessions who either keep to or profess to keep to a natural 'constituency' among the Russian population: the Russian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Lutherans. Perhaps more surprisingly, the organisations of the Evangelical Christian-Baptists grew only moderately - by 44 per cent. For all the accusations of proselytism, the organisations of the Roman Catholic Church have grown by just 41 per cent, while Muslim organisations have seen an increase of 22 per cent.

Interestingly, several non-indigenous confessions viewed as dangerous by the Russian anti-sect lobby have seen only a moderate increase or even decrease in numbers. They include the Unification Church (or Moonies, who now have 17 as opposed to 13 organisations in 1996), the Hare Krishnas (down from 106 to 112 organisations) and the Bahais (down from 20 to 19 organisations).With the identities of the 1,500 unre-registered organisations not known, of course, it is possible that groups deemed 'undesirable' by some authorities may in fact be larger than indicated. In recent months, however, Keston has been informed that the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishnas, for example, have had almost all of their communities re-registered. One definite absentee is the Council of Churches (Initsiativniki Baptists), 32 organisations of which were registered in 1996 but who consider the present re-registration regulations too much of an intrusion on the part of the Russian state to comply.

Some question remains regarding the speed with which the 90 per cent re-registered figure was achieved. On 30 April co-chairman of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, Anatoly Pchelintsev, told Keston that 56 per cent of religious organisations were unregistered as late as mid-October 2000. On 27 March president of the Russian branch of the International Association for Religious Freedom, Anatoly Krasikov, told Keston that there were still 25 or 30 per cent who had not re-registered as late as early March 2001 - he stressed, however, that this was according to the Ministry of Justice's preliminary figures.

While Korolyov confirmed the October 2000 figure on 2 April, he also explained to Keston that there had been a common expectation among local departments of justice that the re-registration deadline would be extended a second time, and there had indeed been a late surge in re-registration when the departments had been warned by the Ministry that this would not take place. Korolyov also stressed that many regions had taken several months to submit their figures to the Ministry. In view of the significant regional fluctuations in the percentage of unre-registered organisations (See KNS 20 December 2000), Keston asked Korolyov whether statistics by region would also be published. That, he said, was the decision of each individual region. (END)