BELARUS: Juridical Address Difficulties Obstruct Jewish Registration.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 6 April 2001

Four Reform Jewish communities are among a range of religious communities whose registration is being obstructed because the government insists the juridical addresses at which they are attempting to register their communities are unacceptable. Yakov Basin, chairman of the Minsk-based Religious Association of Communities of Progressive Jews, told Keston News Service on 23 March that a further four Reform communities have finally lodged registration applications with the local branches of the government's Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs (CREA) after a search for an acceptable juridical address lasting up to a year. `The difficulties are not a result of any government anti-Semitism,' Basin said, `but stem from the government's attitude to all non-Orthodox religious communities.'

Basin was speaking to Keston from the United States, where he was attending a meeting of the World Union of Progressive Judaism, as well as the annual meeting of the Jewish human rights group the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, of which he is Minsk bureau chief.

However, the deputy chairman of the CREA Ivan Yanovich played down the registration obstructions. `We will meet Basin and the other Jewish leaders and sort out the situation with them,' he told Keston by telephone from Minsk on 26 March. `This is a working process and there has been no definitive registration refusal.' Yanovich defended the provision in the Housing Code adopted in 1999 that banned religious, social and commercial organisations from using private flats as their juridical address (see separate KNS article).

Although Belarus' current religion law allows religious groups to meet in private homes, the housing code bans such meetings. `This is not in accordance with the law,' Basin complained. `Many of our communities had registration with juridical addresses of private flats. They are being asked to re-register with new juridical addresses. They are also being told for example that they cannot open a bank account until they re-register with a correct juridical address.'

Of the 18 Reform Jewish communities in Belarus, only ten have registration. They have no synagogues and, according to Basin, have difficulty finding other places to meet for worship. They have one rabbi, Nelli Shulman, who is originally from Leningrad (now St Petersburg).

Basin reports that among the four communities which have so far found it impossible to find suitable juridical addresses are two communities in Minsk and one in the western town of Brest. One of the Minsk congregations has 265 members, Basin reported, and includes a group of Jews who are deaf or hard of hearing for whom there is a special ministry using sign language. Even they, however, have been unable to meet in the Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

The four further communities that have lodged their registration applications and are awaiting a response are based in Baranovichi, Borisov, Slutsk and Mozyr. `These communities have eventually found suitable juridical addresses and have been seeking registration for up to a year, but the documents have been returned several times for various reasons,' Basin told Keston. However, he says the local religious affairs administrations have now accepted the documentation, implying that a decision will soon be taken.

There has been less difficulty gaining registration for the Reform Jews' umbrella body, the Religious Association of Communities of Progressive Jews. The CREA issued its registration certificate on 16 February. `It took us half a year to find a juridical address,' Basin reported, `but once we found one - at a public building belonging to the Minsk Tractor Factory - it all went very fast. It was done in five days.' He contrasts the speed of processing of the application at national level with the slow and arbitrary handling of registration applications at local level. (END)