RUSSIA: Two Draft Religious Policies Published.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 13 June 2001

On 8 June two draft religious policies for Russia were published on the Internet site <www.state-religion.ru> maintained by the Institute for State-Confessional Relations and Law (ISCRL) in cooperation with the religious faculty of the Russian Academy for State Service (RASS) and the Moscow City Department of Justice. So far neither has the approval of the presidential administration.

In an 8 June e-mail message to Keston, however, ISCRL drew attention to only one of the draft policies - 'Concept of State Policy in the Sphere of Relations with Religious Organisations in the Russian Federation', which it co-authored with the assistant head of the Moscow City Department of Justice, Vladimir Zhbankov. ISCRL is headed by Igor Ponkin, co-author of a 28 February 2000 letter from RASS warning that foreign missionaries are agents of western powers engaged in a plot to seize Russia's Far East. The Moscow City Department of Justice is perhaps best known for refusing to reregister local organisations of the Jehovah's Witnesses and Salvation Army.

While claiming that the basic principles in the Russian state's religious policy should include the equality of all religious organisations before the law, ISCRL's draft policy goes significantly further than the current 1997 law on religion in calling for 'the legal consolidation of criteria defining the traditional-ness of religious organisations in Russia and their corresponding status.'

According to the draft policy, the state should cooperate with and assist traditional religious organisations in a wide range of spheres, such as education, social security and the mass media. A religious organisation is defined as traditional if it a) 'has had a significant influence on the formation and development of Russian statehood and played a great historical role in the development of the national self-consciousness of the peoples of the Russian Federation,' b) 'has safeguarded the formation and development of the traditional spirituality and culture of the peoples of Russia and formed a part of the spiritual, national and cultural heritage of the Russian Federation', c) 'is a religious organisation, adherence to and a preferential regard for which is expressed by a significant proportion of citizens of the Russian Federation.' and d) 'functions as a creative and unifying spiritual force in Russian society and is directed towards support for the peace and stability of the Russian Federation.'

In this context the draft policy refers to the Russian Orthodox Church, Islam, Old Belief 'and other religions which are traditional for Russia and their corresponding traditional religious organisations.' A separate category of 'traditional religious organisations of individual peoples of the Russian Federation' is also stipulated: these are organisations which 'profess doctrines with a historically limited area of dissemination or which are primarily associated with particular national (ethnic) communities.' Such organisations are to enjoy the same privileges of traditional religious organisations, but 'within the confines of the historical territory of their dissemination (Buddhism, traditional religions of the peoples of the North) or within particular national (ethnic) communities.'

The draft policy specifies a number of problems in the sphere of state-confessional relations in Russia, such as 'threats to the preservation and development of the cultural identity and spiritual distinctiveness of the peoples of Russia', 'foreign religious expansion into Russia as an element in the foreign policy of a number of foreign states' and 'activisation of the activity of religious organisations which damage the morality, health, rights and legal interests of citizens.' These problems are not being addressed, the draft policy's authors argue, due to legal flaws in the current Russian law on religion, which, they conclude, 'should be reworked to take into account the provisions of this Concept.' (END)