RUSSIA: Support Expressed for Restrictive Draft Religious Policy.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 14 June 2001

Three formal responses to the draft policy proposed by the Institute for State-Confessional Relations and Law (ISCRL) and the assistant head of Moscow City Department of Justice (MCDJ), Vladimir Zhbankov, were published on the Internet site maintained by ISCRL in cooperation with the religious faculty of the Russian Academy for State Service (RASS) and MCDJ on 8 June. (see KNS 13 June) The RASS draft policy was published without comment.

In his evaluation of the ISCRL draft policy, a representative of one of the few confessions it openly defines as traditional throughout Russia welcomes the document as 'needed and much called-for.' The past, present and future of 'right-believing Muslims and the followers of traditional confessions - Orthodoxy and others - are linked in our country,' maintains the head of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims, Talgat Tadzhuddin. The state's main tasks in preserving the spiritual sphere in Russia, he argues, should be 'restoration of traditional religious organisations and opposition to religious extremism.'

While concluding that the ISCRL text needs more work, the director of the Moscow-based Institute of Religion and Law, Anatoli Pchelintsev, claims that its introduction of the concept of 'traditional religious organisation' without opposing the secular nature of the state is 'fully in accordance with the constitutional principle of equality of religious organisations before the law.' When cooperating with religious organisations, according to Pchelintsev, a state has the right to give preference to those, 'adherence to and a preferential regard for which is expressed by a significant proportion of citizens of the Russian Federation.' In a statement reminiscent of the attempts by individual confessions not to challenge the categorisation of confessions per se during discussion of the 1997 draft law on religion but to strive for their own inclusion in its most privileged tier, Pchelintsev says that this criterion should be considered applicable to 'the established Protestant confessions represented on the Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations Attached to the President of the Russian Federation.'

The third evaluation of the ISCRL text to be published on 8 June is from RASS professor Mikhail Kuznetsov, who is also Igor Ponkin's academic supervisor and his co-author in the 28 February 2000 letter warning that foreign missionaries are agents of western powers engaged in a plot to seize Russia's Far East. Maintaining that the draft policy does not contradict the Russia's constitution, law and international human rights commitments, Kuznetsov alleges that since more than 80 per cent of those living in Russia are 'ethnic Orthodox', the state is obliged to give consideration to the Russian Orthodox Church and Old Believers when choosing with which religious organisations to cooperate. Since Islam has millions of followers in Russia, he adds, that religion should also be given consideration.

On the other hand, argues Kuznetsov, foreign organisations and citizens are prohibited from participating in electoral campaigns and financing political bodies in Russia, even though this is formally a violation of their rights. Therefore, he suggests, the state has the right to defend the religious sphere in exactly the same way as it defends its political interests from outside influence.

On 10 June a fourth evaluation of ISCRL's draft policy appeared on the jointly-maintained website - by the head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.

'The basic provisions of the draft policy, drawn up by academics who are free from the recidivist thinking of the period of state atheism, is undoubtedly worthy of a positive evaluation,' states Metropolitan Kirill. 'The authors have full justification and substantiation in allocating a sphere of cooperation for the state and traditional religious organisations and in speaking of offering the latter opportunities for wide participation in the common national effort in the spheres of spiritual and moral education of the individual, social work, the sciences, culture and the preservation of historical heritage. The principles, aims and tasks of the state's policy in the sphere of relations with religious organisations are set out in a responsible manner. An array of effective mechanisms is put forward which can be used to oppose extremism and pseudo-religious activity.'

'I express the hope that the given draft policy will meet with the appreciation of Russian state power and be utilised in work on corresponding documents and decisions,' he concludes. (END)