ESTONIA: No Visa Ban For Russian Priests.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 6 September 2001

In the wake of the refusal by Estonia's consulate in Moscow to grant a visa to a Moscow-based Russian Orthodox priest, an official of Estonia's Moscow embassy has denied to Keston News Service claims by some Orthodox in Moscow that there is a policy of refusing visas to Russian Orthodox clergy. However, the official declined to say why Archimandrite Longin (Korchagin) had been refused a visa to attend the consecration of a new Orthodox church in the southern Estonian town of Valga.

Archimandrite Longin, the senior priest at the Moscow daughter church of the Trinity-St Sergius monastery, applied in early August for a visa to attend the consecration of the Church of the Vladimir Mother of God, which took place on 11 August. 'All my documents were absolutely in order - I had a valid invitation from Estonia, but they refused my application and refused to give any reason,' he told Keston on 4 September. 'When I asked why I had been refused they just told me: "We refuse, that's all. We're not obliged to give you a reason." I still don't know why I was refused.'

Kristel Kase, third secretary at the Estonian Embassy, confirmed that Archimandrite Longin had his visa application refused, but she too declined to say why. 'We don't give a reason,' she told Keston from Moscow on 6 September. 'It is common diplomatic practice not to give reasons.'

Archimandrite Longin - who had visited Estonia during the Soviet period but not since the country regained independence in 1991 - told Keston that other Russian Orthodox priests had encountered similar visa refusals at the Moscow consulate. 'People told me I am not the first. I have heard there is a policy of not issuing visas to Russian Orthodox priests.' He told Keston he did not know the names of any other such priests who had been refused visas.

The editor of the Orthodox internet news site, which reported Archimandrite Longin's visa refusal on 10 August, insisted that 'several' Moscow Patriarchate priests had been refused, particularly those wishing to visit the Puhtitsa Dormition convent in north eastern Estonia. 'We heard of such facts from various people,' he told Keston on 31 August. However, he declined to give Keston any names of any further such priests. He said that the person who reported Archimandrite Longin's refusal to his agency (whom he declined to identify) had reported that 'a ban is in place on priests from the Moscow Patriarchate'.

However, Kase categorically denied that any such ban exists. 'The applications by Russian Orthodox priests are treated in exactly the same way as those by others,' she told Keston. 'We draw no distinction on the grounds of religion, nationality, profession or anything else. There is no policy not to give visas to Russian Orthodox priests.' Because the consulate drew no distinction between applicants, she said she had no statistics on how many Russian Orthodox priests had been granted visas and how many had been refused.

Contacted by Keston in Valga on 6 September, Oleg Tesla, the head of the Orthodox Society who organised the 11 August consecration ceremony, played down the significance of Archimandrite Longin's visa refusal, but declined to make any comment on the record.

A spokeswoman for the Puhtitsa convent, speaking to Keston on 4 September, said she was unaware of any priests invited from Russia by the convent (which comes under the direct authority of Patriarch Aleksy of Moscow) failing to get visas.

Father Nikolai Balashov, a spokesman at the Moscow Patriarchate, told Keston on 6 September that he had heard of Archimandrite Longin's visa refusal, but did not have information on any other cases. 'It is perhaps an exaggeration to say there is a targeted ban on Russian Orthodox clergy,' he declared. 'I had no problems when I visited Estonia, most recently in April of this year. Maybe there are such cases but no-one complained to me.' He pointed out that Estonian visas are difficult to obtain for Russian citizens in general. (END)