MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: Christmas Demolition For Baptist Church.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 22 November 2001

A Baptist church in the town of Tiraspol, the capital of the breakaway region of Transdniester, has been told that if it does not pull down its prayer house or transfer it to residential use by 25 December the authorities will demolish it, local Baptists complained in a 21 November statement received by Keston News Service. The warning was handed down by the commission of the State Building Inspectorate on 8 November and follows increasing pressure on the church which peaked on 6 October when the police and a senior priest of the Orthodox diocese of Tiraspol and Dubossary burst into an evangelistic meeting the church was holding in a village near Tiraspol (see separate KNS article). Local officials have insisted to Keston that they are taking action against the church solely because it is "illegally built" and that they are not targeting the building because it is used for worship.

Despite these claims, the authorities in Tiraspol insist that the church must register to be allowed to function. The head of the Building Inspectorate inspection service, Ivan Kramchaninov, told church members verbally that they should register and then have their prayer house registered as a "cult building", but the congregation rejects this suggestion. Like all congregations of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists in all the former Soviet republics where they operate, the Tiraspol church has a policy of not seeking or accepting registration, regarding it as state intrusion into the church's activity.

"The building was built illegally - they put it up unilaterally without permission," Kramchaninov told Keston by telephone from Tiraspol on 22 November. "This is against the law. Lots of buildings are being put up without permission. We have to stop this." Asked how long the Baptist church had already been standing, he responded: "I don't know, maybe ten years, maybe less, maybe more." Baptist sources confirmed to Keston that the church was built more than ten years ago.

Kramchaninov complained also that the church was unregistered. Asked what difference that made to whether the building had been illegally constructed he declared: "It makes a great difference. It was built as a private building for private, domestic use, not for any other purpose." Asked why a private home-owner was not allowed to invite people for any kind of meeting, including religious meetings, he repeated that the house had been built for private use. He rejected suggestions that the destruction of a place of worship would arouse suspicions around the world that the authorities were targeting the free practice of religious faith: "It will look like it is. Every state requires buildings to be approved and for people to abide by the law. If any believers break the law they must be punished."

Kramchaninov stressed that he was just an official of the executive branch and that to find out more about laws governing religion in Transdniester Keston should contact Pyotr Zalozhkov, the commissioner of religion and cults, who reports to Igor Smirnov, the president of the unrecognised entity.

Zalozhkov was at a meeting on 22 November, but his colleague Tamara Alekseevna (who refused to give her last name) rejected any suggestions that the Baptist church was being targeted. "No-one is acting against them," she told Keston. "According to the law everyone must show that the building was put up with permission. They built illegally." She claimed there were frequent moves to demolish illegally constructed buildings in Tiraspol, pointing out that some might not be safe as the area is prone to earthquakes. She stressed that no-one is banning the Baptists from meeting for worship just because they are not registered. "Religious groups can function without registration from the Ministry of Justice." (END)