RUSSIA: Minister For Religion?

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 5 December 2001

A new post of Russian Federation minister whose brief will include religious and social organisations in addition to nationalities and regional affairs was announced by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 16 October, according to Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The post, the Russian daily newspaper reported, is one of several government restructuring decisions made by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Kasyanov on that day.

The new minister will purportedly inherit part of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Federal and Nationality Affairs and Migration Policy, which was abolished by presidential decree No.1230 of 16 October. Speaking to Keston News Service in recent days, however, government officials expressed doubt that the post would do more than touch upon religious issues, let alone prove to be in place of the much called-for state committee for religious affairs.

The secretary of the presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations, Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, told Keston on 30 November that the post is created by a second decree, No. 1231 of 17 October, which states that the new minister will deal with "issues of coordination of the activity of federal organs of executive power in the realisation of nationalities policy." "There is no mention of religion," Kudryavtsev stressed, although he agreed that the post would probably partially concern religious issues.

Speaking to Keston on 28 November, the vice-chairman of the government's Commission for Religious Associations, Andrei Sebentsov, commented that Kasyanov had made the announcement "on the move", and that no finalised decision had probably in fact been made. "It sounded to me like a decision which had not been thought through - they will probably think more about it," he said. An indication that this was the case, in Sebentsov's view, was that "nothing has happened since."

Sebentsov told Keston that it did "not make much sense" for such a post to deal with religion, since it would be attached to the government, where policy is given only its final form ("oformleniye"), as distinct from the presidential administration, where formulation ("formulatsiya") of policy takes place. As a result, he thought, such a minister would have "no basis upon which to do anything real."

According to Sebentsov, the announcement does not rule out the possibility of a state committee for religious affairs attached to either the government or the presidential administration, the foundation of which, he explained, is "not a subject of the law - only of the constitution and government structure." The initiative to found such a committee "hangs in the air", he said, and depends on the head of government (Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov) making a relevant proposal to the president. As for the Duma (parliament), commented Sebentsov, "it is absolutely outside this process." (END)