RUSSIA: Draft Law on 'Traditional Religious Organisations'.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 5 February 2002

A draft law would introduce into Russian legislation the term "traditional religious organisation." "On Traditional Religious Organisations" was drawn up by Aleksandr Chuyev, vice-chairman of the Duma's Committee for Religious and Social Organisations, who will unveil it at a press conference at the Russian parliament today (5 February).

Chuyev's draft would create several different categories of traditional religious organisation:

As "traditional religious organisation" is understood a registered centralised religious organisation active on the territory of the Russian Federation for no fewer than 50 years and with no fewer than one million believers or followers which is "an inalienable part of the historical, spiritual and cultural heritage of the peoples of Russia."

As "traditional religious organisation of individual peoples of the Russian Federation" is understood a registered centralised religious organisation active on the territory or in individual subjects of the Russian Federation for no fewer than 50 years and with no fewer than 100,000 believers or followers which is "an inalienable part of the historical, spiritual and cultural heritage of a corresponding people or several peoples of Russia."

As "historical traditional religious organisation" is understood a registered centralised or local religious organisation active on the territory or in several subjects or locations of the Russian Federation for no fewer than 80 years which is similarly "an inalienable part of the historical, spiritual and cultural heritage of the peoples of Russia."

As "representation of a foreign traditional religious organisation" is understood the representation of a foreign religious organisation which is "an inalienable part of the historical, spiritual and cultural heritage of the peoples of a corresponding state."

Religious organisations are awarded traditional religious organisation status by a "Federal Commission for the Support of Traditional Confessions," described in the bill as a "state-social organ." (Article 1) The Commission rules on the validity of the claim of those organisations purporting to be traditional to Russia. (Article 5) In addition to the documents required of Russian organisations to support their application, foreign religious organisations claiming the status of representation of a foreign traditional religious organisation must submit to the Commission a document from the embassy in Russia of a corresponding state certifying that the organisation concerned is traditional to that state. (Article 8)

The Commission is initially to be composed of 20 members: five proposed by the State Duma, five by the Federation Council and 10 by the president, including 5 from registered centralised religious organisations representing the religions listed in the preamble of the 1997 law on religion, "namely, Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism." (Article 10. "Christianity," which is also listed in the preamble, is here omitted.) A centralised religious organisation may have a representative on the Commission (Article 10) once it has received the status of "traditional religious organisation." According to Article 1, this term is used throughout the draft law to refer to traditional, historical traditional and traditional religious organisations of individual peoples of the Russian Federation, but not representatives of foreign traditional religious organisations.

Traditional religious organisations would be granted extensive opportunities for work in the public spheres of education, the media and social services. (Articles 17, 18 and 19). The state, for example, is to assist traditional religious organisations in founding their own educational institutions, grant them free air-time and lend financial support to their charitable initiatives.

Due to a discrepancy between Article 1, according to which "traditional religious organisation" does not refer to the representations of foreign traditional religious organisations, and Article 21, according to which the latter share the same rights as traditional religious organisations of individual peoples of the Russian Federation, it is not clear what benefit a representation of a foreign religious organisation gains by being acknowledged "traditional." Besides allotment of air-time proportional to a traditional religious organisation's size and contribution to Russian culture, neither is it stipulated whether and in what way the other three forms of traditional religious organisation status might differ from one another. (END)