RUSSIA: Successor to Soviet-Era Council for Religious Affairs By The Back Door?

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 6 February 2002

Draft legislation aimed at outlawing "extremist activity" (see KNS 5 February 2002) contains an inconspicuous proposed amendment to Russia's law on religion which would create a federal organ for monitoring religious affairs. Under the proposals, the following phrase would be inserted into Article 4, Part 3 of the 1997 law: "The co-ordination of the activity of federal organs of executive power and organs of state power of subjects of the Russian Federation in administering assistance to religious organisations is conducted by a federal state organ, specially authorised by the government of the Russian Federation. The status and powers of this organ are determined by a decision of the government of the Russian Federation."

"On the Struggle Against Extremist Activity" and its supplementary bill, "On the Introduction of Amendments and Additions to Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in Connection With the Adoption of the Federal Law 'On the Struggle Against Extremist Activity'," Article 2 of which contains the proposal to create the federal organ, have yet to come before the Russian parliament. On 26 December 2001 the legislative package was returned to the government for additional reworking by the Duma Committee for Legislation, which will subsequently review the texts.

The most vocal opponent to the introduction of a successor body to the Soviet-era Council for Religious Affairs, the Russian Orthodox Church has already sharply criticised the proposal.

Speaking on 25 January from the praesidium of a Moscow conference on state-confessional relations organised by Russia's Central Federal Okrug (one of seven regional administrative divisions), Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad accused the Russian government of preparing draft laws "in secret: as has taken place with amendments in connection with the draft law against extremism."

In the same address, he criticised at length the creation of any kind of Ministry for Religion in Russia, since by its very nature, he argued, such an organ would always "tend towards interference in the internal life ofreligious organisations." The Soviet-era Council for Religious Affairs,explained the Metropolitan, had acted as a filter, absorbing informationfrom religious organisations but only passing on to the Politburo andCommunist Party Central Committee those elements which it consideredadvantageous to itself, since "it had to prove its significance andusefulness." As a result, he maintained, the ruling organs of the nation"didn't really know what was happening in the religious sphere in thecountry," which ultimately led to "tragic consequences" - the break-up ofthe nation. Consequently, he argued, the Church would oppose theintroduction of any kind of intermediary organ dealing with religious policy: "nothing good will come of it." (END)