RUSSIA: Three Draft Laws on Religious Life Yet to Reach Parliament.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 3 April 2002

"On Counteracting Propaganda of Religious Extremism in the Russian Federation," the draft law drawn up by the chairman of the Russian parliament's Committee for Religious and Social Organisations (see separate KNS article) has yet to be put before parliament. Speaking to Keston on 2 April, adviser to the committee Stepan Medvedko said that in the coming weeks Communist Party deputy Viktor Zorkaltsev would seek the advice of representatives of the security organs and interior ministry on whether to submit his draft for consideration by the Duma (parliament) at all or to suggest appropriate amendments to the Criminal Code instead.

Zorkaltsev's draft has yet to be given a formal public presentation. Speaking at the Russian Orthodox Danilovsky Monastery on the second day of the Sixth International Russian People's Council last December, Zorkaltsev described how "spiritual security" - one of his draft's key terms - "opposes the appearance of extremism, vulgarity and depravity and is a key part of our national security." Referring to the need for "defence against the 'Fifth Column'," Zorkaltsev explained that, although the number of Orthodox parishes had doubled over the past ten years, "the sects have increased tenfold - this is the most frightening basic danger which Russia faces."

Speaking several weeks later at "The State and Traditional Religious Organisations," a Moscow conference chaired by authorised presidential representative to the Central Federal Okrug, Georgi Poltavchenko, Zorkaltsev announced that his committee was already working on legislation which would "defend the spiritual security of Russia." "To lose the battle for hearts and minds in the modern world," he remarked, "is a defeat far more serious than a military or strategic loss."

Asked for his view on Zorkaltsev's draft law at a conference at the Russian Academy for State Service (RASS), entitled "Religion, Politics and Human Rights" on 19 March, vice chairman of the Russian government's Commission for Religious Associations, Andrei Sebentsov, maintained that there should be no legal separation of religious from other forms of extremism. This was the case with the Ministry of Justice's analogous measures (see KNS 5 February 2002), which related to extremism in general, he claimed.

As far as Stepan Medvedko is aware, the Ministry of Justice's proposed measures are still with the government, as Keston last reported. While he expects them to be put before the Duma as the legislative initiative of President Vladimir Putin, Medvedko told Keston that the drafts "haven't got to him yet" but would nevertheless have their fate decided "on Staraya Ploshchad" (Moscow's Old Square, where the presidential administration buildings are situated).

Also speaking at the RASS conference, head of the department for re-registration of religious organisations at the Ministry of Justice, Viktor Korolyov, emphasised that the proposed legislation on extremism - which, he stipulated, was drawn up by the Ministry of Justice in co-operation with the presidential administration - was only at the drafting stage. While he and his colleagues at the Ministry were "not supporters" of religious extremism as a legal term, said Korolyov, it was nevertheless contained in Russia's 10 January 2000 National Security Concept (which indeed mentions religious extremism twice), and so required a definition. "It is quite a harsh [draft] law, I know," he remarked, "but the situation is tense, especially in the North Caucasus and Dagestan." A separate law was required, he maintained because the 1997 law on religion "isn't made out of rubber."

Following Korolyov's comments, Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, secretary of the presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations, pointed out that the Ministry of Justice's proposals would in fact outlaw not religious or political extremism, but extremist activity. A noisy debate ensued once Igor Kanterov, vice chairman of the Ministry of Justice's expert religious studies analysis committee, asked Korolyov what he thought the nearest Russian term for extremism (ekstremizm) was. "Violence," replied Korolyov, at which RASS religious studies faculty lecturer Remir Lopatkin exclaimed: "No, extreme!" (krainy).

There was also lively debate at the same conference regarding Duma deputy Aleksandr Chuyev's draft law "On Traditional Religious Organisations". RASS professor Lev Mitrokhin cast doubt on the term "traditional" - "in one sense the only traditional religion is paganism," while Andrei Sebentsov maintained that the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations had "greatly influenced" Chuyev's draft. That department's spokesman, Fr Vsevolod Chaplin, maintained that it had played "no part" in drawing up the draft, however. In Fr Chaplin's view there was "nothing unnatural" about creating different categories for religious organisations, since "society has the right to demand support for one or other" and the state could legitimately respond to this demand in the same way that it might "give preferential support to Dinamo [Football Club] over Spartak."

According to Stepan Medvedko, Aleksandr Chuyev was greatly encouraged by the response to his draft at a round table devoted to it at the Duma on 21 March. As a result, he said, Chuyev would probably submit the draft for consideration by the Russian parliament in May. (END)