MOLDOVA: No Easy Registration for Bessarabian Church.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 15 April 2002

Despite the Moldovan government's acceptance of the March decision by the European Court of Human Rights that its refusal to register the Orthodox Church of the Bessarabian jurisdiction violated its commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights (see KNS 10 April 2002), the Bessarabian Church seems unlikely to gain registration soon. Government officials have told Keston News Service that "certain procedures" have to be undergone before the Church can gain registration as a denomination and its individual communities as religious organisations. "We cannot register the Bessarabian Church immediately," the government's chief spokesperson Viktoria Mustiatse told Keston from Chisinau on 15 April. "We must change the law and we will do so - the Justice Minister Ion Morei made that clear last Friday."

"Of course we will abide by the European Court ruling," Vitaly Prilog, the Ministry of Justice official who handled the Bessarabian case in Strasbourg, told Keston by telephone from Chisinau on 15 April. "I am sure the government will take all measures to fulfil the demands of the court." Both he and Mustiatse confirmed that the government will pay the Church within the three month period the compensation of 27,025 Euros (24,400 US dollars or 16,800 British pounds) decreed by the court. "But there is a certain procedure that must be followed for the Church to acquire registration," Prilog added. "I can't say how registration will proceed."

Mustiatse was unable to tell Keston which laws the government believed would need to be changed before the Church could be registered. She added that changes to the country's laws - which can be initiated by the government, the president or parliament - have not yet begun. Asked what would happen if none of these three bodies chose to initiate the necessary changes, she declared that parliamentary deputy Iurie Rosca, leader of the right-of-centre Christian Democratic People's Party which has backed the Church's campaign to gain registration, has the right to initiate the changes.

But she added that registration will also require action from the Supreme Court to revoke its decision of December 1997 that recognition of the Church could only be resolved by the state-recognised Orthodox Church subject to the Moscow Patriarchate, from which the Bessarabian Church had broken away, and that any interference by the Moldovan authorities would only exacerbate the conflict. "The Supreme Court is an independent body. The government cannot influence its decision in any way."

The Bessarabian Church - which is led by Metropolitan Petru Paduraru and is part of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate - has been seeking registration in vain for the past decade. Metropolitan Petru has told Keston that his Church has some 150 congregations, 70 places of worship and 89 priests in Moldova.

Another difficulty Mustiatse pointed to is what she claimed was the Bessarabian Church's insistence that it had the right to all the Orthodox property in the country now in the hands of the Moldovan Orthodox Church belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate. "The Church is demanding not just registration, but all this property. It is written in their latest application," she declared, although she admitted she had not read the latest application, which the Church submitted on 16 March. Keston was unable to reach Metropolitan Petru by telephone on 15 April to find out if his Church was demanding property currently controlled by the Moscow Patriarchate's Church.

Mustiatse was unable to explain which government agency was handling the Bessarabian Church's application. She declared initially that any application would be handed to Sergei Yatsko, the director of the State Service for the Affairs of Cults, but later appeared unsure. Yatsko denied emphatically to Keston on 15 April that responsibility for registering denominations on a national level was the responsibility of his office. "It is the responsibility of the government," he insisted, although he declined to name any specific part of the government.

Yatsko said he could not register any individual Bessarabian parishes until the government had registered the Church as a denomination and had instructed him to register individual parishes. "Only the government can register the Bessarabian Church," he insisted. He reported that the Bessarabian Church had not yet applied for registration with his office for any individual parishes and declined to speculate whether he would register their parishes once the denomination has been registered by the government. He said he had no information on how many parishes the Bessarabian Church has in the country.

Given these obstacles, any speedy registration of the Bessarabian Church on the national level or its local parishes seems unlikely. However, Professor John Warwick Montgomery, the English barrister who represented the Bessarabian Church at the Strasbourg court, says the judgement leaves the Moldovan government no choice but to register the Bessarabian Church and that any failure by the government to implement the ruling could have serious consequences. "The execution of a Strasbourg judgment lies in the hands of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers," he told Keston on 15 April. "If roadblocks are thrown up by the government, the applicants have only one recourse - to go to the Committee of Ministers. The committee then puts the heat on the prime minister of the country concerned, telling him: Either you do this or you will be out of the club." (END)