MOLDOVA: Will Supreme Court Victory Help True Orthodox?

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 31 May 2002

Moldova's True Orthodox community has welcomed its 29 May victory in the Supreme Court in the Moldovan capital Chisinau over the government's repeated denial of registration, but fears that this may not be enough to overturn the government's objections to granting registration. "It is difficult to say when or even whether the government will register our Church," Cristina Rosu, the Church's lawyer, told Keston News Service from Chisinau on 30 May. "The government failed to send anyone to the hearing. They might not pay any attention to it." Indeed, asked about the ruling on 31 May, Sergei Yatsko, chairman of the State Service for the Affairs of Cults, told Keston: "I have no information about it. No-one has informed us." He claimed his office had received no official notice of any hearing which, he said, the court is obliged to provide and appeared to reject the validity of the ruling. Asked when the True Orthodox Church would get registration he declined absolutely to answer. "We can't say anything as the case is still in the courts." He refused to say why registration had been repeatedly denied.

Although the court required the government to pay compensation of 15,000 lei (1,100 US dollars or 750 British pounds), representing 1,000 lei for each of the Church's legal founders, Rosu lamented the fact that the court gave the government no deadline for registering the Church.

Human rights activists in Chisinau fear the government may try to have the ruling overturned. "There is still one possibility: that the general prosecutor will lodge an extraordinary appeal with the plenum of the Supreme Court of Justice (seven judges) to revise the three judges' ruling," Serghei Ostaf, chairman of the Moldovan Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, told Keston on 31 May.

The True Orthodox Church has four communities in Moldova, all in villages in Singerei district near the town of Balti in the north of the country. The first community was founded in the 5,000-strong village of Bilicheny Vek by Father Andrei Rudei, who left the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate five years ago, together with the vast majority of his parishioners. Since then, three other parishes - each with their own priest - have been formed in smaller villages nearby. There is no True Orthodox bishop in Moldova, but church members say they commemorate in the liturgy Archbishop Vitaly Oustinoff, a hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad based in New York.

Father Andrei's parish first lodged its registration application in 1997, Rosu reported, but the application was rejected as the paperwork had not been prepared correctly. The church applied again in 1998, but the government refused to register the church and the church's challenge to the decision through the appeal court in Chisinau was also unsuccessful. The church applied again in 2000. "This time the application was correct," Rosu told Keston, "but the government refused again. The reasons they gave in their refusal letter were completely artificial. They said an Orthodox denomination was already registered so they could not register another." The church took its case to the appeal court again, which ruled in the church's favour on 30 August 2001. But the government rejected the ruling and, in a suit signed by prime minister on behalf of the government, took the case last September to the Supreme Court.

Rosu complains that the Supreme Court has been dragging its feet in the case. "The first hearing was set for November last year, but at the last minute the court said it was not ready. The court kept postponing the case on various pretexts - four times in all. On only one of those occasions was there a genuine reason." She reported that when no-one from the government turned up in court on 29 May, she telephoned Gheorghe Armasu, the former chairman of the State Service for the Affairs of Cults who is now an ordinary member of the Service's staff, from the court to say the hearing was about to begin. "We told the government the hearing would go ahead without them if they didn't turn up. They still didn't send anyone."

The Moldovan government has been very reluctant to register any Orthodox jurisdictions or parishes outside the framework of the Moldovan Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, despite the fact that the country's laws do not specify that only one jurisdiction of any one faith can be registered. Despite a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg last December, confirmed in March, that the government had unlawfully rejected the repeated registration applications of the Bessarabian Orthodox Church of the Romanian Patriarchate, the government is insisting that the country's laws must be changed before the Bessarabian Church can be registered (see KNS 15 April 2002).

However, Justice Minister Ion Morei has gone further, claiming on Moldovan radio on 29 May that the ECHR decision is not binding. He said the government is only bound by the decisions of the Moldovan Supreme Court (which had earlier upheld the government's rejection of the Bessarabian Church's registration application) and that he has not changed his views since he pleaded in Strasbourg against the registration of the church. However, Morei avoided answering a question on whether the government will register the church. Likewise, Yatsko declined to tell Keston on 31 May when the Bessarabian Church would be registered or whether the government would pay the fine to the Church imposed by the ECHR.

Meanwhile, Vlad Cubreacov, a leading opposition politician and member of the Bessarabian Church's diocesan council who represented the Church in Strasbourg who disappeared on 21 March (see KNS 10 April 2002), reemerged on 24 May and was reunited with his wife Natalya and two children the following day. Cubreacov said he had been kidnapped, but has not so far revealed who he believes was behind the kidnapping. "Some people took him - he doesn't himself know who they were," a friend of Cubreacov, speaking from his home in Chisinau, told Keston on 30 May. Although he was not injured by the kidnappers, she reported that he is now in hospital for observation. "He could be there for ten days - it depends how he is feeling."

The Chisinau-based opposition newspaper Moldavskie Vedomosti, citing the Romanian agency RomNet, claimed on 25 May that blame for Cubreacov's kidnapping lay with "the Russian church". However, there has been no proof of this. (END)