Issue 5, Articles 11-12, 9 May 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.



Tuesday 9 May 2000

by David Goldman, Keston News Service

Lawyers acting as legal consultants to religious communities, groups and
centres whose activity either wholly or partly depends on the work of foreign
priests, have concluded that the `Statute on the system of inviting foreign
clergy to the Republic of Belarus and their activity on its territory', issued by
the Belarusian authorities in early April, contravenes not only the Constitution,
but the Law on Freedom of Conscience itself.

The final text of the Statute was adopted on 4 April, but was only sent to
regional organs for religious affairs just before the Orthodox Easter
celebrations (held on 30 April), although its amendments and additions came
into immediate effect.

Point 1 of this Statute establishes `the procedure ... for the invitation of foreign
priests (persons holding a religious rank) to the Republic of Belarus for the
purposes of preaching and religious activity; for the transfer of foreign
clergymen from one religious organisation to another; for the appointment or
replacement by foreign religious organisations of the leaders of religious
associations, their administrations or centres active in Belarus'. It contradicts
Article 7 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, which declares that the state
does not interfere in the activity of religious organisations. Given that the
juridical status of the Statute does not have the force of law but only refines or
elucidates aspects of the law, it cannot from the legal point of view be
considered more important than the law: it makes no legal sense for it to take
precedence over the law.

Lawyers complain that the majority of `supra-legal acts' are actually intended
to supersede the law. One lawyer, who has many years of experience working
in the Procuracy and who wished to remain anonymous, told Keston News
Service, `Our laws correspond to all international standards. However, those
who apply the laws in practice are governed not by the letter nor even the spirit
of the law, but by instructions issued by the authorities which do not in fact
have the status of law.' The lawyer maintains that such is the level of practice
and legal knowledge among citizens and especially among government
officials which has become standard over the past 80 years.

When considering both the short and long-term effects of this Statute,
specialists believe that religious communities, organisations and centres which
have a shortage of indigenous clergy will experience more and more
difficulties and will face ever-increasing material demands. Some communities
may disappear altogether. The scope of the Statute will affect not only less-
established confessions and denominations, but also the Catholic Church,
Jewish and Muslim organisations. On the other hand, this Statute is less likely
to affect the Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) since in the majority of
cases it uses Belarusian priests or priests trained in `fraternal Russia'. (END)

Tuesday 9 May 2000

by Anna Vasilyeva, Keston News Service

For the ninth year since the Church was relegalised, Crimea's Ukrainian Greek
Catholic community has had to hold its Easter services in borrowed premises.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the Eastern Catholic
churches, has been in communion with Rome since the Union of Brest in 1596.
The Church was suppressed by the Soviet authorities after the annexation of
Western Ukraine during the Second World War and was relegalised only in

Despite having official registration in the town of Yalta since 1991, the local
Greek Catholic parish of St Nicholas still has to hold its services in the Roman
Catholic Church of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. About 60 Greek Catholics
gathered there to celebrate their Palm Sunday on 23 April, with a greater
number on Easter Sunday, 30 April. The community in the port city of
Sevastopol - also registered in 1991 - likewise has only a precarious existence.

Father NIKOLAI BERDNIK, a Greek Catholic chaplain of the Ukrainian Fleet
in Sevastopol, maintained that there were 1000 Greek Catholics in the city,
including officers and sailors from the Ukrainian fleet. Many of the longer-
established Greek Catholics moved there because they were not allowed to live
in Western Ukraine during the Soviet period. `At present we are performing
services in premises rented by the cultural organisation Prosvita,' he told
Keston News Service on 23 April, `but by the end of the summer the lease
agreement between Prosvita and the photographic goods factory expires. The
owners do not want to extend the agreement as they have received more
profitable offers for leasing these premises. I have no idea where to hold
services after that.'

Father Nikolai told Keston that his community has tried to begin work on
building its own church in Sevastopol, so far without success. `Our request to
allocate us a plot of land to build our own church has been declined twice.' He
attributed this refusal to what he claimed was a Russian chauvinist policy being
conducted in the Crimea. `Ukrainians are not very welcome here.'

ANATOLI SEGORAH, head of the Department for Religious Affairs in the
Sevastopol city council, claimed that his office was trying to help the Greek
Catholics. `You have to understand that this confession is very untraditional for
our region,' he told Keston in a telephone interview on 24 April. `As for giving
them a plot of land, we have already offered them two different places but they
rejected them giving the reason for their refusal that the sites were in a
suburban location. But we simply do not have free land in the centre.' Asked
what possible solution he saw, Segorah replied that according to the law land
should be provided and a solution would be found. `The only thing I can say
for sure is that it will not be in the centre. Sevastopol is an architectural
conservation area.'

Asked in a telephone interview with Keston on 25 April why the church had
rejected the plots of land offered by the Sevastopol city authorities, Father
Nikolai replied that one plot on Makarova street was situated near a rubbish
dump, while the other on Zagurolko street was on the side of a mountain.
Asked how his community intended to finance the construction of a church,
Father Nikolai declared that they planned to launch an appeal to Catholic
organisations in the West.

There has been little progress in building a Greek Catholic church in Yalta
either. STEGNI PETRUNELYA, a parishioner of Yalta's Saint Nicholas
parish, told Keston on 23 April that the Greek Catholic community was very
grateful to the Roman Catholics for allowing them to worship in their church
but said that she hoped and prayed that they would be able to pray in their own
church one day. Asked whether they had approached authorities on the matter
of allocating them a plot of land for building their own church, she replied that
they had done so but their request was still being considered.

Such a plot of land was supposed to be allocated a long time ago, but its
planned location had been changed four times already, Keston was told.
NATALYA MATULYAK, a Greek Catholic parishioner who has been closely
involved in trying to gain a plot of land, explained what she claimed were
typical bureaucratic obstacles. She told Keston on 26 April that the city
authorities would allocate them a plot and then the community had to obtain
approval from various organisations such as the environmental inspection
department, the health authorities and others. Several times when permission
from all the parties concerned were eventually granted, the city authorities
would reconsider their original decision and say that the plot they had
themselves allocated was inappropriate for one reason or another. The fourth
and last alternative turned out to be the best, as it had successfully overcome a
great number of bureaucratic obstacles and an official decision had been taken
allowing the Greek Catholic community to conduct exploration works for the
construction of the church on Darsan hill in Yalta.

The decision of 23 April 1999 was signed by seven officials: mayor of Yalta V.
MARCHENKO, deputy mayor of Yalta V. ULYANOV, first deputy mayor of
Yalta I. BARANNIKOV, the secretary of the city council A. SHIBIRIN, head
of the law department N. METLA, head of the city architectural department Y.
IVANCHENKO, and head of the conservation of monuments inspection I.
BARANOV. In the wake of this decision, all that remained for the Greek
Catholics was the legalisation of ownership of the land. That was where the
whole process came to an abrupt halt. Baranov, who had already signed the
April 1999 decision, refused to sign a document legalising the community's
ownership. Without his signature the process cannot be continued as, even
though the community is now entitled to start the construction, it is a risky
venture until they are registered as the legal owners of the land. The case was
transferred to the governmental environmental commission in the Crimean
capital Simferopol. A year later the community sees no progress being made.

Matulyak added that Ivanchenko has also been forced to reconsider his
previous position concerning the project, but had remained adamant. According
to official letters presented by Matulyak, the environmental commission had
protested against Ivanchenko's actions as the chief architect of Yalta and he
was summoned to Simferopol to give a written explanation. In his declaration
for the commission he emphasised several times that he considered his actions
legal within the terms of reference of his job and that he was very much in
favour of the church being built.

Despite the intervention of several deputies of Ukraine's Supreme Council
nothing has changed so far for Crimea's Greek Catholics. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.