Tuesday 19 October

On 30 August, after a two year battle, The Christian Science Society in St
Petersburg was finally registered by the authorities, despite the fact that this
organisation, which had existed before the revolution, had been active in St
Petersburg since 1995. Apparently, the prime reason for the delay in registering
the Christian Science society was the fact that it did not fulfil the requirement
of having existed for a continuous period of fifteen years on Russian territory.
As ALLA BOGACHEVA told Keston from the St Petersburg department of
the Ministry of Justice on 23 September, the question of whether the Christian
Science community had existed for fifteen years in Russia was �contentious�.

JOHANNA FRONTCZAK from the Christian Science Church in Boston, who
is responsible for links with Russia, explained further to Keston News Service:
�In a meeting that included two delegates from the society and a Ministry
Inspector, it was made known that the society is now legally reregistered. The
announcement marks the end of a diligent two year effort to gain reregistration
as a religious organisation and not as an informal group. The major sticking
point has been whether or not the society complies with Article 27 of the 1997
�Law on Freedom of Religion and Conscience��, stating that �religious
associations must have existed for no less than 15 years on said territory�.
Until now the Ministry has been unwilling to acknowledge the years that the
Society existed before the Russian Revolution, maintaining that the Society
was �created for and by foreigners exclusively�.

Frontczak told Keston that the society wanted its years of prerevolutionary
activity to be counted towards the 15-year requirement: however, according to
experts from the Christian Legal Centre in Moscow, the 1997 law could not be
applied retroactively, meaning that requirements stipulating founding members
be Russian might apply only to newly registered churches. �Armed with this
information, the society has refused to back down. The St Petersburg
department of the Ministry of Justice indicated well over a month ago its
intention to send the society�s reregistration application to Moscow to be
submitted to a committee of religious experts from the ministry for a final
decision. It would appear, however, that at the last minute the St Petersburg
department decided to take matters into its own hands, perhaps due to the fact
that the present attitude towards reregistration at the level of the Ministry of
Justice in Moscow is rather positive, one indication being the proposed
legislation to prolong the reregistration deadline for religious organisations by
another year.�

Thus a two year struggle has resulted in victory for the Christian Science
community. One of the leaders of the community, FILLIP VESELOVSKY,
who performed the arduous task of going from department to department to
obtain reregistration, told Keston in a telephone interview that �a copy of our
founding statutes, necessary to obtain registration, had been submitted to the St
Petersburg Ministry of Justice at the end of September 1997. In November
they asked us to supply documents proving our existence in Russia before the
revolution. After we had found the necessary documentation in the archives
we were told by the Ministry that we would not obtain registration before
March 1998 because they were awaiting instructions from Moscow on how to
interpret the 1997 Law on Freedom of Religion and Conscience. They then
demanded proof that the organisation had been registered before the
Revolution. We found a document in another archive which demonstrated that
the �Christian Science Organisation� had been registered with the city
authorities of St Petersburg in 1908. Then we were told that this
prerevolutionary organisation had been created exclusively for and by
foreigners. In November 1998 we were informed that our documents had been
mislaid. Subsequently we were asked to fill in a form granting temporary
registration (which is used for organisations who have not fulfilled the 15-year
requirement, who have to be reregistered annually and who have restricted
rights). We refused to do so. In February 1999, on the advice of lawyers at the
Slavyansk Legal Centre, we submitted four official complaints about the
infringement of our rights to the St Petersburg department of the Ministry of
Justice, the Procurator of St Petersburg, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian
Federation and the General Procurator of the Russian Federation.

On 31 March, the head of our organisation, GENNADI SHCHERBANEV, was
informed that our documents had been found, but as two years had elapsed we
would have to submit new ones. In May 1999 we supplied new documents but
the head of the department refused to sign them and insisted on temporary
registration. We again refused, but on 30 August we received an unexpected
telephone call informing us that we had been granted reregistration.�

According to Fillip Veselovsky, there are two other groups of Christian
Scientists in Russia: in Arsenev in Primorski krai (district) and in Ukhta
(Komi Republic). The largest group on the territory of the former Soviet
Union, already recognised by the Boston Church, is in Latvia. This group has
not been registered because the special medical commission which had been
convened to study Mary Baker Eddie�s book, submitted by the community with
their registration documents, decreed that spiritual healing does not exist.

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 1999