KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 11 December 2000

destruction of the Orthodox cross in the village of Mazanka, Simferopol region,
during the night of 22/23 November, is the latest incident in the war of crosses
on the peninsula. It is widely assumed that the cross was destroyed by local
Crimean Tatars, who say that their opposition to such public Christian symbols
is being deliberately ignored.


by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service

The destruction of the Orthodox cross in the village of Mazanka, Simferopol
region, during the night of 22/23 November, is the latest incident in the war of
crosses on the peninsula (see KNS 15 November 2000). It is widely assumed
that the cross - erected earlier in the year on public land to mark the parish
patronal festival - was destroyed by local Crimean Tatars. The leadership of the
Crimean Tatar Mejlis and representatives of the Spiritual Leadership of
Muslims in Crimea justify the destruction by arguing that their opposition to
such public Christian symbols is being deliberately ignored. They are critical of
the policies of the local diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, which they
say has support of local officials.

Keston has learned that in the wake of the destruction of the Mazanka cross,
Archbishop Lazar (Shvets) did not allow the local priest to attend a meeting of
the Russian-speaking population and the parish the following day.

Almost all the crosses which have been demolished had been put up on public
land, apart from the cross in the village of Kirovskoye, which was on the site
where an Orthodox church is to be built. The diocese planned to erect crosses
on public land (such as at the entrance to major Crimean towns, including
Yevpatoriya, Stary Krym and Sevastopol) and on hill tops (as in the village of
Morskoye), and has also put up religious posters in public places. The
Orthodox Church should have sought approval for this from the local
authorities. In addition, it should have sought the approval of the local Crimean
Tatar population, which is of Muslim background, for every case. The
chairman of Crimea's Council for Religious Affairs Vladimir Maliborsky
confirmed to Keston that the Church did not get this approval.

The Crimean press, which blames the Crimean Tatars entirely for these actions,
has bitterly criticised the destruction of the crosses and used the incidents to
insult the Crimean Tatars.

Father Paisy (Dmokhovsky), priest at St Vladimir's church in Sevastopol and
secretary to the Crimean diocese in Sevastopol region, complained of the
Crimean Tatar leaders' `openly aggressive' attitude to the Orthodox. `We are
acting in accordance with our traditions,' he told Keston by telephone on 29
November, `and everything that has happened offends us deeply.' He claimed
that articles in the Crimean Tatar press were also `offensive', but said that the
Orthodox Church was not planning to respond.

Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev, however, doubts that there is any
religious motivation for erecting the crosses. The diocesan leadership `is not
governed by religious requirements' but intends to `create an atmosphere of
inter-religious tension,' he told Keston in Simferopol on 28 November. He
claimed that the archbishop is `obeying orders from his masters in Moscow and
is obliged to carry them out'. Jemilev does not contest that the crosses have
been removed by the Crimean Tatars but believes this was a `legitimate
reaction' which the Orthodox foresaw.

Tensions between the Orthodox and Muslim religious communities over the
erection of crosses have threatened to develop into a wider conflict. In Saki in
western Crimea, conflict erupted in early November, forcing the local
administration to intervene.

The Crimean government has been trying to resolve the dispute. It held an open
session in Simferopol on 6 November attended by Archbishop Lazar, Crimean
Muslim leader Mufti Emir Ali Efendi, Jemilev, Arsen Alchikov (representative
of the Mejlis at the Spiritual Leadership of Muslims), Crimean Prime Minister
Sergei Kunitsin, Vladimir Maliborsky of the CRA, as well as representatives
from the interior ministry and other organisations. According to Jemilev,
Maliborsky supported the Orthodox Church. Alchikov told Keston on 28
November that the meeting agreed that no new crosses should go up but that a
commensurate number of Muslim symbols be erected. It also decided that
Orthodox posters be removed after 7 January 2001 (Christmas Day in the
Eastern Calendar).

Although the executive seems to want to calm the conflict, the Crimean
legislature does not. The decision reached on 6 November should have been
signed by all parties but according to Alchikov, `the following day Archbishop
Lazar rejected this decision'. He claims this refusal followed a meeting between
the archbishop and the chairman of the Crimean Supreme Soviet, Leonid
Hrach, who `influenced the decision of the archbishop'. Hrach also reportedly
supports the diocese in its plans to rebuild the Orthodox cathedral in the centre
of Simferopol. Jemilev too laments the diocese's refusal to abide by what was
agreed. `Despite our agreement, Archbishop Lazar continued his policy of
erecting crosses in the region.' (END)

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