Issue 4, Article 22-24, 20 April 2000

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




Thursday 20 April 2000

By David Goldman, Keston News Service

During the days leading up to the Passover festival, Jews at the Central
Synagogue in Minsk, Belarus, experienced difficulties in getting access to
matzo. Leaders of the congregation, however, declined to protest against the
incident as evidence of a new surge of anti-Semitism.

On 18 April several men entered the Central Synagogue which is under the
patronage of the Khabad-Lyubavich movement. They introduced themselves as
employees of the Frunze inter-regional tax inspectorate. The inspectors cut
short the distribution of matzo among members of the Jewish community in
Minsk, placing under threat of disruption an essential part of one of the most
important Jewish religious festivals.

In connection with restrictions imposed by kosher law, which is particularly
carefully observed at the time of Passover, the majority of Orthodox Jewish
communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) do not
manufacture matzo themselves, but use specially imported American or Israeli
matzo. The baking of matzo in Israel and the USA begins not long before the
start of the festival (in line with the demands of Jewish religious regulations),
and in practice the matzo reach the CIS literally on the day before the festival.
The process of importing them has often been fraught with bureaucratic
difficulties such as disputes with customs officials and border officials,
especially in Belarus.

Because of the expense involved in acquiring and delivering the matzo, Jewish
congregations sell them so that they can recoup at least part of their
expenditure. The matzo are sold at a price that constitutes between 10 and 30
per cent of the real value. Most congregations of the CIS work in this way, but
the law of Belarus creates special difficulties. The religious community is in
theory obliged:
1. to set up a commercial structure for retail activity;
2. to register with the tax inspectorate;
3. to pre-pay taxes on expected turnover and income;
4. to receive a license for trade in edible produce;
5. to receive a certificate for the goods (matzo) valid for a limited period of no
more than 30 days;
6. to pay value added tax (20 per cent) on sale of the goods;
7. to create a point of trade that meets the demands of fire and sanitary
8. to effect the sale of matzo with the assurance of profit, since unprofitable
enterprises are liable to closure and fines.

If all these demands were in fact met in full, Keston was told in the Central
Synagogue, the price of the matzo would reach an amount that would be
unthinkable for most pensioners or salaried workers in Belarus. After
consulting with lawyers, the leaders of the community agreed that the matzo
will be sold to those who make donations to the synagogue for the construction
of a new building which will begin in the autumn of this year. The level of
contribution has not been set specially, but contributors have been told the sum
recommended, which is equivalent to one US dollar. Pensioners and invalids
on low incomes receive matzo without any conditions, financed by the Jewish
Joint Distribution Committee and the charitable fund 'Rakhamim'.

Reports that 'they are selling matzo' in the Central Synagogue apparently
provoked a sharp reaction from the tax inspectors. They sealed a container of
matzo and made employees at the synagogue provide written explanations
about the sale. After this they remained in the building. When Keston asked
why, the tax inspectorate employees refused to give their names and even tried
to remove the Keston representative from the synagogue by force. Meanwhile
people continued to arrive at the synagogue for matzo. At 15.00 around 50
people were at the door of the synagogue. All of them were advised to leave the
synagogue and told to obtain further information by telephone.

An anonymous source at the Ministry of Justice commented on the situation as
follows: 'Our law has been drawn up in such a way that it is impossible not to
break it, particularly in relation to any - even the most insignificant - economic
activity. This is not a mistake, it's not bad management or thoughtlessness - its
aim is to place citizens outside the bounds of the legality. A citizen who daily
breaks the law presents an easy target for the controllers and inspectors who
issue huge fines on the slightest pretexts.'

The co-ordinator of the Habad-Lyubavich movement in Belarus, Rabbi
JOSEPH GRUZMAN, declined to give an official comment on the events. The
leaders of the Minsk congregation were also not inclined to categorise the
incident as evidence of new hostility towards Jews on the part of the
authorities. According to Keston's source at the Soviet of Ministers in Belarus,
'if only LUKASHENKO were to learn about this, then he would take these
rascals' rifle-straps away - no-one needs shouts about anti-Semitism and attacks
on the Jews'. The source believes that it is understood that if nothing similar
occurs in any other Jewish congregation, then this event will have no
meaningful resonance, at a time when 'they are trying not to offend the Jews
here'. (END)

Thursday 20 April 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Albania's State Cults Committee has introduced new registration requirements
for foreign religious workers, by which they must receive written approval
from the Cults Committee before gaining residency. Several foreigners have
alleged that these new rules, which are not authorised by statute, have led to
discrimination and harassment.

In a telephone interview from Tirana on 6 April, BEHAR BEJKO, head of the
State Cults Committee, confirmed to Keston that foreign religious workers now
require a letter from his office before they can apply for residence permits but
declined to specify the statutory basis for this change in procedure. `I had a
meeting in the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the police chief one month
ago,' Bejko said. `We have a lot of foreign citizens who want to live in Albania,
but we have no information about them. How can the Ministry of Internal
Affairs give residence permission without knowing who they are?' He told
Keston that all foreign religious workers need do is to contact his office,
explain who they are and for whom they work. `I will provide a document with
permission, saying that they work in such and such an organisation in such and
such a place. There is no problem.' Bejko repeatedly refused to inform Keston
which law provided for this requirement for permission from his office,
referring all enquiries to the Internal Affairs Ministry (though he declined to
give any names or telephone numbers of relevant officials there). He also
declined to specify how long the new system had been in operation.

Bejko claimed he was `very surprised' to learn that any foreign religious
workers had encountered any problems with the police over residency. `I am
not aware that anyone has problems with the state over permission.' He added:
`If anyone has problems they can contact me. I am sorry these people don't
phone me. It is for these people to contact me and I can explain to them the

However, a number of foreign religious workers have reported problems
acquiring or prolonging residence permits. Fr HENRY VELDKAMP,
secretary to Roman Catholic Archbishop RROK MIRDITA, told Keston by
telephone from Tirana on 6 April that he is one of a `whole list' of foreign
priests and sisters who have had bureaucratic problems with residence permits.
`The residence permit I got one year ago ran out at the end of March,' said Fr
Veldkamp, who is from the Netherlands. `I lodged my application to prolong
my residence permit with the police in early March, but over the past month
they have sent back the application form twice. The police will only accept
such an application when you have approval from the State Cults Committee.
But the police told me that they needed a declaration from my bishop that I live
in his residence, although this had been made clear already enough through a
written statement by the Bishop.'

Fr Veldkamp complains particularly that every document needs to be notarised,
demanding time and expense in getting such copies from notaries, but adds:
`Does this not happen to be the case in any bureaucratic society?'

The State Cults Committee was established in 1992 as the Religious Section of
the Council of Ministers, but gained its present name and shape last September,
with the new duty to give out certificates for foreign religious workers.
However, it appears to be unpopular among many religious communities. `The
Committee was perhaps planned to smooth relations with religious groups,' Fr
Veldkamp told Keston, `but so far we have had merely bureaucratic
experiences with the new system. We have seen no benefit from its existence
so far. We have asked many times that churches and other religious
communities be exempted from tax on the import of materials for building
churches and houses. We are after all a non-profit organisation.' So far, he
reports, the Catholics have asked in vain. However, on the question of
residence permits Fr Veldkamp is keen to stress that he believes the problem
lies mainly with the police and that the State Cults Committee has generally
been helpful.

The `abolition' of religion in Albania in 1967 until it was relegalised in 1990
has led many religious groups to a high dependence on foreign religious
workers. (END)

Thursday 20 April 2000

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

In clear contravention of Russian federal law, the justice department of
Kostroma province about 200 miles north-east of Moscow has convened a
committee of specialists on religion to examine the activities of a local
Pentecostal church belonging to a centralised religious organisation.

According to Article 11 Point 8 of the 1997 law on religion, a registering organ
may refer a religious organisation for 'state expert analysis by specialists in
religious studies' only if it has not been created 'by an existing religious
organisation or according to a confirmation issued by an existing organisation'.
One of two Pentecostal congregations in Kostroma city, Family of God church
is a member of the Global Strategy Christian Association (GSCA), the church's
pastor ANDREI DANILOV told Keston on 11 April. GSCA is in turn
registered as a member of the Moscow-based Russian Unified Fellowship of
Christians of the Evangelical Faith - a centralised religious organisation led by

However, when Keston pointed this out on 11 April to NINA KOLUPAYEVA,
assistant head of Kostroma justice department, she replied that in the given
instance the possibility of the church engaging in dangerous practices meant
that it was 'insignificant whether it is in a centralised organisation.' If the
church were to be granted re-registration, Kolupayeva explained, it would win
the status of a legal personality status in the province, for which act her
department would be responsible. She was sceptical about whether the
centralised organisation of which it was a member would take legal
responsibility for the church: 'Even though its founding documents and charter
are supported by a centralised religious organisation, the relationship is purely
formal.' Moreover, Kolupayeva contrasted this de facto independence from
Ryakhovsky's union - 'the church's property does not belong to the centralised
organisation, and it does not pay them any money as far as I know' - with the
total dependence of parishes upon the Moscow Patriarchate: 'They are
subordinate to the centre according to the Church's canonical rules -this is more
than a mere formality.'

Kolupayeva expressed certainty that the decree according to which the
committee had been created - 'On the Procedure for Conducting State
Religious-Expert Analysis' - was a local decree, but she was unable to provide
Keston with further details. Speaking to Keston on 13 April, however,
MARINA SMIRNOVA, the official responsible for religious affairs in
Kostroma's provincial administration, said that the decree in question was
federal decree No. 565, signed by then Russian prime minister SERGEI
KIRIYENKO on 3 June 1998. Point 2 of this decree states: 'State religious-
expert analysis is conducted � [in the case of] a local religious organisation
which does not have confirmation of membership of a centralised religious
organisation of the same creed�, when the necessity arises for the registering
organ to conduct additional investigations into whether the organisation is
religious or tests of the reliability of information relating to the foundations of
its doctrine and relevant practices.'

When Keston pointed out to Smirnova that, according to the 1997 law, expert
analysis could be conducted at local level only if a religious organisation did
not belong to a centralised religious organisation, she countered that in Decree
565 this provision 'does not stop there but continues after a comma.' She
evidently considered the clause in Point 2 concerning the necessity of
additional investigations to constitute separate grounds for conducting an
expert analysis rather than as contingent upon non-membership of a centralised

The need for additional investigations had arisen, head of Kostroma justice
department LYUDMILA ALIYEVA told Keston on 11 April, following the
appearance of questionable material about Family of God church in the local
media. Whenever he asks why the church has not yet been registered, Pastor
Danilov remarked to Keston, the justice department points to the existence of
this negative media coverage, 'but when we ask for a written refusal they say
they have no basis on which to issue one.' In October 1999, Danilov explained
to Keston, the State Television and Radio Company in Kostroma (STRC
Kostroma) featured excerpts on their news bulletin Teleinfo taken from a video
recorded secretly from the balcony of the House of Culture which the church
had hired for a prayer conference. The conference, he said, was led by
American pastor BILL NORTON. Danilov described how, when Norton
prayed for his (Danilov's) mother, she 'fell in the spirit whilst on the stage',
while another woman began to cry out when he began to pray for her: 'So he
forbade this devil from manifesting itself in her during the prayer.' The
television commentary to these scenes, said Danilov, contained accusations of
hypnosis and exertion of a harmful influence on the psyche.

On 13 April a reporter at STRC Kostroma, FYODOR LAPSHIN, told Keston
that he had been given a video cassette of a Family of God service by a man
whose identity he could not reveal: 'As a journalist I have to respect the
anonymity of my sources.' However, he did say that in his view this person had
no connections with the security organs. He did not know whether the tape had
been recorded by his anonymous source or in secret. Lapshin confirmed that he
had used clips from this video cassette in a news broadcast on Teleinfo - clips,
he said, which would 'cause any normal person to ask questions, as they
indicated that all was not well.' Asked for further details, Lapshin described
how his broadcast showed a ceremony of laying on of hands, following which
some members of the church congregation began to cry out while others fell on
the floor. In addition, he said, the broadcast featured parts of an interview with
a girl who had left Family of God church some years ago, in which she
explained what disturbed her about the church's activities.

Following the broadcast, Lapshin told Keston, the Kostroma department of
justice called upon the local committee of specialists on religion to consider the
activities of the church. Judging by what he later heard from members of the
committee, he said, the justice department officials had seen the church's
activities on his Teleinfo news report and not from another source. The person
who had provided him with the tape, added Lapshin, took it back immediately
after the broadcast.

Kolupayeva maintained that she had not seen the Teleinfo report and so was
not certain whether it contained the same material that the justice department
had viewed, which she said had been sent by the public prosecutor: 'They are
authorised to take such recordings - surveillance is one of their duties.' On
viewing the video material of the church's activities, Kolupayeva explained, it
became clear that the justice department could not make an independent
decision about whether church had departed from its stated doctrine or was
violating the law, and so the expert committee was convened: 'We are not in a
position to judge doctrine - our relationship with all confessions is neutral - it
is for the expert committee to determine if the church is dangerous or actually a
religion.' Lyudmila Aliyeva told Keston that the committee consisted of seven
people representing cultural, educational and medical specialities nominated by
various Kostroma administrative departments. As far as she knew, there was no
representative of the Russian Orthodox Church on the committee, 'although
they may have their say as independent experts'. Representatives of Family of
God church itself would also be given an opportunity to take part in the
discussions, she said.

Smirnova, Aliyeva and Kolupayeva all repeatedly stressed to Keston that the
committee of specialists was no cause for concern. Pastor Danilov was not so
confident, however: 'Although we have not been accused of violating the law,
STRC Kostroma know that if the authorities believe that sort of thing [hypnosis
etc.] goes on we will not be re-registered.' Without re-registration, he pointed
out, his 300-strong congregation will no longer be able to rent premises in
Kostroma. (END)

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