Friday 28 January 2000
MOSCOW'S ANGLICAN PARISH NARROWLY AVOIDS LIQUIDATION

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

'The local department of justice has informed us that if we are denied
reregistration on Friday [28 January] they will start liquidation the following
Monday,' chaplaincy assistant ANDREW WILLIAMS told Keston on 23
January. On 28 January, however, St Andrew's Anglican parish won its long
battle for legal status in Russia when its third application for reregistration was
finally accepted.

That same morning, Williams told Keston, chaplain FR SIMON STEPHENS
had been waiting at the British Embassy in Moscow to collect a diplomatic
pouch sent on the early morning flight from London, which contained
supplementary documentation requested by the parish's new lawyer just days
before. According to Williams, this documentation did not differ from what
had already been submitted. In addition, he told Keston, the document
delivered on 28 January which certified the parish's reregistration was
backdated 31 December 1999, the deadline for reregistration of religious
organisations under the 1997 law on religion.

Since July 1991 St Andrew's parish - currently numbering some 200
communicants - has been holding regular worship services in the late
nineteenth-century Anglican church building in central Moscow. This was
confiscated by the communist authorities following the 1917 Revolution and
later turned into studios for the Soviet state recording company Melodiya,
which continues to occupy the building. During a state visit by QUEEN
ELIZABETH II to Moscow on 19 October 1994, then Russian president
BORIS YELTSIN promised that the church would be returned to the parish. In
1996 the parish gained ownership rights to the adjacent parsonage. Although
the parish signed a joint use agreement for the main church building drawn up
in collaboration with Melodiya in 1992, Andrew Williams explained to Keston
on 13 January, 'Melodiya never signed it. Our rights to the building are
questionable, and Melodiya does not acknowledge them.'

Registered in 1993 as a religious organisation ('obyedineniye') under the 1990
law on religion, it was not until 7 July 1999 that the parish first applied for
reregistration as a local religious organisation in accordance with the 1997 law
on religion. On 10 August a letter of rejection signed by assistant director of
the main Moscow department of justice VLADIMIR ZHBANKOV explained
that the parish 'does not meet the requirements of Articles 8 and 10 of the 1997
federal law of the Russian Federation "On Freedom of Conscience and
Religious Associations", for example, a religious organisation is recognised as
a free association of citizens or other persons permanently and legally residing
on the territory of the Russian Federation.' A 15 January 2000 church memo
entitled 'St Andrew's Re-registration. Situation to date' claims that the parish
charter did in fact include this phrase, but it was decided that in order to 'avoid
unpleasantness', the parish would resubmit the application rather than take the
justice department to court.

Having gathered further documentation felt to give additional support to the
reregistration process, the parish submitted a second application on 25
November 1999. In an interview with Keston on 27 December, Andrew
Williams said that the parish's lawyer subsequently learnt from sources inside
the justice department that this application would also be rejected. Shortly
before Christmas, he said, the parish therefore alerted Archbishop of
Canterbury GEORGE CAREY, who, along with the Bishop of Europe, Dean of
Durham and various Episcopalian bishops in the United States, sent faxes of
concern to PATRIARCH ALEKSI II. According to Williams, when Moscow
Patriarchate representative FR ILARION ALFEYEV then telephoned the
justice department in order to ask why the parish had been refused, he was told:
'Why are you concerned about those people? They're not even Christians!' 'We
thought that the patriarch would be the clinching influence,' Williams
explained, 'but it wasn't at all.' On 24 December the parish was once again
refused reregistration.

Requesting to speak to Fr Ilarion on 29 December, Keston was instead referred
to VLADIMIR SHMALY, who explained that he was the person at the
Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church Relations who dealt
with relations with Protestant Churches within Russia. Shmaly commented that
when he had gone to the justice department in person on 28 December
following Fr Ilarion's telephone call, 'they were very cold towards me to put it
mildly. ' He then read out to Keston the reply - signed by Assistant Director
Zhbankov - to what he described as a 'detailed letter of enquiry' into the
situation sent by the patriarch and METROPOLITAN KIRILL to Minister of
Justice YURI CHAIKA a few days before.

According to Zhbankov's letter, the parish had been refused reregistration
because 1) the agenda of the church council meeting of 29 October 1999 had as
one of its points 'the discussion and ratification of a new version of the charter'
rather than 'the discussion of alterations and additions to the charter'; 2) the
parish was referred to as 'St Andrew's' on a number of occasions rather than 'the
Anglican Church in Moscow'; 3) no supplementary documentation was
submitted confirming that the parish was part of the Church of England; 4) the
charter did not meet Article 8 Points 1 and 3 of the 1997 law, under which a) a
religious organisation is considered to be a free association of citizens or other
persons permanently and legally residing on the territory of the Russian
Federation and b) a local religious organisation is a religious organisation
consisting of ten or more participants who are at least 18 years old and who are
permanently residing in one locality or in one urban or rural settlement; and 5)
no documentation had been submitted confirming the rights of the chaplain,
churchwardens, treasurer and those members of the church council who are not
Russian citizens to reside on the territory of the Russian Federation.

In Shmaly's view, these reasons were 'not political but on a technical level - in
run-of-the-mill formulations.' He pointed out that although the 25 November
application had been dealt with within the month stipulated by the 1997 law,
this only left six days before the reregistration deadline of 31 December 1999.
'Imagine you're an official. There's no room for manoeuvre if you receive an
incorrectly drafted application that late.' A lack of experienced lawyers, in
Shmaly's view, was at the root of the problem: 'It is regretful and perplexing
that their priest never rang our lawyers. They can get around these problems -
sandpaper them smooth - which a nonprofessional cannot.' In conclusion, he
remarked that the errors in the Anglicans' application appeared to be the result
of 'absent-mindedness' and that not enough care had evidently been taken over
important parts of the charter: 'I can say quite openly that the impression has
been created of a casual attitude on the part of the Anglican Church towards
Russian legislation.'

Despite the fact that the justice department had clearly given itself the option of
a further refusal by referring in the 24 December letter to 'other breaches' of
legislation which it did not specify, the parish submitted a third application on
29 December. On 13 January Andrew Williams told Keston that this
application had taken note of the five grounds for refusal enumerated in the
second rejection. At that stage, he said, the church leadership did not wish to
make the issue public: 'The Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to use diplomatic
channels.' According to Williams, Archbishop Carey had expressed extreme
anger that the parish had been refused reregistration in a letter sent to the
Russian ambassador in London in late December. The reply, he said, stated that
the parish had not submitted a correct application and suggested that it find a
good Russian lawyer.

Williams assured Keston that St Andrew's had always used professional
Russian lawyers. When asked whether the parish had omitted supplementary
documentation from the second application, such as confirmation of
membership of the Church of England, he admitted that this had indeed been
missing. On 22 December, he said, churchwarden JAMES CONNELL
therefore went to the department of justice with notarised documentation
confirming the parish's relationship to the Church of England and the Church
of England's legal status in England: 'Zhbankov refused to accept them.'

According to a January 2000 parish memo entitled 'Central Justice Department
Rejection Letter of 24 December 1999', it was 'blatantly untrue' that this
documentation had been omitted. Addressing the other grounds for refusal, the
parish accepted that it had been referred to as both 'St Andrew's' and 'the
Anglican Church in Moscow', questioned how it was possible to have
'alterations and amendments' to a charter of what was in effect a new legal
entity ('organizatsiya' rather than 'obyedineniye'), claimed that the charter did
state that the parish was a voluntary organisation open to people of any
nationality with a founding committee of ten Russians all resident in Moscow
and maintained that there was no legal requirement to submit documentation
proving residence for any of its members. The memo
concludes that in claiming 'other breaches of the conditions of the existing
legislation of the Russian Federation' without further explanation in its letter of
refusal, the justice department was itself in breach of the law.

Speaking to Keston on 30 December CHARLES LONSDALE, first secretary
for political affairs at the British Embassy in Moscow, commented that the
problems connected with the application seemed to be 'just bureaucracy, not a
determined effort to stop the parish reregistering. The Ministry of Justice has
told us in the past that nothing is going to happen on 1 January, and with an
extension of the reregistration deadline in the offing I would be amazed if the
authorities did anything.' On 13 January Andrew Williams was also optimistic:
'Since the pressure has been on they will probably reregister us.' On 10 January
Vladimir Shmaly had also pointed out that there would soon be an extension to
the reregistration deadline. However, he also commented that technically there
could be 'unpleasant consequences' if the parish was again denied reregistration
before this extension came into effect - 'I'm not sure what, I'm not a lawyer.'

Speaking to Keston on 17 January, Vladimir Zhbankov was quite clear,
however, about what would happen if the parish were rejected a third time:
'That will be it - liquidation is the serious consequence. Their property will be
confiscated.' If the parish wished to complain, he maintained, they should do so
immediately: 'If they think they have been wronged they should complain now
and challenge the reasons for refusal. We know we're right according to the
law, they probably do to.' He remained unmoved by outside attempts to
influence the proceedings, remarking with mild sarcasm: 'It won't do any good
complaining to the Queen or the Archbishop [of Canterbury] or the patriarch. If
they want to complain they should do so in the proper manner, through the
lawcourts.'

In Zhbankov's view, there was 'one simple reason' why the parish was being
refused reregistration: 'The leaders of the church have not shown any respect
for the current legislation of the Russian Federation. This is a church with
traditions, a serious church, not a sect, but they appear to have a devil-may-care
attitude.' He stressed that no one from the church had taken any interest in
reregistration: 'They started applying a few months before the deadline, but the
law came into effect in October 1997. What were they doing for two years?'
When Keston asked whether the problems did indeed lie in small details of
wording, he replied that putting different names for the organisation and
submitting a charter with errors in it amounted to negligence, which was
'serious'. These problems arose, he said, if a group did not have 'a proper
lawyer.' When Keston started to ask if Zhbankov had indeed refused to accept
documentation confirming membership of the Church of England, he
interrupted, commenting 'I can't talk about details, I have so many applications.'

Although it had been submitted two weeks before, Zhbankov claimed not to
know what was in the documentation of the third application. However, he
emphasised that if everything it contained was in order, then the parish would
be registered: 'We haven't anything against the Anglicans operating on our
territory, especially as many of them are embassy representatives. Besides, I
cannot refuse reregistration for religious motives - even if they drank children's
blood I would register them if the papers are correctly drawn up.' Although the
parish was obviously 'respectable', said Zhbankov, by applying so late it had
fallen into what he called 'the dubious church category'. He explained that this
was made up of those groups which were not in fact religious but attempted to
obtain the advantages of religious organisation status.

Legal status is vital to the parish's claim to St Andrew's church building. On 27
December Andrew Williams told Keston that although Moscow city
government and state property committee had been very supportive to the
parish, they had explained that it would need to get reregistered before it could
recover the church building. There has been some suspicion in the parish that
its reregistration problems might be connected with a desire on Melodiya's part
not to give up the building: although the city government gave the recording
company new premises over four years ago, Melodiya has still not left the
church. Williams told Keston that only four Melodiya employees worked at the
church, and that the company rented the building to other recording companies,
musicians and members of Moscow's nouveau riche who wished to make their
own records: 'They hardly ever use it. About once every three months you hear
them recording something serious.' In view of this, he thought Melodiya made
a considerable amount of money from the building and might be loath to give it
up.

On 29 December assistant director of Melodiya DMITRI MIKHAILOVICH,
declining to give his surname, assured Keston that Melodiya would be moving
'at some point - we'll wait until after the holidays and then get started.' He said
that the company wanted to move, but that there were lots of technical
problems, such as fire regulations, to be attended to in the new building. When
Keston referred to the rumours that Melodiya might take concrete measures to
try and stay, he replied 'Come off it! There's no way we want to stay in that
building.' On 28 January Andrew Williams told Keston that Melodiya had
stated that they would be vacating the building on 2 February.

On 23 January Fr Stephens was optimistic about the parish's chances: 'We will
win the battle because Christ is King,' he told his congregation, 'we shall be
reregistered.' He related how he and the British ambassador's deputy had had a
meeting at the justice department on 21 January, during which Zhbankov had
hinted that a third rejection was likely. In response, he said, he had asked
Zhbankov to recommend a lawyer who could check through the parish's
application and correct any mistakes before a decision was reached. Fr
Stephens then announced that he had agreed to pay Zhbankov's suggested
lawyer 35,000 roubles ($1200 or 750 GBP) for this service. (Andrew Williams
later told Keston that this rate was more expensive than previous lawyers that
the parish had used, but below that of well-known Moscow lawyers who
specialise in religious cases.) It was this lawyer, Williams told Keston on 28
January, who had requested documentation be sent post haste from England.
(END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000