Monday 24 January 2000

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

Will the apparently close working relationship between Unity and the
Communist Party in the new Duma - demonstrated by their alliance on 18
January to vote in communist GENNADI SELEZNEV as the parliament's
speaker - have an adverse impact on religious freedom in Russia? The
chairmanship of the Duma's religion committee remains in Communist hands:
VIKTOR ZORKALTSEV, the Communist deputy who had headed the
committee in the old Duma, was reappointed to the post on 19 January. But
Zorkaltsev has a new assistant chairman who is from Unity. ALEKSANDR
CHUYEV, the deputy chosen the same day to replace prominent human rights
defender VALERI BORSHCHEV as assistant chairman of the committee, may
prove to be a key figure.

A representative of the pro-democracy party Yabloko, Borshchev failed to hold
his seat in December's parliamentary elections - largely, he told Keston News
Service on 17 January, due to negative pre-election coverage on the `patriotic'
television programme `Russky Dom' (Russian House) and an article accusing
him of defending totalitarian sects entitled `There Won't Be a Second Human
Rights Revolution' in the newspaper `Russky Vestnik' (Russian Herald).
Borshchev was one of the Duma's few opponents of the 1997 law on religion,
describing it during its adoption process as `in fact a law against religion'.

Borshchev's former assistant MIKHAIL OSADCHEV explained to Keston on
11 January that Chuyev is `the only specialist on religion Unity has'. From his
knowledge of Chuyev as a former colleague on the political consultative
committee attached to the presidential administration, Osadchev predicted that,
in contrast to Borshchev, Chuyev would `defend the current position of the
1997 law on religion and promote the ideology of state Orthodoxy'. According
to Borshchev's former aide LEV LEVINSON, Chuyev is a protege of ANDREI
LOGINOV, who was instrumental in pushing through the 1997 legislation, and
with whom he worked in the Chamber for the Affairs of Social and Religious
Organisations in the presidential administration: `He will be intolerant. He has
been working with the Moscow Patriarchate and actively supports the 1997

Unity was created to back now acting president VLADIMIR PUTIN, whose
position towards religion has so far appeared double-edged. In his New Year
address to the nation, Putin cited freedom of conscience as one of the `basic
principles of a civilised society [which] will be reliably protected by the state.'
Former Soviet-era prisoner-of-conscience Father GLEB YAKUNIN told
Keston on 11 January that in his view this was a positive sign: `At least he
knows what freedom of conscience is.' However, the elements of religious
policy contained in the `National Security Concept', enacted under a decree
signed by Putin on 10 January, are of a rather different nature. Among the
threats to national interests and security cited is `cultural-religious expansion of
neighbouring states into Russian territory', while one of the tasks deemed
essential to ensure national security is `the counteraction of the negative
influence of foreign religious organisations and missionaries.'

In a 19 January interview with Keston at the headquarters of his Russian
Christian-Democratic Party (RCDP), which forms part of the Unity faction,
Chuyev claimed not to know what was meant by `cultural-religious expansion'.
When pressed, he commented that there were `very many' foreign missions and
religious organisations in Russia. Pointedly citing the Scientologists and
Moonies as examples, he remarked `What are they doing here? What is the
basis of their ideology? What they are trying to achieve could be dangerous for
our country.' He contrasted `traditional confessions from outside Russia', such
as Catholicism, with `nontraditional religions which appeared within the last
ten years.' The former, in his view, did not pose a threat as they had `their own
cultural or national addressees' in Russia - in the case of the Catholics, Poles
and Ukrainians - while the latter did not have such an obvious target group but
produced `violent disorientation' of those they attracted, transforming them
`from socially passive to socially dangerous'. Chuyev argued that the
appropriate way to combat such groups was to make them undergo a `test
period' before allowing them to function freely, and, should there be any
question of them carrying out hypnosis, for example, to subject them to
scrutiny by special commissions and expert examination.

Speaking of the National Security Concept's reference to the negative influence
of foreign missionaries, Chuyev commented: `We can't fight active Protestant
missions using legislation. We must work for Orthodoxy instead, building it up
using our own activism.' One concrete measure he would like to see
introduced, however, is a limit on how much foreign organisations could spend
on missionary activity: `We should start with equal financial resources, as with
political parties. If western sponsors are rich and our citizens are poor, it is
inevitable that they will be attracted to western missions.' Some of the funds
that missions spent in Russia, he maintained, were not donations from churches
at all but came from `other sources' with separate interests. However, he
emphasised that he was not opposed to mission per se - `after all, the Russian
Orthodox Church does mission work in other countries of the world'. Asked by
Keston if that meant that other Christian churches ought to be allowed to
conduct mission work freely in Russia, Chuyev replied: `Yes, but only within
the framework of the law.'

Keston commented that Chuyev had chosen clear-cut examples by citing
Catholics, Scientologists and Moonies, and asked in which camp he would
place groups more variously considered in Russia, such as Adventists and
Pentecostals. Adventists, said Chuyev, had been in Russia for a long time and
posed no danger. Despite the publicity surrounding court cases against
Pentecostals in Magadan and Kirov, as well as the recent constitutional court
case partly brought by a Pentecostal congregation in Khakassia, he claimed not
to know much about Pentecostals but understood that `some problems'
surrounded them. He concluded that there were very varied sects within
Protestantism, and cited the `very marginal, underground' Jehovah's Witnesses
as a group which needed to be `checked out'. However, Chuyev maintained that
the main dividing line when categorising religious organisations should be
between Russian and foreign religious organisations: `If they are our religious
organisations we can deal with them using our legislation, but if they're foreign
and dangerous we must do everything we can to prevent them from getting in.'

Chuyev told Keston that he was practising Orthodox, and regularly attended
three Moscow churches: the Church of the Life-giving Trinity at Khorosheva,
where clergy who work at the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External
Church Relations conduct services; the Church of the Life-giving Trinity at
Bakhrushini - `the churchwarden VLADIMIR KONOCHKIN is a member of
the RCDP and we helped to restore the church'; and the Cathedral of the Kazan
Icon of the Mother of God on Red Square - `it's handy for work'. He expressed
strong support for Orthodoxy: `It is my conviction that the religious revival of
our country can only be achieved by uniting around our own religions (`svoi
religii'). We cannot unite people around [the Japanese cult] Aum Shinrikyo, but
only around Orthodoxy - Russians and Ukrainians, that is - while the Muslim
regions can unite around Islam.'

In his address to the Communist Party congress last September, party leader
GENNADI ZYUGANOV cited `constructive collaboration with traditional
religious confessions' as a way of putting into practice one of the party's five
key principles - `spirituality'. Keston therefore asked Chuyev whether he
envisaged any conflicts of interest between himself and the religion committee
chairman Zorkaltsev. Chuyev maintained that it was `unfortunate' that
Zorkaltsev had remained chairman of the committee and that the Communist
Party did not have any policies on religion, so that it would not be possible to
disagree over policy. However, he also commented that Zorkaltsev was a
`strong professional' and `very open to compromise': `I think that Zorkaltsev
and I will find a common language. Although most communists are atheists,
they do understand some things.'

As assistant chairman of the religion committee, Chuyev intended to try to
amend and develop the 1997 law on religion, which he nevertheless regarded
as `a step forward'. His two principal aims in this respect, he said, were to
ensure equality before the law and combat `pseudo-religions and commercial
organisations using religious status for tax breaks'. He declined to give further
details but stressed that the committee would not do anything to suppress
religious organisations.

Keston repeatedly tried to contact committee chairman Viktor Zorkaltsev, but
he was not available for comment.

In view of Chuyev's confirmed appointment as assistant chairman, Keston
again spoke to Valeri Borshchev on 21 January. He believed it was too early to
predict whether Zorkaltsev and Chuyev would act in agreement. However, he
did comment that Unity had been presented as a centrist party before the
elections `but it greatly surprised everyone by turning out to be in league with
the communists'. He had not been aware of the sections on religion in the
`National Security Concept' and thought they were indicative of a `more
decisive approach'. In his view, Chuyev would follow the Unity party line: he
doubted whether he would support religious minorities. `I defended the rights
of Adventists and Pentecostals - he won't do that.' When Keston cited Chuyev's
unfamiliarity with Pentecostals, Borshchev remarked: `If he is concerned with
religion he should know that Pentecostals have been in this country for almost
a hundred years and are the subject of persecution.' In response to Chuyev's
support for foreign mission in Russia within the confines of the law, Borshchev
pointed out that under Article 13 of the 1997 law on religion independent
foreign mission was illegal.

Borshchev was reluctant to comment at this stage on what a Putin government
might mean for religious freedom. Lev Levinson, speaking to Keston on 11
January, had also regarded the picture as unclear: `Under Yeltsin there was the
most varied period - freedom of conscience was quite healthy until 1994, after
that the situation greatly worsened. The situation could prove to be similarly
complex under Putin.' Mikhail Osadchev was more pessimistic: `Now that
Borshchev and MIKHAIL MEN [son of murdered Orthodox priest Aleksandr
Men; now assistant governor of Moscow region] are gone, there is no one left
in the Duma with a strong stance in favour of religious freedom.' (END)

Monday 24 January 2000

by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

In the Primorskii region of Russia's Far East, moves to form regional unions of
Protestants have now been formally concluded. These have replaced the Union
of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, formerly the largest and most influential
Protestant union. The churches which are most active in missionary and social
work found that the formation of such regional unions independent of Moscow
was going to be far more useful to their work. `The leaders of the large unions
with their centre in Moscow have nothing to do with the churches in the Far
East, even if they are nominally part of the same union. For many, membership
of these unions is merely a matter of legal protection,' PAVEL TIMCHENKO,
leader of the North Eastern Union of Evangelical Churches, told Keston News
Service in early November 1999. `Russia is a vast country and in the Far East
we had to address the need for a regional organisation which would facilitate
both the social and missionary work of the churches as well as coordinating the
general activity of Protestant churches,' Timchenko stressed.

Both government officials and church leaders report that regional governor
YEVGENI NAZDRATENKO, although open in his support for the Russian
Orthodox Church, does not hinder the development of other religious
movements in the region, including the many Protestant denominations. The
regional authorities know that the regional capital, Vladivostok, and the region
as a whole is an area which is open to many missionaries, including a
significant number of foreigners, and any persecution of religious minorities
would cause an outcry.

PAVEL FADEYEV, advisor on religious organisations to the regional
government, told Keston that many new regional Protestant unions have
emerged because the links between the centre and the Far East have been weak.
The new unions differ from the old large Protestant Union of Baptists led by
PETR KONOVALCHIK and the current Union of Pentecostals led by
VLADIMIR MURZA: they are more active and outgoing and, Fadeyev
declares, the authorities are trying to contain their activity by all legal means. It
is much harder for the authorities to control these unions which have been
created without the involvement of the state.

ANATOLI DMITRIYENKO, deputy advisor on religious affairs, gave a more
detailed analysis of the interaction between the authorities and the non-
Orthodox organisations. Officials hade a positive working relationship with all
Protestant organisations working within the confines of the law, he declared in
an interview with Keston in early November. For example, representatives of
all religious confessions had been invited to the Millennium celebrations in
December 1999, and discussions were currently underway about holding other
joint cultural events to mark the year 2000. However, apart from the Orthodox,
only the Catholics and the Lutherans held celebratory concerts of classical
music in their churches. Dmitriyenko's colleague Fadeyev, who worked for the
old Council for Religious Affairs during the Soviet era, was more explicit.
Fadeyev said that the religious situation in the region was greatly harmed by
the introduction of the 1990 Law on Religion, which allowed the appearance of
all kinds of religious movements which could not be controlled by the state.
Officials were not against the existence of various denominations, however
they `agree to work with all patriotic religious organisations', as Fadeyev put it.

Keston met the leaders of the three largest regional unions in early November
1999 to gain an understanding of the changes in style and ideology introduced
by these new unions: YURI MOROKHOVETS, leader of the Association of
Missionary Evangelical Churches (12 churches in the region); PAVEL
TIMCHENKO, leader of the North Eastern Union of Evangelical Churches (20
churches and groups in the Far East); and ALEKSEI MISHCHENKO, leader of
the Regional Bible Centre of the Church of the Living God, which has fifteen
branches in the region. Only the North Eastern Union has been granted
reregistration: the other two unions are currently in the process of submitting
documentation relating to three of their churches which fulfil the fifteen-year
rule in order to achieve the right to register a centralised organisation.
Timchenko's union is nominally an associate member of the Russian Combined
Union headed by SERGEI RYAKHOVSKY and Mishchenko's Centre belongs
to the `Charisma' association which is also affiliated to Ryakhovsky's union. In
an interview with Keston, Mishchenko called this a `marriage of convenience'
because any church belonging to Ryakhovsky's union will automatically be
aided by the Legal Centre run by a close associate of Ryakhovsky, ANATOLI

The old unions of Baptists and Pentecostals were created with the involvement
of the authorities and continue to be closely linked today. Timchenko argues
that this has had a detrimental effect on these organisations. This is seen mainly
in the internal structures of the Unions which date from the Soviet era. There is
a strict hierarchy of senior presbyters or bishops down to the pastors in the
local churches. In the old unions a definite territorial division inevitably exists
and local church congregations are not permitted to depart from a particular
style of worship and teaching. The new unions are in effect breaking down old
stereotypes and have been more successful. The majority of the churches
belonging to these new regional unions are either new or old autonomous
churches which did not belong to the old Soviet-era union of Baptists and they
are very actively involved in their communities. These unions tolerate a greater
diversity and freedom in worship and teaching than in the traditional Protestant
unions. Timchenko, for example, told Keston that he welcomes Pentecostals,
Charismatics and Evangelicals because for him the priority is to create
missionary churches rather than forcing new churches into submission. In the
union headed by Morokhovets there is far more freedom and music in the
worship than in Baptist services, which attracts many young people.

Tensions usually arise between the regional Protestant unions and the regional
authorities in direct proportion to their level of activity: however, the regional
authorities are unable to impose any real restrictions on the activities of the
well-known churches. In an interview with Keston, regional advisor on
religious organisations Anatoli Dmitriyenko declared that only the Church of
the Living God was causing the authorities any real concern. `No matter where
you end up, the Church of the Living God is there.' According to Dmitriyenko,
the authorities are worried because this Church is very active in establishing
new congregations and invites a large number of foreign missionaries - from
Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Korea and the United States.

Aleksei Mishchenko, pastor of the Church of the Living God, told Keston that
immediately following the adoption of the 1997 Law on Freedom of
Conscience, the authorities attempted to portray his Church as a destructive
sect which lured children away from their parents, but the authorities were
unable to find any evidence to back these claims. Dmitriyenko confirmed this:
government officials sent all complaints about the methods of proselytism used
by the Church of the Living God to the Procurator's department, which found
no evidence of criminal activity. Dmitriyenko also revealed the authorities'
concern that, thanks to its supporters, the Church of the Living God had the
financial means to buy a plot of land formerly belonging to the
military to build on. However, the regional authorities do consider the church's
activity to be useful, especially its children's summer camp programme.

The establishment and strengthening of regional Protestant unions in the Far
East demonstrates that the absence of strong ties with the federal centralised
unions is not an obstacle to the development of active missionary and social
work all over the region. The reverse might even be true: the leaders of these
regional unions feel much less inhibited than the leaders of established Russian
Protestant unions in developing social and charitable work, coordinating their
efforts with other evangelical churches and missions, and also in building their
relationship with the authorities. (END)

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(c) Keston Institute 2000