Issue 6, Articles 22-23, 26 June 2000

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



Monday 26 June 2000

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

In addition to being prevented from receiving their spiritual teacher JUNSEI
TERASAWA, who was refused an entry visa to Russia in early June (see
separate KNS article), the Moscow community of the Buddhist order of
Nipponzan Myohoji has encountered five refusals to their applications to
reregister under Russia's 1997 law on religion. On 22 February the news
agency Blagovest-info reported that the order had been informed that their
application for reregistration had not even been considered. According to the
report, assistant director of the main Moscow department of justice
VLADIMIR ZHBANKOV had explained in writing that this was in accordance
with Article 11 Point 9 of the 1997 law, as the group had submitted `an
incomplete portfolio of documents'. On 16 June SERGEI KOROSTILYOV,
one of four monks in the Moscow community, told Keston that although the
group had registered for the first time at the beginning of 1997, the main
Moscow department of justice had failed to reregister them on five occasions.
`We submitted everything on time but there was constantly some kind of
pretext given not to reregister us - they don't give us an outright refusal, just
delay after delay. They won't tell us, either in writing or verbally, which
documents are missing.'

Speaking to Keston on 21 June, Zhbankov maintained that Nipponzan Myohoji
had not been reregistered due to `illiteracy in legal matters'. With some pride,
he volunteered that his department had `even denied the Anglican church
reeregistration when they didn't submit the proper documentation, but once
they did we reregistered them'. Although his department knew which
documents were missing from the Buddhists' application, Zhbankov said, it
was not obliged to inform them: `We don't provide commentaries or explain
the law - that's beyond the bounds of our responsibility. We just enumerate
which parts of the law have not been met.'

Korostilyov believes that reregistration under the 1997 law on religion was
conceived as a mere formality, `but in practice it is designed to weed out small,
new groups which don't matter.' From the order's dealings with the Russian
authorities, he said, it had become clear that they are hostile to the fact that
Nipponzan Myohoji originates outside Russia and has connections abroad.

Monday 26 June 2000

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service

The bishop of the Crimean diocese of the True Orthodox Church has
complained that the city authorities in the town of Feodosiya on the Black Sea
coast have barred a parish from further use of a building after imposing what he
believes to be an excessive rent that the parish could not afford. Father
VALERI LAPKOVSKY, who had struggled to lead the parish for the past nine
years, gave up the battle last March. Without a building and without a priest,
the parish has disintegrated. The official from Feodosiya city council involved
in the decision to bar the parish from using the building on Chelnokov Street
avoided repeated attempts by Keston News Service to reach him by telephone.
The Crimea's senior religious affairs official told Keston that he was unaware
that the parish had been barred from using the premises, but stressed that it was
not the job of his office to provide religious communities with places to meet
for worship.

`The True Orthodox parish of All Saints has been praying at the city cemetery
for more than eight years since they have no worship building of their own,'
Bishop AGAFANGEL (PASHKOVSKY) of Simferopol and the Crimea told
Keston on 6 June. `Last December the authorities allocated them a place for
one year at a rent of 800 hrivnas (160 US dollars) a month, which they
obviously could not afford. Now the city authorities have rejected all requests
for exemption or reduction of the rent.' Bishop Agafangel reports that the lease
agreement is about to be cancelled and that Father Valeri has been threatened
with prosecution on charges that the community failed to pay the rent.

RAISA ORDZHONIKIDZE, a member of All Saints parish, told Keston by
telephone on 9 June that since the registration of their community in 1991 they
had been praying under the open sky in all weathers, even in heavy rain. `There
was a neglected Catholic chapel at the cemetery which we cleaned and for
some time we held our services there, but it was taken away by the local
authorities and given to the parish of the Crimean diocese of the Ukrainian
Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate.' Before they were allocated
the Chelnokov Street building last December, she added, the local council
proposed two other places, a former greengrocer's and a derelict house, but
after the community had undergone all the required procedures, one turned out
to have already been leased to a cafe while the other had been sold to a private

It was only after pressure from the priest and the community that they were
allocated the Chelnokov Street premises. Following the intervention of the
Supreme Council of the Crimea and local deputies, the original high rent was
reduced to 350 hrivnas (70 US dollars) a month. Nevertheless, Ordzhonikidze
recounts, `the community could not afford this since the building itself needed
renovation'. The community undertook the renovation and decoration at its own
expense. Another parishioner, GALINA ROMANOVA, told Keston by
telephone on 6 June how Father Valeri spent `days and nights' making the altar
and icon screen.

No sooner had the community completed the renovation and started to hold
services than the city was `flooded with posters' signed by the Crimean diocese
of the Moscow Patriarchate saying that the sacraments in this church were not
valid and comparing the True Orthodox to a sect, Ordzhonikidze added. `They
also said that it would be a sin for Orthodox Christians to attend their services.
That certainly affected the attendance of the parishioners and the reputation of
the church.'

Three months later, in March, a city council official arrived, demanded the rent
and proposed that the community leave the premises unless the rent was paid.
Since they did not have the required money they had to take all the church
possessions and leave the premises. That same month Father Valeri left and no
other priest was assigned to the parish. Without a priest or a building the
community quickly dispersed and many of the parishioners started to attend
services in the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate.

`Despite our numerous appeals, we have not yet been allocated any premises -
either religious or any other,' Bishop Agafangel complained. `This testifies to
the difficulty we have acquiring buildings in the Crimea. All our parishes face
such obstacles and I myself, bishop of Simferopol and the Crimea, head of the
Crimean diocese, do not have any premises, despite many appeals.' He added
that they did not have obstacles with registration of the communities, but
registration gave them virtually nothing. `We have no support from the
authorities, who remain close to the Moscow Patriarchate.'

VLADIMIR MALIBORSKY, the head of the State department for religious
affairs in the Crimea, reports that of 822 religious communities in the peninsula
only 355 are provided with religious buildings. `The situation with the
community in Feodosiya is not the only one in the Crimea,' he told Keston on 9
June in a telephone interview from his office. `They are not the only ones who
have to pray under the open sky. We have done all we could in terms of
consulting them but the state is not supposed to provide them with a building.
The state is supposed to return the formerly expropriated property to a religious
community but they do not have any such property here in the Crimea.'
Maliborsky reported that his office had had a long correspondence with the
True Orthodox and that Father Valeri did not have any complaints against his
office. Maliborsky did not know that the community was recently expelled
from its building but declared that this should be taken up with the local

Keston tried to get a response from VIKTOR VOLODSKY, the responsible
official at Feodosiya city council, but his secretary repeatedly refused to allow
Keston to speak to him, saying that he was busy and that Keston should call
later or telephone his direct number in his office. Keston also repeatedly rang
Volodsky's direct number but this went unanswered.

Seven True Orthodox Church parishes and one skete (monastic settlement) are
registered in the Crimea, while the diocesan administration was registered by
the State Committee of Ukraine on religious affairs in November 1996. `As
representatives of the True Orthodox Church we continue the movement for
true Orthodoxy free from the political influence which originated in 1927,'
Bishop Agafangel stresses. `We live openly and that is why we do not call
ourselves a catacomb church. We are not the Church Abroad since we live in
our own homeland, but we are subject to the Bishops' Synod of the Russian
Orthodox Church Abroad as we believe this is the only lawful body of the
Church's administration. Obviously, before Gorbachev's perestroika, legal
existence for our parishes was out of the question.'

Bishop Agafangel remains critical of what he claims is discrimination. `I can
only state that the Crimean authorities are deliberately discriminating against
our Church, which is officially recognised as a confession and which has equal
rights with all others.' (END)

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