KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 9, Article 1, 4 September 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________
SUMMARY:
RUSSIA: BAPTISTS SET TO FAIL TO RECOVER ST PETERSBURG
CHURCH
A St Petersburg congregation of registered Baptists now looks likely to fail to
recover its former prayer house despite repeated instructions and court orders
for its return. Built on Vasilyevsky Island in 1912, the prayer house was
confiscated by the Soviets and given over in the 1930s to Elektroapparat, a
factory producing parts for heavy industry. It is currently located inside the
factory complex, which is kept under guard and has an entry permit system.


Monday 4 September 2000
RUSSIA: BAPTISTS SET TO FAIL TO RECOVER ST PETERSBURG
CHURCH

by Tatyana Titova and Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

A St Petersburg congregation of registered Baptists now looks likely to fail to
recover its former prayer house despite repeated instructions and court orders
for its return. Built on Vasilyevsky Island in 1912, the prayer house was
confiscated by the Soviets and given over in the 1930s to Elektroapparat, a
factory producing parts for heavy industry. It is currently located inside the
factory complex, which is kept under guard and has an entry permit system.

Speaking to Keston News Service by telephone on 21 August, congregation
member IGOR MARKOV explained that St Petersburg Municipal Property
Administration Committee (KUGI) had ordered the return of the building to the
Baptists as far back as 27 October 1993. A plan for its gradual return with
provision for its joint use by both factory and congregation during the first year
was subsequently drawn up, he said, but when this was rejected by the factory
the Baptists took the case to court. According to Markov, a 30 January 1996
court ruling ordered the return of the building to KUGI and thence to the
Baptists, but this never took place as the court executive continually
maintained that she was not empowered to implement the ruling. The
congregation subsequently turned to the arbitration court which, Markov
reported, issued a further order in January 2000 that the building be returned to
the Baptists.

It now appears that KUGI has turned against the Baptists. Speaking to Keston
by telephone on 21 August, the congregation's pastor YURI PODOSENOV
said that KUGI had made an official request for the court executive's activity to
be curtailed, citing the impossibility of returning the building to the
congregation as it forms an integral part of the factory's infrastructure. In
addition, Podosenov claimed, current KUGI chairman VALERI NAZAROV
has recently given official permission for the factory to take over the prayer
house building when it next becomes legally available.

Until now KUGI has supported the Baptists' bid for the building. On 22 August
KUGI official SVETLANA ANDREICHENKO told Keston that her
committee had spent the past seven years trying to recover it from de facto
ownership by the factory. During this period the St Petersburg City Planning
Committee had drawn up a report, she said, which suggested that the problem
of access to the prayer house could be solved by allotting a small part of the
factory site to the Baptists for them to construct a separate entry. According to
Andreichenko, this land has now been officially withheld from the Baptists
following an appeal by the factory to the Privatisation Department. When
Keston asked why the building had not come under the protection of
Presidential Decree No. 15 of 20 January 1997, which prohibits privatisation of
buildings of religious significance, she replied that this only applied to `cult
buildings/monuments of local significance' - and the building was not a
recognised monument.

On 31 August Nazarov asserted that the decision to return the building to the
Baptists - which predated his chairmanship of KUGI - had been made
erroneously. The factory site was dangerous, he maintained, and as the building
was surrounded by sections of the factory, a situation in which believers had to
enter via the factory site would be `quite unsatisfactory'. A special permit
system with a bell and signature book would have to be established, he said,
but this would pose difficulties once the factory closed at 6pm each day. The
return of the prayer house would also not be advantageous to the Baptists
themselves, he claimed, because the prayer house had `completely lost its
original aspect,' as reconstruction work had been carried out on it on several
occasions. Nazarov argued that it would be more appropriate for the Baptists to
be located somewhere else: `We are rich enough in this city to give them
another building instead.' This was KUGI's intention, he said, and assured
Keston that several
alternative locations were currently being considered.

According to Markov, the building - which accommodated up to 1,000 people
as a prayer house - currently houses a workers' canteen. On 25 August
Andreichenko also maintained that it had been turned into a factory canteen
and library. On 24 August, however, a representative of Elektroapparat who did
not wish to be identified said that it did not in fact house a canteen and library
at all, but representations of the Ministry for Emergencies and the Ministry of
Defence - one of the factory's clients. (In response to a request for the telephone
number of the factory, directory enquiries expressed surprise that Keston had
learned of its existence as its activities remain secret.) However, the
Elektroapparat representative declared that `numerous authorities' had specified
that no social organisation could be located in the building because of its
proximity to hazardous production works. (END)

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