Issue 3, Article 12, 9 March 2000

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

Thursday 9 March 2000

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service


SUMMARY: No legal definition of a �priest� exists; this causes trouble when
trying to put into action the law on religion�s clause (Art. 3, clause 4) that �At
the request of religious organisations�, priests may in peace time be granted
deferment of military service and exemption from military training��. The
head of the department for the registration of religious organisations at the
Ministry of Justice agreed with Keston that a federal law regulating alternatives
to military service would solve the problem and believes the current Duma will
pass such a law. He also said that if Protestants elect their pastors, �then they
can elect a replacement�. For now, religious denominations are submitting lists
of their clergy, although nobody knows how many clergy�s military service
will be deferred.

The presidential advisory committee on relations with religious organisations,
which met in Moscow on 28 February to discuss the establishment of a
mechanism for the deferment of military service for priests, proposed to allow
each religious denomination a quota of men allowed to defer compulsory
military service. The religion law which was adopted two-and-a-half years ago
made provision for the deferment of military service for clergy, but this has
still not been put into practice. According to information received by Keston
News Service, Defence Minister ANATOLI KVASHNIN spoke at the meeting.
Representing the Justice Ministry was the deputy minister YEVGENI

Article 3, clause 4 of the 1997 religion law states: `At the request of religious
organisations and subject to a decision by the President of the Russian
Federation, priests may in peace time be granted deferment of military service
and exemption from military training, in accordance with the Federal law on
military obligations and service.'

Under current regulations, every male Russian citizen is liable for military
service of two years up to the age of 27. According to Ministry of Defence
figures there is no more than an 80 per cent response to the military call-up and
there are many young men who use their influence to avoid the draft.

On 29 February VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY, a director of the Moscow-
based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, which has defended religious
conscientious objectors in the courts, explained to Keston some of the current
problems: `No legal definition of the word "priest" exists. For churches with a
strong hierarchical structure this concept is clear; Protestant churches, by
contrast, elect their "pastor" and now there are many charismatic churches
which are full of young people. In the Mormon church, for example, every
male is considered to be a priest.'

Ryakhovsky, who attended the meeting by invitation, reported the advisory
committee's consensus proposal to resolve the issue: `One way out of this
difficulty would be to introduce a quota system - a presidential decree could
stipulate that between 3-10 people from every religious community could be
exempted from military service. Religious communities could be told that they
had until 3 April to submit lists of people requesting deferment of military

How many priests will be requesting deferment of military service?
Metropolitan YUVENALI of the Russian Orthodox diocese of Krutitsy and
Kolomna told the meeting that in the whole of his large diocese (which covers
the Moscow region but not the city itself) only 24 men would be requesting
deferment of military service (out of a total of 736 diocesan clergy). The Old
Believers do not generally ordain men under 30 years of age, beyond the call-
up age, so for them this problem does not arise.

Religious denominations are now submitting lists of their clergy, although so
far there has been no response as to how many will have their military service
deferred. MIKHAIL ODINTSOV, the deputy leader of the Russian United
Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), confirmed to Keston
on 2 March that they had submitted lists of their pastors. He explained that in
the Union's churches pastors are ordained after being chosen, so that pastors are

`The issue here is that the law on freedom of conscience provides for the right
to defer military service,' the head of the department for the registration of
religious organisations at the Ministry of Justice, ALEKSANDR
KUDRYAVTSEV, told Keston on 2 March. `This is not being put into practice
because the question of military service is regulated not by the law on freedom
of conscience, but by the law on military service - so there are two possible
approaches to this question. The first would be to include an amendment to the
law on military service granting priests exemption from military service, but
this would not be expedient given that in accordance with the Constitution of
the Russian Federation all citizens have equal rights and duties regardless of
their religious beliefs.'

Kudryavtsev reported that the law on military service makes provision for
certain categories of citizens to be granted deferment by Presidential decree,
such as talented musicians, and his second option would be akin to this. `This
should not lead to the introduction of a blanket statement to the effect that
priests are not called up for military service, but the possibility for this should
exist. The procedure for this could be as follows: religious organisations would
make a specific application to the president requesting the deferment of
military service for a named individual.' He specified what he saw as the
implications of such an approach. `For example, the Cathedral of Christ the
Saviour has 20 priests, so it would be no great hardship if one of them was
called up for military service. However, if a priest in the provinces is called up
and he is the only serving priest in the whole region it would be a different
matter and he would be exempted from service. Religious organisations would
submit such personalised requests to the president who could then decree that
certain individuals be exempted from service, which would be communicated
to the Ministry of Defence and to the regional conscription offices.'

Asked by Keston about denominations where no institution of the priesthood
exists, Kudryavtsev responded: `If the Protestant churches have no institution
of the priesthood this should have been addressed at the time of the adoption of
the law. If they elect their pastors all well and good, then they can elect a
replacement. The problem is that there is no legal definition of a priest. It was
suggested that a list of definitions should be drawn up, to include presbyters,
hieromonks, cantors, rabbis etc. The word "priest" would be understood to
encompass all of these. The main issue is how vital it is for an individual to be
granted deferment of military service - the possibility will exist.'

Asked if the adoption of a law on alternatives to military service would solve
the problem, Kudryavtsev replied: `Of course this would resolve the whole
situation. I think that the current Duma will pass this law.' Article 59, Part 3 of
the Russian Constitution guarantees the right to alternative service, but no
federal law regulating alternative service has ever been passed.

The question of whether students in religious seminaries in Russia would
qualify for deferment of military service was a lively one at the end of last year
when the war in Chechnya was at its height (see KNS article, 23 November
1999). If Russia were to go to war again the question of clergy military service
would also become a mater of urgent concern. (END)

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