KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 11 January 2001

RUSSIA: END IN SIGHT FOR 18-MONTH EVANGELICAL BOOK
CONFISCATION. Books confiscated from an evangelical church in Krasnodar
eighteen months ago are to be returned. The sudden change of heart by the
authorities seems to have been triggered by Keston´┐Żs enquiry about the fate of
the books.

RUSSIA: END IN SIGHT FOR 18-MONTH EVANGELICAL BOOK
CONFISCATION

by Aleksandr Shchipkov, Keston News Service

A large collection of books confiscated from an evangelical church in the
southern Russian town of Krasnodar in July 1999 will be returned
`unconditionally' by the end of January, the official in charge of relations with
religious organisations in Krasnodar's regional administration has promised.
The pledge - given to Keston News Service by Liliya Zub on 9 January -
follows 18 months of fruitless attempts to recover the books by the senior
pastor of the Krasnodar church of the Evangelical Christian Missionary Union
(ECMU), Semyon Borodin (see KNS 20 September 1999).

Keston's enquiry about the fate of the confiscated books - which seems to have
triggered the sudden change of heart - followed the stepping down as governor
of Krasnodar Krai (region) at the end of last year of Nikolai Kondratenko, who
is known for his anti-democratic, anti-minority and anti-semitic views and who
had taken a personal interest in the confiscation of the books. Kondratenko was
succeeded in December by Aleksandr Tkachev, who is affiliated to the pro-
communist wing of the Agrarian Party.

Pastor Borodin told Keston by telephone from Krasnodar on 9 January that the
books had still not been returned and that now the issue was being dealt with
not by the department for work with the law enforcement agencies, but by Zub,
head of the sector for relations with religious organisations who, according to
Borodin, had unsuccessfully tried to prevent the church's re-registration last
year. Borodin was pessimistic that the confiscated literature would ever be
returned, believing that the policy of the regional administration had not
changed despite the election of a new governor and that religious minorities
would, as before, be subject to discrimination.

After speaking to Borodin, Keston telephoned Zub, who confirmed that the
books were intact and that they were being stored in a building belonging to the
regional administration. She declared that they could not be returned until the
ECMU presented full documentation confirming that all the literature did
indeed belong to that church. When Keston expressed surprise that, despite the
change of governor, there had apparently been no change to the region's
religious policy, Zub said she would try to find out exactly what was happening
to the books.

When she rang Keston back ten minutes later she pledged that all the books
taken from the church by the regional administration would be returned
`unconditionally' by the end of January. Asked to explain such a rapid and
positive resolution to a conflict that had dragged on for a year and a half, Zub
replied: `There has been a change of leadership and a change of personnel in the
administration.' Zub may possibly be frightened that, under pressure from
believers dissatisfied with her work, she could lose her job.

In July 1999, unidentified persons removed all the religious literature that had
been earmarked for missionary work from a collection of books belonging to
the church. Several days later, Borodin was invited to the department for work
with the law enforcement agencies of the regional administration, where the
department's chief specialist, Aleksandr Ulko, told him that the books were in a
building belonging to the administration and asked for an explanation of their
contents. Ulko was particularly interested in the book `Who will encroach on
my people?', which analyses the persecution of the Jews in the twentieth
century from a New Testament perspective. When Borodin asked for the books
to be returned Ulko refused, remarking that there would be no quick solution as
governor Kondratenko was taking a personal interest in the case.

In September 1999 the head of the department for work with the law
enforcement agencies Fyodor Dyavochka denied to Keston that anyone had
confiscated the ECMU's books, claiming that they `had been found and placed
in the basement of an administration building'. The same month Zub told
Keston that examples of all the books had been sent to her for an expert
evaluation. As a professional expert on religion, she characterised them as
Christian, of a Protestant tendency, and containing no unconstitutional
concepts. She was not aware of the identity of the owner of the books, and
believed that the books should be given to the city library and church schools
for children. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.