KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 5 December 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

RUSSIA: MINISTER FOR RELIGION? A new post of Russian
Federation minister whose brief will include religious and social
organisations was announced, among other government restructuring
decisions, by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 16 October, according
to the Russian daily newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The new minister
will also be responsible for nationalities and regional affairs. Speaking to
Keston News Service in recent days, however, government officials
expressed doubt that the post would do more than touch upon religious
issues, let alone prove to be in place of the much called-for state
committee for religious affairs.

RUSSIA: MINISTER FOR RELIGION?

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

A new post of Russian Federation minister whose brief will include
religious and social organisations in addition to nationalities and regional
affairs was announced by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 16
October, according to Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The post, the Russian daily
newspaper reported, is one of several government restructuring decisions
made by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Kasyanov on that
day.

The new minister will purportedly inherit part of the jurisdiction of the
Ministry of Federal and Nationality Affairs and Migration Policy, which
was abolished by presidential decree No.1230 of 16 October. Speaking to
Keston News Service in recent days, however, government officials
expressed doubt that the post would do more than touch upon religious
issues, let alone prove to be in place of the much called-for state
committee for religious affairs.

The secretary of the presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious
Organisations, Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, told Keston on 30 November that
the post is created by a second decree, No. 1231 of 17 October, which
states that the new minister will deal with "issues of coordination of the
activity of federal organs of executive power in the realisation of
nationalities policy." "There is no mention of religion," Kudryavtsev
stressed, although he agreed that the post would probably partially
concern religious issues.

Speaking to Keston on 28 November, the vice-chairman of the
government's Commission for Religious Associations, Andrei Sebentsov,
commented that Kasyanov had made the announcement "on the move",
and that no finalised decision had probably in fact been made. "It sounded
to me like a decision which had not been thought through - they will
probably think more about it," he said. An indication that this was the
case, in Sebentsov's view, was that "nothing has happened since."

Sebentsov told Keston that it did "not make much sense" for such a post
to deal with religion, since it would be attached to the government, where
policy is given only its final form ("oformleniye"), as distinct from the
presidential administration, where formulation ("formulatsiya") of policy
takes place. As a result, he thought, such a minister would have "no basis
upon which to do anything real."

According to Sebentsov, the announcement does not rule out the
possibility of a state committee for religious affairs attached to either the
government or the presidential administration, the foundation of which,
he explained, is "not a subject of the law - only of the constitution and
government structure." The initiative to found such a committee "hangs in
the air", he said, and depends on the head of government (Prime Minister
Mikhail Kasyanov) making a relevant proposal to the president. As for
the Duma (parliament), commented Sebentsov, "it is absolutely outside
this process." (END)

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