KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 5 July 2001.=20
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist=20
and post-communist lands.


Service visited three Russian provinces with varying religious freedom=20
climates - Belgorod, Karelia and Kursk =96 to assess the results of the
of Justice=92s policy on reregistration of religious organisations. With a=
notable exceptions (see KNS 17 April 2001 and forthcoming KNS) it seems=20
that most organisations which submitted documents have been reregistered.=20


by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

`The results of registration and reregistration of religious organisations
testimony to the consolidation of freedom of thought, conscience, religion=
and conviction in Russian society,' reads the final document of a 21-22 June=
Moscow conference devoted to `Freedom of Conscience and the Provision=20
of Mutual Religious Understanding'. The reason for this, the document=20
avers, is that Russia's Ministry of Justice has registered `practically all=
centralised organisations holding state accreditation prior to the adoption
the 1997 law, in addition to a significant majority of local religious=20

Addressing the same conference on 21 June, assistant head of the department=
for registration of religious organisations within the Ministry of Justice,=
Viktor Korolyov, pointed out that 92 per cent of Catholic, 90 per cent of=20
Muslim, 97 per cent of Jewish and 87 per cent of Protestant organisations=20
have been reregistered, and claimed that most of those now facing=20
liquidation have either been unable to produce appropriate documentation or=
are defunct.

Local departments of justice, Korolyov told Keston News Service on an=20
earlier occasion, are not legally obliged to publish their results of=20
reregistration of religious organisations. Judging by those given to Keston=
during recent visits to three Russian provinces with varying religious=20
freedom climates, however, such departments indeed appear to have been=20
largely able to implement the benign policy towards reregistration pursued=
by the Ministry. Albeit significant, liquidation proceedings against=20
functioning organisations which would prefer to retain their legal
status, such as Victory of Faith Full Gospel Church in Khabarovsky Krai=20
(see KNS 17 April 2001) and the Salvation Army in Moscow City (see=20
forthcoming KNS article), therefore appear to be a rarity.

The local authorities in the northern republic of Karelia for the most part=
have a noninterventionist policy towards religious organisations. Thus,=20
despite acrimonious relations between the St Petersburg-based Evangelical=20
Lutheran Church of Ingria and the breakaway Karelian Lutheran Church -=20
which the former does not recognise, both organisations have been=20
reregistered by the local department of justice in Petrozavodsk (575 miles=
north of Moscow). Speaking to Keston by telephone from the western=20
Karelian town of Sortavala on 11 April, deaconess of the Karelian Lutheran=
Church Valentina Yeliseyeva said that her organisation had encountered `no=
obstacles' from the authorities despite attacks in the local press. And=
Karelian Interior Minister Igor Yunash called upon the Karelian Foreign=20
Ministry and FSB (former KGB) to `regulate the situation' regarding the=20
growing public profile of the Muslim community in Petrozavodsk led by=20
Visam Ali Bardvil in a 28 December 2000 letter (see KNS 1 May 2001),=20
Visam told Keston on 18 April that his community had found registration=20
`very easy'.

In an interview with Keston in Petrozavodsk on 19 April, the official=20
responsible for reregistration of religious organisations at the local=20
department of justice, Svetlana Mironova, said that a total of 156=20
organisations had registered or reregistered. The ten which would be=20
liquidated, she added, consisted of five Russian Orthodox parishes in=20
villages where the parishioners had dispersed, a Hare Krishna group which=20
had already been liquidated, a charity previously registered as a Lutheran=
organisation, a Muslim organisation called `Islam' in the northern Karelian=
town of Kostomuksha in which a split had occurred and the factions of=20
which were now seeking registration as new groups, and parishes of the=20
Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the True Orthodox Church, neither of=20
which had submitted reregistration documentation.

In the region of Kursk (350 miles south of Moscow), 282 religious=20
organisations have been registered or reregistered, while 20 face
plenipotentiary for religious affairs Aleksandr Shapovalov told Keston on 18=
May. Of these 20, according to Shapovalov, 12 are Baptist communities=20
which are `getting liquidated intentionally so as to create a large new
organisation within the Baptist Union', four are defunct Russian Orthodox=20
parishes, three are parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and one=
is a Full Gospel church. Catholic, Jewish, Baptist and Hare Krishna=20
representatives of Kursk communities have all told Keston in recent months=
that they found no difficulty reregistering.

In an example of how an organisation can come to be defunct, explained=20
Shapovalov, the Full Gospel community `exists only on paper' since its=20
leader, Vladislav Vorovik, has emigrated and it is now headed by another=20
member, Oleg Panchenko, who has subsequently registered the community=20
as a new organisation entitled `Strength of the Gospel.' Although new, it is=
not deprived of any rights under the 1997 law as it is affiliated to the=20
centralised organisation `Charisma Association'.

The three Kursk parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad exist on=20
more than paper, however, being functioning groups under the jurisdiction of=
Bishop Lazar (Zhurbenko) of Odessa that currently meet in private flats.=20
They are unable to reregister, according to parish priest Fr Vladimir=20
Tsukanov, since their documentation complies with Ukrainian rather than=20
Russian law (see KNS 17 April 2001).=20

However, a parish in Kursk city belonging to the True Orthodox Church -=20
which, according to its priest Fr Porfiry Katunin, is also under the=20
jurisdiction of Bishop Lazar although outside the ROCA - has been=20
reregistered. Speaking to Keston on 18 May during a break from renovating=20
a former kindergarten into a church building for his parish, Fr Porfiry=20
commented that they had `reregistered without problems - no one interfered=
at all, maybe because the Ministry of Justice insists on the letter of the
or maybe because Yuvenali [the Russian Orthodox archbishop of Kursk and=20
Rylsk] doesn't want to interfere.' The situation for the ROCA differed, in
opinion, since reregistration `is formally harder for them as a foreign=20

In the neighbouring region of Belgorod, by contrast, the True Orthodox=20
parish is without not only a church building but also registration, which,=
according to Fr Porfiry, it `lost' after initially registering in 1992. The
is one of 20 religious organisations facing liquidation, the official in
of registration of religious organisations at the Belgorod department of=20
justice Gyulnara Aliyeva told Keston on 15 May, the remainder being 10=20
Baptist, five Russian Orthodox, one Old Believer, one Pentecostal, one=20
ROCA and one Buddhist organisation. According to Aliyeva, all of these=20
organisations had been informed and `none have resisted'.

Bishop Ioann of Belgorod and Stary Oskol was at first surprised when told=20
on 16 May about the five Russian Orthodox organisations to be liquidated,=20
but then recalled that there were a handful of brotherhoods and charitable=
organisations in the diocese which had ceased operating.

On 15 May local Baptist pastor Aleksandr Rebrilov seemed unconcerned=20
about the Baptist organisations to be liquidated, explaining that they
could not draw up their documents or were too small.' However, he claimed=20
that there were only six - `ten is some kind of coincidental figure, not
Pentecostal Pastor Vladimir Rybant told Keston that the one Pentecostal=20
organisation `took the conscious decision not to reregister.' Although=20
threatened by the recently adopted regional law regulating missionary=20
activity (see KNS 31 May 2001), none of the Adventist, Baptist, Jehovah's=20
Witness or Pentecostal representatives with whom Keston also spoke on 15=20
May reported any difficulties with reregistration, having five, 18, five and=
eight organisations registered respectively. While the ROCA parish is in the=
same situation as those in Kursk, the 247 registered organisations in the=20
region also include a number of alternative Orthodox, such as three parishes=
of the Free Orthodox Church and two of the Kiev Patriarchate.

While officials from all three departments of justice assured Keston that=20
liquidation would take place, in Belgorod the process had not yet begun, in=
Karelia, according to Mironova, it `depends upon the workload of the courts'=
and in Kursk, Tatyana Basova of the local department of justice told Keston=
in April, it may start in the second half of 2001.

While there was a clear discrepancy in the treatment given to the initial=20
registration applications of Old Believers of the Pomorye Concord and the=20
Roman Catholics in Belgorod (see KNS 30 May 2001), these were the only=20
two official refusals issued. In Kursk Jehovah's Witnesses and Adventists=20
were given official refusals at first, according to Basova, but were later=
reregistered after altering their charters. In Karelia, no official
refusals were=20
issued, said Mironova: `if there was any query the organisations concerned=
approached us and we said what they needed to do.'=20

This is in stark contrast to the Moscow municipal department of justice.=20
While only ten per cent of the 198 organisations which failed to reregister
the capital submitted applications and a further 449 were reregistered,=20
according to figures published in the religious affairs newspaper NG-Religii=
on 11 April, the department issued a staggering 248 formal refusals. (END)

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