Friday 5 March

SALVATION ARMY FIGHTS FOR OFFICIAL RECOGNITION IN RUSSIA



by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service



Despite well-organised and wide-reaching aid programmes throughout

the CIS, the Salvation Army was relieved not to have been chosen as

one of the distributors for 625 million dollars of US aid to Russia,

Captain JENNIFER FAGERSTOM, a young American officer, told Keston

News Service on 9 February.



The efficiency of this worldwide Christian movement is evident from

the scale on which it provides solace to the people of Russia,

Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia: according to its estimates for a single

year, the organisation materially assisted over 23,000 families;

visited almost 14,000 housebound elderly or invalids; made over

40,000 hospital and prison visits and counselled over 18,000

individuals and 6,000 children faced with problem such as abandonment

or family break-up. Every day 2,200 homeless and refugees are given a

hot meal through its feeding programmes. Yet despite such a high

profile in the region the Salvation Army sometimes has to fight to

gain acceptance for its work: Captain Fagerstrom described how most

foreign-based humanitarian aid is now confined to Moldova and Georgia

as a result of customs complications in Russia. 'We have to make sure

that we get the approval of Russian customs before the ship leaves,

as sometimes they won't let it enter when it arrives. Much depends on

the individual customs agent. We don't have the staff time to lobby

to change this - we've acquiesced to them.� The principal problem

appears to be that the authorities fear the aid will be sold, so

great effort has to go into proving that it will be given away. For

this reason financial donations are preferred - 'it becomes an

investment in their economy' - rather than gifts in kind, such as a

recent huge donation of soup cups to St Petersburg. By contrast, it

is still possible to import medical supplies, such as crutches or

zimmer frames, to Moldova without obstacle, something which would be

problematic in Russia.



One way to gain acceptance might be to be seen as an indigenous

organisation, and Captain Fagerstrom says that although most of the

Salvation Army's funding comes from international sources, there are

concerted efforts to transform it into a national organisation: 'We

are now trying to get funds from inside Russia. In time we will leave

and nationals will take over - at present it is 50-50.�



Another problem is obtaining accreditation from the authorities.

Keston News Service has reported that the Salvation Army's lawyers

advised them to register solely as a charity following the passing of

the 1997 law on religion, (See KNS, Salvation Army Continues Its Work

in St Petersburg, 24 February 1998) but Captain Fagerstrom says that

the organisation is currently simultaneously going through the

process of becoming a registered religious organisation and the

process of gaining a charity passport. 'If you register as a charity

you cannot do religious work. If you register as a religious

organisation first, you can do both. We want to be registered as both

so as to be able to do more.' Charitable status is not strictly

necessary, but Captain Fagerstrom says there is so much concern about

the number of bogus charities that 'if we are registered, it means

that we do what we say we do'. There are also tax benefits on

donations for registered charities.



Captain Fagerstrom is confident that the Salvation Army will receive

registration as a religious organisation within the next few months:

'The process is almost complete... but there has been a lot of

bureaucracy in making sure that the wording in the application is

right.� She believes that once the organisation is registered in

three cities it will receive all-Russian status in accordance with

the 1997 law and thus be exempt from the requirement to reregister

new branches.



The Salvation Army had trouble getting official recognition in Russia

before the Bolshevik Revolution. When the first missionary, a Swede,

started preaching in St Petersburg in 1890 he was promptly sent to

Siberia, and in a meeting on 6 April 1909 in Buckingham Palace, the

Russian Empress Mariya Fedorovna told Salvation Army founder William

Booth that she feared the Salvation Army's presence in Russia

signified the formation of a new Christian sect in conflict with the

Russian Orthodox Church, which the Russian authorities viewed as

extremely undesirable. It was only following the February Revolution

of 1917 that the Salvation Army was able to function legally in

Russia, and they were asked to leave in 1923. They were not invited

back until 1991.



Despite this history, Captain Fagerstrom believes that the Salvation

Army will have no problem in obtaining registration. She thinks it

will be easy to find documentation proving that the organisation was

active in Russia before the communist clampdown, and she does not

consider threats of expulsion from two meeting halls in St Petersburg

immediately after the new law was passed to be significant (See KNS,

St Petersburg Authorities Crack Down on Salvation Army, 15 October

1997). Why was she so confident about the favourable attitude of the

authorities? 'The government has never praised us - but, unlike some

other organisations, they have not tried to obstruct us; one

organisation told us that they had been constantly harassed. Because

we have never had problems we take that to mean "We know you're

credible".'



The Salvation Army describes itself as 'an evangelical part of the

universal Christian Church', but under the new law it will be

registered as its own denomination. However, according to Captain

Fagerstrom it cooperates with many other groups, both secular and

religious, including - albeit unofficially - Orthodox in central and

outer Moscow. However, she refused to give any further details for

fear of creating trouble for her Orthodox partners: 'The Moscow

Patriarchate would never admit that it is happening, and the

individual parishes would not like to be advertised.� Was it any

particular kind of parish that was prepared to work alongside the

Salvation Army in activities such as soup distribution? 'No, it

depends upon the situation and openness of the particular priest.�



Keston asked what the reaction of the Salvation Army had been to the

US government's recent decision to grant 625 million dollars of

humanitarian aid to Russia in the knowledge that it will be

distributed partly by the Russian Orthodox Church. Surely the

Salvation Army had the necessary expertise to distribute such aid?

Did they feel overlooked? 'We have mixed feelings about it. It would

require huge amounts of time and staff. In another sense it was a

disappointment - no reasoning was given as to why the groups that

were chosen had been chosen. They haven't been open about the

decision-making process: Our representative did attend the planning

meetings and gave a presentation, but the decision still surprised

us'. Overall, however, she concluded that it was a relief not to be

responsible for distributing the aid: 'We have limited personnel to

do such a huge distribution'.



When asked whether she thought the Russian Orthodox Church would be

able to do the work any better, Captain Fagerstrom was clearly

reluctant to criticise the Moscow Patriarchate. 'Some of their

programmes are very limited, but they have churches and existing

programmes everywhere. We have nothing in Siberia, for example, where

they already have that contact made�. She concluded that it was

indeed doubtful that the Russian Orthodox Church had the experience

of the Salvation Army, but added diplomatically, 'that doesn't mean

they can't do a good job.' (END)