Tuesday 23 November

Aleksandr Shchipkov, Keston News Service

On 21 October the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation declared that
Article 24, paragraph 2 of the Federal Law �On military service� was not in
contravention of the Constitution. Under the terms of this law, citizens who are
studying in private higher education establishments have no right to defer
military service until the completion of their studies. This decision has caused
panic among theological students.

The Constitutional Court examined this issue following complaints from
citizens who maintained that being called up for military service when
undertaking a course of study at a private higher education establishment was
an infringement of the constitutional right to an education. The court decreed
that the Law on Military Service preserved equality of opportunity insofar as a
citizen has the choice of where to pursue a given course of study: either in a
state higher education institution, which provides free education and qualifies
him for a deferral of military service; or in a private institution which does not
qualify for a deferral. Moreover, every privately-run higher education
institution which has been established for a number of years and has fulfilled
the necessary requirements can obtain state accreditation which accords the
right to defer military service.

In the Russian Federation there are currently more than 100 Christian higher
education institutions. They include Orthodox and Catholic seminaries,
theological schools, evangelical seminaries and universities. Many have very
high standards of teaching. In St Petersburg, for example, there are six schools
of divinity (of various denominations) which have more than 700 students
between them.

Seminaries and church-run universities offer specialisations (such as theology,
pedagogy of religion) which are not included in the list of specialisations which
have state accreditation. In a secular republic, where �the church is separate
from the state�, this is entirely to be expected. However, this means that in
principle theological schools cannot gain accreditation: consequently they are
unable to guarantee their students an uninterrupted period of study which a
deferral of military service would allow. Thus young people who have decided
to devote their lives to the church may at any moment be obliged to take up
arms. Given that military action is now taking place in Chechnya, the issue of
army service has become a particularly live issue among seminarians.

Fr PIERRE DIUMULEN, rector of the Catholic Seminary, notes that following
the decision of the Constitutional Court there has been a marked increase in the
number of theological students being called up for military service. Father
Pierre believes that a two-year break in study necessitated by military service
may well a have detrimental effect on the student�s studies.

VIKTOR AVDEYEV, Rector of the St Petersburg Christian University of the
Union of Evangelical Christians - Baptists, told KNS: �At the beginning of the
1990s our students were mature people who had been denied the opportunity to
receive theological training during the Soviet era. Almost all of them had
passed the age of conscription. Now the situation has changed radically. The
age-profile of our students is much lower, with an average age of 20-22.
Evangelical Christian Baptists are not pacifists in the absolute sense of the
word and consider the issue of military service and the taking of the oath of
allegiance to be a matter of individual conscience for each believer. However,
the Lord has called us to peace and we would welcome a change in the law
which would take into account the views of students in the theological
seminaries. Incidentally, during the Soviet era, evangelical Christians and
Pentecostals were exempted from military service in the 1920s. We are not
demanding this now, but we would prefer it if the law included an alternative to
military service. Sometimes we are able to obtain a deferral for our students,
sometimes not. Recently a student in the theological faculty was called up.�

The rector of the St Petersburg Orthodox Spiritual Academy, Bishop
KONSTANTIN of Tikhvin, told KNS that during the Communist era the
leadership of the Academy tended to select those students for theological
training who had already completed their military service, in order to avoid any
further difficulties with the authorities. He did not exclude the possibility of
adopting a similar strategy today.

Recently some students at the Lutheran Seminary of the Ingrian Church were
called up. Rector VLADIMIR KINNER told KNS: �According to Russian law
every male citizen must do military service. That is his duty. Eighty per cent
of our students are young men whom we may lose at any time. Not all of them
return to the seminary. This is sad, but we have come to terms with this
because we understand that we will never receive state accreditation. On the
other hand, deferral of military service might be a factor which would attract
young men to the seminary. We do not want students who wish to enter the
seminary merely to avoid military service�. (END)

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