KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 7 February 2001

CRIMEA: LUTHERANS DENIED RENTAL OF THEIR OWN CHURCH.
The Lutheran parish in the southern Crimean town of Sudak - which has been
unsuccessfully fighting to regain the German Lutheran church confiscated in
1930 - was told on the day it celebrated Christmas Eve that it was no longer
allowed even to rent the building for services. The church currently forms part
of the local museum, and there are plans to restore it for use as an exhibition
hall.

CRIMEA: LUTHERANS DENIED RENTAL OF THEIR OWN CHURCH

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service

The Lutheran parish in the southern Crimean town of Sudak - which has been
unsuccessfully fighting to regain the German Lutheran church confiscated in
1930 - was told on the day it celebrated Christmas Eve that it was no longer
allowed even to rent the building for services. The decision by the museum
currently based in the church simultaneously halted its use by an Evangelical
Christian/Baptist congregation. Both communities were forced to hold their
Christmas services in hastily-arranged alternative premises. Since Christmas,
neither congregation has made any progress in regaining use of the Lutheran
church building, which has now been closed for repairs.

The management of the Genoese fortress museum suddenly ended the rental
agreement on 24 December, the head of Sudak's German Lutheran community,
Gennady Freier, told Keston News Service on 10 January. `The lease did not
specify an expiry date and the only condition for cancelling it was "non-
observance of its terms",' Freier declared. `Yet the museum just notified us
when renovation works began on the church on 24 December. We did not pay
rent, but the museum had no complaints against us.' He confirmed that the
Baptist congregation, which held services in the church at different times by
agreement with the museum, was also barred from further use of the building.

Freier told Keston the Lutheran community is continuing to insist on the return
of the church, arguing that it `must be used for its original purpose'. He stresses
that the Baptists are `in equal need' of a place to hold services. The 25-strong
Sudak Lutheran community is now meeting in rented rooms in the town's
German cultural centre, while the Baptists meet in the town's palace of culture.

`The church is closed for restoration,' museum director Aleksandr Ferbei told
Keston by telephone on 26 January. `We want to put an exhibition hall in the
church building.' There was therefore, he added, no question of discussing the
future use of the building or an extension to the rental agreement which `ran out
on 31 December 2000'. He did not explain why the agreement was summarily
cancelled a week before that date.

The Lutheran church, built by German settlers in 1887, was turned into a club
after its closure in 1930. In August 1941, the town's German population was
deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia. The church reopened later that year during
the German occupation, but after 1944 was again used as a club. The building
survived the war relatively unscathed: only the bell-tower, the school and the
teacher's house alongside the church were destroyed. In 1974 the building was
transferred to the Sofiya Kievskaya national heritage organisation.

The revived Lutheran community gained registration in 1994 and the following
year lodged an official request to regain the building with the religious affairs
administration of the Crimean Council of Ministers under the law on the return
of churches, but received an official refusal. `According to the decree on the
Sofiya Kievskaya national heritage organisation,' the State Committee for Town
Planning and Architecture declared, `the transfer of buildings and equipment
belonging to Sofiya Kievskaya to any organisations or establishments is not
permitted.'

Ferbei conceded the Lutherans' `moral right' to the building, confirming that the
museum had no complaints against the Lutherans, but rejected its return. `My
own attitude to the question of returning the building is negative,' he told
Keston, `but notwithstanding that, the issue needs to be resolved at judicial
level.'

Late last year President Leonid Kuchma ordered a re-evaluation of the list of
religious buildings that were not to be returned. However, Nelya Kupovalskaya,
director of the Sofiya Kievskaya organisation, told Keston by telephone from
Kiev on 31 January that in the re-evaluation, `the Lutheran church had not been
included among those to be returned to religious organisations'. She claimed
that `nobody has officially applied to them with such a request'. During a visit
to Sudak, she reported, she had discussed this issue with the mayor and `he
offered them another building and they agreed'. She emphasised `that there
were no official applications, but only oral ones'.

`No renovation work has started on the church yet,' Freier told Keston on 31
January. He believes the church has not been returned as the museum's
management is holding out for compensation. `Our situation is rather complex,'
he adds, `and we would like someone influential to intervene in this dispute.
Someone whose opinion would command people's attention.' (END)