KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 20 March 2001

Following recent meetings between the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox
Church and the Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav Army, the Army has
announced plans to introduce religious services for its troops, Keston News
Service has learned. The initiative has been welcomed in some sections of
society, but representatives of minority religious groups and NGOs are
concerned about possible violation of religious freedom.

draft law prohibiting the formation of political parties dependent upon
religious affiliation could be adopted by Russia's lower house of parliament,
the State Duma, next month, Keston News Service has learned. Such a law
would contradict guidelines drawn up in January 2000 by the Council of
Europe's Venice Commission. Adoption of the draft, if it is not amended,
could result in the liquidation of Muslim and Christian Democratic parties.


by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

The Yugoslav Army (VJ) is planning to introduce military chaplaincy in the
near future, Keston News Service has learned. Large units (brigade level and
above) will have Orthodox chaplains and smaller units will have a room for
personal religious rites in every barracks. Religious services in the smaller
units will be taken by local Orthodox priests. The VJ announced that it took
into consideration the experience of other armies, mainly those of Greece,
Romania and Republika Srpska. It has not yet been decided whether Roman
Catholic priests and Muslim imams will be represented in the Army
Chaplaincy, but soldiers belonging to these religious communities, as well as
some smaller ones, will be allowed to celebrate their religious holidays and
hold worship services.

The announcement follows recent meetings between Patriarch Pavle of the
Serbian Orthodox Church, and Colonel-General Nebojsa Pavkovic, VJ Chief
of Staff, and also after new promises been given by both Serbian and Federal
Ministers for religion in the wake of the 5 October 2000 political changes in
Yugoslavia. Religious services have been prohibited in the VJ for 60 years,
and officers and civil servants forbidden to be believers, especially during
the early years of Socialism. During 2000, when Vojislav Kostunica was
coming to prominence, the Serbian Orthodox Church was supportive of his
position (See KNS 6 October 2000). The Church started to regain a
prominent position in Serbian society when members of the new government
promised to return confiscated church land, and to introduce religious
education in the Yugoslav educational system and religious services in the
VJ (See KNS 30 October 2000)

In a survey carried out by the VJ in 2000, 74.1 % of its 2,267 soldiers
responded that they believe in God. The findings are presented in a new
book �Armija i vera� (The Army and Religion), launched in March 2001 in
Belgrade. Among the main conclusions are that �religion has significant
positive characteristics important for the boosting of army morale,� and that
�faith should be supported in the original, organisational and educational
sense� in the VJ.

�For almost a year now the Office for Morale at the Headquarters of the VJ
has been working on a new concept for the regulation of religious issues in
the VJ,� stated the 1 March 2001 �Pravoslavlje� (Orthodoxy) - a biweekly
Serbian Orthodox Church newspaper - fully supporting the VJ initiative.
�The issue of religion in the army [�] is not a pure academic issue [�] but
rather a daily life issue. ... The most important question has now been

�We were happy with the status of our soldiers in the old Kingdom of
Yugoslavia,� stated Hamdija Jusufspahic, Belgrade mufti, for NIN, a
Belgrade weekly, also supporting the concept. �Our soldiers had a separate
kitchen and religious leaders who taught them our faith. We hope
that our children will be able to enjoy such rights in order to preserve their
religion and put into practice the teachings of their faith.�

Representatives of minority religious groups and NGOs, however, are
concerned about possible violation of religious freedom. �There is no need
for a chaplain in the army,� stated Dr. Zdravko
Sordjan, secretary of the Yugoslav Association for Religious Freedom told
Keston on 9 March 2001 in Belgrade. �I fully support the idea of introducing
chaplains in hospitals and prisons, where people cannot leave their beds or
cells, but soldiers and officers are relatively free to visit local churches in
their places of service.� As the majority of the soldiers are Orthodox, he said,
�it will be difficult to preserve equal religious rights for all religious people
serving in the VJ�.

�I see no reason why the VJ should not organise religious services in its own
buildings, just calling local priests to perform them,� Dr Alexander Birvis,
President of the Baptist Union of Yugoslavia told Keston on 12 March 2001
in Belgrade. �The army should have the last word in licensing priests and
ministers, and in organising and carrying out this activity. I think that the
main issue here is possible discrimination against soldiers of different
religious convictions from the majority of the unit. Introducing army
chaplains at this point is not wise.�

Milanka Saponja-Hadzic, spokesperson for the Helsinki Board for Human
Rights in Serbia, speaking to Keston on 13 March in Belgrade, also
expressed concern about the initiative: �We believe this is a political
problem: the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Serbian Academy of Arts and
Science, and the army are working together in trying to preserve a new
morale, a new way of solving problems in our country.� She was worried
about the speed of the changes, the way they were being implemented and
their effect on society. �The return of religious education in the school
system, the return of land to the Serbian church, the imposition of Orthodox
chaplains in the VJ, a new wave of racist skin-head attacks in Belgrade, and
the rise of extreme nationalistic and religious groups in Serbia like �Obraz�
for instance, all speak of the weak foundations of the new social system. We
need help in establishing a liberal segment of society that will be able to
articulate its needs. If we maintain this radical conservative course, the
damage done without a period of adjustment will be significant. Religion is a
private question for every individual, and we think that many rights will be
violated if this initiative is accepted.�

Colonel Dr Milorad Djordjevic of the VJ�s Office for Morale seems to have
taken account of some possible objections. In the conclusion of the �Army
and Religion� book, he writes: �The introduction of religious services in the
VJ takes for granted our categorical refusal of proselytism, from any side.
The state should also ensure mutual tolerance among different confessions.
We should speak more of tolerance.� (END)


by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

A draft law prohibiting the formation of political parties dependent upon
religious affiliation could be adopted by Russia's lower house of parliament,
the State Duma, next month. Such a law would contradict guidelines on the
prohibition and dissolution of political parties drawn up in January 2000 by
the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, according to which
`prohibition or enforced dissolution of political parties may be justified only
in the case of parties which advocate the use of violence or use violence as a
political means to overthrow the democratic constitutional order'.

The proposed law - which prohibits `the formation of political parties
characterised by professional, social, racial, national or religious affiliation,
or dependent upon gender or place of origin' (Article 9 Point 3) - passed its
first reading in the Duma on 7 February. The second reading is due to take
place in early April, assistant chairman of the Duma's Committee for Social
and Religious Organisations Aleksandr Chuyev told Keston on 13 February.

Chuyev also heads the Russian Christian Democratic Party (RCDP), which
forms part of the pro-Putin parliamentary bloc Yedinstvo (Unity). How,
Keston asked, had Chuyev reconciled leadership of a religion-based party
with Yedinstvo's unanimous support for the bill? Maintaining that his party
was not in fact religious - `it is a secular party but has religious principles' -
Chuyev nevertheless expressed some concern that the RCDP could be
banned should the current draft become law. Consequently, Chuyev told
Keston, he had proposed amendments to the bill according to which
membership of a political party `could not be restricted to persons of a
particular religion, gender and so on'. He was confident these would be
adopted with the bill's second reading.

Speaking to Keston on 7 February, aide to Duma deputy Sergei Kovalyov,
Lev Levinson, commented that if the current draft were adopted, the
liquidation of Muslim and Christian Democratic parties could result.
However, he believed an amendment removing the ban on parties
characterised by social affiliation would be introduced with the second
reading. Predicting resistance to the ban on religious-political parties from
both the RCDP and the overwhelmingly Muslim party Refakh (Welfare) -
which is also part of the Yedinstvo bloc - Levinson suggested this provision
would be removed as well.

On 14 March, however, Refakh press secretary Andrei Getmanov doubted
there would be any major changes to the bill. Specifically, he told Keston,
the provision outlawing political parties characterised by religious affiliation
would probably remain. He appeared unconcerned by this possibility,
however, since he did not believe it would affect Refakh: `We do defend the
rights of Muslims, but only in an ethnic sense. There is nothing in our
founding documentation to say we are a religious party.' He added that in
any case Refakh was reforming as the Eurasian Party of Russia. This new
party would have no national or religious basis, he said, and would no longer
contain Refakh's `purely supervisory' Council of Spiritual Teachers, which is
headed by Mufti Ravil Gainutdin.

Both Chuyev and Levinson concurred that the bill's provision banning
religious affiliation had been inspired by a fear of Muslim political parties.
Levinson maintained, however, that the presidential administration
understands that a ban on such parties is `a double-edged sword - it is better
for the authorities to have artificial ones which they can manipulate than ban
all of them.' Chuyev also expressed some doubt over the efficacy of a ban:
`They will exist of course even if you ban them, just under different names.'
Getmanov, however, was wholeheartedly behind the provision: `It is correct
because in a multinational state like Russia it could be very dangerous if
parties with a religious or national basis are permitted - something very
terrible could happen.'

Speaking to Keston on 12 March, Stepan Medvedko, an expert attached to
the Duma's Committee for Social and Religious Organisations, claimed that
no one in parliament was particularly troubled by the possibility of a ban on
religious-political parties: `From the Christian Democratic Party to Refakh,
they are all part of larger political groupings, so they are unconcerned.' Nor
does Article 9 of the bill appear to cause concern outside the Duma. In an
opinion poll conducted in February by the Public Opinion Foundation (Fond
Obshchestvennogo Mnenie), respondents were presented with eight of its
provisions and asked to choose the three which met with their `outright
approval'. The ban on parties created upon lines of nationality, religion,
gender or profession achieved second place. (END)