Russian Legislature Considering New Law on Religion
Foreign and Minority Religious Groups Fearful
"In Russia anytime they say regulate they mean destroy."
These words, spoken by Moscow journalist Yakov Krotov while in the United States in October, effectively communicate the current fears of Russia's religious rights advocates, including those of minority faith groups and Western missionaries. Their anxieties stem from deliberations of a Russian Parliament committee and members of President Boris Yeltsin's staff regarding a revised law on religion. If passed, it could have radical implications, especially for religious workers from outside Russia.
In August a ten-member government committee began considering changes in Russia's law on religion under the direction of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. This committee, chaired by Andrei Sebentsov who helped shape the liberalized law of 1990, has Orthodox and Protestant members, as well as representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Ministry, and the Moscow city government. A draft law may come to a vote in Parliament in January 1995. At the center of much of the debate is Article 15, which directly addresses the issue of foreign religious organizations working in Russia. As worded in the draft law obtained by the East-West Church & Ministry Report, it would require non-native groups to work under the auspices of a Russian-registered national organization.
Commenting on the current situation, Anita Deyneka, director of research for Russian Ministries, stated, "While the law in essence is not radically different from the proposed law which the previous parliament unsuccessfully attempted to pass in the summer of 1993, the climate in Russia has changed. On the one hand, indigenous Russian Protestants opposed to government regulation of religion are more vocal than ever before, and Yeltsin has greater power to veto laws passed by Parliament. On the other hand, anti-Western sentiment is on the rise, and Yeltsin seems less inclined to oppose Parliament on nationalistic issues."
Offering a different perspective, former Soviet dissident and Parliament member Gleb Yakunin has called for an all-out protest from the West against new restrictive legislation on religion in Russia.
The next issue of the East-West Church & Ministry Report will carry a full analysis of current Russian legislation on religion.
One Proposed Draft of Article 15:
"Legal Status and Activity of Foreign Religious Organizations"
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© 1994 Institute for East-West Christian Studies