The Moscow Times (Russia), Dec. 9, 2002
By Oksana Yablokova [email@example.com]
A group of government officials and religion experts has drafted a report that identifies the Roman Catholic Church and other “foreign confessions” as potential threats to national security and urges law enforcement agencies to closely monitor their activities.
The report, which is currently undergoing final touches, is an examination of the development of religious extremism and is not intended to provide the basis for a government order, said Nationalities Minister Vladimir Zorin, who is co-authoring the document with Chechen administration head Akhmad Kadyrov and 33 other officials.
The group’s findings, however, provide an insight into the thought about religious issues in government circles.
A section of the draft report, titled “Assessment of Threats to National Security Related to Religious Extremism,” contains a list topped by the Catholic Church. Protestants are ranked No. 2 – although no faiths are specified – and the list is rounded out by what the draft calls pseudo-religious organizations, including Russian Orthodox Church, Judaism and Buddhism, the only faiths to escape criticism in the report, which also attacks radical Islam.
“A disrespectful attitude toward traditional Russian confessions helps lay the foundation for religious extremism,” the report said. This paves the way for “religious hatred and antisocial actions on religious grounds, which in turn affects interstate relations,” it said.
The draft calls for law enforcement agencies to strengthen control over religious organizations, suggesting that new departments be set up in the Interior and Justice ministries, the Federal Security Service and Prosecutor General’s Office to fight religious extremism.
Catholic officials are dismayed by the draft. “How can a civilized society number a church with 2,000 years of history behind and does its best for resolving conflicts and fights with such frightening phenomenon as terrorism. This is unheard of,” Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the head of the Catholic Church in Russia, told Cathnews.ru last week.
Kondrusiewicz is a member of the presidential council on cooperation with religious organizations, which will hear a presentation of the report next month at a joint session with the State Council and the Security Council.
Relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have been tense for years, and several Catholic clergymen have been inexplicably denied Russian visas in recent months.
Vladimir Ryakhovsky, a lawyer who tracks religious freedom issues, slammed the draft Friday, saying it was “incompetent” to assign blame on religious organizations in the government’s fight against extremism.
“By pronouncing Catholic and Protestant churches as the main sources of religious extremism, the authors are demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the related issues,” he said.
Zorin stressed that the report was nothing more than an analysis.
“The purpose of the report is to analyze how confessions develop and expand in Russia,” he said in an interview. “It is just a statement of fact that there is tension between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church.”
He said the report aimed to provide recommendations to reconcile various faiths rather than provoke new conflicts.