Excerpt from report by Russian external TV service NTV Mir on 24 August
[Presenter] Muslims and Orthodox believers alike are holding protest rallies in Saratov [central Russia]. They have joint forces to halt the construction of a Mormon house of worship. Members of traditional faiths regard this organization, which was officially recognized in Russia 14 years ago, as a sect. Dmitriy Ulyanov reports.
[Correspondent] The Mormons appeared in Saratov 11 years ago. American missionaries were the first to arrive.
This narrow street is in the very heart of Saratov. The city’s main mosque is situated here. An Orthodox church can be seen from here too. Not far from here the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church, has started building its place of worship. Members of the Orthodox and Muslim clergy were outraged and appealed to the city authorities to intervene and ban the construction.
The Mormons bought the 1,000-sq.m. building in 62, Gorkiy Ulitsa [Street] three years ago. Before that the building had belonged to a notary office. From the legal point of view, the deal raised no objections at the time. However, it became known only recently that the building would be refurbished to accommodate a place of worship.
[Pavel Kozlenko, chairman of the PR committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] Perhaps someone wants to get hold of this building since it’s centrally located. Perhaps someone is afraid to lose his congregation who may switch over to another church.
[Correspondent] More than 200 Orthodox parishioners came to protest against the construction of the Mormon church. While some were collecting signatures, others talked about the harm the Mormons are doing.
[Father Nektariy, head of the directorate of PR service of the Saratov eparchy] Many Mormon rites have a secret and blasphemous nature, such as baptism of the dead or marriages to the dead.
[Correspondent] The Imam of spiritual directorate of Volga Muslims, Mukaddas Bibarsov, called a special news conference. It transpired that the Islamic clergy sees a political angle to the problem.
[Bibarsov] The roots of this organization, its envoys, as you know, come from the USA. You know that the Muslims of the world, and not only the Russian ones, have very complex relations with that country.
[Correspondent] The city administration has suspended the construction of the place of worship. It had turned out that not all the construction documents were in order.
[Andrey Yezhov, chairman of PR committee of Saratov administration] The known legal precedents in many Russian towns show that however strongly public organizations may voice their views, they remain powerless against sects of this kind. I believe, therefore, that the State Duma should revise the legislation on the activity of religious organizations in Russia as soon as possible.
[Correspondent] Members of traditional faiths prefer to call the Mormons a sect, usually adding the adjective totalitarian. The [presumably Mormon] clergy believe that it has too few adherents in Russia, yet Mormon churches are expensive monumental structures. They stress that not a church but a house for a congregation is to be built in Saratov. There are 1,800 self-declared Mormons in the city.