14 July 2005, 15:30
Moscow Patriarchate representative accuses a PACE committee of double standards
Moscow, July 14, Interfax - The Russian Orthodox Church has voiced reproaches on the PACE for allegations that the freedom of conscience is violated in Russia.
‘From my point of view, the Monitoring Committee for Russia applies double standards when demanding of Russia much more liberalism in religion than that customary for European West’, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, vice-chairman of the Moscow Patriarch Department for External Church Relations, stated to Interfax.
This is how he commented on the PACE committee’s recent report on the freedom of conscience in Russia. The priest disagrees in particular with the positive assessment that the report gives to the Law on the Freedom of Religion adopted in the early 90s.
‘That law, which created a legal vacuum, actually removed all the restriction so much that the Aum Senrikyo, a Japanese terrorist sect, began to train paramilitaries in Russia, while the proponents of pseudo-Islamic radicalism felt themselves masters in the country’, Father Vsovolod emphasized.
Unlike that law, the 1997 Law on the Freedom of Conscience, he believes, ‘began to return the situation to the European norm and was a response to the profound concern of society’.
The agency’s interlocutor does not agree either with the report in the part that criticizes the ‘privileged position’ enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia.
‘I see nothing unlawful or amoral in it. Given the equality of the religions before law, society should not deprive itself of the right to give preference to particular religious communities or to refuse preference and privileges to others’, Father Vsevolod said.
It is not accidental, he added, that most Western European countries give to one or more religious organizations explicit privileges sealed in law and political practice.
The representative of the Church wondered why the report gave prominence to the matter of giving land to religious minorities for building worship facilities.
‘The very fact of registration of religious organizations, especially those established only recently, does not give them any right to land. Even our church, which was deprived of its vast lands, does not receive plots always and everywhere’, the priest noted. He believes that obtaining land is not a right of a religious community, but a privilege, which can be given by the state on the basis, among other things, of society’s attitude to that religious community.
The representatives of the church also spoke against limiting the freedom of speech for legislators in Russia whom the report denies the right to use such terms as ‘sect’, ‘cult’, ‘spiritual security’.
‘I believe any free person has the right to call a sect a sect and a threat to security a threat, even if these terms are not sealed in law. Nobody can deny a person the right to use a particular theological or political term only because it is absent from the law’, Father Vsevolod emphasized.
‘It is not bad that the reporters remembered at last the problem of returning church property the Council of Europe called Russia to do when she joined the organization. But the report, amazingly, speaks mainly of individual problems experienced by the Catholics and the Old Believers (which are to be solved of course), while devoting only one ambiguous line to the problems faced by the Russian Orthodox Church which has not recovered yet innumerable churches, schools, parish buildings and other property’, he said in conclusion.