For the first time since the end of the Soviet regime, an Eastern-rite Catholic priest in Omsk region of western Siberia reports that he is being regularly questioned by an officer of the local FSB (ex-KGB). An FSB officer first contacted Fr Sergi Golovanov this spring, told Keston News Service in September, “in order to discuss the prevention of religious extremism.”
Keston News Service – 18 November 2002 – During a subsequent meeting at the FSB’s Omsk city premises, according to Fr Sergi, the same officer asked about the activity of the Catholic Churchwith a view to ascertaining whether it could provoke religious extremists, “within the Moscow Patriarchate in particular“. The officer then queried the size of a camera belonging to a Latin-rite Slovak Catholic priest in Omsk, Fr Pavol Ondrik, at which Fr Sergi explained that his colleague had an interest in amateur photography. The FSB officer also reportedly asked for the names of teachers in higher educational institutions frequenting Omsk’s Catholic parish and questioned him about the German Catholic charitable foundation Renovabis. He then politely invited Fr Sergi to contact him should he receive “threats from extremists“.
The same FSB officer subsequently telephoned him every month to ask about his church’s activity, Fr Sergi told Keston. In particular, he reportedly asked whether there were any protesters outside the Eastern-rite parish during the nationwide anti-Catholic demonstration in Russia on 28 April. On 5 September, according to Fr Sergi, the officer appeared at the parish and asked about the Catholic Church’s missionary plans in Omsk region. “From this I understood that the era of freedom is over,” commented Fr Sergi. “Again someone looking over my shoulder: I don’t like it.”
Contacted on 15 November, the FSB officer concerned answered Keston’s questions but did not wish to be quoted. Article 10 of the 1995 law “On the Organs of the Federal Security Service [FSB] of the Russian Federation” gives that organisation the right “to conduct operative investigations in order to identify, prevent and put a stop to terrorist activity: and persons intending to bring about forcible change to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation.”
Fr Sergi Golovanov also described a seminar held for religious organisations in Omsk region on 30 September. Entitled “Normative Legal Regulation of Religious Organisations: New Legislative Developments,” it was presented by the head of the section dealing with social and religious organisations within Omsk’s regional department of justice, Vladimir Fedyayev. According to Fr Sergi, Fedyayev told the assembled religious leaders that they must provide the tax inspectorate with information about their organisations by the end of the year under the new law on legal personalities, and pointed out that they could be held responsible for “bad conduct” within their organisations under the new law on extremism. “The state is placing more rigorous demands upon religious organisations,” Fr Sergi reported Fedyayev as declaring. “You should resign yourselves to this and get in touch with us more often.”
Newspaper reports – in Omskaya Gazeta on 1 October and Novaya Gazeta on 7 October – cited the department of justice official in identical terms. They also cited a second official, who was introduced as a “representative of the law-enforcement agencies,” according to Fr Sergi. According to Omskaya Gazeta, this official maintained that “spies” frequently travelled to Omsk region on invitations issued by religious organisations, whileNovaya Gazeta quoted him as saying that the state has “the right to control (kontrolirovat) everything“. Fr Sergi attributed identical quotations to this official, in addition to the following: “Control (kontrol) is not interference in your activity. There are, have always been and will be controllers (kontrolyory). The state must know. Absence of control means anarchy.”
Speaking to Keston on 13 November, Fr Sergi evaluated increased state interest in church life – including from the FSB – as part of the “gradual restoration of Soviet institutions.” Ten years ago, he suggested, the Russian state authorities were afraid to take such steps for fear of mass public protests like those which occurred in Eastern Europe prior to the collapse of communism, “but now they are slipping back into the old routine.” He added, however, that Fr Ondrik had not experienced any problems, and that the security organs’ attention towards him had dropped off in the wake of the 23-26 October Moscow theatre siege.
Later on 13 November Keston spoke to Omsk Lutheran pastor Yevgeni Lukinov, who also attended the seminar on 30 September. Pastor Lukinov confirmed that it had been about stepping up control (kontrol) over religious organisations, “but not strict control“. To some extent, he was in agreement with the state’s actions: “It is normal for the state to want to know who is being invited here and why, and what activity we do.”
Despite the media reports that the state was tightening up controls on religious organisations, “we haven’t said that,” Fedyayev insisted. The Ministry of Justice is obliged to inform religious organisations about “serious changes” in the law, he told Keston on 15 November, “especially as they may be distant from worldly affairs.” He specifically mentioned the new obligation required of all legal personalities to inform the tax inspectorate about their activities before 1 January, and the law on extremism’s amendments to Article 14 of the 1997 law on religion, under which the Ministry of Justice is now empowered to halt the activity of a religious organisation or group if it is suspected of planning “extremist activity“. Fedyayev admitted that “a representative of the regional authorities” had said “some things which we don’t support” at the seminar which were subsequently quoted in Novaya Gazeta.
Fedyayev also maintained that the 1997 religion law gave the Ministry of Justice the right to conduct check-ups on religious organisations. With the demise of the Soviet system of plenipotentiaries for religious affairs, he said, his was the only state body engaged in this practice. When Keston then queried whether there was anyone in the security organs dealing with religion, he replied: “I’m a civilian, I don’t know about the FSB.”
A recent publication in the southern region of Krasnodar also suggests a renewed interest in religious affairs by the security organs. In its June-July edition, Orthodox Kuban, a monthly newspaper printed with the blessing of Metropolitan Isidor of Yekaterinodar and Kuban, published information about the activity of the Roman Catholic Church in the region described as “based on operational reports of the Krasnodar Krai FSB“. According to this report, the Roman Catholic Church has developed a wide-ranging programme aimed at weakening the Russian Orthodox Church. By giving financial aid to various groups within the Russian Orthodox Church through Catholic charitable foundations, it claims, the Vatican aims to cause a schism within the Church, destabilise Russian society and thus create conditions for people to commit treason.
Source: Keston Institute <http://www.keston.org>