Thursday, March 22, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Soviet-Style ‘Call from Above’ Blocks Protestant Meeting in Sakha

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 22 – University officials in Sakha have backed out of an agreement they had signed to allow a Protestant religious group to stage a festival of Yakut-language religious songs on university grounds, citing as Soviet officials often did, “a telephone call from above” whose source the academics would not divulge.
On March 16, two days ahead of when the festival was to take place, the pro-rector of Yakutsk State University told organizers that he had received “a call” from unnamed officials ordering him to cancel the contract he had signed with the Sakha Association of Evangelical Christians (
The following day the university’s rector, A.N. Alekseyev, told the group that the matter was now beyond his competence, a declaration that forced the Association to seek accommodations for Yakut-language singers from five rural villages to scramble to find an alternative venue.
Valentin Nikonenko, the deputy head of the Association, told the Slavic Law Center that his group had acted completely openly, perhaps “naively” because “we have always been open, but when some kind of ‘gray cardinals’ call and disrupt our plans, this is shameful.”
According to the Slavic Law Center’s website, the Sakha Inter-agency Commission on questions of religious organizations has long sought to limit the activities of Protestant churches in the republic, with its representatives “not concealing that they intend to support only the Orthodox Church.”
Indeed, A.V. Migalkin, the deputy chairman of this commission and head of the republic’s Department for the Affairs of Peoples, has publicly declared that what he calls “sectarians” are “acting in agreement with the policy of the United States” and thus must be restricted lest they undermine the stability of the republic.
In a letter to the Slavic Law Center in Moscow, Valentin Nikonenko said this return to a Soviet-era practice was truly disturbing: “Events in Yakutia, one of the most distant regions of Russia, and those in Moscow, the capital of our powerful Motherland, are developing according to ‘centrifugal’ scenarios.”
“When I read about high-level ‘National Prayer Breakfasts’ in Moscow” which include representatives from the highest political elite, Nikonenko continued, “and then I glance at what the reality of life of ‘the borderlands of Russia,’ I have decidedly mixed feelings.”
And he pointedly asks whether “we can live for long” in a country where people see that “the capital lives according to one set of laws, and the country’s border regions live according to quite a different one?”

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