Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Officials Bend Rules to Approve Dissertation Urging New Limits on Religious Freedom

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 29 – Apparently concerned that those opposed to restrictions on religious freedom would mar the session, academic officials in a clear violation of the rules rescheduled at the very last minute the defense of a dissertation advocating tighter controls over Russia’s “non-traditional” faiths.
Last Thursday, the editors of Portal-Credo.Ru posted on their site a notice that later that afternoon at the Institute of State and Law, Fedor Kupriyanov would defend his kandidat dissertation on “State Control of Religious Organizations in the Russian Federation” (http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/print.php?act=news&id=54386).
Under Russian academic rules, such defenses are open to all comers, and Portal-Credo.Ru provided precise information on the time, location, and nearest metro stations in the obvious hope that some of the site’s readers would attend and challenge Kupriyanov’s argument,
Fearful of the potential consequences of possible controversy, officials at the dissertation council meeting in the Moscow institute simply and illegally moved up the time of the defense so that when opponents arrived at the scheduled time the session was almost over (http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/print.php?act-news&id=54419).
There are at least two reasons that supporters of religious freedom as provided for by the Russian Constitution need to be concerned about this. On the one hand, Kupriyanov in his dissertation advocated draconian restrictions on the activities of many religious organizations.
According to Kupriyanov, a wide variety of religious groups – indeed, almost all denominations except the four “traditional” faiths (Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism) – engage in the collection of political, economic and military intelligence for foreign powers and/or seek to weaken Russia by promoting “separatist tendencies.”
Because of that, his dissertation argued that the state must make the division of traditional and non-traditional religions a matter of law, that tougher restrictions on all religious groups need to be imposed, and that the Russian government must set up a special organ, like the Soviet Union had, to supervise this situation.
And on the other hand, the dissertation council not only went out of its way to protect him from any criticism but also, in its statement approving the dissertation, went out of its way to suggest that Kupriyanov’s ideas could prove extremely useful for the Russian state in this sphere.
While Portal-Credo.Ru seemed to be more concerned about the illegal shift in the time of Kupriyanov’s defense, the statements of the scholars overseeing that defense in fact give far more grounds for concern. Not only did the council praise what Kupriyanov had done, but also it pointedly recommended that the Russian government follow his advice.
“The proposals and conclusions formulated in the dissertation,” the council said, “can be useful in the realization of the development of the legal process in the sphere of state control over the activity of religious organizations,” a formulation almost as chilling as anything Kupriyanov himself said.

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