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Privatization, the Orthodox Way

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.russiaprofile.org/page.php?pageid=Politics&articleid=a1236015010 March 2, 2009 Privatization, the Orthodox Way By Dmitry Babich Russia Profile The
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2009

      March 2, 2009
      Privatization, the Orthodox Way
      By Dmitry Babich
      Russia Profile

      The Russian Orthodox Church Promised not to Take More than It Can Carry

      The simultaneous publication of several stories on the draft law
      authorizing the return to the Russian Orthodox Church of the
      buildings, land and other property which now formally belong to the
      state but are used by the church for free stirred heated social
      debate. The Kommersant daily wrote that the law made the church "one
      of the richest owners in the country." The newspaper attributed the
      authorship of the draft law titled "On the Ownership by Religious
      Organizations of the Property Used for Religious Purposes" to the
      Ministry for Economic Development.

      "We did prepare this draft, but it was a long time ago," Elvira
      Nabiullina, the minister of economic development, commented during
      her visit to RIA Novosti on Tuesday, in which she accompanied the
      Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. "In fact, property is already being
      transferred to the Orthodox Church; we are just trying to put this
      process in a legal framework."

      Metropolitan Kliment (Kapalin), the Chancellor of Moscow Patriarchate
      and the bishop of Kaluga and Borovsk, defended the bill, saying that
      it was necessary for the church's independence and for its normal
      functioning. "The regular privatization laws simply won't work in
      this situation," Kliment said in response to a reporter's question in
      the Public Chamber of Russian Federation. "According to the law, you
      need to organize a tender if you want to transfer state property to
      private owners. But what kind of tender can there be for church
      buildings or cathedrals? So, a special law needs to be adopted which
      would make it possible for the believers to become owners of
      something that is truly theirs, and that they often create with their
      own hands."

      Kliment stressed that the church was supposed to receive the property
      not as an institution, but primarily as a community of believers. He
      confirmed that church buildings began passing into the church's
      ownership in 2006, but noted that most of the church buildings were
      still owned by the state, and that the church did not plan to take
      hold of all the assets it can lay claim to. "For example, the
      cathedral of Christ the Savior [the main venue for the church
      congresses and the biggest Orthodox cathedral in Russia] is owned by
      the office of the Moscow mayor," Kliment said. "In the cases when the
      church buildings are important architectural monuments, we welcome
      cooperation from the state and the museums. In fact, we ask the state
      to provide specialists in restoration and construction who would help
      us maintain the buildings in good condition. When we can't do it on
      our own, we won't claim ownership. These claims are not automatic."

      Kliment was referring to criticism on behalf of the press and art
      experts who claim that the church is often incapable of preserving
      icons, buildings, and other important objects in a proper way. The
      Muslim community, the second largest (after the Orthodox Christians)
      religious group in Russia, is also facing problems in maintaining the
      property which it may claim according to the new law. "In Orenburg [a
      city in southeastern Russia] there is a big building which used to
      house a Muslim religious school and several other Muslim bodies," a
      representative of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the European
      part of Russia who wished to remain anonymous explained. "Now it is
      occupied by an agricultural academy. The local authorities suggested
      that the Muslim community take hold of it. But they refused because
      they simply did not need such a huge building and had no resources to
      pay for utilities. Instead, it was agreed that the Muslim clergy
      would use several rooms inside the building for free."

      Vladimir Gusev, a deputy from the Ivanovo region in the Federation
      Council of Russia, views the new draft law negatively. "This is just
      one more form of redistribution of property in Russia and this is a
      bad development," he said. "The church may say many nice things now,
      but some of its leaders do not even conceal the fact that some of
      this real estate may be used for commercial purposes. Even the clergy
      is susceptible to temptation."

      However, the generally positive attitude toward the new draft law in
      the press and in other influential circles, such as the Public
      Chamber, speaks for its high chances of clearing both the Duma and
      the Federation Council. "If this is true, we shall be able to turn
      the page of our history, when the church owned almost nothing in
      Russia," said Valery Rastorguyev, a professor at the Moscow State
      University and a member of the working group on preservation projects
      in the Public Chamber. "The church has proven in the last few years
      that it can be a much more effective owner than, say, the oligarchs."
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