Religious Freedom Issues
Forum18 News, 7/25/2005
Russia - Local authorities in the traditionally Buddhist Russian republic of Tuva, bordering north-west Mongolia, have closed down a Christian children's home.
The republic still feels the
effects of the authorities' actions, former Gentle Hands Christian
children's home resident Anna Mongush told Forum 18 News Service, on 5
July in the neighbouring Russian republic of Khakassia.

The authorities closed down Gentle Hands children's home approximately a
year ago, because its staff insisted "that the children go to church
and pray without the permission of their parents or guardians,"
religious affairs official Kambaa Biche-Ool maintained to Forum 18.
Speaking in his office in the Tuvan capital Kyzyl on 1 July, Biche-Ool
said that parents and guardians had voluntarily transferred their children
to the Gentle Hands Children's Home while being unaware of its religious
connections. Set up in Kyzyl in 2001 by Grace of Christ Pentecostal
Church, both the children's home and church were founded by Norwegian
missionary Tor Arild Svanes.

However, Anna Mongush rejected Biche-Ool's allegations, stressing that
Tuva was still feeling the loss of a specifically Christian children's
home. A Christian before she entered the home at the age of 14, Mongush
told Forum 18 on 5 July that the 16 residents' parents took no interest in
their children and had willingly given them over to the home - in the full
knowledge that it was Christian - after seeing its excellent living
conditions. A resident throughout the home's three-year period of
operation, Mongush also pointed out to Forum 18 that children who did not
like its ethos were able to and sometimes did leave: "Nothing was
forced upon us. It was heaven, like living in a family."

The real reason for Gentle Hands' closure, according to Mongush, was that
the only non-Christian staff member alleged in court that the home was a
"sect" brainwashing the children after she was sacked for theft,
and the state authorities "thought they could get something from its
closure." Following court liquidation, she said, the children went to
live with either church members or alcoholic relatives, or were moved to
state orphanages, and the up to 100 Grace of Christ members now attend
different Kyzyl churches. Her version of events concurred with that given
to Forum 18 on 1 July by Vitali Voinov, a member of the Kyzyl-based Gospel
Light Baptist Church and translator of the Bible into Tuvan. Forum 18 has
not received a response from either Tor Arild Svanes, or his colleague
Gretha Raddum.

Voinov told Forum 18 that he was concerned that there is nothing in
Russia's Constitution or religion law to allow for faith-based orphanages.
This highlights broader confusion about religious education in Russia.
While regional educational authorities have been able to introduce
Foundations of Orthodox Culture as an optional school subject in recent
years, Russia's 1992 education law continues to assert that "state
education policy is to be based upon secular principles". In Tuva,
according to Voinov, much depends upon individual teachers, with some
"very open" to Christian churches and others regularly taking
pupils to Buddhist temples or shaman centres to be blessed.

Religious affairs official Biche-Ool told Forum 18 that, while Tuva has no
Foundations of Buddhist Culture subject, its schools use works on shamanism
by shaman society president Kenin-Lopsan Mongush as textbooks for the
Customs and Traditions of the Tuvan People subject. He added that Mongush
was currently devising a syllabus covering what schoolchildren of various
ages ought to know about shamanism.

At Good News (formerly Sun Bok Ym) Charismatic Church on 1 July, elder
preacher Buyan Khomushku told Forum 18 that Customs and Traditions of the
Tuvan People was compulsory only in schools where there is a particular
emphasis on the Tuvan language, of which there are two in Kyzyl. While he
thought that it did not have a specifically religious content, Khomushku
did say that many schoolteachers tell Tuvan pupils that they should be
Buddhists and visit shamans, while forbidding them from attending
Christian churches. Although not aware of any expulsions, he also told
Forum 18 that there were "many threats", and maintained that a
Christian teacher in the far western Bai-Taiga kozhuun (district) of Tuva
is still without work four years after being sacked for her beliefs.

The Good News Charismatic Church, Tuva's largest Christian church, has
disbanded following official attempts to liquidate it. But the church
hopes to be re-registered, following local Justice Ministry promises not
to oppose a re-registration application (see F18News 18 July 2005 ).

In his annual address to Russia's Federal Assembly on 25 April, President
Vladimir Putin urged those present - including religious leaders
- not to forget, in the words of one Russian philosopher, that
"the state cannot demand of its citizens faith, prayer, love,
kindness or convictions". Speaking to Forum 18 in Saratov on 5 June,
however, head of the Volga Region Spiritual Directorate of Muslims
Mukaddas Bibarsov said that since its introduction in Saratov region in
September 2004, the controversial Foundations of Orthodox Culture subject
has in practice turned out not to be optional: "Older pupils can
choose but the younger ones end up going." If the course dealt simply
with topics such as church architecture, he said, the Muslim community
would have no issue with it, "but it isn't being put into the
curriculum to teach about architecture - in practice it is mission,
the Christianisation of our children."

Bibarsov pointed Forum 18 to the April 2005 issue of the directorate's
newspaper, in which one Muslim mother recalls how she found in her
12-year-old son's Foundations of Orthodox Culture exercise book the
phrases: "As one of the branches of Christianity, Orthodoxy is today
considered the most perfect religion" and "the Koran orders the
killing of infidels, that is, non-Muslims". The evening before her
son celebrated his birthday at home in December 2004, she added, he asked
her not to tell classmate party guests that the family was Muslim.
© Forum18 News