Radical Overhaul Of Russian Presidential Religion Committee
Catholic World Report, 3/23/2001
Moscow - An as yet unpublished March 17 decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin makes significant changes to both the composition and functions of a government agency set up in 1995 as a consultative body with the purpose of providing the president with preliminary reviews and proposals concerning religious issues.
The Council for Cooperation with Religious Organizations Attached to the President of the Russian Federation is comprised of 17 religious and 12 state representatives.

Subsequent to the March 17 decree, the composition of religious figures remains largely unchanged. As before, the Council includes representatives of Orthodox, Muslim, Buddhist, Protestant, and Catholic groups, including Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of the Catholic Apostolic Administration of northern European Russia. Representatives of two minority denominations, the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Old Believers (Pomorye Concord), are no longer members.

However, the inclusion of Metropolitan Mefodi of Voronezh and Lipetsk is expected to be more controversial. Metropolitan Mefodi won renown throughout the Orthodox Church following a scandalous 1992 report in Russian emigre newspaper "Russkaya Mysl," in which Archbishop Khrizostom of Vilnius branded him "a KGB officer, an atheist, a vicious man foisted upon us by the KGB"-- allegations which Metropolitan Mefodi has neither confirmed nor denied.

A more substantial change to the Council's now 24 members, however, has been made to the state representation. Other than the chairman of the Council, Aleksandr Voloshin, and government representative to Russia's Federation Council, Andrei Sebentsov, every single one of the state officials has been replaced. Whereas previously these were figures with an indirect relation to both religion and the president, the new members are either weighty specialists in religious studies and/or direct representatives of the presidential administration.

The changes to the membership of the Council appear to indicate that presidential interests and a well-argued, secular line will feature more forcefully in its activities, themselves made somewhat more wide-ranging by the March 17 presidential decree.

In addition to reshuffling the members of the council, the decree makes some significant amendments to the 1995 presidential decree which created it.

Most notable is the complete replacement of Article 11 of the 1995 decree-- "The Council does not possess controlling or managerial functions in relation to religious organizations"-- with a routine provision concerning the formation of working groups. The new decree does not therefore state whether or not the Council possesses such powers.

The 2001 decree also stipulates that the council should work with a legislative committee on religious policy instead of an analogous executive branch agency. The Duma committee will have much more influence in the execution of Russia' s religious policy, since it considers legislation on religion prior to its adoption in parliament.
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