RUSSIA: When can Moscow Chief Rabbi return?
Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt is still in Israel, after his Russian visa was annulled without explanation at a Moscow airport in September. But his wife, Dara, told Forum 18 News Service that he may return to the Russian capital next week. "With God's help, we think the situation will be resolved shortly," she told Forum 18. Dara Goldschmidt, who is in Moscow with the couple's seven children, told Forum 18 that she had returned without problems from a visit to Israel in October and that she had no idea why her husband's visa had been annulled. Tankred Golenpolsky, editor of the Moscow-based International Jewish Newspaper, told Forum 18 that Israeli Vice-Premier Shimon Peres had raised the issue of Goldschmidt's deportation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on 27 October. According to Golenpolsky, "Lavrov said that it sounded like a technical thing they could solve in several minutes." Swiss-born Rabbi Goldschmidt leads Moscow's Choral Synagogue and has lived in Moscow since 1989.
Pressure to return Rabbi Goldschmidt to Moscow was "stuck about halfway to the top," Tankred Golenpolsky, editor of the Moscow-based International Jewish Newspaper, told Forum 18 on 22 November. According to Golenpolsky, Israeli Vice-Premier Shimon Peres raised the issue of Goldschmidt's deportation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, during their meeting in Tel Aviv on 27 October. "Lavrov said that it sounded like a technical thing they could solve in several minutes," he told Forum 18 on 22 November, "but several minutes have passed."
Swiss-born Rabbi Goldschmidt leads Moscow's Choral Synagogue and has lived in the Russian capital since 1989 (see F18News 6 October 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=668). Dara Goldschmidt, who remains in Moscow with the couple's seven children, confirmed to Forum 18 that she had returned unobstructed from a visit to Israel in October. She added that she had no idea why her husband's visa had been annulled.
Asked on 25 November about the annulment of Rabbi Goldschmidt's visa, a spokesman at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Press and Information Department was unable to provide Forum 18 with any information, twice remarking "it was a long time ago." He invited Forum 18 – if "particularly interested" - to submit an enquiry by fax to the Department's director, Mikhail Kamynin, which Forum 18 then did. The spokesman was unable to say how long a reply would take: "It depends upon the situation."
Immediately following Goldschmidt's deportation, there were suggestions in the Russian media that the incident could be linked with his possession of a business rather than a religious work visa. Tankred Golenpolsky, however, told Forum 18 that when the Moscow rabbi tried to apply for a new visa in Israel during October, Russian embassy staff told him that this was impossible as he already holds one. "If you have a visa you go," Golenpolsky remarked, "but he has a stamp saying 'no go', so what the hell do you do then?" After Goldschmidt had put this point to the embassy staff, he continued, they replied that "they were not the ones who had annulled the visa and advised him to talk to the people who had." Consequently, Golenpolsky told Forum 18, the issue returned to Moscow, "it's like playing blind-man's-buff."
Rabbi Goldschmidt is the 53rd foreign religious worker known to Forum 18 to have been denied entry to Russian since March 1998 (see F18News 7 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=644). (END)
For a personal commentary by an Old Believer about continuing denial of equality to Russia's religious minorities see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=570
For more background see Forum 18's Russia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=509
A printer-friendly map of Russia is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=russi
14 November 2005
Uzbekistan's Post Office routinely opens parcels of religious books and magazines sent from abroad, sends examples to the state Religious Affairs Committee, then collects them with a Committee decision as to whether or not to ban the title, writes to the sender and the failed recipient to explain why titles have been rejected, and (sometimes) returns them at Uzbek Post Office expense, Forum 18 News Service has found. Kural Tulebaev, Director of the main Post Office which receives foreign parcels, as well as customs officials have both denied that this is censorship. "We're just following the law," Tulebaev told Forum 18. His Customs Service colleagues were just as adamant: "The law requires that all of it is checked by the Religion Committee," a senior inspector told Forum 18, "the law is the law." The Religious Affairs Committee has refused to explain how it makes censorship decisions, or why it censors religious literature in defiance of international human rights commitments.
18 October 2005
In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the almost complete lack of freedom to practice any faith, including denials of the right of legally registered religious communities to worship. In a typical example of this approach - which other religious minorities have also experienced - police raided a legally registered Baptist church in northern Turkmenistan, claiming that "individuals can only believe alone on their own at home." Unregistered religious activity continues – in defiance of international human rights agreements – to be attacked. There has been an increase in attempts to impose a state religious personality cult of President Niyazov on all Turkmen citizens, with mosques being particularly targeted. Turkmenistan continues to fail to implement its international human rights commitments, and also continues to take direct governmental action to deny religious freedom to peaceful Turkmen citizens.
6 October 2005
It remains unclear why Moscow's Chief Rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, was denied entry to Russia last week after returning from Israel. Rabbi Goldschmidt, who is Swiss-born and has lived in Moscow since 1989, stated that he was not given a reason by border guards at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport. His wife and seven children are still in the city. Various factors have been suggested to Forum 18 News Service as influencing the entry denial, including: rivalry between the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organisations of Russia and the state-favoured Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia; proposed changes to visa rules; a dispute between Rabbi Goldschmidt and the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organisations of Russia; and his strong criticism of a petition signed by 19 Russian parliamentarians, which called for a ban on all Jewish religious and national organisations in Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry is not commenting on the case. Rabbi Goldshmidt is now in Israel and intends to apply for a new Russian visa following Yom Kippur, to be marked on 13 October 2005.