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The right to change one’s belief or religion
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RUSSIA: Few complaints over Kalmykia's state support for Buddhism

Despite large state subsidies for building Buddhist temples and training Buddhist monks, while "the basics of traditional religions are taught in a historical-informational context" in schools, officials and Buddhist leaders reject suggestions that Buddhism has become Kalmykia's state religion. "In Russia the government and churches are separate, so it doesn't unite us that much," Buddhist leader Telo Tulku Rinpoche told Forum 18 News Service. Members of religious minorities voiced few complaints about this government support for Buddhism.

RUSSIA: Degree of calm in Catholic storm

While the Catholic Church's fortunes in Russia may have risen from their low point last September, when two Catholic priests were denied entry to the country in as many days, they have not yet turned decisively for the better during the first three months of 2003. Saratov-based Bishop Clemens Pickel, who is German, was granted a residency permit in January, but Bishop Jerzy Mazur of Irkutsk, who is Polish, is still being barred entry to Russia. St Petersburg-based Fr Bronislaw Czaplicki was refused an extension to his residency permit and was told to leave Russia by 12 March, though he retains the right to return to Russia on an ordinary visa. Asked by Forum 18 News Service what he thought about the fact that no Catholic clergy had been expelled for some time, chancellor of the Moscow-based diocese Fr Igor Kovalevsky remarked: "I don't think anything about it. It doesn't mean that there won't be any tomorrow."

RUSSIA: New parliamentary force for "traditional spiritual values"

Long-running attempts by Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders to consolidate their positions with state assistance have entered a new phase with the creation of a public-parliamentary commission "In Support of Traditional Spiritual and Moral Values in Russia". Unveiling the project at the Duma (parliament) on 18 March, People's Deputy Valeri Galchenko termed it a cross-party initiative in conjunction with the Interreligious Council, a consultative body founded in January 1999 which embraces representatives of Russia's so-called traditional confessions: Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. The new commission plans to propose draft laws to parliament and lobby the government in support of "traditional spiritual and moral values".

RUSSIA: Religion looms as electoral factor

Nine months before Russia's parliamentary elections, there are already signs that some political figures will seek to use religious leaders and institutions to help boost their popularity. At a 28 February conference devoted to the stance of Russia's so-called traditional religious confessions (Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism) towards December's parliamentary elections and the likely influence of voters' religious convictions on the results, Eurasia party leader Aleksandr Dugin maintained that the number of people responding positively to a clear confessional adherence by political leaders has more than doubled over the past four years. A Federation Council representative argued that if a political candidate is convincingly seen to appear morally upright and in favour of the spiritual values of one of Russia's so-called traditional confessions, that candidate is more likely to receive support from the voting majority who perceive themselves as adhering to that confession, regardless of whether its leadership has given that politician explicit endorsement.

RUSSIA: Pacific island keeps Protestants in check

A recent regional press campaign of "sensational and accusative" articles targeting the Sakhalin-based Victory Chapel Pentecostal church was spearheaded by the local Orthodox bishop Daniil (Dorovskikh), the church's pastor, Paris Dominguez, a United States citizen, told Forum 18 News Service. Journalist Anna Bilega, who published an article criticising the church, claimed to Forum 18 that a great many foreign missionaries were trying to foist their ideology onto Sakhalin residents and speculated that they might be working for foreign intelligence agencies, but the local authorities "don't do anything, as usual". One local official denied that the authorities shared any views the bishop might have about "sects", yet a regional justice official refused to tell Forum 18 why the Victory Chapel congregation – a member of a registered Pentecostal Union – is among Protestant churches refused registration.

RUSSIA: Moscow Baptists barred from renting public buildings

A 300-strong unregistered Baptist community is searching for a new place to worship after being informed that they can no longer rent premises at a public library near Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery where they have met after opening hours for the past six years. In January, the library's administration unexpectedly informed the Baptists that they could no longer use the premises and returned an advance rental payment. Pastor Aleksei Kalyashin told Forum 18 News Service that "pressure from above" was the only explanation given for the termination of the congregation's verbal rental agreement, about which the library's administrator would not elaborate. A city official has confirmed to Forum 18 that only legal entities can rent public facilities for religious services.