While none of the representatives of religious confessions with whom Forum
18 spoke reported any problems importing literature, Pastor Viktor Zdanevich
of Brest's Fortechnaya Street Baptist Church
remarked that state analysis of religious literature was "like getting a car mechanic to perform an operation instead of a surgeon - those experts write God with a small letter but their own with a capital."
Indeed, in a typical passage from his
2002 book "The Basics of Religious Studies," Expert Council chairman Professor Anatoli Kruglov writes: "Religion does not teach a believer to strive to lead a dignified life, to fight for his
freedom or against evil and oppression.
Forum 18 News Service (13.10.2003)/ HRWF Int. (14.10.2003) - Website: http://www.hrwf.net/ - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org - One of the provisions in the new religion law worrying Baptist pastor Viktor Zdanevich
lists "the attraction of minors to religious organisations and also the teaching of religion to them against their will or without the agreement of their parents or guardians" among offences liable to prosecution.During the Soviet period, "some of our pastors were imprisoned for that," he
explained to Forum 18 News Service in the south-western city of Brest on 15 September.Zdanevich's
1000-strong congregation still meets in the church they were permitted to build in 1982.Previously part of a larger community belonging to the unregistered Baptist Council of Churches, he
told Forum 18
, the church is colloquially known as Fortechnaya Street Baptist Church ("if it were on Lenin Street, we'd be Lenin Street Baptist Church") and has registered - but autonomous - status.The congregation is currently completing an adjacent Sunday school building for 170 children, Zdanevich
pointed out to Forum 18
, "but we have many more than that".Construction started in 2000, he
said, following eight years of negotiation with the local authorities.
Recent experience by communities within the Baptist Union
amplify Pastor Zdanevich's
cause for concern.On 10 April the pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church
in Minsk region reported a 7 April request from his
local council in the village of Machulishchi for a list of children attending the church's Sunday school and the passport details of its teachers.Told that this information was required by Minsk
Regional Executive Committee, the pastor maintained that officials refused to put the grounds for the request in writing, so he
refused to comply.
Forum 18 News Service (13.10.2003)/ HRWF Int. (14.10.2003) - Website: http://www.hrwf.net/ - Email: email@example.com - Another provision in the new law on religion of concern to Baptist pastor Viktor Zdanevich
is that "the territorial activity of mission is restricted," he
told Forum 18 News Service in the south-western city of Brest on 16 September.
told Forum 18
church has not submitted documents for reregistration as its elders are currently considering those points in the law they believe run against Gospel teaching."For me, the Gospel comes first and the law comes second," he
remarked, "whatever country I am in."
Ultimately, however, Zdanevich
was not concerned by the potential affects of the new law: "We have been through the underground already - they can oppress individuals, but not the church."Zdanevich
also pointed out to Forum 18
that the law's provisions inevitably "make it difficult to organise new churches".
maintains that the provisions of the new law restricting mission are aimed particularly at Protestant churches, Forum 18
found that some Catholic representatives were also concerned about them.
18 group photographs of the participants in annual baptisms on 16 September, pastor of the church Viktor Zdanevich
said that he
had experienced no difficulty in obtaining permission from the local authorities to hold the events.