Russia Getting a New Ministry for Religion

Responsibilities Are Still Unclear

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MOSCOW, DEC. 7, 2001 ( Russia will have a new Ministry for Religion, although its responsibilities are still unclear.

Details of the decision made by Vladimir Putin´s men were first revealed by the Keston News Service.

The new Minister will purportedly inherit part of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Federal and Nationality Affairs and Migration Policy, which was abolished by presidential decree Oct. 16.

In recent days, however, government officials expressed doubt that the post would do more than touch upon religious issues, let alone prove to be in place of the much called-for State Committee for Religious Affairs.

Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, the secretary of the presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organizations, told Keston on Nov. 30 that the post is created by a second decree, on Oct. 17, which states that the new Minister will deal with «issues of coordination of the activity of federal organs of executive power in the realization of nationalities policy.»

«There is no mention of religion,» Kudryavtsev stressed, although he said the post would probably touch on religious issues.

Andrei Sebentsov, the vice chairman of the government´s Commission for Religious Associations, contended that no finalized decision had probably been made.

«It sounded to me like a decision which had not been thought through — they will probably think more about it,» he said. An indication that this was the case, in Sebentsov´s view, was that «nothing has happened since.»

Sebentsov said it did «not make much sense» for such a post to deal with religion, since it would be attached to the government, where policy is given only its final form («oformleniye»), as distinct from the presidential administration, where formulation («formulatsiya») of policy takes place.

As a result, such a Minister would have «no basis upon which to do anything real,» he said.

According to Sebentsov, the announcement does not rule out the possibility of a State Committee for Religious Affairs attached to either the government or the presidential administration, the foundation of which, he explained, is «not a subject of the law — only of the constitution and government structure.»

The initiative to found such a committee «hangs in the air,» he said, and depends on the head of government, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, making a relevant proposal to the president. As for the Duma, the Parliament, Sebentsov said, «it is absolutely outside this process.»

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