Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Religious Problems in Eastern Europe

Written by Rev. H.A. Bergsma
During the Soviet era, the government "protected" the people from the influence of religious organizations and their propaganda. But with the proclamation of independence and sovereignty, religion in Kazakhstan and the belief in God are no longer considered a crime against society and the government. Religion is becoming an essential part of the spiritual culture of Kazakhstan which is a multi-confessional state. There are 373 Muslim and 14 Russian Orthodox congregations. Additionally, there are 39 Protestant, Catholic and other religious communities legally registered and operating in the republic. The influential role of religion in Kazakhstani civil society and politics is great.

In connection with increased religious activity in the republic, the government is taking measures to prevent religious extremism and maintain stability by peaceful dialogue, without following confrontational means. Kazakhstan has legislated that October 18 is Spiritual Consensus and Peace Day. In the Kazakhstan legal system, there are many gaps in religious legislation and many opportunities for illegal expansion of different religious teachings that could undermine stability and peace. One trial of a religious nature took place in Southern Kazakhstan at the end of 1998 and lasted almost a year and a half. Two Arabic teachers, one from Egypt and one from Jordan were accused of fomenting religious hostility and propaganda about the superiority of Muslims. They also distributed literature calling for the violent overthrow of the government. They were also accused of applying violence and force while working with their students. Both men were sent to Kazakhstan by a charitable organization abroad. Their courses of Arabic language instruction were approved by the Kazakhstan Ministry of Education, but it became clear that teaching the Arabic language was not the only purpose of their visit. Their trial lasted from June 1998 until May 2000.

During the trial, students and their parents recanted their original accusations against the teachers. But the original accusation of fomenting national and religious hostility among the peoples of Kazakhstan was supported by a June 8, 1998, videotape in which one man spoke Arabic and the other translated into Russian. He said, "Before Muslims had their own state, they had Caliphs heading the government. But right now Muslims do not have their own state, they do not have a Caliph who would unite them in one state." He also added, "Jews are the worst enemies of Allah. Allah cursed them." The court pronounced its verdict at the end of the case. But after citing an amnesty ruling and upholding the goals of the year 2000's "year of unity and peace among generations," the accused were expelled from the country. The government plaintiff, who had worked in public persecution [prosecution?] for 26 years, said he had never faced a trial like this. It was obvious from the case that the judicial investigators were very inexperienced in religious law. This case provided new knowledge and experience. Perhaps one of the Kazakhstan's newspapers said it best: "Missionaries come and go, but they do not always bear good promises and charity." (From Russia Intercessory Prayer Network)

Having been in Eastern Europe recently, I can sympathize somewhat with the problems Eastern Europe is facing now that religious teaching is permitted. It has brought in a wave of non-Biblical teachings, and will no doubt be followed by new sources of persecution as well. Eastern Europe is opening up for the Gospel. May the right seed be sown and bring honour to Jesus Christ!

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