Volgograd Forum, October 31, 2000

Mormons in Volgograd

     Tomorrow an important article will be printed in the Russian national newspaper "Tribuna" (regional section). It says that the Volgograd Oblast has come forward as one of the very few regions in Russia with a positive balance in birth/mortality rate. The most remarkable improvement has taken place in the (Volga's) left bank rural districts, the poorest and economically most backward ones in the Oblast. Infant mortality rate there was one of the highest in the region. Now it has dropped by half and reached the average European(!) level. The number of stillborn is twice less than the average Oblast level. And in the last six years there has been not a single case of death of a woman in childbirth. All this became possible thanks to the competent organization of prenatal care in the regional Volzhski Prenatal Care Center. A short interview with Dr. Mikhail Kirichenko follows who says that prenatal care in the Oblast began with their first visit "to the American city of Cleveland". They did not invent anything but just copied what they saw, he added.
     I have acquired a galley-proof of this article. I will try to scan it now and send it together with this report. And then I will mail it by regular mail. What I would do in your place after reading this article is to congratulate each other over a glass of champagne. Your decade-long efforts and contributions have finally borne fruit. Then I would send out article copies to all hospitals and foundations that helped you realize this project to join in your celebration and give you even more money.

     Now to your other pet project. The October meeting of the Volgograd Forum was also connected with the USA, if only indirectly. Six years ago a small Mormon community was founded in Volgograd. Though it was originally started by US missionaries, all its 400 members now are Russian citizens. In 1998 the Church bought a dilapidated downtown building for $200,000 from the City of Volgograd and with permission of the authorities began to reconstruct it as a House of Prayer, claimed to be the first of its kind in Russian Federation. It caused the wrath of the Russian Orthodox Church, which sees in activities of Western missionaries a threat to its own influence. It was joined by Russian nationalist organizations which started mass demonstrations of protest near the construction site and the Volgograd City Hall. Last year with Mayor's elections impending the Administration of Volgograd gave in and suspended its earlier permission for the construction works. The Mormons went to a court of law and won the case.  But their opponents did not calm down. Unable to stop the construction judicially, they decided to halt it by moral pressure. The local construction workers were intimidated and had to leave this well-paid employment. The Turkish company which was the contractor of the project had to import workers from Turkey and Byelorussia.
     The wranglers also circulated horror stories that Mormons marry dead women, that they do not make any difference between Jesus and Lucifer etc. They also claimed that Mormons are secret agents of the US State Department and the CIA striving to spread American influence all over the world and that it is to these organizations that they send reports about their activities.  They also blamed Mayor Chekhov and Governor Maksyuta for allegedly allying themselves with "the enemies of the Russian people".
     I was told that the case of Volgograd Mormons was mentioned in the State Department annual report on human rights as one of only two examples of violations of religious freedoms in Russia.
     Finally, in September members of the radical nationalist organization the so-called "Volgograd Russian People's Synod" erected a Christian Orthodox cross at the fence of the construction site and organized round-the-clock vigil with prayers and singing in a tent nearby.
     All that time the Mormons, all of them, I repeat, Russian citizens, were not given a chance to defend themselves publicly. Even when they wanted to put a paid advertisement explaining their goals they were refused by all local media outlets.
    True to its principle of serving all citizens, however small minority they can represent, and providing a platform for all voices to be heard, however dissident they can be, the Volgograd Forum invited to speak on October 25 President of the local Mormon congregation Peter Kolpakov.
     We held our meeting at our usual place. There were about ten members of the Mormon Church in the audience. But the rest of some 60 people was hostile to the speaker and included some Christian Orthodox priests and radical nationalists, most of whom were new to the Forum.
     After Mr. Kolpakov uttered a few sentences they attempted to interrupt him with provocative questions. It cost me a great effort to restore order. The whole session went on a nervous pitch and was one of the hardest for me ever. But, as I see it some days later, one of the best and most successful either.
     Mr. Kolpakov held on through his ordeal with great dignity. After the Forum many people from the audience, including some of the most vocal ones, came up and thanked me.
     I think that on that day Alan Davis would have been proud of us. At this particular Forum we taught our fellow citizens a lesson of tolerance. Once again we proved that we would not bend to pressure to sacrifice our integrity. We would always serve public interests and make freedom of speech our cause.

     I am glad you now have a web site of your own. Now that I have a scanner I will contribute to it not only my reports but also pictures. I know you trust me but I want other people to see that the Volgograd Forum is not a soap-bubble, that citizens of Volgograd really attend our meetings, that there are, indeed, TV cameras and radio microphones in the assembly hall and that newspapers really print stories about our activities. They will see that the Free-Speech Forum is in the midst of events and is not afraid to raise the most burning issues.

Alexander Yevreinov

Volgograd Free Speech Forum


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