Tambov Priest Fired over Pussy Riot Support
A Tambov diocese council has defrocked Deacon Sergei Baranov who openly supported Pussy Riot. Some analysts believe the ruling reflects the official attitude toward dissidents.
Deacon Sergei, who earlier posted an open letter supporting the convicted members of the punk band Pussy Riot on his Facebook blog, was stripped of his holy orders by the Tambov consistory after he asked Patriarch Kirill in a letter to excommunicate him. He said he wanted to sever relations with the Russian Orthodox Church due to the unjust Pussy Riot verdict, a verdict Baranov believes was rendered with direct church influence.
The defrocking is pending the approval of the patriarch.
Although he was defrocked at his own request, the decision of the diocese was still illegal, the retired cleric’s mother, Olga Baranova, said in an interview with Kommersant FM.
“Why are they accusing him of denying the church? What he said was not a denial. The Church is the Body of Christ. What he said was that he disagreed with the church administration. His actions do not fit into a single provision for defrocking: he is not a hegumen (abbot) who ran over an elderly person with a car, or a convicted criminal, or a dissenter. There is no provision for someone who asks to have his holy orders withdrawn,” she explained.
The ruling by the Tambov diocese mirrors the government’s policy of tightening the screws where Pussy Riot is concerned, said human rights activist Gleb Yakunin, who has also been excommunicated.
“Considering the authoritarian and totalitarian governance of the Russian Orthodox Church, there is little wonder they can do anything. These provisions were written centuries ago and are actually being very loosely interpreted under modern circumstances. Patriarch Kirill’s damning speech which abounded in lashing quotations, and a similar address by [President Vladimir] Putin, is a declaration of war on Pussy Riot and anyone who supports them,” Yakunin said.
Deacon Sergei’s case is being actively discussed in blogs.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday suggested changing the three young women’s sentences to probation. He said he was sickened by the “punk prayer” but that two years behind bars is a disproportionate punishment.
Income Declarations Do Little to Fight Corruption
Experts from the Higher School of Economics do not believe that income declarations do anything to fight corruption or that expense declarations will be any better.
The current system of anti-corruption declarations is ineffective and will not improve if the law on officials’ expense declarations is adopted in its present form, say Alexei Konov and Andrei Yakovlev from the Higher School of Economics, who have prepared a report on anti-corruption declarations.
They write that officials are not requested to disclose the origin of their income or the cost of their property and that the declarations are checked only randomly. The worst thing is that the system does not focus on indicators of corruption: data pointing to possible violations, such as a discrepancy between official income and expenses, or purchases of real estate at prices far below market value.
Yakovlev said the idea for the report occurred to him when he was working on the socioeconomic development strategy to 2020. “The more I worked, the more I thought that even the best measures will be ineffective as long as there is a conflict of interest,” he said.
The economists’ proposals will not require a big budget, but they can only be used if the basic procedure for submitting, publishing and checking the declared data is changed.
The expense declaration should be replaced with a comprehensive personal property declaration. Officials should not simply be required to declare their property as of the date of filing, but they must also declare property transactions over the reporting period. They should also disclose the origin of their income and the amount of cash, jewelry and other luxury items they have to prevent them from using undeclared assets to justify new spending.
The economists also recommend that the adult children of civil servants submit declarations.
All declarations must be inspected for evidence of possible corruption by the Audit Chamber or the Prosecutor General’s Office, which has the necessary experience. The conclusions must be available to the general public.
On the other hand, the number of officials submitting declarations could be reduced. It would be expedient to focus on top-level officials, who account for 5 percent to 7 percent of government positions but are most widely open to corruption risk. The analysts suggest that initially the penalty could be limited to disciplinary action, which should reduce resistance to the reform and encourage the guilty officials to resign.
Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Security and Corruption Alexander Khinshtein believes that the draft law on officials’ expenses will be seriously altered but it is unclear which recommendations will be taken.
The proposal to reduce the number of officials who submit declarations is reasonable and will greatly simplify the checking of information, lawyer Mikhail Barshchevsky said. However, the idea that officials’ adult children submit declarations sounds impractical. Also, it will be impossible to check information on the sale and purchase of precious metals, the lawyer said.
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