MOSCOW, November 19 (RIA Novosti)
Will Russian Schools Teach Religion?
The second reading of a new education bill will take place on December 17, leaving one month to align it with existing laws. After that, other laws would have to be amended to avoid legal conflicts.
The controversial bill is to a large extent a product of an inter-factional State Duma group advocating Orthodox Christian values. They are propose equal government funding for all educational institutions including religious schools, having religious organizations audit school curriculums, teaching religion at kindergartens, and giving state recognition status to theological institutes.
Some reports say that representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church have backed a proposal to institute prayer rooms at schools. A statement by church spokesman Vladimir Legoida on the website of Ekho Moskvy radio, says prayers would take place in these rooms at the request of parents or older students, which immediately triggered criticism from Russian Protestants and Muslims.
Students from Protestant or Muslim families could have benefited from the new opportunity. In fact they might even enjoy more freedom in performing their devotionals because they are generally more religious than Orthodox believers and their rules for worship are simpler and more relaxed. So, why are these communities so ardently objecting to the bill?
The objections might be more understandable in light of a recent high-profile case in a multiethnic town in southern Russia’s Stavropol Territory, where Muslim girls were not allowed to wear headscarves to school. The ban sparked a nationwide debate because whenever the headscarf question comes up it always becomes politicized in any country, from Turkey to France. The government supported the school administration.
That move was followed by a clear albeit unspoken warning: the progress of a bill on not offending believers – also an initiative from the Orthodox lobby in the Duma – could be significantly slowed down.
However, neither the government, nor the Supreme Court has commented on the bill, although both responses are two weeks overdue. President Vladimir Putin said at a recent meeting with human rights activists, that the bill should not be “rushed.” Nevertheless, the church and its loyal Duma deputies have continued pushing for religious education, without even waiting for the headscarf issue to die down.
This excessive activity has put the government in a complex and sensitive position: if it supports the Orthodox proposal, it will clearly be showing a discriminatory approach to other religious communities. In this case, it would have no other option but to rely on the Orthodox Church – the largest but not the only religion in Russia – in response to popular discontent, and take on the stigma of being ideologically biased. But the government seems to be taking the other approach – something the pushy religious lobbyists seem not to be noticing. In the end, they could end up with nothing.
State Companies Instructed to Sell Noncore Assets
The Russian government has refused to increase direct investment in the national economy, forcing state owned companies to search for other sources of funding. The Economic Development Ministry, defying the Finance Ministry, has asked the government to triple state guarantees to 334 billion rubles ($10.5 billion) in 2013. The government has responded by instructing state-owned companies to sell their noncore assets to raise the money.
On December 15, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev instructed government representatives at commercial companies to call board meetings within five days to discuss the proposed sale of noncore assets. These instructions concern 63 joint-stock companies and their subsidiaries from List No. 91, which was approved in January 2003. The noncore asset sale programs that have been drafted were coordinated with the deputy prime ministers responsible for the given economic sector. The meetings at which the program is to be adopted are planned for December 2012. Rosneft could be the only state company to be exempted from obligatory asset sales.
The directive to sell noncore assets is the government’s answer to the problems state companies have funding their investment programs, something that took on alarming dimensions during the 2013 budget drafting process.
Faced with the government’s unwillingness to increase rates and spending, the companies and the ministries concerned are considering selling noncore assets to finance their investment programs.
The government has been discussing state guarantees for infrastructure loans and bonds since October. The draft 2013 budget submitted to the State Duma provides 110.5 billion rubles ($3.5 billion) for this purpose in 2013, down from 157 billion rubles in 2012. However, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak wrote to First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov that only three companies’ requests for state guarantees worth 26.8 billion rubles have been approved and requests worth 75 billion rubles are still being considered. The Economic Development Ministry argues that state guarantees for 2013 should be increased to 334 billion rubles and with a term increase from 20 to 30 years.
Kommersant sources at Rosneft and Transneft say their companies do not plan to request state guarantees. Representatives of Gazprom, which have used state guarantees to build pipelines, were not available for comment. But a spokesperson for Russian Railways (RZD) said the company was considering an issue of infrastructure bonds in 2013 and hopes that the Pension Fund will buy them if its investment rules are changed to increase the proportion of bonds it is allowed to buy from 30 percent to 60 or 70 percent. With state guarantees, the Pension Fund would be able to buy up to 100 percent of the bonds. The proposed flotation of RZD bonds worth about 200 billion rubles to finance high-speed rail projects was discussed at a meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin on October 19. Russian Railways has adopted and is implementing a program to divest noncore assets.
Roman Babayev: ‘Clubs Can’t Control Their Fans’
In an interview with Izvestia, CSKA General Director Roman Babayev said that he does not believe that Zenit should be held responsible for the flare thrown at Dynamo goalkeeper Anton Shunin. This flare incident forced referee Alexei Nikolayev to stop the game.
“Allowing the footballers to play yesterday’s game to the end would have been a fairer decision,” Babayev told Izvestia. “I understand there are regulations that need to be upheld, but are the Zenit players to blame? The main thing in this case is to find and punish the guilty party. A precedent should be set. This should have a very serious punishment, up to and including criminal prosecution. No club can control its fans. We don’t have the right to inspect fans at the entrance; we cannot ban a specific person from attending our matches. So it seems that a football club has no rights but bears full responsibility. No one can guarantee that such a provocation won’t happen.”
Q: CSKA will play its next match against Zenit. If it’s held in an empty stadium, will the army team enjoy an advantage?
A: I just talked to the boys about this and they told me they’d be unhappy if the game was played without spectators. A football match without fans is not football. As far as our goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev is concerned, he’s not afraid of the Anton Shunin incident being repeated. This could happen in any match. In Khimki stadium the stands are very close to the pitch, and stuff is frequently tossed at the goalkeeper from the seats.
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