Staunton, November 24 – A Russian customs official with the unfortunate but symbolic name of Lenin has spent the last six months doing all he can to block the import of 20,000 Bibles printed in Finland for the Gideons and now in a last-ditch effort is seeking to have his carefully selected “experts” declare that this work is extremist.
In a commentary in “Moskovsky komsomolets,” Anatoly Pchelintsev, the lawyer who heads the “Religion and Law” journal, says that he never ceases to be surprised by what Russian officials will do but that this is an especially egregious example of their violation of even Russian laws (mk.ru/social/2016/11/23/tamozhnya-vydelila-chetvert-milliona-na-poiski-ekstremizma-v-novom-zavete.html).
In July, customs officials blocked two trucks carrying 20,000 Bibles that had been printed in Finland for the Gideons who seek to distribute them throughout Russia. These Bibles should have entered easily as they were printed according to the Russian version that enjoys the imprimatur of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
(The only reason they were printed in Finland, Pchelintsev says, is that “the quality of paper and printing services there significantly exceeds” those in Russia – and more than that, the Bibles could be printed more inexpensively in that country than in Russia. Often, he says, Russian religious groups have things published in Belarus for the same reason.)
The Gideon organization had all the necessary documentation, the lawyer continues, and were thus prepared to swear that the Bibles were of “a cultural character and not advertising or pornography.” And they even had letters from Russian experts confirming that the translation of the Bible was canonical in Russia.
But despite that and despite the fact that Russian law prohibits any finding of the Bible or other traditional religious texts as extremist , Pchelintsev continues, the customs officials under the direction of their commander, S.N. Lenin, blocked the two trucks and demanded that the Bible be tested for extremism.
Because “Comrade Lenin” had taken this step, one that was costing them hundreds if not thousands of dollars a week, the Gideons filed suit in a local court but without success. And consequently Lenin was able to go ahead, soliciting bids for an expert examination of the Bible for extremism.
Most real experts refused even to bid on this because they realized how far Lenin had crossed the line into illegality. But finally, as one might expect when money is involved, one group came forward and has agreed to examine the Bible for extremism. Their winning bid for the contract came in at just under 250,000 rubles (4200 US dollars).
What is really going on, the lawyer says, is a scheme for Lenin to exploit the law and the ignorance of the law to divert government funds to his friends. Unfortunately, no judge and no senior official has yet been willing to challenge him on that. The Bibles still sit at the Russian-Finnish border, and this “theater of the absurd” continues.