Fake "Baptist" newspaper surfaces in Smolensk, Russia
In the Western Russian city of Smolensk, forces allied with the powers ruling in Russia have discovered a new means of eliminating formidable opposition candidates: simply label them Baptists, reports William Yoder, Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. A fake newspaper using the logo of the evangelical, once-Baptist periodical "Protestant" and featuring mismatched names and faces surfaced in the city in mid-February. On its front page, Yuri Sipko (Moscow), President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), appeals to the citizens of Smolensk to elect the Baptist "brother" Sergey Maslakov mayor. Yet Maslakov, a father of six and the head of a stock-held firm offering housing and communal services, has no known connection with Baptist circles. The rouge newspaper appearing in Smolensk mailboxes claims to have a circulation of 70.000. RUECB-circles are convinced that Maslakov's chances of election on 1 March (he is running for a minority party) have been nixed by this campaign.
On the opening page, Sipko "lauds" Maslakov for helping to bring "more than 2.000 brothers and sisters and their children" to the faith during the past year. More than once, the paper and Maslakov express the hope that Smolensk will become a major centre of Baptist influence in Russia. To this end, missionaries from Siberia and the West are being delegated to Smolensk. Though Maslakov is completely unknown to foreign and the overwhelming majority of Russian Baptists, Sipko is quoted as saying: "The Baptists of Russia and abroad are all agonizing with Sergey Vasilevich and hoping for his victory." The paper adds in Sipko's voice: "Probably Maslakov will become the first Baptist mayor in Russia."
The paper describes Baptists as a loose-living, libertarian group denying the reality of sin and attributes globally-known, non-Protestant cases of sexual sin among single clergy and marriages with juvenile girls to Baptists. The mayoral candidate supposedly responds: "That is all untrue. But you have no right to stick your nose into our affairs. Give Baptists the right to live in peace as they wish!"
Equally ludicrous is a contrived interview with President Sipko on finances. In it, he concedes that massive financial dependency on the US-dollar will remain unavoidable "because of the grand tasks at hand". Ignoring the group of powerful Russians who indeed do possess Swiss bank accounts, "Sipko" states: "All Baptists pay money into our account in Zurich. But that is still much less than the amount paid by Western churches." The fictive Sipko concludes: "The dollar was, is, and for a long time probably will remain the primary helpmate of the Russian Union of Baptists." All Baptists express gratitude for the donations of Western supporters – "including the American government".
Noting that the new Russian Patriarch, Kirill, was Metropolitan of Smolensk from 1991 to 2008, Vitaly Vlasenko, the RUECB's Director of External Church Affairs, describes the bogus publication as a "nasty farewell" and "grevious insult" to the Patriarch. "Kirill was and is a man of dialogue and interconfessional peace." The phony paper besmirches that which it intends to defend: the Russian Orthodox Church. "Political con-artists are trying to turn the respected, 140-year history of Baptists in Russia into a horror story in hopes of helping and hurting certain political parties. They are sowing hatred between the confessions. Do they not understand that thousands will be hurt by this pitiful rag? This is ugly and totally unacceptable."
Vlasenko also expresses profound disappointment in the apparent inability of Smolensk law officials to identify the culprits. Baptists have appealed to various offices of the State Attorney and the administration of the Russian President. But the attack on Maslakov is not limited to Baptist-bashing. Citing "copyright infringement", the candidacies of Maslakov and another politician were declared illegal on 19 February. Maslakov is appealing the ruling.
Rev. Vlasenko is requesting the advice of experts in Russia and elsewhere on how churches can best to respond to their misuse during election campaigns.