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In 2010, Russia passed the Law on the Transfer of Religious Property to Religious Organizations, designed to ensure that historical properties seized during the Soviet Era would be returned to their rightful owners. In Vyborg, a Lutheran church has had little success regaining their historical property, with court decisions being overturned then overturned yet again against the church. Some of these courts have maintained that the property does not qualify as religiously significant, despite its history as a building used for Sunday school. Since the most recent court decision, the Lutherans currently have two months to file yet another appeal.

By Victoria Arnold

5/23/2014 Russia (Forum 18) – Three and a half years since it came into force, Russia’s 2010 Law on the Transfer of Religious Property to Religious Organisations has proved to be no guarantee that the restitution process will be easy or unchallenged, or indeed that religious property seized during the Soviet period will be returned at all, Forum 18 News Service has found. Some religious communities fear they may never get back their historical property.

After four years, multiple applications, and several court cases, the Vyborg parish of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria is still struggling to regain ownership of a historical property. A January decision in the parish’s favour at St Petersburg’s Arbitration Court was overturned in May, and the community is preparing for another attempt, parish rector Vladimir Dorodny told Forum 18 on 20 May.

The Lutherans – who regained the use of Vyborg’s St. Peter and St. Paul Church in 1991 – wish to return the nearby [parish] house to its previous roles as Sunday school and pastor’s apartments, as well as to open a nursing home.

The Defence Ministry denied the first application [in 2010] on the grounds that the building had already passed into the ownership of the city of Vyborg, according to court documents seen by Forum 18, despite the Lutherans having made their initial request before this transfer took place.

Subsequent applications to the city and district administrations in April 2012 and March 2013 were denied as the building was deemed to be neither of religious significance nor serving religious property. This is in spite of the fact that property once used for religious education (e.g. a Sunday school) is covered by the 2010 Law.

In July 2013, the administration rejected claims of historical ownership: “By this logic, we should give the Finns the whole of Vyborg,” unnamed “specialists” told local website on 20 July 2013.

“It remains for us only to continue the fight and pray for the parish house,” Pastor Dorodny told Forum 18, “which by federal law should be returned to the parish, but for some reason has not yet been given to us.”

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