The city of Vyborg, northwest of St. Petersburg, Russia, has a painful and turbulent history. Over the centuries, it has been part of Sweden, Finland and Russia. Russia most recently annexed Vyborg in the 1947 Paris Peace Treaties after World War II.
The modern city borders Finland. For centuries, its turreted fortress was a stronghold against various Russian invasions. When I visited in 1992, I was met by a group of bold, enthusiastic people who wanted to see how the internet worked.
A tall, elegant man spoke up during the workshop, claiming to be a Romanov, a survivor of the Russian Royal family. He was keen to use the internet search engines (pre-Google), and our unstable connection, to research his lineage. My interest was more focussed towards connecting communities rather than reinstalling a potential monarch.
Vyborg made a lasting impression on me, not least because our work was new and it was during White Nights. With Russian colleagues we sat by the river at 3 am, drinking Vodka and wondering what Russia would be like in 20 years time. It was a time of hope.
What prompted this memory was a link on Facebook to an Interfax Bulletin with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Vyborg in the title. I wondered what could they have possibly been doing in this unique City? Its modern call to fame is gas distribution. Its river outlets have enabled moderate trading opportunities, most recently for the distribution of paper from Vyborg’s paper mills.
Interfax reports “The Administrative Center for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has filed a lawsuit with the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Arbitration Court against Russia’s Vyborg Customs.”
Apparently, Vyborg Customs “blocked a number of holy books from entering the country.” The books were a consignment of Bibles, not the “silver sword” or New World Translation, but “an official Russian translation made by the Russian Orthodox Church (the ‘Synodal edition’), as well as the ‘Study Bible’ published by the Russian Bible Society.”
I googled “The Russian Bible Society” and they produce four versions of the ‘Study Bible’, with a cost ranging from $9 to $69.
Given the “Silver Sword” Bible release heralded much fanfare in 2013, why would a community of “German Jehovah’s Witnesses” be sending “Russian fellow worshippers,” a “Study Bible” produced in Asheville NC, by the Russian Bible Society?
The Russian Bible Society claims “to have been at the frontline of providing Bibles for Russia since 1944.” They say: “We believe the greatest gift we can give to any people is the pure Word of God in their native tongue. Therefore, we are committed to continually providing word for word translations based on reliable manuscripts, such as the Received Greek Text. Thus, the Bibles we publish are the ‘Synodal Translation’ of the Russian Bible and its accurate translation into the minority languages of the Commonwealth of Independent States.”
They seem to be genuinely concerned that the Russian people have access to an accurate translation.
You would think Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to have the most up-to-date version of the Bible would want to do the same. There is a Russian translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses’, New World Translation of the Bible, so why send copies produced by the Russian Bible Society?
I do not have an answer, but I can offer a theory. The Interfax source for the bulletin is the Watchtower Press Office. There is no another verifiable information source.
Interfax quotes Watchtower’s Russian press service as stating that it is within the Russian law to send Bibles. They are not banned. Watchtower is arguing that the actions of Vyborg customs caused confusion because “the fact that back in November the Russian president signed a bill to protect holy books, including the Bible, from the effect of the anti-extremist laws.”
Whoever sent the books failed to present “any documents to certify observation of the restrictions” set forth by the Federal Law on “Counteracting Extremist Activity.”
My theory is that materials being sent to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are being flagged as extremist, and if you lack the proper paperwork the books, materials or whatever else are sent back, and Watchtower is testing the waters with these Bibles. Or it may just be that someone had a surplus of Bibles and thought they would send them on.
It is not clear what was meant by a consignment of Bibles, or to whom they were sent.
Customs in Russia are alert to Jehovah’s Witness operations. In March 2015, Russia’s Northwestern Transport Prosecutors seized over one million brochures brought into Russia for the ‘Administrative Center for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia’.
Interfax refers to the previously confiscated haul and notes that experts identified “some materials that contained arguments or a justification for citizens’ to refuse to perform their civic duties, encouragement of non-friendly treatment of people worshipping other religions in the brochures and then the consignment was arrested.”
Either way, the 2013 launch of the silver sword informed the membership that this version was backed by the Governing Body and had Jehovah’s blessing. Indeed, Jehovah was apparently responsible for the favorable weather conditions at Wallkill while it was being printed. But it is not the “Silver Sword” translation, or the New World Translation, that will be in an exhibit box during the court proceedings.
So the irony is, this lawsuit will defend the right of the Watchtower organization to send the Russian Bible Society’s “apostate” Study Bible to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.
After finishing this article, a Russian contact came forward saying that literature and Bibles have been shipped to Russia from the Finland branch up until January 1st, when shipments ceased. He says all JW congregations in Russia have and use the New World Translation.