Russian law paves way for return of confiscated religious assets

Moscow, Russia - More than 90 years after its properties were seized by Bolsheviks during the October Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church is set to recover most of its belongings thanks to a controversial new law adopted by parliament on Friday.

The new legislation allows every religious denomination to demand from the state that its belongings be returned. Authorities can, however, decline to do so. But the law's opponents had argued that the rules were formulated too vaguely.

Russia's cultural elite had been among the legislation's leading opponents, warning that it would lead to a "hemorrhage" from the country's museums. Its supporters, however, celebrated the vote as a historic victory and long-overdue justice.

President Dmitry Medvedev still has to give his blessing for the law to come into effect. No other legislation in Russia's recent history had proven so contentious.

A total of 11,000 objects are affected, including thousands of memorials of national significance, Russian newspapers wrote.

The law was amended several times following fierce protests by museum directors. It eventually received widespread support in parliament, except for the Communists. They warned that the Russian Orthodox Church would now own the most real estate in the country.

The church already counts among Russia's most powerful social powers and has shown signs of wanting even more influence.