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Religious intolerance & oppression in Russia

Government oppression.
A
nti-cult movement.

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Anti-Cult movement in Russia:

The Anti-Cult Movement, (ACM), started in the early 1970's in the United States, rose to a position of great influence in the late 20th century, and is now in rapid decline in that country. Their claims that new religious movements (NRMs) entrap members and subject them to mind-control techniques have been widely discredited.

The ACM has since developed an international presence, particularly in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece and Russia. Some of the ACM groups in Russia are:

bulletThe Committee for the Rescue of Youth: This is a loose network of adults, mostly parents, throughout Russia who "disseminate warnings about dangers of cults and to 'save victims of totalitarian sects.'" 3
 
bulletThe Center for the Assistance to Victims of Totalitarian Sects: This group helps former members of NRMs to return to the Russian Orthodox Church.
 
bulletThe Russian Orthodox Church: The Missionary Department of the Moscow Patriarchate is also actively opposed to NRMs.
 
bulletSt. Irenaeus of Lyon Information and Consultation Center: Perhaps the leading ACM figure in Russia is Alexander L. Dvorkin. Since 1992-MAR, he has been on the staff of Department of Religious Education of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.  In 1993 he formed the St. Irenaeus of Lyon Information and Consultation Center which monitors and disseminates information about NRMs. "The Center works with the blessing of [Russian Orthodox] Church authorities." 4 The Center's belief is that new religious groups are secretive, and do not supply information to new members. "...thus their victim often finds himself in an organization he or she knows virtually nothing about." He has stated that "the cultists are victims of mind control techniques and must be treated with patience and compassion."

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In 1995, Dvorkin wrote a brochure called: "Questions to an Obtrusive Stranger, Or a Handbook for Those Who do not Want to be Recruited into a Destructive Cult." It was published by the Moscow Patriarchate. The Public Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Conscience filed a lawsuit against Dvorkin. They have alleged that he incorrectly describes a number of legitimate religious organizations (including the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, the Mother of God Center, Aum Shinri Kyo, and others) as "totalitarian sects" and "destructive cults."  The  Public Committee further alleges that Dvorkin claims that:

bulletThe Jehovah's Witnesses is also a cult.
bulletNRMs take property from their members.
bulletNRMs use violence towards their members
bulletThe goal of all totalitarian cults is to obtain power.

Dvorkin apparently stated that:

"The totalitarian cults will not hesitate to lie, steal, cheat, or control the mind of its members, to slander the officials and the public figures who try to counteract them, and even to destroy physically a perceived enemy or a group of them. In fact, we are dealing with Mafia-like structures..."

The Public Committee claims that there has never been a single verdict by a Russian court against any of these five faith groups which would support Dvorkin's claims.

By early 1997, the lawsuit had expanded to include three co-defendants - Alexander Dvorkin, the Department of Religious Education and Catechism and the Publications Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. The number of plaintiffs also increased to total 28: the Public Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Conscience, one member of the Hare Krishnas, and a number of members of the Church of Scientology.

On 1997-SEP- 21, Alexander Dvorkin gave a lecture on "cults" in Russia at a conference organized by the Enquete-Commission on Sects and Psychogroups of the German Parliament. Marat S. Shterin, a Senior research fellow at The State Library for Foreign Literature (Moscow) responded with a critique of the speech and of the CCM movement in Russia. 3

One NRM -- the Japanese group Aum Shinri Kyo  -- certainly matches the definition of a destructive cult. Their leadership was found responsible for the spreading of a nerve gas in a Tokyo subway station on 1995-MAR-20. The gas killed 11 passengers and injured over 5000. The destructive cult did have an office and some membership in Russia. However, the other faith groups mentioned are widely regarded as simply "high-demand" religious groups who expect a major commitment from their memberships.

Public and government fear of "cults" can exist independently of evidence. A large percentage of the North American public during the 1980s and early 1990s believed in the existence of abusive Satanic Cults. A opinion survey during the 1990s in Utah showed that over 90% of adults believed that these cults exist, and are sexually and physically abusing children. This belief exists without the support of a single scrap of hard evidence. It has now almost completely faded from the scene in North America.

Forum 18, a civil rights organization that monitors activity in Russia and the former Soviet Union reports that:

"A turning point in the Russian authorities' drive against 'religious extremism' came in 2007, when two previous unsuccessful attempts to ban Islamic literature were finally successful, as this analysis - the second part of a presentation given at a seminar at the Kennan Institute in Washington DC - notes.

Also initiated that year was the Federal List of Extremist Materials, which now contains 367 items. Anyone who distributes these works can be fined. Alongside genuinely extremist material are some works Forum 18 News Service has seen which appear to contain no calls to extremism. "The Personality of a Muslim", a popular work among Russian Muslims, was deemed extremist in August 2007 and several distributors of it have since been fined. Indigenous pagans and Jehovah's Witnesses are facing accusations of extremism on the basis of their literature, even though none of it is on the banned list.

The appointment of Aleksandr Dvorkin, a prominent "anti-cult" activist, to head the Justice Ministry's Expert Religious Studies Council has alarmed those who hoped officials would curb the widespread use of extremism accusations." 5

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Russia harasses, threatens Christians," Religion Today, 1999-JAN-14, at: http://www.religiontoday.com/
  2. Ecumenical News International news highlights for 1999-MAY-3
  3. Marat S. Shterin, "New Religions, Cults and Sects in Russia: A Critique and Brief Account of the Problems," at http://web.tin.it/
  4. Open letter from Alexander L. Dvorkin, at: http://www.factnet.org/
  5. Geraldine Fagan, "RUSSIA: The battle with 'religious extremism' - a return to past methods?," Forum 18, 2009-APR-28, at: http://www.forum18.org/

Site navigation:

 Home page > Religious intolerance > Russia > here

or Home page > Christianity > Eastern Orthodoxy > Russia > here

Copyright © 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-APR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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