Presentation about the state of cults in Russia given by A. L. Dvorkin on September 22, 1997 at a Parliamentary hearing in the German Bundestag in Bonn, relating to international aspects of the activities of so-called sects and psycho-groups
by Alexander Dvorkin
This paper should be seen as a case study. We often hear from those who support cults that these organizations constantly change for the better. According to this viewpoint, the new religious movements (NRMs) have already outlived their initial, fanatical phase and have now become respectable and "main-line." We are often accused of treating such organizations according to what they were long ago, and not what they really are today. However, the Russian experience shows otherwise. Most of these groups came into Russia about five to ten years ago. They started from scratch in this country and had a chance to show that they were really different. However, it did not happen, and what we see in Russia is exactly the same modus operandi and modus vivendi that these groups exhibit in virtually every country they operated in before; there are no changes whatsoever. I will try to prove this statement with the following paper.
It took rather a long time for a new, post-Communist Russia to begin to understand the danger posed by the cults. The Communist regime forbade everything. Some religions were barely tolerated, but the official line, mightily heralded by the mass media, was that any religion is evil and that all of them are bound to extinguish themselves within a few years. So, once perestroika and glasnost began, the pendulum swung very far in the opposite direction. The prevailing view expressed by the media and the average Russian was that any spirituality was good and that all roads lead to God. Public opinion was pushed to accept that any religion is a positive phenomenon, and nothing can hinder the inalienable right of any citizen to join any of them. The reality that religiosity can be either negative or positive, that many dangerous cults exist, and that some sects can be utterly destructive was simply overlooked. Thus, everything which was declared bad by the Soviets automatically became very good indeed.
Today it is generally accepted that Communism was basically a religious system of a sectarian nature, so when it collapsed in the USSR the people tried to fill the void with something new. Not everyone was able to discover the Orthodox Church, which was greatly weakened by 70 years of persecution and needed time to recover. The new sects found many people before the Church did.
Still another factor to consider in understanding developments since the end of Communism was the move to a market economy. Monopoly was proclaimed the ultimate evil and the market the ultimate answer to all questions in life. Unfortunately, this idea was applied to the religious sphere as well. Many felt that we badly needed a free market and competition to enliven our religions life. Naturally, anything foreign was viewed as better than anything Russian. Foreign things, pretty to look at and nice to touch, were more often than not given preference - and this was also true in matters of religious choice.
Against this background the 1990 law on the freedom of conscience was passed. It was modeled on U.S. law; all religions were considered absolutely equal in all respects. The teaching of any religion in public schools was forbidden. To register as a religious organization it was enough to find ten people who would declare themselves a religious organization. They could announce their intention to worship, let's say, a light bulb, and the Ministry of Justice had no legal basis to deny them registration as a religious organization.
It was in this context that a host of foreign totalitarian sects (or destructive cults) began their Russian campaign. Many of them were given royal treatment in the perestroika-era USSR. Sun Myung Moon arrived in 1990 as an official guest of Mr. Gorbachev. His advent was preceded by several extremely favorable newspaper articles filled with praise for his uncompromising anticommunism. Moon met with all the leading Soviet politicians of the day and with top media people (the latter group having already made his acquaintance during visits to Korea - all expenses paid by Moon). Many deputies of the Supreme Soviet went to the U.S. as Moon's guests and even received monetary gifts from him. The leading perestroika newspaper, The Moscow News, accepted a $100,000 donation from Moon. All of this seemed to spell a great future for Moon in the USSR.
Shoko Asahara obtained support for his projects from the topmost echelons of Russian power. He was received by the vice-president, Alexander Rutskoi, and by the speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Ruslan Khasbulatov. Asahara also received special patronage from the Secretary of the Security Council, Oleg Lobov; who allegedly sold the recipe for the production of sarin gas to Aum Shinrikyo. The cult got one hour daily on nationwide radio and a weekly program on Russian television. Quite a few business firms owned by the cult were floated on the Russian market. For all we know, they are still there ...
Scientology began its conquest of Russia in 1990. Its first step was to attract several Russian celebrities through Narconon, its supposed drug-rehabilitation program. In 1991 the cult itself came to Russia, opening Dianetics centers in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In 1992 the L. Ron Hubbard Reading Room was opened at the faculty of Journalism at Moscow State University (MSU), and Hubbard received a posthumous doctorate - the first in the history of MSU. In the beginning of 1993 there was a loud presentation of the Russian edition of the book Dianetics in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. Numerous copies of the book were sent to many deputies of the Supreme Soviet. Sergey Stepashin, a future head of the FSB (KGB) and then federal minister of justice, praised Hubbard to the skies, and then vice president Rutskoi embellished his interview with the weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta with a quotation from the "great American writer and philosopher" L. Ron Hubbard. With such help from dignitaries the cult began spreading rapidly.
I believe these three examples are rather typical. Virtually every cult, whether foreign or local, began by seeking understanding and support from among Russia's powerful elite, and more often than not, they got it, This is equally true at both federal and local administrative levels.
Thus, with the friendly mass media, public opinion favorably inclined toward everything western and "spiritual" and established government connections, the cults began their conquest of Russia with the law on their side. Anyone could come to Russia with even a tourist visa and begin a missionary campaign in order to found a new religious organization later. Religious anonymity and pseudonymity were widely employed: at first, recruiters often did not identify themselves as representing a religion, concealed their religious connection, tried to appear as close as possible to the Orthodox Church, or affirmed their full agreement with it. All these factors produced the desired effect, and the number of recruits has skyrocketed.
The first negative reactions came from parents who wondered what had happened to their children after joining these previously unknown religious organizations. They noticed that their children changed for the worst - becoming, as the parents described it, "zombified."
It is important to note that the parents were not naturally biased against "new religious movements" as many cults like to maintain. The cults and their advocates claim that once someone's son or daughter joins an NRM, their parents run to the anticult media, anticult organizations, or a deprogrammer who will scare them with tales of brainwashing and cultic criminality. Thus the parents themselves become anticultists, provoke their children, and the family falls apart.
However, this tidy scenario does not work in Russia, because when parents began worrying about what they considered harmful changes in their children, they had no access to negative information about so-called "destructive cults." In Russia there was no anticult media and no anticult movement, and noone had even heard of such an exotic beast as a "deprogrammer": There were only the suffering parents of Hare Krishnas, Moonies, and the followers of the "Mother of God Center" and "White Brotherhood" who began to locate each other, share their experiences, and develop plans for how they might respond.
These parents went looking for help, but nobody would listen to them until they came to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1992. At that time I had just begun working with the Moscow Patriarchate. My superiors asked me to help the parents, because they thought that as an American citizen who lived, studied, and worked for 15 years in the U.S., Italy, and Germany I would be the best qualified to help.
Eventually, I arrived at the view that the most important component of the freedom of choice is the freedom of information. When information is withheld a person cannot make a truly informed choice. So, in order to preserve our precious, newly won freedoms, we must try to provide people with all the information about a given group. We must convey to the public the facts that the cults hide about themselves. This simple insight became the philosophy of St. Irenaeus of Lyon Information and Consultation Center at the Patriarchate of Moscow which I founded.
Compared with the cults, we had few resources; we were very small and our funding was nil. Their strength was multiplied, because many of them arrived at a sort of mutual understanding, and an exchange of strategic information began among Scientology, ISKCON, the Unification Church, "The Family" (formerly Children of God), and lately the Jehovah's Witnesses - and this does not include several smaller sects. Their cooperation quickly became obvious when the first negative reports appeared about cults in the Russian media. In response, editors began to receive virtually identical letters of protest with packages of documents from all of the above mentioned groups.
After my first publication on Scientology I received a visit from Ms. Birte Heldt, a Danish citizen who was then director of the Hubbard Humanitarian Center in Moscow. Though she tried to look friendly, the main purpose of our encounter soon became evident: "We would like you to know that anybody standing in the way of Scientology ends up very badly." "Are you threatening me?" I asked. "No, just warning you," she replied.
It almost seemed as though there was a gentlemen's agreement of sorts among the cults about the division of spheres of influence. (One has to remember that the overall population of Russia is very poor; cults that look for profits have to devise some creative means of getting them, since they will not be able to make much from the average man on the street). The Unification Church ("Moonies") works primarily in the public schools. They established connections with the Ministry of Education, held seminars for teachers in prestigious resort areas (over 60,000 have attended), and designed and published a textbook for high school students called My World and I (presently used in over 2,000 Russian schools, in violation of the Constitution). They also tried to establish connections with the army. Several strategic meetings were held, and the Unification Church began work on a new textbook, The Inner World of the Soldier, designed as a basic moral and religious education tool to be used throughout the army.
Scientology primarily targeted local administration and heavy (including military) industry. They worked in these areas through the Hubbard college of Business Administration, proposing to introduce the only effective methods of administration and raising productivity levels. According to the Russian-language publicity materials they present to potential clients, Hubbard administration methods (or "tech") are used by such thriving multinationals as Volvo, Chanel, Boeing, Ford, General Motors, and AGFA. In a few years, the Scientologists managed to convert people like Vladimir Fil, then the mayor of Perm; Anatoly Boitsev, the chairman of the regional Duma of Novgorod province; and many other local officials. Today they have their offices in more than thirty Russian cities. They are especially strong in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Perm, Novgorod, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Ussolie-Sibirskoye, Kemerovo, and Obninsk. Local administrations in many areas became founders and sponsors of local Hubbard Colleges. Mr. Fil publicly promised to have his entire city functioning according to Hubbard's ideas within a year. Hubbard colleges were opened in many super-secret military plants in the Urals; nobody knows how much sensitive information they were able to gather. Scientologists attempted to get into Russian military space industry, and became involved with many banks and insurance firms. Needless to say, many of the industries they got involved in started to have serious difficulties; many eventually went bankrupt.
It is important to note that a certain Mr. Theodorovich, the personal secretary and adviser of the first vice-prime minister of Russia, Boris Nemtsov, is a graduate of the Hubbard College in Nizhny Novgorod and a card-carrying Scientologist.
The Scientologists tried very hard to establish connections with the Ministry of the Internal Affairs and to get their Criminon program running in Russian prisons, but they had limited success.
One area where the Scientologists were spectacularly successful was health care. In August of 1994 they managed to obtain a license from the Ministry of Health to deploy a Hubbard treatment known as the Purification Rundown in Russia's public health system, and immediately began charging their clients from $1,000 to $1,500 each.
The Russian branch of ISKCON, as the Hare Krishna sect is known, is actively building its empire in the food industry and pharmaceutical industry (ayurvedic medicine). Their "Food for Life" program receives public funding, and the Krishnas get a lot of publicity from it. Jehovah's Witnesses mostly recruit in factory areas among the working-class people and peasants, while the International Churches of Christ (Boston Movement) concentrate their work around university campuses. The Mother of God Center attempted to establish connections with the Ministry of Defense and has access to several army units.
Certain cults are found in some areas but not in others. For example, the Church of the Last Testament, led by a man calling himself "Vissarion" (real name Sergey Torop) who proclaims himself the new incarnation of Christ, established its center in southern Siberia, while the extremist charismatic Word of Life (Livets Ord) movement from Sweden has flooded the Russian northeast.
These are but a few of the many examples that could be given. It's important to stress that all of the aforementioned groups and others are actively seeking to gain footholds at the highest levels of power, and that together they have established a well connected pro-cult lobby. One of the most vociferous members of this lobby is Valery Borshchov, a deputy in the Duma and chairman of the Chamber of the Human Rights of the Russian President's Political Council. His personal secretary and assistant, Lev Levinson, is an open member of Scientology.
Another very committed member of this lobby is a certain Anatoly Pchelintsev, a former military prosecutor of the F. E. Dzerzhinsky division of the Soviet-era KGB. Today Pchelintsev calls himself a Baptist, and he directs the so-called Institute of Religion and Law. In fact, this "institute" is a very small private enterprise which is supported by donations. Considering the militant pro-cult position of Mr. Pchelintsev, we might easily guess where most of these donations come from. (I mention his name because on September 18, 1997, a U.S. congressional hearing was held on "Religious Intolerance in Europe Today" with scheduled appearances by such Scientologist celebrities as John Travolta and Chick Corea. Russia was to be represented by Mr. Pchelintsev.)
Another class of people who were actively recruited into the pro-cult lobby were former professional propagators of militant atheism. With the fall of Communism they were left without their lucrative jobs, and some of them were eventually lured into the service of cultic interests as "experts on religion." I will mention only two of these people, both of whom now hold positions as advisers to the Federation Council (the upper chamber of Russia's Federal Assembly): Sergey Ivanenko and Mikhail Sivertsev. The latter individual, the fact that he is the author of Scientology material notwithstanding, recently announced the creation of a "Christian Consent Center," which has the goal of "promoting the intensification of reforms in Russia and creating a spiritual base for the reforms and transition from the period of economic and political changes dictated from above to the epoch of the organic development of Russia based on its traditions and the world civilization experience."
Thus, the lack of the workable legal norms and the failure to comply with even existing ones have brought about an absurd and horrible situation in which the cults have virtually a free hand in Russian schools, hospitals, the army, military industry, and ruling circles. The difficult economic situation and general poverty of the population makes it very easy for a wealthy cult to buy influence in our society.
But there is another side to it as well. A characteristic feature of Russian society is the very strong ties between parents and their children that extend well into adulthood - ties which make the work of the parents' initiatives very effective. This fact made possible a lawsuit by the Moscow Parents' Comittee against Aum Shinrikyo, which they won despite all the Japanese cult's financial power and its connections in high places.
Though this was one of the main factors responsible for changing the almost unlimited spread of cults in Russia, it was by no means the first. The first was the fanatical White Brotherhood sect and their failed predictions of the end of the world, which they attempted to stage in Kiev November of 1993. For the first time the Russian public became aware of what mind control techniques are like and the consequences of mass religious hysteria. Next came a legal ban on the Russian branch of Aum Shinrikyo which virtually coincided with their gas attack in the Tokyo subway.
The fall of the Iron Curtain prompted the expansion of the cults into Russia even as it removed barriers to the spread of information about them. Organizations which entered our territory with hopes that their reputation in the West would remain unknown were disappointed. Knowledge of their past misdeeds and current practices soon reached us, seriously slowing their unopposed victorious march through Russia. Many cults that once overestimated their strength are now experiencing serious setbacks
One typical example is that of Scientology in Novgorod. The Hubbard College there was established in 1994 by the mammoth Akron chemical plant and members of the local government. In just three years, over 400 citizens - including most of the staff of the provincial administration, the chairman of the provincial Duma, and many of the county administrators graduated from the Hubbard College. The Hubbard's teaching spread across the city unopposed until November of 1996, when Sergey Darevsky, director of the information program on local television, chanced upon a copy of the May 6, 1991 issue of Time magazine with the words "Scientology: The Cult of Greed" splashed across its cover. Darevsky contacted Moscow, found more information, and produced and presented several anti-Scientology programs on local television.
In March of 1997 the representative of the provincial administration announced on local television that the provincial administration was cutting all ties with the Hubbard College. Soon the Scientologists had to move out from their spacious premises in the city center. All the workers from the local administration immediately removed the Hubbard College diplomas from their office walls. The only high-ranking local politician who still supports the cult is Anatoly Boitsev, chairman of the provincial Duma.
At the end of 1996 Vladimir Fil, who failed to convert all of Perm to Scientology, lost his bid for re-election, and most of his "Scientology team" went down to defeat with him. But Scientology suffered its most crushing setback on June 19, 1996, when the national Ministry of Health canceled the license formerly granted the Purification Rundown and forbade the use of all Scientology methods in public medicine. At the same time the Unification Church began to realize that despite their massive investment in Russia they had very little to show for it. They stopped funding their projects, but it was too late: both the Scientologists and Unification Church had serious problems with the St. Petersburg tax police in 1996-1997. The Saratov branch of the Moon movement had trouble with the police over a case of document forgery, and many more cults found themselves before the authorities.
In response to their troubles the cults initiated a process which I call "pseudo-indigenization." In order to look like authentic Russian religions, certain groups began to appoint Russians to all their top positions. But the Russians have remained only figureheads; the foreigners who formally stepped down retained absolute power, acting from behind the scenes. In their desire to look indigenous, ISKCON probably went beyond everyone else in this process. They involved themselves with extreme nationalistic neo-Nazi and neo-pagan groups, claiming that Russia's tradition of religion is actually Vedic paganism, which was forcibly suppressed by an evil Jewish-Christian plot and replaced with the Christian religion (which is actually a pernicious Jewish invention).
Scientology took a step in the same direction. A certain Vitaly Bogdanov wrote a booklet entitled " A Respect to Faith, or Why Is It Stupid to Fight Scientology?" (Moscow, 1997). The work was evidently commissioned by Scientology, as it lists a double copyright in the names of Bogdanov and the long-deceased L. Ron Hubbard. This supposedly objective booklet exalts Scientology and its founder to the skies as scientific methods of genius and the breakthrough in human religious thought. Its contents are overtly pro-Soviet ("Ron's only mistake was that he underestimated the might of Soviet sciences" pp. 57-58), covertly anti-Semitic ("It is from the territory of Judea - a province of the great Roman Empire which the Romans did not get their hands on - that the Christian religion came into the Empire" - p. 63), extremely chauvinistic and anti-Christian ("one has to understand that the mission of Russia is not to hold fast to a version of Christianity borrowed once upon a time from Byzantium - an Orthodoxy which was forced upon her but, instead, to offer humanity principally new ideas in not only mathematics and chemistry, but in theology" - p. 67). The book ends with the following advice: "It seems that the potential development of Scientology in Russia is conditioned by the possibility of bringing its dogmatics into agreement with basic values of the popular among the intellectuals' ethical doctrines, particularly with Roerich's 'Living Ethics.' It is not enough just to show that Scientology does not contradict Orthodoxy or a religious world-view.
It would be wise to demonstrate that the codex of the Scientologist is quite acceptable for those who confess 'neo-Vedical' (Slavic-Aryan) paganism and others who are above the average vector of spiritual development of social groups.
Strategically, it is more useful to acquire allies beforehand than to fight with competitors of the Orthodox church after just having finished fighting with her" (pp. 72-73).
Perhaps the "neo-pagan connection" and "neo-pagan synthesis" is the future of the cults in Russia. However, the other groups do not (yet) go so far as that. In fact, all of them are trying either to use Orthodox symbols or to portray their doctrines as being in full conformity with the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Naturally, they chose not to inform their potential recruits about the decision of the 1994 Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which announced the excommunication of all members of new religious movements from the Church. A new and very aggressive advertising campaign began, conducted by Scientology, Transcendental Meditation, the followers of Sri Chinmoy, and ISKCON. Scientology even announced the creation of its own private secondary school for children. However, in the minds of ordinary Russians, the sects were more and more associated with destructive - anti-state, anti-family, and anti-personality - activities, mind control, exploitation, and criminality.
The word "sectomafia" came into wide use. News of deaths from malnutrition and outright murder in the Vissarion sect from southern Siberia were covered by leading newspapers. Local media in Novosibirsk reported the murder of an infant by its mother, a Sahaja Yoga member. Recently leading television channels covered the story of Sasha, a twelve-year-old boy beaten and abused by his Hare Krishna mother, who forcibly took him to gurukula in Vrindaban, India. Eventually Sasha managed to escape and to fly to Tashkent, from where he hitchhiked to Moscow. Another story broadcast on Russian television showed an ISKCON member who was arrested in Ekaterinburg and charged with participating in a series of prearranged murders and drug trafficking. The Ekaterinburg police said that they suspect the Urals branch of ISKCON of having close connections with the local mafia for the purpose of laundering large sums of money through its "Food for Life" program.
It seems that Russian public opinion has become allergic to cult activities because of such behavior. This view was summed up by Victor Navarnov of the Russian Prosecutor General's office, who stated in August of 1997 that over 250,000 families in Russia have been destroyed through exposure to sects. Similar numbers of children have been abandoned by parents who joined these groups, he added. Navarnov, who oversees ethnic-relations laws in the Prosecutor General's office, cited the Church of Scientology as one of the most aggressive cults in the world - one whose teaching offers license for murder and suicide. The prosecutor said that its proselytizing methods are defined in Russia as pernicious and a public menace. (The other dangerous cult he named was the Mother of God Center.) Yet he added that, unopposed by the general public, cults are winning ever-larger numbers of Russian recruits.
This explains why the provincial governments, realizing the limitations of the existing law on the freedom of conscience during the last two years, began to promulgate their own laws curtailing the activities of totalitarian cults and previously unknown foreign proselytizers. This process inevitably led to the adoption of the new federal law on freedom of conscience.
The Moscow Lawsuit
The cults did all they could to stop this process, or at least to slow it down. One of the goals of the legal action which the pro-cult lobby and several cults initiated in the spring of 1997 against me and the Russian Orthodox Church was to torpedo the passing of the new law on freedom of conscience by the federal Duma.
The lawsuit was initially tiled by former dissident Mr. Gleb Yakunin, who accused me of slandering legally registered religious organizations in Russia by calling them "totalitarian cults." The publication in question was my 1995 booklet, "10 Questions to an Obtrusive Stranger, Or a Handbook for Those Who Do Not Want to Be Recruited Into a Destructive Cult." In the booklet I try to outline the characteristic features of destructive cults and to show how they differ from bona fide organizations and traditional confessions. The Department of Religious Education and Catechism of the Moscow Patriarchate, which published my booklet and holds the copyright, was recognized as my co-defendant, along with the Publications Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Mr. Yakunin, a former priest under the Moscow Patriarchate, was defrocked in 1994 for grossly violating the canons of the Church. When he was not re-elected to the Duma in 1996, he founded a private nonprofit organization known as the "Public Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Conscience." The Committee immediately went about seeking donations from various destructive cults, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, Unification Church, and Scientology. (When the Minister of Public Health issued a ban on Scientology in public medicine, Yakunin wrote a series of protests against this "discriminatory" act, accusing me of having personally masterminded it.) In fact, it is this committee which has filed suit against me, and Yakunin signed it as its chairman. Representing the plaintiffs was Ms. Galina Krylova, an attorney who previously defended Aum Shinrikyo in court and is presently defending CARP, the Moonies' student organization, in a case brought by a parents' group in St. Petersburg. Recently both Ms. Krylova and Lev Levinson were listed as board members of the Scientology-sponsored "Citizen's Commission on Human Rights International."
The "statement of claim for defending honor, dignity, and business reputation" characterizes my booklet as insulting in both content and style towards religious organizations registered by the Ministry of Justice which function legally on Russian soil. The plaintiff notes that I maliciously call these legal organizations "totalitarian sects" and "destructive cults" and names five of them: "International Society of Krishna Consciousness [ISKCON], Unification Church, Church of Scientology, Mother of God Center, [and] Aum Shinrikyo..."
Later some 30 Scientologists and ISKCON members joined the lawsuit with charges of their own. When it became clear that the Church supported my case and that the implications for their public relations efforts were not good (Russian public opinion remembers very well when the Church was placed in the dock in the Communist show trials), some of the Scientologists and ISKCON members dropped their charges against me. However, some statements still remained. Scientology, ISKCON, the Unification Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, "The Family," and other cults took a very active role in the court proceedings: they always were present, providing translations, materials, interpreters, legal advice, witnesses, video and audio recording, etc.
A widespread, spontaneous letter-writing campaign began on behalf of our case. We received letters of support with many thousands of signatures from throughout Russia which showed clearly where Russian public opinion stood on the matter!
After the majority of the plaintiffs withdrew, again the issue was raised about the role of Yakunin's Committee - which was not mentioned in the booklet - in the lawsuit. Interestingly, none of the groups mentioned in the booklet gave the Committee the power of attorney to act on its behalf: The Committee's top executives, Lev Levinson and Mikhail Osadchev, said that they represented an "indefinite number of people - members of new religious movements." When they were told that there are no "indefinite number of people" in court, they then announced that they were acting on behalf of all religious organizations mentioned in Dvorkin's booklet (with the exception of Aum Shinrikyo, the White Brotherhood, Peoples Temple, and Branch Davidians), namely: ISKCON, the Scientology organization, the Unification Church, the Mother of God Center, the International Churches of Christ, The Family, the Church of the Last Testament, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints (Mormons), and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses) - all of which were offended by the booklet and will file their own charges. This bizarre move immediately gave the process quite a grotesque twist.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs announced a list of their witnesses (32 altogether), which besides many Russians included the following persons from the West: James Richardson (USA), Massimo Introvigne (Italy), David Bromley (USA), Jean-Francois Meyer (Switzerland), J. Gordon Melton (USA), Hubert Zeivert (Germany), and Eileen Barker (UK). Mr. Levinson announced that the Committee had a preliminary agreement with all of these people, and that after the beginning of the lawsuit each of them had been contacted individually and expressed a clear agreement to come. (The only person who refused to come and expressed his astonishment at his inclusion in the list was Jean-Francois Meyer.) The Court noted the excessive number of witnesses and somewhat reduced their number. The following foreign witnesses were chosen: Eileen Barker, Hubert Zeivert, James Richardson, and Massimo Introvigne.
Eventually only Eileen Barker and James Richardson came. Massimo Introvigne and Gordon Melton sent written statements. Numerous witnesses took the stand - more than 20 on behalf of the plaintiffs and over 25 for the defendants. From the plaintiffs' side came witnesses who were members of the following cults: ISKCON, Scientology, the Unification Church, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Also, members of ISKCON and the Unification Church's pet parents' committees, plus Russian and foreign experts, gave evidence. It is noteworthy that all of the experts, including Barker and Richardson, were asked the following question by the defendants' attorneys: "Can a person be a member of all of the above-mentioned cults at the same time?" Both scholars were warned that their answers would be published on the Internet, and each tried to avoid giving a direct answer. When pressed, both answered with a firm "Yes" - a rather unusual response from persons claiming to be experts in the field of NRMs.
Ex-cult members gave testimony for the defendants, as did the parents and relatives of the cult victims. The following cults were discussed: ISKCON, Jehovah's Witnesses, Vissarion, the Mother of God Center, Scientology, the International Churches of Christ, the Unification Church, and a small (but very destructive) Russian cult called "Fighters for True Piety." Among the foreign experts were Georgas Krippas (Greece), Johannes Aagaard (Denmark), Claire Champollion (France ), and Thomas Gandow (Germany).
Of course, none of them thought it even remotely possible to belong to all the cults at the same time; the most interesting answer to this question was given by the Rev. Thomas Gandow. He said that if someone claimed to belong to all these cults simultaneously and was not lying, then there were only three possibilities: l. The person is mad; 2. The person is a Scientologist, because of all the cults listed only Scientology allows its members to pretend to be concurrently members of a different religion; 3. The person is a secret agent (but that is virtually the same thing as no.2).
On May 20, when all the witnesses were heard, the plaintiffs brought another witness from Germany: Ms. Gabriela Yonan. However, the judge refused to examine her since she came too late and her name was not mentioned before. Ms. Yonan did express her opinion about the issue in an interview with the Paris-based Russian weekly Russkaya Mysl.
On May 21, after seven weeks of fierce courtroom battles, Judge Lyudmila Saltykova announced her decision: the statement of the plaintiffs was unfounded. It was a very clear victory for our side.
The case was without legal precedent in all of Russia. Basically, it was Yakunin, Scientology, and ISKCON vs. Dvorkin and the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. At stake was the right of the Church to maintain its own position on the cults; in fact, I stated nothing in my booklet which has not made plain in the decision of the Bishops' Council of the Church on new religious cults (November 1994). It was the first time that the cults attempted to flex their muscles in Russia. They wanted to show that they were a new factor in Russian reality and had to be reckoned with. They wanted to see how united their enemies were, and whether it was possible to destroy them one at a time.
At stake were such important democratic values as the freedom of expression and freedom of information in Russia. We have the right to express our opinion about cults and to inform the citizens of Russia about their illegal activities and totalitarian tendencies, whether in their teaching or their practice - and the citizens of Russia have the right to receive this information. However, the cults view this same right as an obstacle to their quest for power in our country. Had we lost it, it would have created a precedent to deny us, and the citizens of Russia, our inalienable rights. We were destined to win, and we did.
The New Law
Immediately after the case, the new law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" was passed by the overwhelming majority of votes by the Duma and the Federation Council. Only five deputies out of 450 voted against it. This means that in today's Russia there is virtually no political force that dares to act publicly against this law.
We know that President Yeltsin, bowing to outside pressure, vetoed this law; but soon thereafter he came to the realization that he cannot oppose the absolute majority of his people. Thus, his proposed new version of the law was not, in fact, very different from the first. It was passed again by an overwhelming majority of Duma deputies on September 19, 1997.
It is important to note that the new law (both the original version and the president's) is a product of a rather painful compromise and is not at all what the Orthodox Church proposed. The Church opted for a European model of a church-state relationship in which a secular state could define a concordat with the traditional religions of the people. Though the new law does not give the Church anything it did not have before, the Church chose to support it because it is a first (though very weak) attempt to curtail the activity of totalitarian cults. And the campaign such cults initiated against this law clearly shows that they are not willing to tolerate it.
Their mutual cooperation was clear on September 19 when all of them together picketed the Duma, protesting the passage of the law.
We can with some certainty predict that their joint efforts will continue.
Russian Scientology News