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Anti-cult move­ments as an in­stru­ment in Rus­sia's hy­brid war

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Hanna Tre­hub

Wil­liam Bain­bridge, Roger Finke, Lau­rence Ian­nac­cone and Rod­ney Stark for­mu­lated the the­ory of re­li­gious econ­omy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They adapted the idea de­scribed ear­lier by Scot­tish econ­o­mist Adam Smith to the mod­ern days. Smith de­scribed his con­cept of eco­nomic mod­els of re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing state-spon­sored re­li­gious mo­nop­o­lies and com­pet­ing re­li­gious mar­kets, in An In­quiry into the Na­ture and Causes of the Wealth of Na­tions. The state of a na­tion’s hu­man­i­tar­ian and cul­tural space is clearly linked to the state of its po­lit­i­cal regime. If it weren’t, the cul­tural-po­lit­i­cal project of Russki Mir would be sense­less and un­nec­es­sary, while its ca­pac­ity to im­pact so­ci­ety would be null. Re­al­ity is ex­actly the op­po­site.

When Pa­tri­arch Kir­ill of the Rus­sian Or­tho­dox Church, Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate (ROC MP) de­scribed Russki Mir, the ba­sic el­e­ments he men­tioned in­cluded Or­tho­dox faith, Rus­sian lan­guage and cul­ture, shared his­tor­i­cal mem­ory and a com­mon per­spec­tive of the way so­ci­ety should de­velop. It is com­mon knowl­edge that ROC MP is linked to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment and is tak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to pre­serve its monopoly over the re­li­gious space within Rus­sia and be­yond. The goal is to make sure that there are no al­ter­na­tives to the “na­tional” Rus­sian Church and the ideas, world­view and val­ues it pro­motes, while the free­dom of con­science and re­li­gion — a fun­da­men­tal el­e­ment of democ­racy — re­mains on pa­per rather than in re­al­ity. ROC MP has a num­ber of aux­il­iary or­ga­ni­za­tions help­ing it pro­tect the monopoly by dis­cred­it­ing com­peti­tors on the re­li­gious mar­ket in the eyes of so­ci­ety within its “canon­i­cal” ter­ri­tory which, for now, claims Ukraine, among other places.

These aux­il­iary or­ga­ni­za­tions in­clude anti-cult and anti-sect move­ments that treat new re­li­gious move­ments, as well as Catholics, Protes­tants or other Or­tho­dox ju­ris­dic­tions, as ri­vals that should be op­pressed by any means. Free and peace­ful co-ex­is­tence of dif­fer­ent re­li­gious tra­di­tions in one state and their equal­ity be­fore law is a demo­cratic prac­tice that does not fit into the spirit of Or­tho­dox Fun­da­men­tal­ism. Who­ever does not fol­low Or­tho­doxy in its Rus­sian for­mat is treated as an agent in the West’s ide­o­log­i­cal war against Rus­sia.


Anti-cult and anti-sect move­ments are the in­stru­ments the ROC MP has ad­justed to its own needs but did not in­vent. A clash be­tween or­tho­doxy and here­sies per­me­ates the en­tire his­tory of Chris­tian­ity, its devel­op­ment and trans­for­ma­tions. When or­tho­doxy was shaped, the po­lit­i­cal and state sup­port of the Byzan­tyne Em­pire (Eastern Ro­man Em­pire) played a huge role in the process thereby en­cour­ag­ing the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Chris­tian­ity that be­fit it. Anti-cult and coun­ter­cult move­ments were the phe­nom­ena of a later pe­riod, a re­ac­tion of dif­fer­ent re­li­gious and so­cio-po­lit­i­cal forces to the spread of new re­li­gious move­ments in the West in the 1960s and 1970s. They were born in the US where the word cult has a neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion in every­day speech and is used for dis­ap­proved re­li­gious groups. In Europe and post-soviet states, the word sect is the equiv­a­lent.

The anti-cult movement is an um­brella phrase for com­mu­ni­ties or groups that re­sist new re­li­gious move­ments, re­fer­ring to them as cults. Sec­u­lar­ism is an im­por­tant fea­ture of the anti-cult movement, while its key au­di­ences in­clude the gov­ern­ment, law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties and the me­dia — in their eyes, the new re­li­gious move­ments are por­trayed as so­cially dan­ger­ous and crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions to be coun­tered by state and so­ci­ety.


Coun­ter­cult move­ments are more about con­fes­sions: they crit­i­cize and counter re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties in­ter­preted as cults (this term cov­ers both rep­re­sen­ta­tives of new re­li­gious move­ments, and those per­ceived as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of sects) and orig­i­nate from re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions, mis­sion­ar­ies or the­ol­o­gists. Coun­ter­cult move­ments seek to re­veal to the pub­lic where the po­si­tion of their op­po­nents does not fit into the “true re­li­gion” and is dam­ag­ing to an in­di­vid­ual’s devel­op­ment. The key aim of this ac­tiv­ity is to warn the fol­low­ers of their own re­li­gious tra­di­tion against switch­ing to oth­ers, or to per­suade the fol­low­ers of other re­li­gious be­liefs to re­turn to the “true faith”.

Pure coun­ter­cultism re­mains a lo­cal trend within Protes­tantism. Quite para­dox­i­cally, Protes­tants are of­ten per­ceived as “sec­tants”, or rep­re­sen­ta­tives of cults, in a num­ber of ex-soviet coun­tries. Orig­i­nat­ing from the tsarist Rus­sia, the ti­tle was ac­tively ex­ploited by the soviet au­thor­i­ties and re­mains as a rudi­ment of that time in so­cial mind­set to­day.

The Cen­ter of Apolo­getic Stud­ies of­fers a good il­lus­tra­tion of the coun­ter­cult movement in Rus­sia. Found-

ed in the early 2000s, it has one of its of­fices in Kyiv, Ukraine, among other places. An­other pow­er­ful an­tic­ult movement in Europe is the French-based Euro­pean Fed­er­a­tion of Cen­tres of Re­search and In­for­ma­tion on Sec­tar­i­an­ism (FECRIS) that in­cludes a num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions from dif­fer­ent Euro­pean coun­tries, as well as from Rus­sia. Its vice pres­i­dent is Alexan­der Dvorkin, head of the St. Ire­naeus of Lyons Rus­sian Cen­ter for Study of Re­li­gions and Sects. Also, FECRIS mem­bers in­clude a Ukrainian or­ga­ni­za­tion called FPPS (Fam­ily and Per­son­al­ity Pro­tec­tion So­ci­ety) which, how­ever, has no web­site or so­cial me­dia ac­counts. The Ukrainian equiv­a­lent of the St. Ire­naeus Cen­ter web­site run by Alexan­der Dvorkin is called Ukraine Sek­tantskaya. Run in the Rus­sian lan­guage, this and sim­i­lar re­sources mostly spread the ideas of Rus­sian anti-cultism in Ukraine.

Anti-cult move­ments in the West in­ten­sify in waves as the con­text and re­al­ity of its re­li­gious life changes: new re­li­gious move­ments were some­thing new 40-50 years ago but they have be­come part of the re­li­gious mar­ket by now, even if not a par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant one.



The Rus­sian ver­sion of the anti-cult movement backed by the ROC MP and Rus­sia’s cur­rent gov­ern­ment is some­what dif­fer­ent, with some el­e­ments of West­ern anti-cult and coun­ter­cult move­ments. While both of these move­ments fo­cus on spe­cific pro­tec­tion of nar­row group or in­di­vid­ual in­ter­ests, the Rus­sian ver­sion pro­tects and sup­ports the sys­tem that serves the in­ter­ests of those cur­rently in power and has noth­ing to do with de­fend­ing cit­i­zen rights or free­doms.


Con­fes­sion­al­ism and re­la­tions be­tween con­fes­sions and the state in the Soviet Union and Rus­sia have in the past and present been de­fined by ide­o­log­i­cal pri­or­i­ties and su­per­sti­tions rather than the real con­text on the ground. State lead­ers and those in­volved in car­ry­ing out their poli­cies al­ways viewed re­li­gion and re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions through the per­spec­tive of cer­tain ide­olo­gies and world­view. In the Soviet Union, poli­cies on re­li­gions were driven by Marx­ism, Lenin­ism and sci­en­tific athe­ism. Ac­cord­ing to the ide­o­log­i­cal dog­mas driv­ing the Com­mu­nist Party of the Soviet Union, any re­li­gion was treated as re­ac­tionary. Still, the state pre­served the right to ar­bi­trar­ily de­clare cer­tain re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions as more dam­ag­ing than oth­ers, based on its po­lit­i­cal goals of the time.

Rus­sian re­searchers de­fine two key stages of re­li­gious pol­icy in their coun­try. The first one lasted from 1990 till 1996 and was rooted in the Law on Free­dom of Re­li­gions passed on Oc­to­ber 25, 1990. The Law quite com­pre­hen­sively and con­sis­tently in­tro­duced the no­tion of equal­ity of all re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions be­fore law. That doc­u­ment and the re­li­gious pol­icy it framed was based on the per­cep­tion of re­li­gion as a pos­i­tive spir­i­tual phe­nom­e­non, while state con­trol over re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions had to be brought down to a min­i­mum. The se­cond stage started in 1997 and lasts till now. On Septem­ber 26, 1997, the Rus­sian Par­lia­ment passed the Fed­eral Law On the Free­dom of Con­science and Re­li­gious Or­ga­ni­za­tions. The pre­am­ble rec­og­nizes the spe­cial role of Or­tho­doxy in the his­tory of Rus­sia and praises Chris­tian­ity, Is­lam, Bud­dhism, Ju­daism and oth­ers. Nei­ther this law, nor any other laws in Rus­sia con­tain terms, such as “tra­di­tional” or “non-tra­di­tional” re­li­gions. How­ever, these very terms are ac­tively used in the pub­lic so­cio-po­lit­i­cal de­bate in Rus­sia. While lack­ing these le­gal def­i­ni­tions, Rus­sia does list on the state level the re­li­gions it helps and sup­ports of­fi­cially, and those it keeps un­der strict su­per­vi­sion.

The most vis­i­ble de­for­ma­tion of Rus­sian re­li­gious poli­cies from 2009 on has been the in­cor­po­ra­tion of the anti-cult ide­ol­ogy. Even­tu­ally, this has cre­ated the ground and op­por­tu­ni­ties for ac­cus­ing law-abid­ing re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions and the lit­er­a­ture they pub­lish of ex­trem­ism.

ROC MP, its epis­co­pate, clergy and parish­ioners saw the down­fall of Com­mu­nism as a re­turn to the preOc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion dom­i­na­tion of their Church, un­re­strained by noth­ing and no-one. They placed their bets on build­ing a sym­phony with the state au­thor­i­ties. Be­fore it passed the 1994 Res­o­lu­tion, ROC MP crit­i­cized Catholics, Protes­tants and the Or­tho­dox of other de­nom­i­na­tions us­ing quazi-the­o­log­i­cal ar­gu­ments. But its in­tol­er­ance to­wards mis­sion­ary ac­tiv­i­ties on its “can­non­i­cal ter­ri­tory” was un­til then viewed as an in­ter­nal con­flict in which nei­ther politi­cians nor other of­fi­cials wanted to in­ter­fere much. The 1994 Res­o­lu­tion brought the first in­struc­tions to each and ev­ery­one — po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in the first place.

The anti-cult movement has been used in Rus­sia for its tra­di­tional pur­poses, as well as to dis­credit politi­cians, civil ser­vants and jour­nal­ists ral­ly­ing for the free­dom of con­science and equal­ity of all re­li­gions or­ga­ni­za­tions be­fore law. Af­ter Pa­tri­arch Kir­ill chaired ROC in 2009, a num­ber of gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties, in­clud­ing the Min­istry of Jus­tice, un­der­went a purge get­ting rid of the of­fi­cials who sup­ported equal­ity re­li­gions or­ga­ni­za­tions be­fore law, and re­in­forc­ing the po­si­tion of anti-cult pro­po­nents. Even­tu­ally, the anti-cult movement and its con­cepts be­gan to dom­i­nate in Rus­sian gov­ern­ment agen­cies that de­velop and im­ple­ment state re­li­gious poli­cies. In 2009, Alexan­der Dvorkin known for his rad­i­cal anti-cult views was elected to chair the Ex­pert Coun­cil for State Re­li­gious Ex­per­tise at the Min­istry of Jus­tice. He had em­i­grated to the US in the 1970s, stud­ied there and was a well-known fig­ure in the Rus­sian emi­gre com­mu­nity. He quit his work at Ra­dio Lib­erty in 1990s be­fore mov­ing back to Rus­sia where he made a good ca­reer by work­ing for the in­ter­ests of ROC MP and Rus­sian law en­force­ment agen­cies.

Rus­sia’s spe­cial brand of anti-cult movement is solidly rooted in a very par­tic­u­lar model com­prised of the doc­trines and prac­tices of ROC MP, a re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion that is in harsh com­pe­ti­tion with other play­ers of the re­li­gious mar­ket. Its con­fes­sional norms are very far from the civil law or aca­demic no­tions. Also, it sticks to a spe­cial con­cept of the rights of Rus­sia’s “tit­u­lar Church”. The aim of all this is to cul­ti­vate fears in so­ci­ety, plant the “ours” vs “alien” con­cept in its mind­set, and set “us” against “them”, which serves as a great foun­da­tion for con­struct­ing the im­age of en­e­mies.

The same pro­cesses are tak­ing place in other spheres of Rus­sian so­ci­ety which is go­ing into deeper iso­la­tion driven by the ef­forts of Putin’s regime. This map­ping of the world and Rus­sia’s place in it has lit­tle to do with the foun­da­tions of democ­racy or peace­ful co-ex­is­tence with neigh­bors.

ROC MP uses dif­fer­ent tools to re­move its com­peti­tors from the re­li­gious mar­ket, rang­ing from crim­i­nal cases and ac­cu­sa­tions of ex­trem­ism against rep­re­sen­ta­tives of new re­li­gious move­ments to phys­i­cal elim­i­na­tion or squeez­ing out rep­re­sen­ta­tives of other re­li­gious or con­fes­sions. This is what hap­pened on the ter­ri­tory of the an­nexed Crimea or the oc­cu­pied parts of the Don­bas where Rus­sia is wag­ing its armed ag­gres­sion against Ukraine. As part of ROC, the Ukrainian Or­tho­dox Church of Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate sticks to ROC’s anti-cult movement and spreads its ideas and views among any­one in con­tact with it.

Clearly, crim­i­nal or il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity qual­i­fies as such re­gard­less of who com­mits it, re­gard­less of the per­son’s con­fes­sion. How­ever, Ukraine’s laws en­tail ac­count­abil- ity for il­le­gal ac­tions, not thoughts or be­liefs. Like the ci­ti­zens, all re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions in Ukraine should be equal be­fore law.

An­other im­por­tant as­pect is that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as Ukrainian does not nec­es­sar­ily tie the per­son to a spe­cific re­li­gion. A po­lit­i­cal na­tion can be com­prised of dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties and con­fes­sions that see Ukraine as their state and its cit­i­zen­ship as a value.

An im­por­tant task for Ukraine’s so­ci­ety is to de­velop aca­demic re­li­gious ex­per­tise as an el­e­ment in de­fend­ing its na­tional se­cu­rity and re­sist­ing hy­brid threats in the hu­man­i­tar­ian sphere. Also, Ukraine needs qual­ity in­for­ma­tion and anal­y­sis of re­li­gious life in the coun­try and the world that’s ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one. De­fense against dis­tor­tion of in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing in cul­ture and hu­man­i­ties, comes from ver­i­fy­ing the mes­sages rather than tak­ing them at face value. Any re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion that un­der­mines the foun­da­tions of Ukrainian state­hood ide­o­log­i­cally and prac­ti­cally, re­gard­less of the terms in which it coats these ef­forts, poses a threat to Ukraine’s so­ci­ety.

Fun­da­men­tal­ism in ac­tion. ROC MP pro­motes the in­ter­ests of Rus­sia's rul­ing regime and ex­er­cises harsh con­trol over the coun­try's re­li­gious en­vi­ron­ment

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