We cannot fail to utter our most lively worry for what is happening in Russia versus the religious minorities as well as for the disturbing similitude between nowadays draconian application of a law for national safety, so become freedom-killing (the Yarovaya law) and what happened less than one century ago not just in the soviet sphere but also elsewhere in the world, in countries later become the stage of the worst historical facts and the most heinous tragedies of the twentieth century. However, it is also mandatory to investigate the occurrence so as to understand the root of it.
The reviving of soviet totalitarianism and the FECRIS
Witch hunt or prelude to an ethnic cleansing?
In a recent post the new wave of religious hate was being reported, along with its ensuing governmental repression of a religious minority rather integrated as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, only the first of the groups plainly deemed thorny or unlikable and so doomed to oppression.
The coming of a witch hunt in the soviet land, however, is all but a casual phenomenon and is even less due to the specious motivations highlighted by regime media: if one’s sins will find one out as the proverb says, the anti-religious soup boiling at the Kremlin is the same always dragged up by those who trade in such business: the FECRIS (European Federation of Centers for Research and Information on Sectarism) with its Russian executive and vice-president, Aleksandr Dvorkin.
The online magazine AsiaNews gives a recount of this in an article published some days ago, that we entirely include below.
We are intentionally keeping attention high on this topic, following up many previous articles, in which FOB and its confederates made exposés of FECRIS’s anti-religious operations, setting spotlights on the fact that “this ‘NGO’ is almost exclusively funded by a government” (see FECRIS: NGO or GONGO? and France: financing for the 'de-radicalisation' of 'anti-sect' movements called into question), not to talk about its interference and undue influence on the mass media and politics (see A rampant religious intolerance all over Russia) on the part of spokesmen who are controversial to say the least, when not exactly riotous (see Freedom of belief and its opposers and OSCE 2016: Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief).
The entire text of the recount from Asia News follows, with some notes aimed at underlining points which according to us, would deserve more attention and intervention. After the article, our analysis continues of some facts that should trigger reflections.
Russian Orthodox against Jehovah's Witnesses
[FOB's comments in square brakets and italics]
The Moscow Patriarch distances itself from the government policy but at the same time terms it "a positive gesture". The ban also concerns Catholics, who fear "new forms of discrimination". The Russian "symphony" between the throne and the altar reproduces patterns of Soviet times. The visit of the remains of St. Nicholas in Russia as a wish of unity in the faith of the undivided Church.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Russian Federation's Supreme Court's decision to ban the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses on April 20, is stirring up reactions and comments in Russia and the world, raising the issue of religious freedom again in the country which has passed from "Soviet militant atheism" to Putin's "religious rebirth".
In particular, in the last few days, the patriarchal "Secretary of State" , metropolitan Ilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Russian Foreign Affairs Council has made some statements to TASS newsagency. On 29 April he had issued a statement that the decision of the Russian Supreme Court, which defined Jehovah's Witnesses as an "extremist association", was taken without any consultation with the Orthodox Church. "I would like to emphasize that the Church has taken no part in this matter," the Metropolitan said. "The Church does not appeal for heretics, members of sects or dissenters to be prosecuted. However, the decision to ban Jehovah's Witnesses is to be considered a positive act in the fight against the spread of sectarian ideas, which have nothing in common with Christianity," according to Ilarion. "There is no doubt that sectarians will remain and continue their activities, but at least they will stop being openly on the same floor with Christian confessions, and that is a good thing." The Patriarchal Representative concluded that "the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses violates the norms of the Civil Code."
[FOB - A trial evidently started, against other people’s religious ideas, with no chance for defense or appeal, the decision of which is already written, if one considers that a confessional minority always pacific and socially integrated is getting labeled as a “cult” and “charged” with forwarding and broadly divulging their beliefs (just thus!); as though someone wanted to give for granted, that no pluralism of religious or moral or spiritual ideas should exist, not even ideological orientations different from the one forwarded by the metropolis (Orthodox bishop)]
On May 2, the metropolis intervened in a TV program "Russia 24", further stating: "This is a totalitarian and dangerous sect. I am deeply convinced, having had more than once the opportunity to speak with members out of the sect. The members of this association are dangerous because they approach people on the street and offer their literature, presenting themselves as a Christian group. In fact, their activities are based on the manipulation of consciences. They erode the psyche of people and families." Moreover, according to Ilarion, "they deform Christ's teaching and falsely interpret the Gospel. Their doctrine contains many lies: they do not believe in Jesus Christ as God and Savior, they do not recognize the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and therefore cannot be called Christians."
[FOB - Here again the usual line, more than ever overworked and yet everything but scientific, of the “mental manipulation” that would be practiced by “cults”: in actual fact, it is exactly such utilization of hasty alarmist opinions, that represents a malicious manipulation of information to prepare the public opinion to be afraid of the different and to be disturbed by those who with pride profess their philosophical, moral or confessional doctrines.]
True and False Faith
In the words of the metropolitan Ilarion, echoing the thoughts of Patriarch Kirill, the concerns of the ecclesiastical hierarchy over the "unfair competition" of Jehovah's Witnesses are evident, according to a rigid conception of Orthodoxy, called to defend the "true faith". He has, in fact, associated the sectarian group with "heretics" and "dissidents", while asserting that the Church does not demand their persecution, but does demand that they not be placed "on the same level" as true Christians.
[FOB - Once more, we are facing here worrying analogies with ideological positions possibly compatible with those of a baleful Spanish Dominican priest lived in the XV century (whose actions triggered atrocious massacres and cost thousands of innocent victims), but also definitely and sadly contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The clues of a Spanish inquisition of the new millennium that can be grasped from the anathemas reported here, have the dye of a disturbing obscurantism, to say the least.
Undeserving a comment instead – if the influence of those statements were not to that extent destructive – would be the attitude half cynical half gullible by which a religious confession is assimilated to a commercial practice when it is talked about “unfair competition”.]
The spirit of the 1997 Freedom of Religion, which called an abrupt halt to the spontaneous "religious rebirth" of post-communism and began the true "Orthodox rebirth" of Russia are reflected in his words. In the preamble of the law, the superiority of Orthodox faith over other "traditional religions" of the country was stated, namely Christianity (distinct from Orthodox!), Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. Since then, the restrictions on non-Orthodox confessions have steadily increased, along with the spectacular strengthening of the structures of the Patriarchate of Moscow, which by the number of churches and monasteries today has reached a diffusion in the country never experienced throughout its history. Already in the 90s, the then Metropolitan Kirill, in the role played by Ilarion today, insisted on every occasion on the need to ban the "destructive sects" and to distinguish Orthodoxy from other "heretic" Christian confessions, such as Catholicism and Protestantism, guilty of "aggressive proselytizing." As for the "dissidents", it is strange that Ilarion used the Soviet word inakomysljashye in his statement, the "different thinking" who in the 1970s ended up being interned in Brežnev’s psychiatric hospitals.
[FOB - Here worry turns into alarm, when the instrumental use of mental health, targeting the elimination of supposed ideological opponents, may recall to memory Stalin’s purges. A situation which by the way, although with a different severity, could be considered to be similar to the exploitation in Italy of rulings and regulations pertaining to constructions, in order to prevent religious minorities to open new centers for their respective confessions. In any case, we are facing here the perversion of a legislative tool in an attempt to hit groups deemed unpleasant.]
The metropolitan however reassured the "non-interference" of the Orthodox Church in Supreme Court decisions, stating that they had not even been consulted. In fact, the counselor and lawyer of the case against Jehovah's Witnesses at the Court, Aleksandr Dvorkin, is a distinguished character of the same Orthodox Church, a professor and a specialist in the history of sects in many universities, first of all the Institute of San Tikhon, the main Patriarchate Culture Center, author of numerous publications and very close to Kirill and Ilarion.
Dvorkin is head of the Committee of Experts of the Russian Ministry of Justice for Religious Affairs, which closely resembles the notorious "Council for Religious Affairs" of Soviet times. The same Russian Justice Minister, Aleksandr Konovalov, is a student and disciple of Dvorkin. In fact, there is no need for direct intervention of ecclesiastical hierarchies when the same politicians and people who are appointed to oversee religious affairs are themselves eminent members of the Church. This is what Orthodox tradition calls the "symphony" between Church and State, when the Church proclaims the truths of faith, and the state defends them.
Persecution and rehabilitation
The most disconcerting aspect of this story is that Jehovah's Witnesses - persecuted at the time of Stalin - had been rehabilitated and proclaimed heroes of resistance to state atheism after the end of communism. One of the first laws of the new Russia, approved on October 18, 1991, was on "Rehabilitation of the victims of political repression", according to which those who had been sentenced in the Soviet period under art. 227 of the Criminal Code of 1960, which accused "the activity of groups of citizens who, on the pretext of performing religious functions, endanger the health of citizens by violating public order." Almost all priests, even orthodox, were condemned with this article, and so too Jehovah's Witnesses. The latter suffered mass deportations in the 1950s to the most remote areas of Siberia and the Far East. Many elderly, members of the sect, still enjoy special tax and civil privileges today following rehabilitation. What has changed since 1991? Many observers are posing this question. Certainly not the Jehovah's Witnesses, whose activity is well-known throughout the world, and which is carried out according to wholly repetitive methodologies, whatever the regime under which they reside.
The opinion of Catholics
Meanwhile, the secretary-general of the Russian Catholic Bishops' Conference, Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, issued a statement to a Catholic magazine on May 2 that "the situation in Russia today is complex and difficult. Catholics have serious concerns about having to face, if not persecution, at least the new forms of discrimination and the limitation of our freedom to profess our faith." According to Kovalevsky, "the law must be applied to everyone with justice ... laws can be severe, but remain inviolable. I think the government should give everyone a clear explanation of the reasons that led to the liquidation of this organization."
The Catholic prelate concluded by stating that "Jehovah's Witnesses have the same right to defend their dignity in the faith as all other citizens. Although the defense of human rights is not our main task, the Catholic Church supports everybody's right to freedom of conscience."
The blessing of St. Nicholas
Meanwhile, Russia is waiting for the remains of St. Nicholas of Bari to arrive in Moscow. They will be in Moscow from May 21 until July, when they will be exposed to the devotion of the faithful in St. Petersburg until July 28. Millions of pilgrims are waiting to visit the patron saint of Russia and this marks the first time they have been exhibited in the country since 1073, when the remains of the bishop of Mira were transported to Bari. According to the protopriest Maksim Kozlov, one of the most prominent representatives of Patriarchate of Moscow, this event indicates that "the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have finally found the right direction in their relations, the shared foundations of the ancient Church of the first millennium."
It is hoped that the blessing of St. Nicholas, one of the most beloved saints around the world, will help overcome the fears of new divisions and persecutions.
[FOB - If the triggering factor of the wave of intolerance currently occurring in Russia will not be isolated, it will become harder and harder to relieve the social turmoil that will inevitably ensue. This is why FOB is increasing its activities to expose subjects working against freedom of belief, such as Aleksandr Dvorkin and FECRIS, as main sources of the propaganda which stirs up hate on the part of the government towards the Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as all other confessions.]
From more a country worldwide, protest choruses soared against the bigot totalitarianism unfortunately evident in the measures taken by the government of Moscow. Accordingly, some NGOs are requiring a retreat from the Russian Supreme Court, as reported for instance in a unified press release by FOREF (Forum For Religious Freedom) and HRWF (Human Rights Without Frontiers), from which we will quote an excerpt:
«FOREF and HRWF urge the Supreme Court of Russia to overturn its 20 April 2017 decision to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses from the country and seize their assets. (…)
The decision not only violates basic human rights obligations, but also puts all Russian citizens at further risk of arbitrary legal judgments. It makes a mockery of their legal system and humiliates Russia on the world stage. (…)
Indeed, the weakness of the General Prosecutor’s case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group that has long faced persecution in Russia, is obvious to any independent observer. Consisting of vague allegations, it offers no proof, no motivation, and leaves an impression that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are being denied their internationally-guaranteed rights, and their rights under Article 28 of the Russian Federal Constitution, simply for their doctrinal differences with the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Meanwhile the Roman Catholic Center seems to keep silence, and Pope Francis I continues his program of selective ecumenism with the Russian Patriarch, even the Catholic Church in Russia, in the person of Monsignor Igor Kovalevsky, General Secretary of the Russian Bishops Conference, frowned upon the Russian ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as reported in this article.
The United Nations agencies, too, conveyed signals of alarm, as reported in this article, which quotes the statements also relayed in the release of FOREF and HRWF mentioned above.
Strongly negative judgments also arrived from very important figures of OSCE (here is the release), such as Michael Georg Link: “This Supreme Court decision poses a threat to the values and principles that democratic, free, open, pluralistic and tolerant societies rest upon (…)” and Ingeborg Gabriel: “This ban persecuting peaceful persons for mere acts of worship clearly violates the fundamental right to religious freedom (…)”.
Similarly, the American State Department intervened (as reported by this article): “We call on the Russian authorities to ensure that Russia's anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation is not misused to target members of peaceful religious minorities, including the Jehovah's Witnesses. The prosecution of peaceful religious minority groups for ‘extremism’ creates a climate of fear which itself undermines efforts to combat the threat of radicalization”.
A British media recalls that already two years ago the Internet site of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been turned off based on the charge (to date, still to be proven) of an extremism comparable to that of armed subversive groups such as Isis.
From all civil countries thus, voices arose on the part of individuals and groups committed in the defense of human rights, to protest against the unacceptable abuse which is going on. The Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves report so, from their official Internet site, including the statements of some illustrious scholars and dignitaries: from Prof. Massimo Introvigne (“The only relationship between Jehovah’s Witnesses and violence is that they have been victims of violence”) to Prof. Annika Hvithamar (“If Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremist, then most versions of Christianity could be accused of the same thing”), to Drs. Lyudmila Alekseyeva (“Not just a mistake—I think it is a crime”), to Dr. Vladimir Vasilyevich Ryakhovskiy (“It has always started with Jehovah’s Witnesses and then spread to everyone else”) and more like these.
In actual fact, we should be wary that none of those protests, although noble and justified, will yield any effect, unless some understanding will be realized of what context and background gave birth to such merciless measures on the part of the Russian government. As again AsiaNews summarized in an earlier article, “the trial of Jehovah’s Witnesses”, in which “public prosecution is held by the Ministry of Justice”, has “the goal of liquidating their assets in Russia”. A “counsel for religious matters” for the same agency is just Aleksandr Dvorkin, vice-president of FECRIS and former orthodox priest, well known for his intolerance versus minority religious movements. Factually, “other groups have a stake in the fate of the Jehovah's Witnesses since they too could be charged with the same offence, namely the Seventh Day Adventists, the Scientology movement, Baptists, Protestants, Hare Krishna, Russia’s Molokany sect and others”. Plainly, it is a broader strategy that aims at muzzling all spiritual confessions and movements, branding them as “destructive cults”, with the very precise target of annihilating them and seizing their assets and estates.
Very clear indeed is the position of the orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who as AsiaNews reports, “has been at war with ‘destructive sects’ since the 1990s when he was metropolitan for external relations of the Orthodox Church. In his view, religion can promote peace only by freeing itself from sectarian extremism”. However, one would really wonder, who in such a situation is really an extremist? Who is favoring peace and who is trampling on it?
As a matter of fact, it is known that Kirill (worldly known as Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundjaev, 70) is very close to the Russian president Vladimir Putin, to the point of defining him “a God’s miracle”, and is “aligned with Putin in the defense of conservative values, as contrary to the Western liberalism”. This is widely talked in this article written by Antonella Scott on Il Sole 24 Ore (major Italian daily newspaper mainly targeted on economics), in which we also read that Kirill, climbing up with surprising rapidity to the top of the orthodox ecclesiastic hierarchy, already a long time ago was being considered “even too much close to the Catholics” to the point that “in 1989 many predicted a possible meeting with the Pope of Rome. (…) A patriarch-politician, who with Putin’s support transformed the orthodox Church into a powerful institution and who in his turn sanctifies the legitimization of the earthly power the Russian president needs more and more”.
The unsolvable tangle in which the Russian government seems to be involved, is the result of an abnormal bond between FECRIS (Dvorkin), Kremlin and the orthodox Church. Until this sort of connivance will persist, no space for religious freedom will exist in Russia, and all the appeals to common sense will go unheeded. It is considerably likely that the major source of the incitement to religious hate is always and anyway – just like elsewhere in the world – the controversial FECRIS and its business to subvert human rights. We should remember that FECRIS exists (and works, in the same questionable fashion) in dozens of European countries through its confederated organizations that are specialized in stirring up the media against religious movements and in bringing pressure upon governments to instigate freedom-killer law bills by infiltrating into the control rooms (the list of FECRIS members can be viewed here). As a proof of such conclusions, we will just mention this article again from AsiaNews: “counsel and lawyer in the trial against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Aleksandr Dvorkin, is an important figure of the Orthodox Church (…) Dvorkin is the chief of the Committee of Experts for Religious Affairs at the Russian Ministry of Justice”.