SCIENTOLOGY IN RUSSIAby Prof. Alexander Dvorkin, Director of the Dialog Center, Moscow
[extracted and slightly re-edited by Chris Owen from a longer article, "A Presentation on the Situation in Russia", Spirituality in East & West, 1998 no. 11. For the complete article, write to: Spirituality in East & West, Dialog Center International, 46 Katrinebjergvej, DK-8200 Aarhus N, Denmark.]
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.
The parents of children involved with Scientology and other cults 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.
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 gentleman's agreement of sorts amongst the cults about the division of spheres of influence. 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 only effective methods of administration and raising productivity levels. According the Russian-language publicity materials they present to potential clients, Hubbard Administration methods (or "tech") are used 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, Yekaterinburg, 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 the 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.
It's important to stress that many of the cults present in Russia 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.
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 Altron 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 "pseudoindigenization." 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.
Scientology took a step in this 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.
It seems that Russian public opinion has now become allergic to cult activities. This view was summed up by Victor Navarnov, who oversees ethnic-relations laws in the Russian Prosecutor General's office. He 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.
This explains why the provincial governments, realizing the limitations of the exiting 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 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 filed 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 arid 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: 1. 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 Mysi.
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.
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. Although it is not at all what the Orthodox Church proposed and 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.