Post-Soviet religious sects - dangerous reality

The Voice of Russia/November 12, 2010

In recent years, sectarianism has become a mass phenomenon on the territory of the former USSR. If the State and the Church fail to find the ways to fight against this dangerous situation, it can become a real threat in the near future. This important topic was discussed in Moscow during the round table talk on "Sects in the post-Soviet space: the degree of danger and spiritual security".

Experts from Russia, Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia are concerned about the rapid expansion of sects and sectarianism all over the post-Soviet space. In Russia alone, the number of sectarians exceeds 700,000. And it is only those who do not conceal their belonging to sects. In Armenia, there are over 300,000 members of non-traditional spiritual organizations. In Georgia and Ukraine there are no statistical data, but experts think that the figures are dangerously high. In expert opinion, today's sectarians are representatives of non-religious organizations, that to a certain degree deviated from official religious theory. Today's sectarianism has two aims in mind – power and money – and has a political and social, rather than religious, character.

Sectarianism began to develop on the post-Soviet territory soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. At that time, the situation in the republics helped the ideas of western sects to find their way into people's minds because the people had lost their ideals overnight and did not know how to live. This is the opinion of Professor Alexander Dvorkin, the President of the Russian centre of religious studies.

"Two conditions are necessary to bring people to a sect. Firstly, they must be in the required psychological condition of suggestibility. Secondly, the sect must offer them something which matches their state of mind. Every sect has something to offer and this is how they recruit new members, be it free lessons of English, or training courses how to make a career or to improve one's health."

The sad result of sectarians' activities today is a large number of people who have lost their families and jobs. Many adherents to new theories donated their property to sects. Memories are still fresh of those scandals when sect leaders prevented people from going to professional doctors and for this reason many people died. One of the notorious sects brought its members to a mass death.

One of the problems in fighting against sectarianism today is the absence of any articles about sects in the law of the former Soviet Union republics. There is even no definition of a sect.

Russia realizes the danger of sectarianism. In particular, starting with September 2010, a number of Russian regions supplemented the school curriculum with an experimental course on the basics of religious culture. In expert opinion, this course will introduce schoolchildren to the postulates of traditional faith and will protect them from falling into the sectarians' net. The State is opening rehabilitation centres helping sectarians' victims. These centres are not only for those who have already suffered from sectarianism, but also for those who are in two minds. The Russian Orthodox Church and other confessions of Russia also help people with instruction and advice.

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