Wednesday, July 22, 2009

014. Russia: protests against new 'expert council'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 014 | Wed 22 July 2009

RUSSIA: PROTESTS AGAINST NEW 'EXPERT COUNCIL'
(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)

For over 1000 years the Russian people lived under the rule of princes, tsars and party leaders. In Russia, serfdom was protected by the laws of the country until 1861. The majority of the people never belonged to themselves but were someone else's property. This lack of freedom resulted in occasional revolts of both peasants and noble people. The Soviet period retained some features of serfdom: people were regarded as the property of the country and everybody was supposed to be of the same mind, i.e. the same mind as the Communist party bosses. Everyone whose thinking was different fell under the category of the enemy of the nation and was punished or totally eliminated. The government wanted the masses to be totally obedient and loyal both in body and spirit. A similar attitude exists today in modern Russia regarding religious policy as expressed in the co-operation of the Russian authorities and the top leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate and some other 'traditional religions'. This causes tensions and lack of acceptance of other Christian and non-Christian 'minorities' as well as different forms of direct and indirect religious persecution.

The news of the 'Expert Council for Conducting State Religious Studies Expert Analysis of Russian Ministry of Justice' appointed in March this year caused a big reaction amongst religious studies researchers, human rights organisations and religious organisations in Russia. The Expert Council was given power to investigate the activities and doctrines of religious organisations and to give its recommendations to the Ministry. The Expert Council is highly criticised by both scientists and religious leaders for its scientific incompetency and religious bias.

The centre of criticism is the Chairman of the Expert Council, Alexander Dvorkin, who actively opposes 'totalitarian sects and destructive cults'. For years, his special targets were Protestant churches of the post-Perestroika generation, which he terms 'Neo-Pentecostal'. Alexander Dvorkin is the author of 'Sektovedeniye' -- a book on 'sectology' (study of sects) -- and lectures in many Russian universities. The word 'sectarian' has a very negative connotation in the minds of Russian people ever since Communist times. Dvorkin applies the term 'sect' to all religious minorities, including Protestant churches. The content and style of Dvorkin's lectures make a strong psychological impact on his audiences, causing them to completely trust his competence. The negative attitude aroused towards 'sectarians' results in religious intolerance and hatred. There have been numerous complaints from the Protestant churches about the escalating religious hostility following Dvorkin's lecture tours. He has trained a whole army of university religious studies experts with a very twisted knowledge of 'sectarians' ready to actively confront them. Dvorkin founded an association of centres across Russia to study religions and sects, closely connected with the so-called rehabilitation centres for 'victims of destructive cults'. His activities have now spread beyond the Russian Federation with his visit to Kazakhstan earlier this year.

Dvorkin is strongly supported by the top leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Dvorkin's 'antisectarian' activities being supported by the Expert Council and the Ministry of Justice itself has a most harmful impact on the 'non-traditional' religious organisations and groups, primarily Protestants.

As a form of protest against the appointment of the new Expert Council and its chairing by Dvorkin, a 'No to Inquisitors!' campaign was started on 22 April by the Moscow-based Institute of Religion and Law with the support of many prominent scientists and religious leaders. As a result an open letter signed by thousands of people from all over Russia was sent to Minister of Justice of Russia Konovalov with copies to President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. The campaign against the new Expert Council continues.

(Details of the Expert Council and 'No to Inquisitors!' campaign can be found on the Forum 18 website -- http://www.forum18.org/ )

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY:

* for the government of the Russian Federation to respect and protect the constitutional rights of the people, including their right to worship God.

* that the Russian Orthodox Church will be more tolerant of other Christian churches and seek ways to dialogue for God's glory and benefit of the country.

* that the Expert Council of Ministry of Justice will be completely abolished and religious expertise will be entrusted to religious studies specialists instead of biased 'anti-cultists'.

* that God will stop Alexander Dvorkin and his followers from spreading disinformation and sowing religious hatred in Russia.

* for the Gospel to continue to spread and transform the thinking and lifestyle of Russian people in the likeness of Christ.

'I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies.' (Psalm 18:3, NKJV)

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RUSSIANS PROTEST AGAINST NEW 'EXPERT COUNCIL'

The appointment of the new 'Expert Council for Conducting State Religious Studies Expert Analysis of Russian Ministry of Justice' caused a big reaction in Russia and has been strongly criticised by both scientists and religious leaders. Its chairman is Alexander Dvorkin, an active opponent of minority religious groups, who has specially targeted Protestant churches. Protesting against this, a 'No to Inquisitors!' campaign was started on 22 April by the Institute of Religion and Law, supported by many prominent scientists and religious leaders. As a result, an open letter signed by thousands of people from all over Russia was sent to Minister of Justice Konovalov with copies to President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. Please pray that the government will protect their people's constitutional rights, including their right to worship God.