April 23 – The Russian Federation today is threatened less by radical Islamists than by “hundreds” of Satanist groups, totalitarian and extremist organizations that seek to “destroy” “centuries-old human values,” engage in “ritual murders,” and currently involve “several million” Russians, according to a senior researcher at the Russian Interior Ministry.
At a Moscow press conference on Tuesday, Igor’ Sundiyev, the chief scientific coworker of the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute for the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), argued that it was time for the government to classify such Satanist “sects” as extremist and to close them down (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=162130).
Not only did he say that such sects are “much more dangerous” than Islamist radicals that the Russian authorities have targeted, but he said that he had direct personal knowledge of “cases when Satanists have killed people and disturbed graves” as part of their rituals and that he believed that these “religious” organizations were in fact seeking to seize power in the state.
On the one hand, Sundiyev’s words and emotions resemble those that some “sect” fighters in the Russian Orthodox Church have long employed and thus do not represent something all that new as a trend of opinion within the more traditionalist segments of Russian society.
But on the other, because he is a government official and one employed by the agency that bears primary responsibility for enforcing the law, his proposed extension of Russia’s anti-extremism legislation to these sects as a whole represents a serious threat to more than just the Satanists.
Such a use of existing law recalls one of the worst features of Soviet jurisprudence – the extension by analogy of statutes to whatever cases the authorities want to bring. That opens the door to serious abuses, even if everyone agrees that specific Satanist actions do need to be limited by law.
According to another MVD researcher, Yuri Antonyan, who also took part in the press conference yesterday, Russian courts are already applying the anti-extremism law in this way and should be encouraged to do so even more vigorously given the dangers to Russian society that the Satanists present.
Supporting Antonyan’s argument, Sundiyev noted that last year, as has been the case for the last several, Russian courts identified 200 to 300 Satanist groups as “totalitarian” and thus subject to legal sanction and even closure. That number, however, suggests that more than the most extreme groups are being swept up in this legal dragnet.
But there is one even more disturbing possibility: Sundiyev and Antonyan may have advanced these notions about the Satanists not so much in order to lay the groundwork for a campaign against them but rather to link Islamic groups to them and thus help generate public support for a more sweeping crackdown against the country’s Muslim community.
If that proves to be the case – and again there are precedents for this in the Soviet past – then the opening weeks of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency will not usher in the more liberal approach some in both Russia and the West say they expect but rather the reverse, a harder line against key groups that will spark more serious conflicts in Russian society.
(For additional details on this press conference, which covered the issues of extremism more extensively, see xeno.sova-center.ru/45A2A1E/AF6AF2E?print=on and religion.sova-center.ru/events/13B7335/13C757D/AF6BB13.)