Saturday, May 9, 2009

Window on Eurasia: ‘Russia is on the Brink of Sectarian War,’ Moscow Lawyer Warns

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 9 – Even though rights activists almost unanimously have denounced his appointment, Aleksandr Dvorkin, the new head of the religious expertise council, retains the support of the justice ministry and some international groups, a situation that leaves Russia “on the brink of a sectarian war,” according to a Moscow attorney.
In an article on portal of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice this week, Inna Zagrebina, a legal affairs expert at the Moscow Institute of Religion and Law, argues that the backing the self-described “anti-Sectarian” is receiving “not only undermines inter-confessional accord in the regions and leads to discrimination, but crudely violates national and international legal norms.”
Since his appointment last month to head the justice ministry’s council on religious expertise, Dvorkin has been attacked by religious and human rights activists not only because he tends to distinguish among all non-Orthodox faiths but rather frequently appears to call for an undifferentiated form of struggle against them (
Such criticism, however, much of it from extremely distinguished experts in the field, has not dissuaded him or his backers. And now, the Russian justice ministry and the European Federation of Investigative and Information Centers about Sectarianism (FECRIS) are holding a conference this coming Friday and Saturday in St. Petersburg in support of Dvorkin’s approach.
Not only will the Russian justice minister speak but Dvorkin himself is slated to deliver the keynote address – and FECRIS, which does not enjoy a good reputation among rights groups, will provide both with the kind of international cover for their ideas about attacking people of religious denominations the Russian state does not like.
The titles of the presentations suggest the direction the meeting will take. Dvorkin’s will speak on “Destructive Cults and Human Rights;” Ryazan Mayor Oleg Shishov on “The Violations of Human Rights by Cults in Ryazan Oblast;” and Saratov anti-sectarian Aleksandr Kuzmin on “Threats to Russian State Security from the Cult of the Neo-Pentecostals.”
And earlier meetings Dvorkin has conducted around Russia indicate how this one is likely to be used. After these meetings have taken place, he and his followers have published pamphlets and given interviews with “in a tendentious fashion” suggesting that Russians must be on guard against all groups. The St. Petersburg meeting is likely to produce the same.
The upcoming conference, however, is different in two important respects. On the hand, it will send the clearest message yet that Dvorkin and his followers enjoy the backing of the Russian justice ministry and consequently that their statements have an official imprimatur even if the earlier claims of the “sektoveds” have routinely been shown to be false.
And on the other, the involvement of a group of European anti-Sectarian activists – FECRIS is based in Paris – will not only further legitimize in the eyes of many Russians what Dvorkin and his backers want to do but also tend to limit foreign criticism of him and foreign support for his Russian critics.
All this, Zagrebina concludes, makes it clear why senior officials included not only Dvorkin but other “like-minded people” in the ministry’s experts council: This is “an attempt to make Dvorkin’s approach to sects, one that she argues inevitably exacerbates inter-religious hostility, the religious policy of the state.”
Those who are doing that and those who fail to speak up against it need to reflect on what the policies of such “inquisitors” will have on a “multi-national and multi-confessional country like Russia. If Dvorkin isn’t stopped, the lawyer warns, Russia could soon be in the grip of “a sectarian war,” a conflict neither people like Dvorkin nor believers nor the country can survive.

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