Comments on the problem of cults in Slovakia from the point of view of an elected representative
Abuse of religious feelings and ideas is one of the most serious world-wide problems. Addictions and mental manipulation impinge on social, economic, health, cultural and political spheres of the whole society life. Addiction can be met at almost every step without perceiving it properly.
This fact applies to the Slovak Republic, too. I certainly realize that not every addiction, such as (i.e. dependence of a baby on their mother), is necessarily against human freedom, but insane addictions, instead of consolation, pleasure or encouragement, bring fear, depression and illness. Insane additions are present in spiritual life of almost all world-wide religions, too.
My personal experience with cults is not very intensive. However, me, as a politician and MP, I perceive issues of cults and threats that they bring to society, family, individuals and their mental and physical state.
Several years ago I had a chance to meet people from Sri Chinmoy movement who visited the Slovak Parliament personally and in the way peculiar to them they tried to gain MPs’ attention. With most of MPs their activity elicited smiles on their faces. Hardly anybody has realized seriousness of Sri Chimnoy "guru" teaching influence. The whole thing did not surprise me because of the fact that among those young people there was a daughter of one of MPs – practical Christian, but his exceedingly tolerant attitude to her activities.
The next group that I have met with, is the Unification Church. Moonies have addressed several letters to MPs . They informed in them about their activities and invited MPs to mass wedding ceremonies. The letters finished in rubbish bins. However, that reaction does not represent the Slovak society reaction to Moonies. They have settled in Slovakia and pursue activities for wide public concentrating on young people and academic communities.
Vicariously - since my friend performs the practice of a clinical psychologist – I have learnt - of what is accessible – about negative influences of cults on people’s fate and their metal health. Issues of cults and their destructive influence on society and an individual seem to be a marginal theme in the present Slovak society.
My participation in this conference could be a stimulant to include these serious issues into the Slovak Parliament committees’ agenda.
Within the National Council of the Slovak Republic there are two committees which orientation is related to the given issues. They are: the Public-Health Committee which is chaired by my party woman-colleague, a doctor and possibly a future member of the European Parliament, and the Committee for human rights, nationalities, and women’s status, of which I am a member , and which in its work concentrates on promotion and supervision of observance of human rights and freedoms, political rights, rights of national minorities and ethnic groups. The committees are active as supervisory bodies of the Parliament. They can establish sub-commissions that should deal with the given issues, and members of which experts – non-MPs can be. The Slovak Parliament has not dealt with the sectarian leverage issues or related issues neither, yet. Most of MPs lack basic and general information on the sectarian issues and also on religiosity in general.
I have learned about the sectarian organisation activities, about risks connected with membership in the religious organisations and concrete cases related to religion, mostly from information and sources of ÚVŠC – the Institute for relations of the state and the Church. In 2003 ÚVŠC solved cases concerning the following communities:
The case of a mother who at the end of the year 2003 visited ÚVŠC is an interesting one (from the point of view of complex solution of legislation). She asked for a consultation that concerned activities of the religious community Jehovah Witnesses. As a reason of the consultation she stated long-lasting negative changes in behaviour of her 29 years old deaf daughter. According to this mother the changes were caused by her daughter’s knowledge of JW teaching, her acceptance of the teaching and meeting with the JW members. The mother says that her daughter has come to this life attitude and behaviour under the influence of her personal assistant, and it seems to be obvious.
The case uncovers legislative gap in the Act on social help that deals with issues of personal assistants of disabled persons. The Act does not think of possible existence of real chance to influence a client (physically, mentally) when performing personal assistance, with the aim to abuse their disability to one’s own benefit. Recruitment a client for special activities, membership in a group with signs of destructive community, joining the life of a cult cannot be excluded. Hearing-impaired people are more vulnerable and more one-sidedly suggestible by personal interest of an assistant in comparison with other groups of disabled people. Strict limit cannot be defined between "work" and "private" sphere of the hearing-impaired people and their personal assistants. Personal assistants are, in some sense of word, the state employees, or of the public sphere, it means they should not bring direct religious elements to their work from the professional point of view. For example – in the case of the Act (on social help) – if the legislators had known about risks of sectarian leverage, they would have been able to define a code of a personal assistant that would prevent them from sectarian influencing their clients.
Form of prevention and education seems to be most effective. As there is a communication barrier, lectures for hearing-impaired people without involvement of hearing-impaired organisations and experts who work with them, cannot be arranged and held. It is necessary to develop a special dictionary, because religious issues are very complex, namely due to a number of abstract notions that must be explained adequately. Although involvement of professionals therapists, except for some exceptions, is absent, ÚVŠC is ready to give a hand with these activities.
Thanks to my participation in this expert event I have got acquainted with complexity of the sectarian issues. ÚVŠC is the only one, an it must be said that too small (5 expert workers), state and non-confessional organisation that deals with the sectarian issues, and not only with them, professionally. Situation is complicated due to insufficient involvement and knowledge of issues on the side of psychologists and psychiatrists. In Slovakia I know only a few psychologists and psychiatrists who are experts at the issues, and people can consult them. There are such ones who ignore or belittle the given issues.
In the last year the young woman’s case was recorded. Her membership in the Christian community Patmos led her to a suicide attempt, she jumped out of a window. After her health condition was stabilised, she was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward. Despite of her parents’ disapproval a treating doctor - a psychiatrist – did not prevent members of the community from visiting the disabled. To the question whether he is aware of danger and risks that result from it, he answered:
"In Slovakia there is freedom of denomination. I cannot see any danger in the membership in the given community. Situation in the field of cults is being magnified only. For my patient the presence of the community members acts satisfyingly and beneficially, while the presence of her parents makes he upset."
The situation is complicated by practice of the cults to acquire legal status by means of the Act on civic associations, not by the Act on churches and religious societies. Unfortunately, it happens that cults in such a deceptive way acquire legal subjectivity and image of accredited religious society. Hizbalah movement has been registered as a civic movement last.
The next issue is unwillingness of clients to talk about their experience with a cult in public. Those cases are concerned when clients have solved their personal problem with the cult. They refuse any further visibility. The prefer to make a thick line behind the troublesome life experience, or they are afraid of (sometimes legitimately) revenge. So people’s testimonies of negative experience with cults and hurts they suffered, are missing. Expressed (unexpressed are predominating) stories of people that could be a memento, or even encouragement, are missing.
With regard to the mentioned experience and situation in Slovakia I perceive the focus of my participation in this expert event especially in the fact that I would like to address the present people with a request for information which could help when reflecting issues of cults in the Slovak Parliament. Valuable advices and initiatives will be paid attention to in my position of an MP as well as the chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights. I will be glad if I have possibility to consult the given issues with MPs from other countries of the world. I can come into contact through ÚVŠC (member-correspondent FECRIS) that I will continue to co-operate with in future.
Marseilles, March 2004