Alexander Konovalov

Plenipotentiary representative of the President of Russia in the Volga Federal District


General Preconditions of Appearance of Cultic and Neopagan Practices in Modern Russia


Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,


First of all I would like to thank FECRIS for the honour of inviting me to speak at your very important Hamburg conference and beg a pardon because at the last moment I had to decline your invitation due my official duties. To my mind FECRIS’ activities are an invaluable contribution to the everyday existence of ordinary people that wish to safeguard a normal human existence in the present day world. I wish your noble organization all the best in future.

I would also like to stress that this short review, which you have generously decided to listen to, is a kind of scholarly study, prepared by a person holding both legal and theological education, a person who for a while taught law in the Saint Petersburg State University, and has a rather extensive experience of life in Russia. However, this by all means is not an official report or an official point of view of the Russian authorities.

I would like to begin this analysis by two general propositions, which I’ll try to develop while speaking about the background of the new cults’ and sects’ history in Russia.

Firstly: after the 20 years of a very intensive activity of the aggressive totalitarian cults and modern pseudo-protestant groups in Russia by the clear majority of the country population they are still considered to be marginal, unnecessary and dangerous phenomenon. We can try to predict that such a view will remain prevailing in the future.


Secondly: the activity of the new cultic structures doesn’t grow to be less intensive, and the number of people that find themselves in the cultic nets, as well as those who unknowingly accept the spreading neo-pagan and occult ways of thinking which makes them an easy prey of the cults is counted by millions. That alone requires qualified decisions and sober policy by our civil society in order to prevent such a processes.


The Volga Federal District has a highly specific character being not only multinational, populated by more than 140 nations, but being located at the hub of junction of three most - important ethnic groups in Russia - Slavic, Turkic and Finno-Ugric, that have once upon a time created the Russian ethnos itself. Though all these nations had come through the melting pot of history and have in general the common past, present and future, living in a highly effective and original tradition of mutual tolerance and respect, the differences between the civilizations, especially in the mental aspect, still exist. The District seems to be now the largest area in Russia where traditional pagan cults still exist, as far as many of the Finno-Ugric peoples, historically living there, especially belonging to Mari and Udmurt ethnics have to a large extent preserved their pagan every-day culture. In the early 1990-es the nationalistic centrifugal processes were rather on the upbeat in national republics within the Russian Federation, so those peoples saw the nearly extinct paganism to be an important part of their national identity. Finally, the District is traditionally populated by the highly educated people (the share of the urban population is the highest among the other Federal Districts), evaluating themselves to have a rich intellectual traditions and an independent way of thinking, what they call in German “fine-fühling”. Probably that’s why the influence of the modern cults propaganda in the Volga provinces, such as Nizhny Novgorod, Perm, Samara and especially Tatarstan – has become rather strong. Nowadays we still can observe the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, neo-Pentecostals; Hare Krishnas and a rather developed Scientological network in Nizhny Novgorod. We also have there one of the two Russian Ordo Templi Orientis charters (the first one is located in Moscow); in 2007 the fact of ritual animal sacrifice has been recorded in the town of Lyskovo, and in 2006 the icons desecration has happened in the Alexander Nevsky cathedral of Nizhny Novgorod. Mordovia Republic has one of the strongest Jehovah’s Witnesses’ networks in Russia. The neo- Pentecostal “New Generation” cult is quite popular in the city of Samara and Perm, where their leader Ryahovsky has some kind of second (after Moscow) headquarters. The Tartarstan republic seem to be very highly corrupted by the cults presence and influence, having a very strong Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, counting in 8 biggest cities nearly 2000 adepts; the Mormon’s center in Kazan; strong Scientological centers in Naberezhnye Chelny and Nizhnekamsk, integrated in the business structures (several thousand Tatarstan inhabitants have studied by the different Hubbard’s courses during the last 10 years). Quite visible is the Neopentecostal former “Christ’s Church” (nowadays the “Word of Faith”), the Hare Krishna cult, Brahma Cumaris, Sai Baba and Osho cults. Russian in origin Porfiry Ivanov’s and Anastasia’s cultic movements are also noticeably represented. Most of these organizations have official registration by the local authorities. Probably the comfortable conditions for the cults come as the result of the official policy of Tatarstan establishment, which likes to show the republic as the best-developed and most-modernized province in Russia which observes human rights and guarantees religious tolerance for all the people (the biggest mosque and the orthodox cathedral standing side by side in the Kazan Kremlin have become the visiting card of the Tatarstan during the last years). It is needless to say that this erroneous understanding of tolerance has greatly increased the number of victims of the totalitarian cults.


At the same time we have to notice, that the modern Russian civil legislation and the administrative practice are not quite adequate to the cults menace. For example they do not have to register as religious organizations. They easily can exist in the forms of so called religious groups, that don’t need official registration, or in the forms of the ordinary non- commercial organizations, that can be registered quite easily and usually do not suffer from any proper supervision of financial checks. That’s why we even do not know the exact number of the cults’ organization or cults’ adepts; all the existing figures are the experts’ estimate opinions.


While describing the well-known faces of the totalitarian cults, represented in Russia, we must understand that all of them are not static and use every chance to increase their influence, modernizing their practices furiously. After the early years of their high activity, when some cultists could act in Russia under the guise of Christian missionaries among the “present day pagans”, while others pretended to be the carriers of advanced Western civilization brought to backwards people, nowadays their work became more difficult. In reaction to that they have proceeded to advance their methods. We can point such popular Trends of cults’ activities in Russia as:

            - active work on the media field, using the modern communications technologies and different highly apprehensive methods, oriented towards the age and social status of the addressee; strong presence in the Internet, TV and radio broadcasting, DVD distribution;

            - spot method of information influence: instead of the importunate pestering outdoors the cults prefer to affect the specially chosen groups of population, mostly those, who need personal social help and care, mentally unsteady people (and their relatives), as well as those who have low living standards. The cultists use the hacker’s information bases in order to influence business and administrative structures; apartment visiting and other resources to collect the data about the population;

            - they play the card of social work, visiting the hospitals, orphanages, schools, kindergartens, etc. pretending to offer social care and financial support for the needy people, that became possible due to the vacuum left by the official and non-commercial social care;

            - multi-level marketing method;

            - positioning themselves as the plenipotentiary and rightful institute of the civil society, forming the attractive public image, spreading the material base for the activities (real estate, media instruments, etc.);

            - active attempts to implant the adepts into the business network, medical, educational and other social institutions and especially into the official and administrative bodies;

            - aggressive policy against the critics, including the civil and criminal claims, administrative and criminal complaints, based on their formal observance of the Russian laws and extremely cautious practice of the Russian courts, rarely being able to declare the danger of the cults acting in their jurisdiction;

            - creating the network of cult-lobbying groups in the media and legal circles, in the academic circles, human rights defence groups and even among the administrative bodies;

            - active interest of different cults, even not pretending to be esoteric, to the people claiming to have parapsychological abilities. Grigory Grabovoy, presently under trial, has displayed one of the new achievements of the cultic mentality, being able to recruit hundreds of adepts practically all over Russia promising immediate resurrection of their beloved ones.


It is important to know that the public approach to the subject of studying modern cults and their influence on Russian people is balanced between the firm and uncompromising method of Prof. Dvorkin, and more mild views, based on the “tolerant” attitude towards cults (Kanterov, Kon’, rev. Vladimir Fedorov). Naturally, the latter one is preferred by the cults and supported by them.


At the same time, finishing the first part of our paper, we can still claim, that the overall public opinion in modern Russia considers new cults as being extremely dangerous for the spiritual, moral and social values of the society, for the mental and physical health of the people, promoting the destruction of the personality and ruining the unity of our society, loss of the national identity and national culture, leading to the marginalization of nation. The bad thing is that the effectiveness of the state policy in the cultural sphere and the activity of the civil society, including the traditional confessions, are not nearly adequate to this understanding. Moreover, while people realize all the negative impact of the cults they often are unable to recognize the cult recruiters that come into their lives.


The general preconditions for the success of new cults and neo-pagan practices in Russia could be divided into three groups. The first of them unites the factors dealing with the specific characteristics of modem Russian mentality that still did not outlive the influence of the former totalitarian society. One of the aspects of this influence is that a natural desire for freedom and independence, is often confused with the idea for independence from any rules, order and traditions. In such a mindset everything “new” and “comfortable” seems to be more attractive and appropriate than “old” and “cumbersome”. At the same time, paradoxically there is a subconscious longing for a firm hand which can accept responsibility for all choices and easily solve all the problems of the individual. The cults do just that - initially promising the total freedom which turns out to be a total control and enslavement. Metaphysically, one of the main factors of the new cults’ attractiveness (according to Prof. Dvorkin) - the common man’s desire to get comfortable and understandable Lord, solving every day problems in some magic way - works very well. In the late 1980-es and early 1990-es this process was intensified in our country by very uncritical admiration for the West and everything coming from there. Another aspect of the Soviet times’ inheritance is total religious ignorance of the great majority of people who lost the traditions of daily religious life. Being combined with the survived tendency towards the mystical consciousness and dissatisfaction with the materialistic explanation of the world, typical for a human being, this illiteracy leads to widespread superstitions and magical faith of the people. Even the neophytes of the traditional faiths are not immune to cult recruitment. Actually, unlike the typical western way of thinking, concentrated on the practical ways and wishing to develop mostly one’s intellect and one’s will, the Russian mentality has a disposition to contemplation and abstract reflection that are able, on one hand, to lead a person to a very advanced spiritual life, but, on the other hand, and, to the great pity, mostly express themselves in the sluggishness and disorganization in different fields, including the esoteric one. A popular Russian fairy-tale tells the story of a lazy young fellow Yemelya who became very rich and even married the Tsar’s daughter while lying on the bench and not doing anything while an omnipotent magic perch fish did everything for him. For some people cults seem to offer to play a part of this magical perch fish fulfilling every wish of a person.


The second group of preconditions of the new cults’ growth can be understood on the background of the social instabilities as well as atomization of our society which causes stress for many people and makes them much more vulnerable to cults’ influence. All these factors are very expertly used by cults. Having this in mind we must point to the weak position of Russian traditional religions. We have to admit, that the two most numerous of them - the Orthodox Christianity and Islam - by different reasons, including some valid causes - do not get involved to the necessary extent with social work in order to help people to solve their every day problems. On the contrary, the cults very actively offer help to people with problems and thus can recruit them easily. The Muslim organizations in modern Russia are rather divided and disorganized and mostly think about earning their porridge, having lost a lot of former theological, propagation and educational traditions. The Orthodox Church is very gradually rebuilding its socially oriented structures and is still quite far from the best condition. And this is in the time when the state social services very slowly recovering from the severe system crisis, themselves are barely adequate to people needs.


Thus, to our mind, in general are the main preconditions of the cults development and spread in Russia. Having said that, I would like to hold your attention for a couple more minutes in order to talk about the third group of factors which to my mind are dangerous not only for Russia, but for the whole world and for Russia as a part of it.


The problem is that the world seems to be moving through a radical transformation. The process is not new, being at least 400 years old, but it seems to be coming now into its final stage. We mean here the metamorphoses of the world structure from the vertically integrated model into the horizontal integrated one. I will try to explain this thesis in a very short way. According to social economy humanity had passed through several economical stages of its development, well-known as the slave-owning, feudal and capitalist social- economic structures; one can also single out the industrial and post-industrial stages, etc. We could suggest now a parallel paradigm: the first stage in this system we would call the mythological society, having such an attributes as pagan thinking, totem respect, person’s self-identity as a part of nature, strict clan structure, adhering to the division of the personal mental types into the servile, labour, warrior, governor and philosopher types and strictly binding the destiny and social position of a person to this mental type (nowadays we can still see the elements of such a persons’ divisions preserved in the traditionally pagan and partly in non-Christian societies). This stage can be seen as horizontally integrated and located by non-connected spots on the social field. We can suppose that the era of the myth had basically ended with the spreading of Christianity and the demise of total paganism, but of course the mythological-thinking quasi-societies continued their existence fragmentally in the different parts of the world, staying traditionally pagan (not neo-pagan) or non-Christian. Next stage we could call the corporative society; it has culminated in the High Middle Ages with their guild system. This period seem to be unique because of the great importance of the corporative relationships that used to form the society structure. The mental types are still considered important in the corporative society, but thanks to the Christian tradition a great share of real humanism, providing the people of different classes with some basic opportunities had gradually been integrated into the social life. Exactly in this culminate period the cognition process has adopted a universal character, composing the empirical phase with its highest achievement - Greek philosophy, intellectual phase with the Roman law and the mystic phase with Christianity. Generally, the society assumes in this era a vertically integrated structure, disciplining the social and individual consciousness and cementing the social structure. Unfortunately this climax of this development started to wane with the beginning of Renaissance, which held in itself the seeds of future destruction.


This point is particularly important, because gradually many factors began to appear - for example growth of the transnational economical projects, like Medici’s clan, for instance, but more important – the spread of occultism and formation of occult mindset, which started the processes of vertical society structure’s disintegration. The most notable characteristics of these processes are individualism and egocentrism, disintegration of the corporate mentality and polarization of the society, traditions’ disregarding, unification of thought models and eclecticism. Thus the society slugs back into the horizontal field again with two very important peculiarities: it was not fragmentary like in the mythological period, but is incorporated on some level in the world network through various types of secret societies playing ever more increasing role in it. Mind you, nobody ever elected or appointed those societies to the leading and ruling role they assumed for themselves. With the increasing influence of these secret societies, occult neo-paganism was becoming the dominant ideology of the world. As we have already seen, the paganism is the inalienable attribute of the horizontally integrated society. In the last period the network ideology suggests the total rejection of traditions of corporative culture identity and replacement the tradition by the main idea of excessive result, achieved by some unconventional and non-trivial personal resources’ extra-activation (this is in general the main point of view of such gentlemen as Norstrom, Ridderstrale and the other fledglings of the Jonathan Livingstone Seagull’s nest). This way brought humanity to some great achievements, but at the same time it brought us to the utter destruction of totalitarian states, to Auschwitz and Gulag, to techno gene catastrophes and to development of totalitarian cults in our societies.


The finest instruments, providing this new ideology with mystic component is by all means paganism in its optimized and upgraded version, the cultist thinking and especially - the occult New-age cults’ philosophy. That’s why the New-age thinking, offering its adepts total immunity from the traditional morals and the illusion of self-sufficiency probably has the most promising perspectives among the other sects and cults for the closest future.


We could note that the most common present day cultic organization, being the corporative structure might be facing in this case some difficulties in existing in civil society which naturally resists it, thanks to FECRIS, its member organizations and other healthy forces among us. However, it could be replaced by the new type of loosely organized network, bringing together millions of people not acquainted with each other, but being united with the common ideology which would typically transform their mentality and will subject them to total enslavement. The vertical social integration and a corporate culture, leading a person to the real freedom of mind, still exist in some traditional institutions lingering on, yet the prospects the new era of network society are becoming more and more favourable from day to day. This is the fact which is worth our attention, and as we fight the dangerous cults and their deviations, as we try to help their victims we must remember the ideological base behind the modern destructive and totalitarian cults. As long as it remains active and growing, there will be new and new victims of totalitarian and destructive cultic structures negating human freedom, dignity and honour. This is how we see it.

Thank you for your kind attention.