Vladimir A. Martinovich

CNRMS in Belarus

 

Cults and Politics in Belarus

 

Because sects, cults, new religious movements (NRMs) are both subjects and objects of political activity, the topic “Cults and Politics” will be treated at these two most important levels of the problem:

 a)        The pervasive infiltration of cults within the political realm,

 b)       Their influence on political life, on society and the attempt to influence legislation which might affect their activities.

In this lecture, an attempt will be made to systemize the topic “cults and politics”, using as an example the history of cultism in the modern world and the analysis of the situation in this area in Belarus. A methodology of investigation on the degree of political influence cults have in a country will be worked out.

 

The involvement of cults in politics

 

As the majority of sects and cults do not take part in politics, we will try to analyse why a minority do get involved politically. This will be the focus of this research. The study of Cult history will show us the factors which lead to political activity by NRMs.

Interest in politics usually starts with the observation of the political life of the country. Little by little the cult starts to develop a critique of society based on its doctrinal views. However, at this stage they do not try to gain political influence and have not developed a coherent political strategy. In most cases, the smaller cults actively praise the existing political establishment because they hope to gain influence. Thus in 1994 "astrologists" and in 2001 "pagans" welcomed the election of the President of Belarus and prophesised he would have a favourable and effective administration.[1]  The pagans welcomed the results of the referendum in 1994.[2]

Many cults respond to the various changes in the political context and try to influence things at from a spiritual perspective. They are happier to influence things spiritually rather than get involved in the relativities of normal political activity. The most common kind of “spiritual influence” is expressed by a variety of prayers and ritual acts. A significant “spiritual influence” on the political situation in Belarus were the “prayer walks” by Pentecostals around the buildings of the administration of the President of Belarus. They were done in private so no one knew what they were doing.[3]   Of course, the attempts to influence the political process on purely spiritual level did not have any influence on the real political situation of the country.

The internal politicization of cult’s results is in the development of a political theology that sees the need for the Cult members’ direct participation in the political life of in one or more countries in the world as in their actions, which are directed towards realization of these teachings into practice. It is important to mention that in the overwhelming majority of cases Cults that have developed a Political Theology are not successful realising it in practice.

It is primarily associated with the fact that the majority of them have no real prospects of success in this area. The elaboration of the religious-political theory and its realization in life depend on the successful development of the cult, and its ability to achieve a level of growth.  The larger it is numerically will determine its political success. But these factors are not necessarily sufficient for political success. Not all cults try to take power. The presence of a political theology or its absence is not the major factors in Cult development, more important are the preferences of the founders and leaders.

It is not possible to positively or negatively assess the religiously motivated efforts of NRMs to participate in politics. The organisations’ political demands cannot generally in themselves present a danger for State and society, but on the contrary they may strengthen them. One classical example is the Italian cult Damanhur with its political party:  “With you for the country.”

In some cases, the realisation of the political-religious policies of cults may be advantageous to the State. Thus the efforts of the founder of the American cult “The movement of the missions in the world”, who’s aim was to spread the English language and the constitution of the USA [4]  in the whole world, were advantageous for the US government, as were the appeal from the cults “Spiritual unity of Tolstoi”, „Malevantschy“ and “Anti-alcoholics” to all other cults, not to help revolutionaries, was advantageous for the Tsar's government.[5] in any case the systematic battle of the "Unification Movement" against Communism was welcomed in South Korea and in the USA.

Probably in the whole history of cultism, the cults most successful political project is the Japanese party „Komejto“. This party was founded by the cult „Soka Gakkai“. The history of „Komejto” which for a long time was the third largest party in Japan is very instructive. It shows that the more professionally and seriously a cult undertakes steps to influence the political situation in a country, the more it will change itself under the influence of politics.[6]  It shows furthermore that political parties created by cults must keep a distance from the doctrines, religious rhetoric and ideals of “their” cults if they want to reach a position of influence within the frame of the political system of any country in the world. The rules and norms of political life are the filter which does not admit the entry to power of any political party that only has sectarian ideas in mind.

The history of cultism includes many examples of purely political parties that took over sectarian doctrines and thereby tried to completely turn upside down the existing public order. Some Russian examples of such groups are “Party of Arian Unity”, “Russian National Liberation Movement”, “Unity” [7]; some Belarusian examples are “Belarusian Christian Union”, “Belarusian Humanitarian Party”, etc.[8] None of these cults  obtained any support from people worth mentioning.

Thus we can more clearly and accurately define the problem that arises at the internal politicization of NRMs. When cults do not have the possibility to gain power on the level of all political parties, they often enough push individual representatives to power or they bribe some politicians and civil servants. If however the political party of a cult, having acquired power, for example „Komejto“, is busy with questions of improvement of life for the people of a whole country, the interests of the cult will be universally promoted by individual politicians and civil servants on political level. 

In this context, a good example is the successful introduction of Pentecostals into the Brazilian parliament. In view of the tight cooperation of the Catholic Church and the State, Brazilian Pentecostals have based their fight on the necessity to prevent the endangering of freedom of conscience and confession. Under the slogan “endangering of freedom of religion”, Pentecostals in Brasilia have deployed the battle against Catholicism to obtain equal status and equal privileges as the Catholics. When they obtained power, they worked for themselves: "Many evangelicals are making a profitable trade out of preparing the new constitution, by negotiating their votes in exchange for advantages for their churches, and often for themselves… The list of rewards includes a television channel, at least half a dozen radio stations, important posts in government, benefits of many types and, above all, a lot of money…"[9]

Such a situation occurs in all countries where cults have pushed some of their adherents to power. It is not known what the consequences of a successful election of Pastor Pat Robertson would have had, when he was presidential candidate in the US election of 1988. He was known for his appeals to kill Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, during a live broadcast in 2005. It is also difficult to imagine the consequences of an election of the Mormon, Mitt Romney who was candidate for president of USA in 2008.

There are also some examples in the history of Belarus that civil servants and politicians on various levels of power actively supported the interests of cults. For example a previous president of the town executive of Wysokoe was a Pentecostal pastor and, at the same time, used his position to decide problems of the municipality. [10]  Regularly, Pentecostals in Belarus try to become candidates for the national assembly.[11]

Another way NRMs try to participate in politics is by attempts of influencing public opinion which aim at serious modifications of the church-State-relations in the country or at other political goals and tasks. In such cases, it is necessary to distinguish the simple desire to build up a favourable opinion from the long planned large ideological actions of the cults, which have clear goals and tasks. In Belarus, the largest action of this kind was organised by Pentecostals, Baptists and other Christian cults. As a basis, in 2003 they used the 450th anniversary of the foundation of the first Lutheran church on the territory of Belarus, and declared themselves to be direct heirs of the Belarus Protestants of the 16th century. Based on these circumstances, they brought up the question of the Pentecostal tradition and that of other Christian cults, and they have started to develop the concept of the “Golden Age of Belarus” – the time when politics and economy were flourishing and Protestants were the prevailing religious organisation. According to this concept, should they be recognized as the “heirs” of the 16th Century Protestantism by the State a new political and economical rebirth of Belarus would occur? To maintain and develop this idea, they started to organise public mass assemblies, edit books and publish brochures and series of articles in secular and religious media.

In cases where the NRMs do not succeed to legally obtain power, they may use illegal actions and political protest. Thus the cult „Aum Shinrikyo“, long before the gas attack in the Tokyo underground , created a political party “The Party of Truth”, which made propaganda whilst complying to all rules of Japanese legislation and nominated their own representatives as candidates for parliament.  But they did not receive any public support worth mentioning.[12]

In cases where the political situation in a country is unstable and difficult, the process of internal politicization of the cults increases extremely fast. General discontent about the political situation in the country or about the situation of some communities may lead to mixed political-religious forms of protest. The majority of such protests may, according to characteristics of structure and contents, be related to sects and cults. The political activity of sects of this type is justified by commands from received from above or from their founders, who justify holy battle to achieve political stability and the social prosperity.

Religious preachers exploit elements of political propaganda.  Many followers surround such prophets. The religious form of protest against social injustice and political instability increases widely the power and the scale of protest movements. Probably, the largest number of such religious-sectarian movements with a revolutionary character arose in Africa during the XIX-XX [13] Centuries. To this, one can relate the political activity of the followers  of Cao Dai in Vietnam [14] of the Anabaptists in Germany, [15] of numerous sectarian movements of the American Red Indians of XVIII-XIX [16] Centuries, and of course the whole spectrum of sectarian movements of black Americans of the XVIII-XX [17]  Centuries. A special place in this list is taken up by the sectarian movements in China that have a long history of political opposition against State authority. [18]

 

The exploitation of cults by politicians

 

The participation of cults in politics is not always initiated by the cults themselves and it is not always accompanied by the politicization of religious doctrine. The exploitation of cults by some politicians, by state administration authorities, and state security services is an important factor in their politicization. Thereby one must distinguish international examples of such applications that relate to two or more countries of the world and examples of internal politics within one country.

The exploitation of cults as a factor of influence on the international political scene may have various goals and tasks. Thereby, cults are only one item of many elements, and by no means the most important and most effective elements. In the modern world, the roots of the application of NRMs in international politics are the aspiration of large international organisations and alliances to protect the human right of religious freedom. But the history of legal protection in this area has clearly shown that the protection of rights and freedoms of religious minorities firstly has been abused by dangerous religious organisations to enable their unhindered activity and secondly has been a comfortable pretext for the realisation of means of political and economical pressure from certain states against others.

In the first case, the cult, in its conversation with the external world, takes over the general discourse which is usual in the civilised society and proclaims its general support for all rights and freedoms of the personality, of democratic organisations in society, of legislation etc. Simultaneously, internally it pleads for all practices, doctrines and rules which contradict those proclaimed principles. Society and especially human rights organisations trust the cult and protect it against “defamation”.

In the second case, the “International Religious Freedom Act”, adopted in 1998 by the American congress, and the annual publication of the US Department of State about religious freedom in various countries of the world have influence on the politicization of the cultist/sectarian problems on international level. The human rights and religious organisations of the whole world collect material about real and invented cases of suppression of religious minorities for the preparation of the publication of the US Department of State. There are some reasons to doubt that the fate of those minorities is of real interest for the authors of that publication. The research of pastor E.P. has shown that the USA ignores the acts of certain countries that violated religious freedom, if the USA has some interest to maintain economical and political relations and cooperation with those countries, as for example to have military points of support on their territory. Those countries, irrespective of their violations of rights and freedoms of their minorities, were often not even mentioned in their publications. In addition, in a number of cases where political or economical relations have been started with countries previously being condemned, the claims about violation of religious freedom disappeared immediately, no matter if the violations continued. [19] In agreement with the results of research, the conclusion can be drawn that violations of rights of religious minorities may be used as an occasion for political pressure by one country on another. But the real problem is much deeper. It consists in the fact that cults have received an additional stimulation to keep up a prosperous image – they are being persecuted.  NRMs are interested that their followers should experience massive pressure from outside, that they feel surrounded by enemies who want to destroy their organisation. This offers the possibility to control the members, to create a feeling of innocence, significance and importance with regard to the organisation’s activity. Until the activation of the human rights organisations in this area, the NRMs only spread the feeling of persecution within their structure. Bu now it is very advantageous for them to claim, with the help of the mass media, that they are being persecuted by everybody.  Thus they hope to attract the attention of various international organisations and superpowers of the world to their problems. The superpowers, on their side, carefully observe all such declarations with the intention to integrate them into their stereotyped strategy of political power on various countries in the world. In that case, the interests of the cult coincide with the interests of some superpowers. Only the motivation to maintain the concept of “being persecuted” is different.

The whole history of the Chinese cult „Falun Gong“ is an excellent example of the coincidence of the interests of the USA and the NRMs. Real and invented problems of the cult are used as one of the reasons for political pressure on China. Especially in this context the fact of the open support of the cult „Falun Gong“ by  Madeleine Albright during her visit to China and of the Scientology Church during her visit to Germany must be understood. [20]

Cults are used by various governments for the purpose of intelligence service, and there are numerous examples of this. Accordingly we can replace the old question, if cults are used for espionage, by the new question: “What new ways are visible today to exploit cults for the purpose of espionage?” [21]  The obviousness of such questions has led renowned scientists worldwide to openly speak about this. Walter Hollenweger, one of the best known experts in the field of the Pentecostal movement, wrote: „…In the meantime, the military have discovered the significance of Pentecostalism and have infiltrated it in certain countries of the world in order to use it as a tool for winning the hearts of people. For instance, to make the people open for the North American way of life, well-trained people are sent into Pentecostal churches where they get “converted” and become pastors, and so influence the whole movement. This has happened in many parts of the world, where the strategic social and political importance of Pentecostalism has been recognized…”[22]   The intelligence services themselves admit that they exploit the cults.  Thus, William Colby, the tenth president of the CIA, had the right to exploit missionaries in the interest of the secret service. [23]  Stansfield Turner, the twelfth president of the CIA, said in 1980: “…There can be unique circumstances, in which clergymen are "the only means available" to operate "in a situation of the highest urgency and national importance…".[24]  The possibility of exploiting missionaries has not be excluded either by the seventeenth president of the CIA.[25]  It is also possible to get information at the hearing in the US congress about the exploitation of the Unification Church by the Korean CIA for espionage in the USA. [26]  It also is known that a high ranking employee of the CIA was simultaneously a bishop of the Mormons. [27]  But the most interesting example is the battle against exploitation of missionaries by the intelligence service by the two largest associations of churches in the USA, the National Council of the Churches of Christ and the National Association of Evangelicals.[28]

At quarrels related to internal politics, cults and sects most often try to use oppositional powers. Thereby, religious and political components will not intermix at all. The possibly most extensive project to use cultists for internal political battle was their involvement in the preparation of the 1917 October revolution and the subsequent regulation of their activity for the consolidation of the Soviet power, enduring until 1928. [29] Thanks to scientific development work and proposals by Bontsch-Brujewitsch, the revolutionaries artificially used the cults disenchantment about tsardom, about the persecution of religious minorities and about the dominating church for the needs of the revolution. It is remarkable that they did this with cults of various kinds.

Equally interesting is a similar attempt to simultaneously use various Christian cults for the inner political battle in modern Belarus. At the end of the nineties, one of the oppositional activists, Pawel Severinets, used Christianity as the basis for his concept of national ideology. At the end of 1999, he founded the association “The Christian Initiative” and looked for support among the Christian organisations in the BNF party (Belaruski Narodny Front/ Belarus Popular Front) and among the functionaries of the organisation „Malady Front“  (Young Front) which he led himself.[30] In spite of the attempt to get support from all large churches of the country, ”The Christian Initiative” only got real support from some representatives of Christian cults and especially from Pentecostals. One year before the normal presidential election, the following idea appeared in some newspapers of the country: “… The representatives of religious minorities in our country experience enormous difficulties. The are more numerous, they are one of the unused reserves of the opposition, because they deeply and mostly consciously are interested in the development of democracy …”. [31]  The representatives of the Belarus opposition however did not rush forth to count on cooperation with the Pentecostals in that political battle. There a whole series of ideological reasons for this and also because the leaders of the opposition did no see any real opportunity for such a cooperation.  Furthermore, the Pentecostals did not show any open support for a battle against the existing constitution. This can be explained by the fact that they participated in society and in public administration to promote the idea of a “Golden Age in Belarus”, and that they hoped that this activity would be a success. In addition, some high level civil servants and politicians publicly supported the interest of the Pentecostal movement in the country (for example Paschkevitsch I.I.).  Any public support of the opposition looked to lead to a full failure of the idea of a Golden Age as well as to a loss of help and influence from those civil servants. In 2002, debates arose in society about the expected passing of a law about “the freedom of conscience and religious organisations”. Initiated by some cults, some civil servants and politicians, the public initiative “For Freedom of Faith” arose, the main goal being to prevent the passing of this law. In case of failure the initiative planned to collect 50.000 signatures in order to apply to the parliament for a repeal or modification of the law.[32]  In spite of the strong resistance, the law passed, causing the ire of the majority of cults. But the passing of the law did not result in major protest from their side because, in spite of the general expectation, no persecution of religious organisations occurred. The vast majority of religious communities were re-registered successfully and there were no formal reasons for passing over from normal declarations of displeasure about the law to large political actions. The initiative “For Freedom of Faith”, based on its own forces only, could not realize the plan to collect signatures. After the successful re-registration of the religious organisations and because of the absence of any conflict situation, it could not expect to get help from anybody. Thus, the idea of using the potential of unsatisfied religious minorities by the opposition failed, because firstly it was not clear for the opposition, how far this potential was real and justified, and secondly the displeasure of the minorities was not important enough to risk a serious conflict with the government.

The USA, on their side, in the frame of the International Religious Freedom Act passed in 1998, carefully followed the religious situation in the country and even criticised Belarus because of the violation of the rights of religious minorities, but up to now they did not have any serious reason for political pressure on Belarus because of questions of freedom of consciousness and of religious organisations. In the meantime, the active and very successful participation of Pentecostals in the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine end of 2004 has shown the real revolutionary potential of religious organisations. Again the question arose to what degree this potential was present in Belarus. The subsequent events around the Church of the Christians of the Full Gospel “New Life” became the ideal experimental field for the search of a reply. In 2005, a conflict developed between the „New Life” and the State around a church building. The specific peculiarities of the conflict are unimportant compared to the technology of its execution. In September 2005, the leadership of the church planned a demonstration in front of the building of the executive committee in Minsk, in order to apply pressure to the power and to obtain a positive solution. Simultaneously, a message of the religious union of the Christians of the Full Gospel was published with requests to the authorities, and at the end of the message, the clear “reminder” was made: “In 1989, the hard and inconsiderate actions of the authorities in Romania with respect to protestant churches resulted in a change of the government of that time.” In 2006, Severinets and some of the young politicians of the oppositions declared to the mass media the foundation of the Belarusian Christian Democracy  (WCD/BHD) – the new political party based on Christian values und operating “directly with the religious organisations”.[33]  Later on, the WCD rendered active help to the “New Life”, raised candidates for the next election of representatives of the people, trying to appeal to Christianity as the supporting element of their political program. In October 2006, the “New Life” went on hunger-strike; it cooperated actively with domestic and foreign mass media and contacted foreign diplomats. In April 2007, the “New Life” with maximal publicity organised a collection of 50.000 signatures against the existing law. Against all expectations, this collection did not go very fast. It turned out that all Christian cults of Belarus did not, by a long way, support the ideas and methods of the “New Life”. Finally signatures were also collected in orthodox churches. There, people were not informed by whom and for what purpose they were collected. All actions of the “New Life” have increased its reputation among Christian cults in Belarus. In lectures of the US Department of State the problems of the “New Life” and the activity of the WCD have been mentioned. But the attempt to instigate the revolutionary and political activity of Christian cults in Belarus has ended with a clear fiasco.  This fiasco is not considered to be the failure of the “New Life” in court because in that case this is an unimportant question. It mainly concerns the inability of Christian cults to come to a mutual understanding and to mobilise the broad masses of the population to protect their interests. It can be assumed that in future the search for the revolutionary potential of Christian cults will persist. The striving of the WCD-party and of the Pentecostals of the country to influence politics is by no means anything to be condemned; it is their right. The problem consist firstly in the methods and ways which they use to do so, secondly in the search for the help of foreign states and international citizens’ right’s organisations, that at best are ideological opponents of Belarus and at the worst case act against the interests of the Belarus society, and thirdly in the lack of any constructive programs of action, which in Belarus may lead to a repetition of the mentioned Brazilian variant of development.

At the inner political quarrels, the politicians may not only use the cults, but also the subject of battle against sectarianism. Thus, in the beginning of the nineties, the leading Russian politicians made efforts to get sympathy by the voters by expressing fear about the problem of sectarianism and the activity of foreign missionaries.[34]  In that case, cults were presented as the fierce enemy who is guilty for all the burdens and problems of society. Their annihilation was supposed to be an important part of political activity. On the other side, politicians frequently try to win the voters’ voices by relating to the problem of violation of the rights of religious minorities. In that case, full protection of the rights and freedoms of religious minorities will be guaranteed. On the other hand, the cooperation of politicians and civil servants with cults may become known to the public and may be used by their opponents for subsequent discredit or removal. Information which leaked to the press about the cooperation of the secretary of the security council of the Russian federation, Oleg Lobow, with Aum Shinrikyo, or that of the prime minister of the Russian federation, Kirijenko S. V, with Scientology,  in no way contributed to an increase of their popularity. In Belarus, the previous president of the supreme council, Stanislaw Schuschkevitch, had to justify his regular contacts of many years with the Korean cult “Unification movement".[35]

Sometimes politicians and civil servants cooperate with cults. This may be caused by cool deliberation or by elementary incompetence. Thus, some ministers of the government and high civil servants f the presidential administration of Poland took part in seminars of the new Hindu cult “Art of Living”.[36] High civil servants of the government of Iceland were dismissed because of their invitation to Shamans to clean the government building from evil spirits.[37]  Bill Clinton, as the president of USA, by special legislation agreed to grant contributions of about 50 millions of dollars to the cult “Christian Science“.[38]  In Belarus, there are also similar examples. Some governmental structures of the region of Mogilev paid a magician for conjuration of the rain in summer and actively cooperated with the Unification movement.[39]

The whole manifoldness of the ways of internal politicization of the cults and their utilisation by politicians may schematically be presented in the following way:

 

Utilisation of cults by politicians

Internal politicalization of

Internal politics

International politics

 

Theoretical level

Practical level

1.  Activities aimed at the destabilisation or the overthrow of the actual political system and at the participation on the preparation and execution of revolutions (the external pressure)

1. Utilisation of the sectarian problem for political pressure on the country

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Arbitration of  political processes from the ideological view of the cult

1. Intrude into the power (political party, state administration)

2.  Utilisation of the subject of the fight against cults or the subject of protection of rights and freedoms of religious minorities by politicians to win voters

 

2. Utilisation of cults by secret services

 

2. The development of political and religious doctrines

 

2. The founding of political parties

 

3.  Throwing discredit on politicians and civil servants on discovering their relation to cults

 

3. Influence on politics on spiritual level

 

3. Support of political parties that already exist in the country (electoral agitation)

 

 

4. Cooperation with cults

 

4.  Formation of public opinion to correspond to  the strategic interests of the cult

 

Influence of the society’s political life and of modifications of law on the activity of sects and cults

 

5. Demonstrations, protest actions

6. Activities aimed at the destabilisation or the overthrow of the actual political system and at the participation on the preparation and execution of revolutions (internal motivation)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While studying sectarianism and cults on the territory of any country in the world, one may use this scheme. Correspondingly, one ought to distinguish qualitative and quantitative criteria of the politicization of the subject sectarianism and cults. The main qualitative criterion is the number of the spheres indicated in the table. The main quantity criterion is the number of concrete examples of politicization for each sphere.

Applying this model on Belarus, one can notice that the level of internal politicization of the sectarianism in Belarus, according to the quality criteria, is hardly above average. According to quantitative criteria, the level of politicization of the cults in the country is rather low. On the other hand, the quantitative and qualitative criteria of the utilisation of cults by politicians in Belarus and the subject of sectarianism in Belarus in international politics remain at the same level. The influence on the political life of society and of the modification of legislation on the activity of sects and cults does not appear in the scale of values.

 


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