Staunton, January 6 – Aleksandr Panchenko, a specialist on religious minorities in Russia who lost his job at St. Petersburg State University when he failed to find the texts of Pentecostals extremist, says that Moscow’s massive attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses will be followed by attacks on other groups that the authorities consider unacceptable “sects.”
There is no legal definition of “sect” in Russia or anywhere else, largely because the authorities want to define it as fits their needs, including some groups while excluding others that are very similar. But for 20 years, the scholar continues, the Russian government and the ROC MP have promoted “an anti-sectarian mythology” (svoboda.org/a/29655864.html).
As a result, many Russians are inclined to believe about groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals and Scientologists many things that simply are not true, and that makes the job of the police and prosecutors easier because they can often count on the population to approve what they do to these groups.
The Russian authorities’ “first mass campaign” against what it calls a sect has been directed against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, an effort that Panchenko suggests reflects the Russian authorities’ opposition to any highly structured group with headquarters abroad and especially if those are in the United States.
It seems likely, he continues, that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were singled out as the first target for this reason more than for any other because those in the Russian force structures “also think like corporations” and therefore they view anyone else similarly organized as “their enemy.”
On ideological and counter-missionary grounds, Panchenko says, the Pentecostals might have been expected to be the next target. But he says that it is his impression that Moscow will instead move next against the Scientologists because they are also organized “like a corporation in distinction from the Pentecostals” and have their headquarters abroad in the US.
“If we in paranoid fashion suspect the United States of attempts to influence Russia, beginning with spying and ending with the imaginary Dulles Plan, then of course, when we see a well-organized religious corporation with its HQ in the US,” as many FSB officers do, such links of a religious group become the basis for serious moves against it.