What’s a Cult in Russia?

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The Russian news service RT reports on efforts by the Russian government to change the laws in order to rein in “damaging cults”.

“There are about 80 or 90 cults which are well known and active in at least several provinces of Russia. But if we are talking about local cults that act within one town, or one province or one area of a town, then those can be counted in the thousands,” says cult expert Aleksandr Dvorkin.

But while the law seems aimed at news-making apocalyptic “doomsday” cults and groups that use aggressive missionary techniques, many fear that the changes, if enacted, will eventually be used to crack down on any faith that doesn’t meet with the approval of a post-Communist government that’s entering into an ever tighter symbiosis with the  Russian Orthodox Church.

“The Moscow Patriarchate, the policy-making body of the Russian Orthodox Church, now acts as President Putin’s agent in extending his control over all sectors of society. And since Dmitri Medvedev, Putin’s anointed successor, is also a practising member of the Orthodox Church, no change in that relationship seems imminent.”

As tensions mount between Russian Pagan groups and the Russian Orthodox Church, would these laws, if passed, be used to crack down on all Pagans, using the pretext of a violent and criminal minority to restrict them? It raises the serious question: who’s a cult in Russia? Who, exactly, would get to make that distinction?