POLAND: Anti-Sect Policy to Change after Complaints from Churches.

by Jonathan Luxmoore, Keston News Service, 15 March 2001

The Polish government is reorganising its campaign against new religious movements after complaints of harassment from minority churches. Krzysztof Wiktor, the head of Poland's Inter-Ministerial Team for New Religious Movements, after announcing plans to liquidate the existing Team in favour of a new ‘Inter-Ministerial Team for Psycho-Manipulative Groups’, told Keston News Service on 26 February that ‘State policy is undergoing important qualitative changes, which will enable us to avoid charges of violating religious freedom’. The reform was dismissed, however, as a ‘pretence’ by a leader of the country's small Adventist church, who accused officials of helping ‘suppress competition’ to the predominant Roman Catholic church.

Wiktor told Keston that new religious movements had been viewed as the ‘key problem’ when his Team was formed in 1997, but added that Team members were no longer concerned with groups ‘merely offering an alternative religiousness’. ‘An inter-ministerial team will still be needed, since the sect phenomenon is too broad and multifaceted to be treated like other social pathologies’, he said. ‘But we are not interested in the cult activities of this or that church. We believe there's a growing problem here with activities by therapeutic, health-enhancing and crypto-political groups which have nothing in common with any religion. Their spread will be curbed as we gain greater knowledge and are able to catch them’.

Poland's Inter-Ministerial Team denied in a June 2000 report that religious sects posed a ‘big threat to society’, but called on state institutions to begin training personnel in how to deal with them. A Polish police spokesman, Pawel Biedziak, denied last November that law enforcers were acting under pressure from Roman Catholic leaders, but confirmed that material from Roman Catholic anti-sect groups had been used for instructing groups of officers from each Polish county.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general of Poland's 9000-member Adventist church, Andrzej Sicinski, testified that Catholic information centres had also given ‘sect training sessions’ to school directors and teachers. In a Keston interview on 8 March, Sicinski said dissolution of the existing Inter-Ministerial Team had been expected, adding that he doubted the new Team would survive the expected collapse of Poland's centre-right government after autumn 2001 elections.

'The new name and formula are clearly intended to enable Mr Wiktor and his Team to remain in power a bit longer’, continued Sicinski, whose church is one of 15 recognised in Poland under their own special legislation. ‘But I think this is a pretence. The new Team will work, like its predecessor, to suppress competition to the Catholic church, using criteria which enable the sect label to be thrown at all non-Roman Catholics’. Registered Christian minorities in Poland have frequently cited pressure from the Roman Catholic church, which nominally comprises at least 95% of the country's 39 million citizens.

In his interview, Wiktor said ‘critical voices’ from Adventists and other churches had been considered in preparing the new ‘change of accent’, adding that he believed there had been cases in which officials ‘took an interest in churches which they should have left alone’. Sicinski, however, rejecting the reform, said the new Team would have to ‘justify its existence’ by showing dangerous sects were active and needed monitoring. ‘The Polish constitution permits religious freedom to be restricted only under strictly defined conditions – no mention is made anywhere of the enigmatic category of psycho-manipulation’, Sicinski told Keston. ‘Government funding is being used in an organised long-term campaign against non-Catholic churches, in which information is supplied to police and educators at public expense by Catholic organisations’.

A Roman Catholic church expert, Bishop Zygmunt Pawlowicz, told Keston earlier in February that he believed sect membership totalled no more than 20,000 in Poland, but he said his church would continue ‘co-operating with the state’ to ‘warn society’. ‘National constitutions enshrine legal equality, and this applies to sects as much as to the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches’, the bishop continued. ‘But individual laws also set limits to religious freedom, to ensure public order and the good of families and marriages. Those who violate these limits must face the legal consequences’.

Members of the Polish parliament's Family Commission urged the government at a 15 February meeting to step up training programmes on ‘psycho-manipulation’ for teachers, police, judges and prosecutors. In his interview, Krzysztof Wiktor said guidelines on ‘manipulative groups’ would now be circulated to government departments. He added that Poland faced new threats from ‘political extremism with a crypto-religious base’ but declined to cite examples or estimate the extent of the problem. (END)