SLOVAKIA: Are the Christian Fellowships Dangerous?

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 31 October 2001

Although the attempt to deregister the Christian Fellowships in Slovakia as a civil association (see separate KNS article) appears to be a separate issue, official concern about the activity of the group of independent Pentecostal congregations may be at the root of their problems. Officials in Bratislava have denied to Keston News Service any connection and insist that the denomination as a whole is not 'dangerous'.

The Christian Fellowships were established in Czechoslovakia before the country split, and the Slovak congregations retain ties to fellow congregations in the Czech Republic. In Slovakia the 3,000-strong group belongs to the Evangelical Alliance, which brings together many Slovak Protestant Churches, though it is not a member of the Council of Churches, a broader Christian grouping, which receives some financial support from the state.

Official concern about the church has focused on its leading figure, Pastor Ivan Zustiak, who is based in the northern Slovak town of Liptovsky Mikulas, and the activities of the church in the nearby town of Liptovsky Hradok. On 19 June the local council in Liptovsky Hradok wrote to the Institute for State-Church Relations enquiring about whether the church was dangerous. In its response, the institute explained the church's Pentecostal background and history, but also gave its evaluation of the impact of church membership on individuals. 'Among its members, one can perceive a certain degree of cultural pessimism,' the institute's director Michaela Moravcikova claimed. 'The pessimism and mistrust towards the world and its institutions leads towards certain particularities in members' behaviour. It is manifested, for example, in a conservative approach to make-up, attire, certain political activities, excessive financial support to the fellowship, and a tendency to distance from this corrupt world (this sometimes encompasses even close relatives and family).'Moravcikova told the council how it should approach members of such newer religious groups. 'Since the membership of adult individuals in new emerging religious movements, sects and cults is voluntary and is a practical application of their right to religious confession, the state has no legal basis to act repressively against non-registered religious groups. This is, however, true only under the condition that no law-breaking occurs and personal security, public order, health, morality, humanity, tolerance or rights of other corporate bodies and citizens is not endangered.' Moravcikova told the Liptovsky Hradok council that if there were such criminal activities, the council should refer the group to the prosecuting authorities. She added that if the group was acting not in accordance with the law governing civil associations, the council should apply to the interior ministry to have the group wound up.

At the end of September, based on the moves to deregister the church on a national level, four policemen in Liptovsky Hradok were told they would lose their jobs if they did not leave the church. One of the four wrote a letter of complaint to the town's mayor, the council and the local police department. Church members told Keston on 30 October that so far the threat to sack the policemen has not been carried out.

'The Christian Fellowships are not dangerous,' Lucia Machackova of the Institute for Church-State Relations told Keston from Bratislava on 30 October. 'We have received some complaints from citizens of the Liptovsky Mikulas district, where the leader is pastor Zustiak. These concerned disintegration of families, excessive finance for the group (from 10% of salary to the whole salary), the secludedness of the group, double education of children, fragmenting of the world between us and them etc.' However, she said the institute would decline to comment on this information, which 'we have from citizens' because 'we have not verified it yet'. She told Keston that no criminal cases had been launched against Pastor Zustiak or the Christian Fellowships, but declared that the institute nevertheless remained concerned about some of the group's activity. 'The complaints in Liptovsky Mikulas were justified. There were violations of human rights.' (END)