Wednesday 9 February


by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Many people believe that alcoholism is Russia's national disease.

Specialists in alcohol and drug addiction estimate that some 20

million Russians are currently sufferers. It is therefore not

surprising that Russian newspapers are full of advertisements

offering help in breaking off hard drinking by various methods, even

including psychological 'kodirovaniye' (hypnosis). It has long been

believed that this illness can be treated by medical or psychological

means. But Russians' growing interest in the spiritual has seen new

approaches to addiction - seeing it as a violation of an individual's

spiritual integrity. Among the new methods and new movements is

Alcoholics Anonymous, one of whose principles is the recognition that

an individual cannot make a full recovery by his own strength and

must call on higher forces for help.

TERRY WEBB reported in her book �Tree of Renewed Life� (which has

recently appeared in Russian) that the first AA groups in the former

Soviet Union were organised in Kiev and Moscow in April 1986. The

founders, former alcoholics and members of the group `Create a Sober

World', were then on a visit to the Soviet Union. Parallel to this

were several other groups and individuals working in the USSR,

including an Episcopalian priest from New York who opened Moscow's

first AA group in the mid-1980s.

All of these individuals met government officials and doctors both

publicly and privately, and managed to gain official approval of the

new method from the Soviet authorities. They also visited clinics and

drug treatment centres, teaching their new methods to whomever was


KONSTANTIN, a member of the General Service Board (the highest body)

of Alcoholics Anonymous, told Keston: `The Russian branch of AA is

simply one part of the world-wide AA organisation, which has two and

a half million members in 150 countries. There are now some 200

groups in Russia in 80 towns, including 30 groups in Moscow. Of

these two are English-speaking, one is Finnish-speaking and one

German-speaking. We have one goal - to remain sober ourselves and to

help others. In accordance with our tradition, nothing has to be

organised, the people decide everything themselves. But we can create

services which would be difficult for an individual group in order to

promote our ideas and to serve the groups. We have two paid

employees, a treasurer and a secretary. Last year we began to publish

AA literature which we receive from the General Service Office in New

York. Using our own resources, we are also beginning to raise money

to publish our own translations. We are not connected with any

organisation, foundation or religious body. In accordance with our

tradition we are forbidden to collect money from outsiders - we are

only allowed to pass round the hat among ourselves to cover the

rental of the premises and the traditional tea. Several years ago the

Ministry of Health issued an official document recognising us and

approving our activity, which makes it fairly easy for us to rent

premises or have meetings free of charge in drug treatment centres.

As for the statistics of recovery, these are high - up to 50 per cent

of those who have come to us.'

Asked about AA's relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church,

KONSTANTIN told Keston: `We have some groups which are exclusively

Orthodox groups and even a section on cooperation with the Orthodox

Church. Many priests cooperate with us, though there are no official

contacts with the leadership. In the past year I have myself helped

organise an AA group in one church where the priest had seen two of

his brothers die of alcoholism. It is true that the most conservative

part of the ROC does not recognise us and considers us heretics. It

is easier with the Protestants - they recognise that the Church alone

is not enough to be sober, just as we recognise that AA groups are

not enough either, that we need a higher force. I do not go to a

religious group, but if someone needs this - by all means! Our

movement helps Christians, Muslims, everyone.'

In addition to Russia's official branch of AA's International

Association there are other organisations in the country which have

drawn up treatment programmes based on the `twelve step' method,

combining the practice of a therapeutic community with the services

of psychologists, doctors and other specialists. (Strictly speaking,

these organisations are violating the `third tradition of AA' by

adding a new requirement: that members must be patients of the

specific given programme, not just members of the AA movement who

have expressed a desire to stop drinking.) One interesting example is

the Christian social and charitable foundation `Old World', founded

by YEVGENI PROTSENKO, a graduate of the psychology faculty of Moscow

State University.

Having accepted baptism in the Orthodox Church in 1983, Mr Protsenko

took up work as a psychologist in a drug treatment centre. It was

here that he first encountered the despair of people unable to break

their dependency on alcohol and drugs. In 1988 he came into contact

with AA groups based on the twelve-step method and was struck by

their closeness to the Christian world-view.

Mr Protsenko soon became one of the first specialists invited by the

American International Institute for the Study of Problems of

Alcoholism for training in the United States. There he gained a deep

knowledge of the widely used 'Minnesota model' of treating

dependency, which combines the principles of the twelve-step

programme with the latest discoveries in psychology, medicine,

sociology and other sciences. As a result, after his return to

Russia, the Old World rehabilitation programme was established in

1992 in a district treatment centre. In 1995 it lost its state

funding because of its lack of commercial prospects, and was

reorganised as a Christian social and charitable foundation.

`Our programme represents a Christian adaptation to Russian social

conditions of the experience gained by the Alcoholics Anonymous

movement,' Mr Protsenko told Keston. 'Its name - Old World - is

designed to show that the programme is not a novelty from America,

but a reflection of the centuries-old Christian (and in particular,

Orthodox) tradition. The essence of our method lies in the awakening

of a deep process of repentance in the sick person, during which he

is provided with special spiritual and psychological help in

correcting the deformation of his personality associated with

biological dependency on alcohol and drugs. Our programme has proved

to be highly effective in rehabilitating alcoholics - 70 per cent of

people who have been in the programme for more than three months have

stable remission lasting more than one year. Among those who complete

the full programme the figure rises to 86 per cent. More than 150

people have taken part in the programme throughout its entire

existence, with many of them attaining a firm, conscious sobriety.

The majority of those who came into the programme as atheists or

agnostics have become churchgoers. Catholics and Orthodox are working

together in the foundation. For the past six years the Catholic

priest Father SERGEI NIKOLENKO has been cooperating with us. Among

the Orthodox priests I could name Father YEVGENI GERING, who works

with the patients.'

Father Gering is priest of the Church of the Protecting Veil in the

village of Yerino in the Podolsk district of the Moscow oblast (the

province which surrounds Moscow but does not include the city

itself). As he wrote in the September 1998 issue of the Information

Bulletin of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow

Patriarchate, `in September 1995, with the blessing of METROPOLITAN

YUVENALI of Krutitsy and Kolomna, our parish began to help people

suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. At the basis of our

attitude to alcoholism and drug addiction lay the centuries-long

experience of the Orthodox Church's attitude to sin in general and

the practical work of groups and rehabilitation centres based on the

spiritually-oriented programme of the twelve steps of Alcoholics

Anonymous.' Father Gering lists the `essential' elements of his

programmes as `introductory talks about Orthodoxy, giving the most

general introduction to God, Man, the world and the Church to people

who have just broken free from a state of hard drinking; in addition,

the full-scale catechising of alcoholics who have already indicated

firmly their adherence to the Orthodox Church.'

Although AA deliberately avoids defining the higher force (it adds:

`as we understand it'), this remains a controversial issue. There are

some - including Father Nikolenko and Father Gering - who believe

that the movement tends towards Christianity. The two priests also

believe that joining an AA group is a necessary step to bring an

alcoholic back to the Church.

However, not all priests are as well-disposed towards the movement.

Father KONSTANTIN OSTROVSKY, dean of Krasnogorsk near Moscow, told

Keston: `I have attended group meetings several times and consider

the experience very useful. This method is not hostile to the Church

and an Orthodox Christian can take part, but there are factors that

should worry any Christian. In order not to say anything that is

unsubstantiated, I will quote you: "I entrust myself to God as I

understand him" - for the Orthodox this is a question of principle.

It is not that people of various faiths get together in these groups,

but that a Christian can only be a member of the Church and everyone

has a different understanding of the Church. The indiscriminate

blending of different religions is the very worst thing one can

imagine. Inasmuch as Alcoholics Anonymous has become a religious

movement, this frightens Orthodox people; my Orthodox acquaintances

believe that they are going against their own conscience.'

Asked whether it is possible to form a purely Orthodox AA group,

Father Ostrovsky replied: `People told us that when someone entered

AA they had to abide by the general rules which oblige everyone to

attend all meetings, and whoever goes just to an Orthodox group would

be a stranger in other groups.'

Father Ostrovsky added: `For people who find them helpful, it's not

the sort of organisation that destroys a person. However, if a

person spent 90 days in a church it would indicate a very strong

motivation. You see AA has such a high percentage of recovery because

they calculate only from those who have been attending for three

months. We also have people who have recovered, just coming to church

without attending any group. By the way, I am also not as strongly

opposed to more brutal methods like injections. Of course, they do

nothing on a spiritual level and do not teach you how to struggle

against yourself, but if they last for one year, that's good in


YURI SAVENKO, the president of the Association of Independent

Psychiatrists, gave Keston his view of how successful the AA

programme has been in Russia. `Alcoholics Anonymous is a highly

valuable movement for us. It has not achieved as much in Russia as in

other countries, mainly as it's a religious movement and here the

Moscow Patriarchate is very jealous of other movements. Likewise it

is hampered by the absence of religious soil in our country, it is

perceived more as a fad. The Moscow Patriarchate itself had no

experience in such work and only in recent years have some Russian-

American conferences been held which have resulted in the

establishment of rehabilitation centres, as for example in Moscow's

Botkin hospital (one of the capital's biggest) or attached to several

churches. But this is just a drop in the ocean.' (END)

Wednesday 9 February



by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

The Jehovah's Witnesses are facing a new hearing scheduled to begin

on 9 February in the long-running legal case against their Moscow

community brought by an `anti-cult' committee. The previous court

session in this case was postponed because of the absence of factual

proof of violations of the law by the Jehovah's Witness community.

Keston News Service asked ALEKSEI NAZARYCHEV, a member of the

headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses, to comment on the

forthcoming trial. `I have seen the new legal documents', he said,

'and the prosecution has removed all alleged "factual" accusations,

leaving only accusations based on our literature.'

The Jehovah's Witnesses' lawyer ARTUR LEONTYEV told Keston what he

believed to be the aims of the `anti-cult' committees in their cases

against the Jehovah's Witnesses. `The Committee for the Salvation of

Youth has long persecuted the Jehovah's Witnesses and has prepared

cases on which it could exert influence in future. This has happened

here in the accusation filed by the procuracy, but in fact wholly

prepared by the Committee.'

In another potentially ground-breaking legal development involving

the Jehovah's Witnesses, the European Court has agreed to review a

Russian court's decision which deprived a Russian woman of the right

to bring up her child solely on the basis of the fact that she is a

Jehovah's Witness (European Court Case Number 45665/99). The

mother's appeal to the European Court became possible after Russia's

May 1998 ratification of the European Convention for the Protection

of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which now gives every

Russian citizen the right to seek protection from the European Court

of Human Rights.

NATALIYA NIKISHINA joined the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1997 when her

son was six. In 1998 the boy's father (who is not married to

Nikishina) kidnapped him and appealed to the courts to grant him

custody. In each of the three subsequent hearings by a local court in

Lyubertsy, just southeast of Moscow, the Anti-Cult Committee for the

Salvation of Youth took part on the side of the father. In all three

hearings the court's rulings directly cited the religious convictions

of the mother. Nikishina reported that the judge NATALIYA

SHERSTNYAKOVA told her at one hearing: "If you, Nikishina, love your

child, renounce your religious convictions!" Spokesmen for the

Jehovah's Witnesses have likened such statements to the policies of

Nazi Germany, which forced members of that confession to renounce

either their faith or their children.

The head of the Moscow Helsinki Committee, LYUDMILA ALEKSEYEVA, told

Keston: `I studied the rulings of the courts in the suits of Nataliya

and the father of the child and it is clear to me that the judges

reached their decision precisely on the basis of one fact - that

Nataliya is a Jehovah's Witness - despite other indications

testifying that Nataliya is a good mother.'

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a human rights activist with thirty years'

experience, said that the court decision flagrantly violates the

Russian Constitution and Russian laws affirming the legal equality of

all religions. She told Keston that this is not an isolated instance

and that court decisions routinely violate the Constitution. `We

maintain contact with thousands of regional human rights

organisations. They all report that despite good national laws, the

rights that these laws guarantee are observed neither by the

executive bodies (from the president down to the lowest official),

nor by the legislative bodies (for example, the adoption of the law

on freedom of conscience in 1997), nor by the courts. This is a most

serious problem for our citizens. During the Soviet period the reason

given for such violations was the defence of the interests of the

state, while now it is the prejudices which we and the judges have

inherited from Soviet society. In this connection it is very

important that Russia has entered the Council of Europe and that we

can resolve such problems in the European Court. We have respect for

the European Court - as not for our own courts - since its rulings

are made on the basis of the law.'

The Jehovah's Witnesses' lawyer, Leontyev, believes that the

Nikishina case will be resolved positively. The European Court has

already heard a similar case - that of the Austrian citizen INGRID

HOFMAN, also a Jehovah's Witness. The Austrian Supreme Court ruled in

1986 that Frau Hofman should be deprived of parental rights and that

custody of her children should be granted to their father; the

Austrian court citd a 1921 law which declared: `Neither parent has

the right without permission of the other to decide that a child

shall in future be brought up in accordance with the principles of a

faith different to those to which the parents adhered in their

marriage'. Frau Hofman took her case to the European Court, which

reviewed it in June of 1993. The European Court ruled that in its

decision against Frau Hofman, the Austrian Supreme Court had violated

Article 8 of the European Convention, which guarantees the right of

an individual to respect for his or her personal and family life. The

European Court annulled the Austrian court's decision. It is on the

basis of this precedent that Leontyev is hoping for a similar but

speedier ruling. (END)

Wednesday 9 February


By Lawrence A. Uzzell and Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

Two private charitable organisations confirmed in conversations with

Keston News Service that they plan to use the Moscow Patriarchate as

a partner in distributing food shipments provided by the United

States Department of Agriculture. As of 4 February, International

Orthodox Christian Charities expected to sign an agreement with the

U.S. agency within a few days, while Feed the Children had already

done so.

A source at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow told Keston that the two

organisations were among five which American officials had selected

from 47 applicants. He said that the organisations had informed the

department in advance that the Patriarchate would be one of their

partners in distributing the American food shipments. The source

said that he could not state precisely how much would go to the

Patriarchate, but that it would be a relatively small part of the

'extraordinary volume' of $625 million in food and credits on which

the embassy agreed with Russian authorities in late December. VANESSA

HORTON of Feed the Children�s Moscow office told Keston that her

group expected to receive some 8,000 tonnes of American soybeans

under the agreement, which it would deliver not only to Orthodox

monasteries but also to secular institutions such as hospitals and


Feed the Children now has agreements not with the Patriarchate as a

whole but with individual monasteries, including the Danilov

Monastery in Moscow and the Sergiyev Posad lavra about 50 miles

north-east of the capital, said Vanessa Horton. The new grant will

enable her organisation to expand its programme to include other

monasteries in provincial centres such as Nizhni Novgorod. She said

that she and her colleagues were also negotiating with a Roman

Catholic charity which might be included in the food programme.

GEORGE ANTOUN of International Orthodox Christian Charities confirmed

that his organisation had still not signed a final agreement with the

U.S. agriculture officials, but expected to do so shortly. He told

Keston that his organisation already had an existing agreement with

the department of charity at the Moscow Patriarchate's national

headquarters, with which it works in 'partnership'.

In a 5 February interview, ANDREI KRAVCHENKO of the Moscow

Patriarchate's department for charitable activities told Keston News

Service that originally the new food-aid programme had been expected

to begin on 1 March, but discussions with the US embassy in Moscow

were still underway. He said that the necessary agreements with

grantees such as International Orthodox Christian Charities would be

finalised by mid-February.

In order to provide safeguards against possible fraud, the embassy

source said that U.S. officials would work closely with the Russian

government's newly reconstituted commission on humanitarian aid.

Several representatives of the Department of Agriculture would visit

Russia solely in order to monitor the programme, he said. He also

told Keston that journalists would be allowed to observe distribution

of the food shipments, which were expected to arrive in Russia at the

end of March or later. (END)