Wednesday 10 February



by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

Russia's 1997 law restoring state control over religious life was

ostensibly supposed to protect Russia's traditional faiths against

novel, alien spiritual movements - the so-called 'cults'. But at

least one movement which many Russians consider to be an exotic new

religion has continued to flourish under the law, cooperating with

state institutions in ways that have not been possible for

traditional confessions such as the Old Believers.

Teachers from Moscow and many other Russian cities have recently

begun to receive instruction in seminars conducted by the

International Rerikh Centre, founded in Moscow in 1991. The Centre

propagates the ideas of Russian artist NIKOLAI RERIKH and his wife

YELENA, who lived in Russia in the early 1900s before emigrating to

India. Their teaching is based on theosophy, Buddhism and

Christianity, and is set out in a book by Yelena Rerikh called

'Living Ethics'. In today's Russia this teaching is called Rerikhism

(rerikhanstvo). According to IGOR FILATEV, secretary of the

Association of Teachers of Culture at the Rerikh Centre, the Centre

holds international conferences and lectures for teachers in schools

and institutions of higher education on the general theme 'Man on the

Threshold of a New World'.

In an interview with the Keston News Service the acting head of the

Rerikh Centre, LYUDMILA SHAPOSHNIKOVA, denied that the Centre's

activities in Russia had any religious basis and insisted that the

only person to call her group a religion or sect was anti-cult deacon

ANDREI KURAYEV. 'We only study culture, the paintings of Nikolai

Rerikh and philosophy', she said. But she also maintained that in the

future the whole world would adopt the philosophy of 'Living Ethics',

for it provided the only salvation for mankind.

Nikolai and Yelena Rerikh took the basic elements of their teaching

from Hinduism and Buddhism. From the first of these cosmogonies they

took the concept of the cyclical development of the world, from the

second the concept of nirvana, where a person arrives after achieving

perfection. Many other concepts common to both Hinduism and Buddhism

were borrowed, such as reincarnation, the `Mahatmas of the World'

(the teachers who would lead humanity), the perception of God as the

impersonal Supreme Beginning and Absolute, and the existence of a

firm hierarchy of teachers and pupils. According to the teaching of

Agni Yoga, the cosmos and the universe represent a psycho-energetic

system, while a person is a particle of psychic energy. One

particular feature is that Rerikh treats the concept of culture in

the same way as the divine being: `Culture is respect for the World.

Culture is love for humanity: culture is salvation: culture is


Nikolai Rerikh�s interest in mysticism seemed to grow after the

Bolsheviks took over Russia in 1917; toward the end of his life he

wrote that `Whoever knows the holy foundations of Culture appreciates

the one great Light'. Deacon Kurayev and other opponents of the

Rerikh movement contend that such formulations are clearly religious.

MAYA BEKRITSKAYA, head of the education department at the Rerikh

Centre, told Keston that instruction in the department's seminars is

based on 'Living Ethics': 'The whole concept of culture can be found

in the spiritual legacy of the Rerikhs'. She said that the Centre

holds conferences for schoolteachers not only in Moscow but

throughout Russia: in 1999, for example, conferences will be held

both in Pskov and in St Petersburg, where participants will be able

to visit Nikolai Rerikh's estate in nearby Izvar.

SHALVA AMONASHVILI, an academic from the Russian Academy of Education

who has been studying the basis of the method of 'humane pedagogy'

contained in 'Living Ethics', is actively involved in the study of

teacher-training programmes. Bekritskaya told Keston that the Centre

works together with the Ministry of Education, but no one at the

ministry was able to confirm whether or not there really are joint

programmes with the Rerikh Centre.

Keston also spoke with KLARA MANSUROVA, executive director of the

League for the Defence of Culture, which was founded in 1996 in

association with the International Rerikh Centre and promotes the

Rerikhs' ideas in a general cultural context through open lectures,

particularly for teachers. She said that it was of course prohibited

to promote the philosophy of 'Living Ethics' openly, but that the

ideas of the Rerikhs, 'Living Ethics' and the nineteenth-century

theosophist YELENA BLAVATSKY would nevertheless be subtly and

gradually advanced in the seminars.

Like the officials at the Ministry of Education, the head of the

Russian Ministry of Culture's section on museums, VERA LEBEDEVA,

maintained that her ministry has no formal joint programmes with the

Rerikh Centre. A ministerial department had offered to organise joint

projects, she said, but the Centre had refused.

At the Ministry of Education the Keston representative was referred

to the State Academy for Advanced Teaching Qualifications. The pro-

rector for science and international affairs at the Academy, IRINA

CHECHEL, said that there were no formal programmes with the Centre,

which is an independent organisation: 'The Centre holds its own

independent seminars and sometimes followers of Rerikh participate in

the Academy's activities.' Chechel noted that Shalva Amonashvili is

formally employed as a teacher at the Academy and bases his teaching

on 'Living Ethics'. She concluded that the Academy and the Rerikh

Centre had different aims: 'We have state-funded courses but theirs

are fee-paying; their main concern is to get more money'.

In an interview with Keston, Deacon Andrei Kurayev stated that there

is no official agreement between the Rerikh Centre and the Ministry

of Education, but that there are joint projects with the Moscow

Department of Education. Kurayev maintained that there are also state

schools that use the Rerikh movement's methods.

Deacon Andrei's assistant MIKHAIL PERSHIN told Keston that most joint

activities between Rerikh's followers and the authorities had taken

place in the period 1993-95. On 5 September 1996, he said, the

Ministry of Education recommended the Rerikh journal 'School of

Spirituality' as a teaching aid. VALERI MURASHOV, who bases his

lectures on Rerikh's teachings and is chief editor of 'School of

Spirituality', is currently teaching at the Academy for Advanced

Teaching Qualifications, said Pershin. In his view, Moscow education

officials are now trying to distance themselves from formal links

with Rerikh's followers.

The Keston representative then visited the Moscow Department of

Education for more information. LYUBOV KEZINA said that there are no

joint projects or journals, at least not at present. Her colleague

ALEKSEI SOLOVYOV said that he had not heard of any contacts with the

Department of Education, or of teaching of Rerikhism in schools. He

said that subdivisions of the education committee in Moscow's regions

might have various forms of personal or official contact with the

Rerikh Centre, but that he was not aware of any. He did confirm that

there had been a letter of recommendation from the Ministry of

Education concerning the journal �School of Spirituality', but that a

year aago, soon after the letter wa sent, the Moscow Department of

Education refused to acknowledge the recommendation and warned

Moscow's departments for teaching methods about the danger of using

such teaching aids. Solovyov said that the only matter of concern

for the Department was the activities of Valeri Murashov in the

Academy for Advanced Teaching Qualifications, where a Rerikh-style

Institute of Integral Pedagogy had been established.

Keston then contacted NADEZHDA GRIGOREVNA, head of the Institute of

Integral Pedagogy's public relations department. She confirmed that

the Institute organises fee-paying courses for teachers and promotes

the philosophy of 'Living Ethics'. She said that the journal 'School

of Spirituality' is published at the Institute. The Institute is

headed by Valeri Murashov, who no longer works at the Academy for

Advanced Teaching Qualifications. However, the Academy leases its

premises to the Institute. Moreover, with the assistance of the

Academy, at which all Moscow teachers are obliged to undergo

retraining, Murashov's Institute received a licence from the Ministry

of Education granting it the right to give courses leading to

advanced teaching qualifications.

Thus, though there are as yet no official links between the Rerikh

Centre and state structures, they in fact collaborate broadly on an

informal basis to attract growing numbers of teachers throughout

Russia. The Centre has numerous divisions in almost every city in

Russia: in cities such as Kazan and Ulyanovsk Keston has found that

they enjoy favoured treatment by the secular authorities.

Writings of the Rerikh movement record an interesting fact from the

lives of Nikolai and Yelena Rerikh. In 1925 the couple met members

of the Soviet government in Moscow and handed them what they

themselves said was a letter from the `mahatmas' or teachers from

India. Addressed to the Bolsheviks, the letter declared: `In the

Himalayas we know what you have achieved. You abolished the church,

which had become a hotbed of lies and superstition. You annihilated

the petty bourgeoisie, which had become the bearer of prejudices. You

destroyed the prison of upbringing. You destroyed the seed of

hypocrisy. You recognised that religion is the teaching of

comprehensive matter: we recognise the timeliness of your movement.'

The `mahatmas' (in the form of the Rerikhs) also sent a casket of

holy Himalayan soil on which had been written: `for the grave of our

brother, Mahatma Lenin'. (END)

Wednesday 10 February


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Kazakhstan is the latest former Soviet republic to seek to amend

earlier legislation on religion to increase state control. A draft

bill amending the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious

Associations of 15 January 1992 has been drawn up by Kazakhstan's

Ministry of Information and Social Accord. The draft obtained by

Keston Institute is in Russian and runs to five pages, and was

prepared by S. AMIRGAZIN, apparently last December.

The new draft introduces a range of provisions that could adversely

affect religious freedom in Kazakhstan, as differences of

interpretation of vaguely-worded articles would allow state officials

wide and arbitrary powers of intervention. Provisions requiring

religious groups to have existed for ten years in a given locality

before being allowed to gain legal status and to present a long list

of documents to gain registration might lead to unfair denial of

legal status to religious groups. Drawing up the range of documents

will also be costly for religious groups which may lack the legal

expertise, thus subjecting them to possible denial of registration on

technical grounds. Moreover, many new provisions introduced in the

new draft seem targeted at minority religious communities, designed

to prevent them from having the opportunity to gain legal status at


The `explanatory note' that heads the draft text outlines what the

Ministry believes is the need to update the law. `At the present time

the activisation of numerous non-traditional religious associations

is significantly aggravating the religious situation in the Republic

of Kazakhstan and arouses friction and conflict between different

confessions and demands an urgent legislative resolution.' The need

to bring the 1992 law into line with the 1995 Kazakh constitution and

other more recent legislation is also mentioned.

`The general thrust of the amendments and additions is directed at

strengthening the control functions of the state and the regulation

of the activity of non-traditional religious associations arousing

the greatest concern on the part of local organs of power.' The Note

describes the draft bill as allowing `the overcoming of

interconfessional conflicts and the coordination of questions of

mutual relations between the state and religious associations'.

The Note specifically declares that the draft takes into account the

experience of the recently adopted amendments to Russia's law on

freedom of conscience and religious organisations, as well as the

views of `regional administrations of social accord' and leaders of

different religious groups.

The new draft in Articles 1 and 9 defines far more closely the terms

used in the text, such as `confession', `religion' and `freedom of

religious confession' (`a necessary and inalienable element of

freedom of conscience'). It defines `missionary activity' as

`activity with the aim of preaching and dissemination of any

religious teaching by means of religious/educational, charitable or

other activity; the dissemination of religious teaching among

believers of other faiths of one's own country or of other


In one of the most crucial areas of relations between religious

groups and the state, the registration of religious associations, the

new draft retains the 1992 requirement for at least ten adult

citizens to form a local religious association. However, to gain

official registration with the `appropriate executive organ of power'

(the local administration), local religious associations would now

need, under Article 11, to present a registration application, a list

of those who have formed the association, including details on their

citizenship, address and date of birth, the statute of the religious

association, the minutes of the founding meeting, a document issued

by the local administration confirming that the religious

organisation has existed on the given territory for at least ten

years, a report on the bases of the association's religious teaching

and practice, including the history of how the religion developed and

the history of the individual association, and a report on the forms

and methods of its activity, its attitude to the family and marriage,

to education, and on the details of its attitude to the health of its

followers. The 1992 version of the law contained no such list of

documents required for registration, indicating insttead that the

statute would b sufficient.

The new draft makes more specific the grounds for the registering

organ to refuse registration. The 1992 law stated: `The basis for a

refusal can only be the non-compliance of the statute (charter) with

the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan.' The new draft in

Article 12 allows denial of registration if the `aims and activity'

of a religious association violate the Constitution or other laws, if

the association is not recognised as religious, or if the statute and

other documentation presented do not accord with the demands of

legislation or contain untrue information.

The 1992 law gave two grounds for the halting of a religious

association's activity: if the association winds itself up, or if a

court rules that the association has violated is own statute or

current legislation. The new draft spells out in Article 13 the

`bases for halting and banning the activity of religious associations

in accordance with legal process': violating public security and

order, activities aimed at overthrowing the constitutional order or

breaking up the country, creating armed formations, inciting ethnic

or religious hatred, forcible breaking up of families, infringement

of the person, rights and freedoms of citizens, harming morals or the

health of citizens, including by the use of narcotics or hypnosis,

encouraging suicide or refusal of medical treatment to those in a

critical state of health, obstructing the provision of education,

forcing adherents or others to hand over their property to the

religious association, threatening those who leave a religious

association, and encouraging citizens to refuse legal obligations.

The procuracy, the registering organ or the local administration have

the right to bring to court an application to wind up a religious


In the 1992 law, religious rites could be conducted outside religious

premises in accordance with the law on meetings, demonstrations and

processions. Article 14 of the new draft requires such religious

rites to have prior approval from the local administration.

The new draft in Article 15 continues the restrictions on religious

publishing contained in the 1992 law, that specifies that religious

associations have the exclusive right to set up publishing houses for

religious literature and factories to make religious objects. Other

firms may produce such materials only on the instruction of religious

associations and religious headquarters. However, the new draft cuts

a clause of the 1992 law which spelled out religious associations'

right to `publish, produce, export, import, and distribute objects of

religious significance, divine service books and other informational

materials of religious content'.

In one of the most contentious areas of religious activity -

missionary activity by foreign organisations - the new draft

introduces a completely new article wholly absent from the 1992 law.

The new article (Article 6) requires that foreign citizens who have

come to Kazakhstan legally to conduct missionary activity obtain

accreditation from local administrations. The Article adds:

`Unilateral religious/missionary, publishing, and

advertising/propagandistic activity by foreign organisations on the

territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan is banned.' Also banned is

the spread of ideas rejecting the constitutional set-up of Kazakhstan

or inciting interethnic or interreligious conflict.

The provisions on education have been subtly amended. The new draft

repeats the guarantee in the 1992 law that parents may bring up their

children in accordance with their own convictions, provided that no

coercion is used. However, Article 7 of the new draft adds a

provision that `the practice of a religion or convictions in which a

child is being brought up must not bring harm either to his physical

or moral health, or to his full development.' The same article also

adds a new provision that religious education generally must take

place `in a spirit of understanding, tolerance and respect for the

freedom of religion or conviction of other people'. The new article

also deletes a clause in the equivalent article of the previous law

granting fulltime students at religious colleges the same tax and

military service exemptions as students at state-run colleges.

Kazakhstan is a divided nation, both ethnically and religiously, with

Kazakhs of Muslim background and Slavs of Christian background. The

emphasis in the new draft preventing interethnic and interreligious

conflict and promoting an atmosphere of tolerance is clear. This lies

behind a number of the amendments.

However, a disturbing number seem to regard religious groups as

potentially violent and harmful. Although neither the 1992 law nor

the new draft specifically declare unregistered religious activity

illegal, it is unclear how the authorities will treat religious

groups that do not have registration but which have not specifically

been banned by a court. Nevertheless, the denial of registration to

bona fide religious groups or the removal of registration are a real

threat to many groups, especially to those such as the Jehovah's

Witnesses, Hare Krishna or others, especially ones that reject

military service or refuse certain medical treatment (such as blood

transfusions). Without legal status they will not be allowed to

publish religious literature or, probably, to acquire religious


Kazakhstan is just the latest of the former Soviet republics to

consider amending their laws on religion adopted during the final

years of the Soviet period or in the early years of independence.

Turkmenistan amended its law in 1995, Azerbaijan in 1996, Armenia and

Russia in 1997 and Uzbekistan in 1998. All these amendments

represented a tightening of the original laws and an increase in

state oversight over religious communities. Parliament in Kyrgyzstan

is currently working on a draft text amending its law. Belarus and

Moldova are also considering revising their laws on religion. Georgia

has discussed adopting a law on religion (it is the only former

Soviet republic without a law on religion), but no law has been

adopted and the process seems to be in abeyance. The breakaway

republic of Nagorno-Karabakh adopted a law on religion for the first

time in 1997. (END)