NEOEXTREMISM. HOW RUSSIANS ARE TURNED INTO CRIMINALS ON BASIS OF RELIGIOUS IDENTITY
by Anton Chivchalov
Religiia i pravo, 28 April 2016
In nazi Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses were sent en masse to concentration camps for refusing to go to the front, and about 200 persons paid for this with their life. Today, this is described for visitors to German museums. The book "Response of Churches to the Holocaust" by Brian Dunn says: "Jehovah's Witnesses were incompatible with nazism. Most of all, Nazis could not put up with their political neutrality. This means that no believer would take up arms, or would occupy political office, or would participate in state holidays, or express support for the regime in any way."
Abraham Peck, vice president of the Association for Remembering the Holocaust, said the following: "During the time of national socialism, the religious beliefs, teaching, and actions of Jehovah's Witnesses were in contradiction with the structure of the national socialist state. They were a small group, comprising approximately 20 to 25 thousand citizens of German and neighboring territories that had fallen under the control of the Third Reich. Its members spoke fearlessly about their faith, resisted the racial laws of the state, the oath of loyalty to Adolph Hitler, the German salute, and the duty to defend Germany with weapons in their hands. . . . Jehovah's Witnesses resisted the forces of nazi evil, although just one statement of allegiance to the state could make their existence secure. For them it would have been enough to provide one signature in order to escape from the hell of labor and concentration camps and protect themselves from violence and death. They deserve a special place in our memory and special respect. Their example inspires hope and trust that in the end good will triumph."
There were many similar cases throughout Europe, including the U.S.S.R. There also are contemporary examples with a more successful outcome. For example, in 2015 an appeals court of the Dnepropetrovsk province acquitted the Jehovah's Witness Vitaly Shalaiko, who refused to participate in military actions in the Donbass, and this created a precedent for the Ukrainian judicial system.
Here is what Russian religious studies scholar Nikolai Gordienko wrote: "Jehovah's Witnesses are loyal citizens of Russia for whom it is inherent to be law-abiding, obedient to authorities, and highly moral, and to lead a healthy lifestyle, which corresponds to the fundamental interests of the individual and society. They cultivate friendly relations not only to fellow believers but also to the rest of their fellow citizens" (Russian Jehovah's Witnesses: History and Modernity).
The American newspaper World Herald noted: "Considering that Jehovah's Witnesses represent a threat for any political regime can be done only by those who are bent on intolerance and suspicion. This is a peace-loving religious organization that is the most harmless for the state that one could imagine. They wish only that they would be permitted to profess their faith freely."
In Russia, Jehovah's Witnesses have for years defended the right to substitute alternative civilian service, which they conduct without weapons and without military training, for military service. The Slavic Legal Center reported in their account of 22 January 2010: "It is the Jehovah's Witnesses who were and remain the most consistent conscientious objectors and who constitute a substantial portion of those in alternative service in those countries of the former U.S.S.R. where alternative civilian service exists. In places where alternative civilian service does not exist, or where it is little different from military service, Jehovah's Witnesses follow their teaching all the way up to criminal prosecution and incarceration."
Sergei Krivenko, a member of the Russian presidential Council for Facilitating Development of Institutions of Civil Society, notes the enormous contribution of Jehovah's Witnesses in establishing alternative civilian service in Russia: "Russian society is indebted to Jehovah's Witnesses for the development of the institution of alternative civilian service. It is the Witnesses who extended alternative civilian service in the RF to a civilized level. Because in the first years, when the form of this law was extremely strict and repressive, it was these believers who constituted more than 80 to 90 percent of those who went for it. For which civil society, of course, cannot but be thankful to them."
Lev Levinson, an expert of the Institute for Human Rights: "Why is this one of the most peaceful Christian churches so hated by totalitarian regimes? In the first place, for the teaching of pacifism, unconditional refusal of military service. The threat of persecution hanging over the Jehovah's Witnesses is the consequence of the militarization of Russian society. But it is they, who belong to the antimilitarists, who are defending the Russian constitution, which guarantees the right to refuse military service on the basis of beliefs and other worldview premises."
Do the authorities know the foregoing facts? Undoubtedly. In private conversations, many healthy minded officials agree that everything that is happening is absurd.
To convict all Jehovah's Witnesses of extremism is difficult and it is for this simple reason that many recall extremely well that before the late 2000s nobody ever called these believers extremists. Nobody considered either their literature or their activity to be extremist. What suddenly changed? Both the literature and the activity have remained as they were before. For more than twenty years, beginning with the receipt of official registration in 1991, nobody noticed extremism among Jehovah's Witnesses, but now suddenly in 2009 (if one takes the Taganrog case) it abruptly arose and strengthened with each year so that even the office of prosecutor general of the RF has become disturbed and issued stern warnings to believers. Where did this come from? It is extremely obvious that such does not simply happen.
What is extremism?
Let's try to understand the terms. According to the Ozhegov dictionary, extremism is "adherence to extreme views and means (usually in politics)." These are not just any extreme views, since one can find such views in any person. Therefore the dictionary qualifies, "usually in politics." Moreover, it is not only views, but also means, concrete actions of an extreme character. In politics and criminology it is accepted to consider that these means are violent, in the first place, or at least nearly so.
A more detailed definition can be found in the Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary: "Extremism is adherence in politics and ideology to extreme views and actions. Extremism is a characteristic trait of radical parties, groups, and movements with diverse socio-political orientations (anarchism, fascism, communism, chauvinism, religious fundamentalism, etc.). In political life, extremism finds expression in violent actions directed to the destabilization and destruction of existing social structures or institutions (planning of disorders, terrorist actions, etc.)."
What of this applies to Jehovah's Witnesses? Even the most ardent detractors know well and cannot deny that they do not participate in politics in any form and they do not resort to violent actions ever and anywhere. From the point of view of the state, Jehovah's Witnesses are ideal citizens, who conscientiously pay their taxes, do not violate laws, do not organize revolution, and do not get into politics. How is it logical to ascribe to them violent political means, extremism?
Throughout the world it is accepted to call Jehovah's Witnesses pacifists because one finds few groups who are so consistent in their position of absolute renunciation of violence. And so now Jehovah's Witnesses are not only pacifists but also extremists. A new form of pacifism has appeared—extremist pacifism. How is such possible?
Who is engaged in substituting the concepts, and why? They are persistently trying to persuade the population of Russia that hundreds of thousands of citizens of the country, who simply profess some religion, are practically terrorists, and in public consciousness, run-of-the-mill consciousness, there is no special difference between the words "terrorism" and "extremism." They are trying to persuade the population of the country that if you pick up a Bible and go out onto the street, then you are little different from a terrorist who picked up a bomb and detonated it. And the population has really just about believed this. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 May 2016)
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