Who behaves like an extremist—Jehovah's Witnesses or the Russian state?


by Anton Chivchalov

Echo of Moscow, 17 October 2017


The authorities of Volgograd have decided to demolish a house of worship built by believing citizens with their own hands on their own contributions. An arbitration court denied a lawsuit but the authorities certainly will not abandon the attempt at a cynical massacre of faith in the twenty-first century.


The entire fault of the Volgograders to whom the building belongs consists in the fact that they profess the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses. In April of this year the Supreme Court ordered the confiscation of all of their religious property. Now we see that for the authorities it is not enough simply to take it into their hands; they want to destroy it. After all, this is a building built to high standards, beautiful, and in compliance with all sanitary, fire, and other requirements.


What does this mean from a moral point of view? The buildings were built by the efforts of volunteers with money donated by simple believers in Russia and other countries. It turns out that the state treacherously robbed its own citizens.


When mass confiscation and destruction of religious property start in the country, this can be safely considered a day of victory for religious vandalism and extremism in contemporary Russia. The last time this happened was exactly 100 years ago. How symbolic it is that it was on this round date that the authorities decided to give such a gift to its own people.


Let's analyze who is the extremist and who is the victim of extremism. Anti-cultists accuse (without proof) Jehovah's Witnesses of allegedly depriving people of their property. And here the state itself has deprived them of their property to a much greater extent than they were theoretically capable of robbing anybody.


Jehovah's Witnesses are accused of violation of laws; the state itself violated a lot of its own laws, the constitution, and international norms. Since 2009 it has planted compromising material on law-abiding citizens, detained them in a SIZO without trial and investigation, included them in lists of terrorists, convicted them on criminal articles, banned their websites and literature on the basis of ridiculous false expert analyses that do not comply with the requirements of the law, seized their property, and so forth.


Jehovah's Witnesses are charged with not wanting to defend the state with weapons in their hands. But does it itself defend its own citizens regardless of their religious views, as the constitution requires? No, it cynically refuses to protect them when they ask for protection. Instead of this the state itself robs, humiliates, and hounds them so that they are faced with a choice: either leave the country or remain in it in a position of outcasts and second-class people who constantly face searches, arrests, surveillance, harassment, beatings, dismissal from work, and so forth.


The state accuses Jehovah's Witnesses of considering their faith to be true and it perceives extremism in this. But really does the state itself not consider some kind of faith to be true? That is a rhetorical question for everybody who watches television.  Here is what an official letter of the staff of the Federation Council's Committee on Constitutional Legislation says: "Back in the Byzantine empire there existed the principle of the 'symphony of authorities,' which said: 'The church and the state are a divine gift to humanity and thus should work in complete harmony between themselves.' . . . [It is necessary] to heed the values that the Orthodox Church proclaims.'"


Who behaves like an extremist—Jehovah's Witnesses or the Russian state? Approximately 200,000 Russian citizens live in the country where they daily suffer from institutionalized extremism with regard to themselves and their children. And the spiritual leaders, who from the state's point of view represent the correct religion and the main binding force of society, instead of sowing Christian mercy and compassion, rejoice that the life of heretics has finally been turned into one continuous nightmare. (tr. by PDS, posted 18 October 2017)

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