HRWF (09.06.2022) – For years, FECRIS (European Federation of Centres for Research and Information on Sects and Cults), a French-based umbrella organization[i] that coordinates with member and correspondent associations in more than 40 countries, has been repeatedly denounced for its close and dangerous relationships with extremist branches and actors of the Russian Orthodox Church headed by the controversial Patriarch Kirill who is being heavily criticized for fully supporting Putin’s war on Ukraine.
FECRIS counted a large number of Russian associations amongst its members and correspondents, all headed by the Saint Irenaeus of Lyons Center for Religious Studies. It included the RATSIR (Russian Association of Cent[ii]ers for the Study of Religions and Sects) and all of its affiliated associations. Many of them which were Orthodox missionary organizations and groups opposed to LGBT people and same-sex marriages, were directly headed by the Russian Orthodox Church.[iii]
Alexander Dvorkin, former vice-president of FECRIS
From 2009 to 2021, Alexander Dvorkin, head of the Saint Irenaeus of Lyons Center for Religious Studies, served as Vice-President of FECRIS. Since 2021, he has continued to serve as a member of its board of directors.
Dvorkin, on behalf of FECRIS, has been a key architect of the crackdown on religious minorities in Russia and beyond, as he spread his anti-religious propaganda and misinformation to other countries,[iv] including as far as China.[v]
Dvorkin has been a driver of the Anti-West propaganda of the Kremlin for years, and directly and publicly attacked the democratic institutions of Ukraine after the Euromaidan protests, accusing them of being members of cults (Baptists, Evangelicals, Greek Catholics, pagans and Scientologists) being used by Western secret services to harm Russia.[vi]
During the first four weeks of the war in Ukraine, Russian FECRIS associations have been actively supporting the war and openly working with Russian law enforcement agencies to gather information on anyone who would oppose it or even just share information on the casualties in Ukraine.[vii] At the same time, Russia has enacted a law that established a jail sentence for up to 15 years for any person “discrediting the armed forces,” which includes speaking of “war” instead of the official Russian term, “special military operation.”
In April, FECRIS’ Russian member organizations were discreetly removed from its website
Until now, no discipline has ever been placed on Dvorkin and/or Russian FECRIS associations. It is to be understood that FECRIS knows about the ideology and actions of its Russian members for years, and has continued to support them, nonetheless. In April 2022 all of a sudden, after a series of articles were published on FECRIS and its Russian connections, all Russian organizations disappeared from the list of member organizations in FECRIS’ website. A member of the board of FECRIS answered a private inquiry by a scholar that they had been “expelled” or “suspended” in March. However no official communication was published (as of April 6) about this, and the Saint Irenaeus of Lyons Center for Religious Studies’ website (as of April 6) continued to state that the Center was a member of FECRIS.
More importantly, this “clandestine” removal of the Russian names from the list of members was not accompanied by any self-criticism of the support FECRIS has continued for decades to offer to Russian crackdown on religious minorities, nor of any acknowledgement of the anti-democratic nature of the ideology FECRIS and its then Vice President Dvorkin has continuously propagated in FECRIS events and under the FECRIS label.
Dvorkin and other members of the Russian FECRIS have been involved in the constant propaganda of the Russian Orthodox Church under Patriarch Kirill, which prepared the ground and justified the current war in Ukraine, as a war against Western decadence and a war to protect Russian spiritual values.[viii]
On the other hand, over the years, FECRIS and its member associations have accumulated a great number of civil and criminal convictions for their actions that defame minority religions and spread hate speech against them.[ix]
FECRIS as an entity must be held accountable for the activities of its Russian member associations for the following reasons:
- While FECRIS has been alerted about the outrageous ideology and actions of Alexander Dvorkin and Russian member associations for years, it has kept Dvorkin on its board of directors, which elected him twice as Vice President, and has supported the associations all along, having never taken any disciplinary actions against any of them.
- In fact, FECRIS has been actively coordinating as an entity with Russian authorities to trigger the crackdown on religious minorities since as far back as 2009.
- The mere ideology and methodology of FECRIS, as a constant, is to use authoritarian governments to trigger crackdowns on religious communities it stigmatizes as dangerous sects or cults, with no regard to their human dignity, liberty of conscience, and other fundamentals human rights.
[i] FECRIS was created in 1994 by a French anti-cult association named UNADFI and receives all of its funding from the French government while its member associations may receive funding from their own governments, including in Russia through the Russian Orthodox Church.
[iv] USCIRF report, 2020, “The Anti-cult Movement and Religious Regulation in Russia and the Former Soviet Union” https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2020%20Anti-Cult%20Update%20-%20Religious%20Regulation%20in%20Russia.pdf
[v] “USCIRF Exposes European “Experts” Who Support CCP Campaigns Against ‘Cults’”, an article by Massimo Introvigne https://bitterwinter.org/uscirf-exposes-who-support-ccp-campaigns/
[vi] How the anti-cult movement has participated to fuel Russian anti-Ukraine rhetoric, an article by Jan-Leonid Bornstein https://www.europeantimes.news/2022/03/how-the-anti-cult-movement-has-participated-to-fuel-russian-anti-ukraine-rhetoric/
[vii] Anti-cult movement hunting pacifists for police in Russia: Back in the USSR, an article by Jan-Leonid Bornstein https://www.europeantimes.news/2022/03/anti-cult-movement-hunting-pacifists-for-police-in-russia-back-in-the-ussr/
[ix] “FECRIS and affiliates: Defamation is in their DNA”, an article by Willy Fautré, director and co-founder of Human Rights Without Frontiers International https://freedomofbelief.net/articles/a-roundup-of-convictions-collected-by-fecris-in-europe
Photo: Alexander Dvorkin, Vice-president of the FECRIS, with a russian orthodox priest. Source: rebelles-le-mag.com