ICSA e-Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2006
The Cult Movement and Religious Situation in Ukraine
Ukraine is not a nondenominational country. A large number of diverse religious organizations have appeared over the years of Ukraine’s independence, and a large part of the country’s population is secularized. The country’s current legislative base is not responsive to the needs of its citizens, which leads to an increase of abuse in the spiritual sphere, and of violations of basic rights and human freedoms. The poor information people have about the practices of new cult movements is leading to an increase in the number of cases of fraud and manipulation by some leaders of those movements. In Ukraine, an increase in sociopolitical activity can be observed among various cult movements.
During the years of Ukraine’s independence, the religious situation has developed in such a way that the per capita number of registered religious organizations and the rate of growth of those organizations have outpaced the growth of such organizations in Russia. The following table depicts these changes in Ukraine from 1991 through 2003:
Number of Registered
On January 1, 2005, the State Committee of Ukraine for Religious Affairs officially counted 30,805 organizations of more than 100 different religious currents. The clergy of the various denominations numbered 27,902 (722 of whom were foreigners).
The most important element of Ukraine spiritual life at present continues to be Orthodoxy, which has 15,863 religious organizations (51.5 percent of the overall figure). Sociological research indicates that within Ukraine, with a population of nearly 47 million people, 70 percent, or nearly 33 million, call themselves religious. Meanwhile, the number of actively practicing believers in the country is only nearly 5 million people. Of the 33 million religious persons, nearly 14 million do not associate themselves with any sort of church, and 19 million sympathize with a particular church. Meanwhile, no single church in Ukraine possesses the sympathies of even one-sixth of the population. Therefore, the conclusion might be made that, in reality, Ukraine today is a multidenominational country.
However, notwithstanding periodic problems that arise in the religious sphere, people and believers approach the issue of church diversity in Ukraine tolerantly and speak out in favour of interchurch dialogue. A large number of the believers in Ukraine—33.3 percent— recognize the legal existence of many diverse churches in the country. Only 12 percent of the population believe that a single church should dominate. Besides that group, 52.5 percent of the believers consider that, for Ukraine, a national church is necessary—one that has its center in Ukraine, conducts services in the Ukrainian language, and uses national tradition. Among those questioned, 43.2 percent believe that the church ought to form the national consciousness, and 42.1 percent believe that the church ought to uphold national ideology.
Associated with the overall increase in the number of religious organizations is the increase of cults and mystical movements not traditional to Ukraine. In 1992, the number of these groups was approximately 79; as of 2005, that number has risen to more than 1,790. Although the growth of such groups has continued, the numbers for several have stabilized recently. As a rule, these organizations exist in the following forms: religious and social organizations; courses and centers for spiritual improvement and development of potential; philosophical schools; schools of oriental martial arts; centers of folk medicine and nontraditional methods of healing, and so on.
It is precisely these organizations that have evoked the most censure from the public and from law enforcement divisions. Numerous inconclusive difficulties and unsolved problems associated with the democratic method for electing leaders that underlie Ukraine’s development have played a large role in this criticism:
The historical legacy of totalitarian ideology and culture in the consciousness of the people;
The unfinished stages of forming a national self-consciousness, and the conventional division of the country into East and West;
The lack of a clear concept of the development of civil society;
The religious opposition and lack of unanimity in the Orthodox Church, which is the largest and most influential;
The imperfect legislative base, which cannot protect civil freedoms and rights in full measure.
These factors, along with a number of other sociopolitical and socioeconomic problems, have had a particularly strong effect in the spiritual sphere. Besides this, these issues have begun to emerge outside the realm of the spiritual, and particularly the religious, life of society recently.
In essence, as history has shown, any human activity, constructive as well as destructive, is determined by ideas or ideology. Today's ideological diversity has led to people not always being able to obtain the necessary information from which to make the best personal decisions. This lack of access to information creates conditions that support the rise of manipulative groups. To realize their mercenary goals, such groups exploit the spiritual integrity of the individual, and his or her belief in miracles and in easy solutions to complicated problems.
The most distinct of these problems is being studied in our organization for social and psychological dependency through our analysis of the number of appeals for consultation, and of the number of people who have received assistance for psychological violence they have suffered from cult movements and individual leaders of cults. In that context, the increase this year is nearly 92 percent when compared to a similar six-month period last year (from 86 people in 2004 to 165 people in 2005). It should be noted that our organization does not actively advertise its activity. We operate only on recommendations of people who have approached us and those who have confided in us over the telephone. The basic increased activity is the result of an increasing crisis situation.
Furthermore, these statistics do not include the associated themes of family and industry conflicts, or issues of professional and personal self-determination and the like, which are decided with the assistance of family and psychological consultation when the issue of one or another cult's involvement is not directly discussed.
It has recently become routine for various cult movements to increase the political component of their operations in Ukraine. A large part of the consultation work our organization does is about cult movements that are actively involved in political, economic, and social operations. As a rule, these cults have headquarters abroad and carry out missionary and recruitment operations in Ukraine. The leaders of these groups are eager (for certain lobbying efforts in their interest) to give politicians the electoral vote of their members, and also to promote their ideas by creating their own political party. In this context, the ideological doctrines of these cult movements might be absolutely different from each other.
For instance, Russian “guru,” prophet, and scholar Grigoriy Grobovoy is actively creating his DRUGG (sounds like FRIENDD in English) party in his seminars. He plans to announce his candidacy for the 2008 election in Russia, but he does not intend to have his lobby in the Ukrainian parliament. Through political activity, he sees the opportunity to advance his teaching throughout the whole world and to propose a law opposing death [sic]. An attempt was made to develop political activity through the “conversion” of Ukraine by the Holy Spirit Association, a group that is not registered in Ukraine, for Sung Myung Moon’s unification of world Christianity. This list could continue. Today’s development of legislation does not permit the regulation of issues related to sociopolitical influence by cult movements on public institutions. In fact, one can observe in Ukraine a boom of cult movements organizing their political influence in parliament, as well as in the legislature. Meanwhile, critical observations of this trend are regarded only from the aspect of it violating the human rights of freedom to practice religion and freedom of religious conviction.
This development of events has prompted us to create special programs for the prevention of consciousness manipulation and for the development of critical thought in academic institutions, as well as a project to inform the population about the activities of cult movements and groups not traditional for Ukraine that use manipulation and unlicensed psychotherapeutic techniques. Besides this, we see the necessity to develop and gather not so much religious-studies expertise as complex sociopsychological expertise with regard to cult movements that are taking an active part in the political, economic, and social life of Ukrainian society.
1. “Religiya i Tserkov v sovremennoy Ukraine” (Religion and Church in Contemporary Ukraine), conducted by the “Ukrainian Sociology Service” company on commission of the Patriarchy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church of November 5–21, 2003.
2. The issue in question of the Alexander Rasumkov Ukrainian Center of Economic and Political Research conducted 2000–2004. This issue was published in “Natsionalnaya bezopasnost i oborona” (National Security and Defence) magazine No. 10 of 2002 and No. 3 of 2004.
3. Information on the numbers of communities, clergy, and temples taken from official statistics of the State Committee of Ukraine on Religious Affairs.
Vladimir Petukhov is a social psychologist and president of Family Personality and Protection Society in Kiev, Ukraine (http://www.fpps.org.ua) (firstname.lastname@example.org).