Synthesis of the voluntary work side event OSCE - HDIM – 2014

Synthesis - Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society

Synthesis of the voluntary work side event OSCE - HDIM – 2014

Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society

During our side event regarding voluntary work, in which we wanted to find out if the judicial system is misused to persecute spiritual movements because of their voluntary work, we started by clarifying some questions:

Why people do voluntary work?

Voluntary work has existed in all societies and in all times and currently it is popular all over Europe: in Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK.

Along the whole human history, voluntary work has been perceived as an altruistic activity, intending to promote goodwill and goodness, improve the quality of human life and develop fundamental human qualities such as compassion, love, helpfulness, empathy, detachment, self-worth and self-respect. Society recognizes the value of voluntary work and welcomes it, generally respects it and many times even promotes it.

The original idea of voluntary work was the individual’s desire to help other people or group of people and it is the way the society easily perceives and interprets it today. This idea is still very much present in the volunteers’ consciousness today. In 2004 van Hal conducted a study which showed that for volunteers ‘social responsibility’ and ‘helping others’ were important motivations.

The opportunity to meet new people and build social networks is also a strong reason to do voluntary work, and it can be used as a powerful social tool to combat social isolation and marginalization. As many volunteers have testified, it even represents a great possibility to enhance personal and professional experience.

In our search regarding this subject, we noticed that people’s motivations are mainly related to listening to their feelings, emotions, and their heart. It is a reason why ‘friends and family’ are the most important group in recruiting and motivating potential volunteers.

Women are more likely to engage in voluntary activities out of a desire to help other people, to expand their knowledge and meet new people, while men are more motivated either by their friends or the desire to use productively their free-time or feelings of civic responsibility and even by a wish to improve their own self-esteem.

An important factor which can influence the reasons for volunteering is age. Thus, young people are more motivated to volunteer for achieving new skills while individuals aged over 50 years or retired are motivated to volunteer in order to meet new people, to help others and to keep active.

Another important motivating factor is the belief in a cause for which volunteers are volunteering. In this respect, one of the most developed way of volunteering is in line with individual values such as moral, religious or spiritual beliefs.

In his work, Struggle for Recognition, Axel Honneth emphasizes the importance of schemas of recognition or approval from the fellows’ part and shows that victims of bad treatments always described their painful experiences in terms of “offense” and “humiliation”, identified as forms of denial of recognition or disregard. These forms of disregard as well as their corresponding forms of recognition are circumscribed by the author in the triptych: love-righteousness-solidarity.

When is voluntary work misunderstood?

Several reports, such as the Report on voluntary work done by Cecile Mathou in 2010 or the report done by European Volunteer Centre’s Manifesto for Volunteering in Europe, mention that some EU countries lack a clear legal framework and clear rules. The report considers this as a key challenge for the development or understanding of volunteering.

In her report Cecile Mathou states:

“In Eastern Europe there still exist prejudices against volunteering in terms of its association with ‘forced’ unremunerated work which was done during the communist regime.

The lack of a specific legal framework for volunteers can create obstacles in relation to questions such as taxation, social insurance, unemployment benefit, health insurance and labour market issues.”

One by one our guests brought their perspectives on the issue:

THIERRY VALLE, director of the France NGO -  Coordination des Associations & Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience, presented to us a wider context of the voluntary work in France and the anti-spiritual tendencies in secular society. He showed us that secular society, starting from France, is sometimes working against spiritual schools, and how the judicial and ministerial institutions act in this field.

NARYA TOSETTO – the representative of Ananda Assisi, Italy shared with us an unbelievable story from the 20th century. The offices and homes of certain individuals from Ananda Assisi community were searched in January, 2004. Personal items, monies, computers and files were sequestered, by a force of 80 policemen with dogs and arms. Banks accounts of all community entities and some individuals were blocked for a considerable time. 9 people were jailed for 5 days, and then released under house arrest for a number of weeks, after which that order was dissolved. After more years of investigation, the judge agreed with their stance that there were no victims who had come forward aside from the original complainant, that insufficient evidence was offered by the prosecutor, and therefore the case was dismissed and all accusations expunged from the records.

MEIKE ANGELIKA HUNEFELD – vice president "Stiftung zur Förderung des traditionellen Yoga" and vice president "Deutsche Akademie für traditionelles Yoga. She spoke about someone falsely accused of exploitation and black money. In their case, they fought and won the case.

After that event, Meike studied about voluntary work and now she came with wider perspective of the voluntary work, including also the spiritual schools how need to straighten up on how voluntary work is included in their practice.

WILLY FAUTRE – director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, he is a researcher and an activist in the field of human rights. He studied MISA yoga school case from Romania and he brought in the side event the story of a MISA yoga school practitioner, Dana C – who suffered a lot of consequences for her spiritual beliefs. Dana C. was taken by force, kept against her will at a psychiatric hospital where she was force-fed heavy medicine against Schizophrenia. After some months of abuses Dana C. managed to escape her captivity. the European Court of Human Rights recently convicted Romania for the persecutions of Dana C. The conviction in the ECHR highlight the gravity of human rights violations in the Bivolaru and MISA yoga school case.

ADVAITA STOIAN – yoga and tantra teacher, representative of MISA Yoga School from Romania. He shared with us his understanding on the issue of voluntary work, and the integration of yoga as Karma yoga, the yoga of action. Karma yoga, or the "discipline of action" is a form of yoga based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, karma yoga is the process of achieving perfection in action. Karma yoga is derived from the spiritual life. Karma yoga is said to be the most authentic way to progress in the spiritual life and is often understood as yoga of selfless (altruistic) service.

MONICA DOBRIN, director of LAYMS – NGO from Romania, presented the misunderstanding of the voluntary work in the spiritual groups. She mentioned the example of the 21 yogis from Romania that are accused of human traffic, while they practiced Karma yoga – a spiritual path to self – realization. Also she mentioned about the Mormons situation in Romania where local authorities denied them to perform the community service in Bucharest and Ploiesti.

The side event ended with an open dialog on the subject of voluntary work. Many people from the audience were interested to help in the mentioned cases and to find a solution. The debate concluded that in order to have accepted the voluntary work is needed to create a platform where more spiritual groups will work together to bring understanding on this issue to the society.

The materials presented and the video materials from this side event will be available soon on our site.