by Raffaella di Marzio (www.dimarzio.it)
This is the personal experience of one well known member of the Italian anti-cult world, who - at a certain point of her anti-cult path - came to a stop and started questioning first of all herself and the ethic value of her own actions. A painful self-examination, as all those in which we play the role of the prosecutors of ourselves and investigate the ethic value of our own actions and of the aims we pursue.
Indeed that was the beginning of my greatest troubles. I have never had serious problems before, when I used to "fight against the cults": they simply caused me some negligible annoyance, despite the presumed "very serious danger for our society" embodied by the "cults", if I well remind what I used to say until no more than ten years ago. In fact, just like many other persons who answered to requests for information on this phenomenon in various "listening centers", I found myself facing people worried and disoriented by the affiliation of their relatives to some "different" religious or spiritual group. Anyway, thanks to the experience and the study, over the years I realized that the "cult issue", with all its consequences, is not a "social alarm", and it can be addressed with the same methodologies applied to the familiar and social conflicts, which are part of the normal social conflicts in a multi-religious and pluralistic world, as the one in which we all live.
The final outcome of myself examination, once realized the unwillingness to listen to and accept my criticisms and to start a process of change, has been the painful leave a group in which I had friendships, a small community in which I was recognized and which was an important reference point. Anyway, you can't have your cake and eat it too, so I had to choose. And, once I tried any possible dialogue and confrontation, I chose to follow my conscience, because I couldn't keep on sacrificing truth and charity on the altar of anti-cult propaganda.
I'm a teacher of catholic religion: truth and charity are two basic values of my life, as a person daily committed to testify through actions and not only through teaching.
Despite my leaving the association I belonged to and where I played managing roles, I kept on studying in this particular field in cooperation with organizations and center for studies less partisan and more oriented to address the "cults" without prejudices.
Since then, dating 2005, with no input from my side, many people belonging to religious groups labelled by the media as "cults" started writing to me, complaining for discriminations and persecutions of different kinds, also through media propaganda promoted by some former members and/or anti-cult movements. These cases made me think, but only marginally, because I did not believe that the situation of these associations were so serious as they claimed.
Anyway, I tried to consider these events and to follow the evolution of their judicial cases and the media propaganda about them. Media propaganda labelled these associations as cults, psycho cults, satanic cults, abusive cults, destructive cults, and so on.
At the peak of this quest, in which many of my anti-cult certainties crumbled as a marble giant eroded by weather, in November 2007 I received a request for information and help by one "master" of Arkeon, an unknown association inquired by the Prosecutor of Bari. As I always do, I took the chance to report the existence of this association to CESNUR, asking whether they were interested in dedicating to such group a chapter of their project "Religions in Italy", as we used to do for many years. CESNUR accepted and, as usual, I started collecting information for my study, I met other members - including the founder - and I decided to attend a conference meeting with him, other former members and other interested people. At the time (February 2008) there was no request for a trial, even if the association was "in the first raw" since many years due to the propaganda of the media and of the anti-cult movements which described it as a very dangerous psycho-cult which already entrapped 10.000 members all over Italy.
After the meeting, dating 9th February 2008, I published on my website an article in which I described it and I reported my impressions on Arkeon, which were different from what the press and the anti-cult movements had been saying since many years. I didn't claimed I had the "final truth", obviously. I simply wanted to add one further point of view, backed by some information, and I believed I had the right to state my ideas.
That was a big mistake, because things were not like that.
After the publication of that article, one user opened a forum on Arkeon on my website (www.dimarzio.it). At the same time, in the forum of two associations – the Association for the Rights of Users and Consumers (ADUC) and the Center for Studies on Psychological Abuses (CeSAP) – some users anti-Arkeon started making incredible accusations against me. The same accusations were sent, via fax, to the Prosecutor investigating on Arkeon and to tens of people active in the anti-cult world: the accusations, which spread behind my back also through an email written by Lorita Tinelli – The CeSAP President – sent to many recipients and forwarded by them to an unknown number of persons, stated that I was defending a very dangerous psycho-cult, that the President of the Order of Psychologists confirmed I was committing a professional abuse and, as a result, I was making further victims, just like the "guru" Vito Carlo Moccia. Furthermore, the email assured the recipients that "the Magistrates were informed" of my actions. But who were the recipients of that email? Certainly some members of the Association for Research and Information on Cults (ARIS) Veneto, ARIS Toscana, and of FAVIS (National Association of Parents Victims of Cults), which are the three organizations belonging – together with CeSAP – to the European Federation of Centers for Research and Information on Cults (FECRIS).
Nearly one month after these events, on March the 26th 2008, my website was closed by the Prosecutor of Bari and I received a notice of investigation which listed "science fiction" accusations, based on misunderstandings, fancies and slanders, spread during the previous months, fed with the hysteric environment typical of some Italian anti-cult groups. That day, while still shocked I was visited by the Police which gave me the notice of investigation, the users on the CeSAP forum were virtually partying for the news. Part of this documentation has been published on the web.
In the scientific and academic world, both Italian and international, where I am well known, people looked rather shocked to this kafkian story: a researcher studying a group for her study aims, who was accused of being the "new guru" of the same group and was inquired for the same very serious crimes reported against the defendants, included the criminal conspiracy.
On July 2008 my case was divided from the main case and the total oblivion fell on my file. On March the 8th 2011 the Judge signed the closing of my case as "the crime was not committed". During the three previous years all the documents included in my file had been widely diffused in many ways, on the websites of some Arkeon former members or their parents, on the Facebook pages " Psicosetta Arkeon " and "Centro Studi sugli Abusi Psicologici". Some files accusing me had been sent to many persons, included my Professional Order.
During the obscuration of my website, I opened a Blog (See English version) where I told my story and my thoughts on what was going on. I called those articles "Fragments of experience" (Frammenti di esperienza) as these were really the reflections I made based on my experience, especially after the shock caused by the wrongs suffered. Only after being hit directly I understood how the extreme anti cultism can create victims just like the so called cults. Any form of "extremism against something" can degenerate and give rise to witch hunt and discriminations against innocents, just like in my case and in that of the people involved in the mediatic-judicial massacre organized against Arkeon.
Those articles - especially the one I called "The Fear Factory" (La Fabbrica del Terrore) - and my public position on the Arkeon case increased the rage of a certain part of the Italian anti-cult world, which did not answer directly, nor criticized my ideas with others ideas or arguments, rather started an unceasing work of filing behind my backs which - as it always happens - finally came to light.
This action against me intensified after the publication of my book "New Religions and Cults: Psychology in front of new Cults", my subscription to the Order of Psychologists in march 2010 and my hearing at the second Senate Commission on Justice on September the 21th 2011, where it was discussed the proposal to introduce in our Penal Code the crime of "mental manipulation" (DDL 569), a law strongly supported by the Forum of Italian Anti-cult Associations, members of FECRIS.
After my subscription to the Order, between March 2010 and September 2012, the associations affiliated to the Forum and some of their individual members sent:
- three letters to three Senators of the Commission on Justice and, in copy, to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, State Police, Central Operating Service Manager of SAS (The Anti-cult police team) Mrs. Maria Carla Bocchino, to "report" me and other persons for the presumed activities in defense of the Cults, asking to investigate on us;
- three notes to the Order of Psychologists of Lazio regional government;
- two Lawsuits in Lecce and Rimini;
The reports to SAS (Anticult Squad), the notes and the lawsuits were based on the same accusations, always the same: my criticisms, published on the web and exposed during television programs and radio interviews, to the methodology "masterfully" applied in the Arkeon case to create moral panic and social alarm; my position firmly opposing the introduction in our penal code of a new crime against mental manipulation; my criticism against the SAS; my complaint about the many cases of "deviance creation" induced by the anti-cult propaganda which brought, as in the arkeon case, to inquiries and trials based on nothing which ended with acquittals or with, as in the arkeon case, sentences for crimes which have nothing to do with the cults.
Even the three notes to the Order of Psychologists included mainly these accusations.
In July 2012 the first degree trial against arkeon ended with the acquittal of all the defendants for the crimes related to the concept of cult: private violence, induced state of inability to understand and will, deception, slander, mistreatment of minors. The defendants have been condemned for criminal conspiracy aimed to act as psychologists without the license required in Italy. The requests for compensation for damages suffered by people were refused by the judges, because they said that no damages occurred in Arkeon's seminars, with the exception of the Orders of Psychologists of Puglia, whose reimbursement will be set in a further session.
During the last five years what I consider a real persecution changed my life. I suffered and still suffer many damages: to my health, my already limited financial resources, my image of researcher and scholar, etc..
Anyway the most difficult thing to manage for me has been having to defend me from nothing. I still remember when, with the notice of inquiry in front of me, I had to think to a defense paper to give to my lawyer. I had to find arguments to defend me from accusations of being "the new guru of Arkeon", of trying to "reorganize the group" after the confusion which followed the investigations, of trying to "convince those who witnessed against Arkeon to change their mind" and so on, in a crescendo of criminal activities worth of a true monster, so serious to require the immediate closing of my website, which by 95% includes documents of the Catholic Church and some news on New Religious Movements. Nothing was included about Arkeon, except for only one article and a Forum. It was really hard to elaborate a defense, because those accusations were meaningless.
I felt the same bewilderment trying to reply to the accusations included in the three notes sent to the Order: it's always very difficult to defend yourself from your own ideas, mainly because you can't understand the reason why you should justify yourself for your own ideas, which you express openly in public events like congresses, hearings, press, scientific publications, internet, etc...It’s difficult to defend yourself when you are accused of thought crimes. I tried anyway, for more than three years, with the only result that, more than one year after the end of the Arkeon trial, one further accusation adds up to the various ones already advanced against me, dealing with my public criticism of the way this witch hunt has been managed, just as if it was still possible today pretending Arkeon is a danger. The phantom of the " Arkeon psycho-cult" , which indeed never existed, still wonders in the rooms of the Order of Psychologists of Lazio. That was the straw that breaks the camel's back.
Everything has a limit and I'm no more ready to accept "kafkian trials" like the ones I suffered in the last years. So, I took the difficult but needed decision to ask for my cancellation from the Orders of Psychologists of Lazio, which was, in the last three years, the preferred recipient of the files prepared by the usual senders (that is Anticult Movements, members of FECRIS in Italy).
If someone considers me a monster, maybe he's right. I admit my guilt: I am a monster because I claim the right to publicly express my opinions, because I state and write that some anti-cult campaigns creates more victims than the alleged "cults", that cults represent no social alarm and that people should be defended because they are human beings, and their belonging to a cult makes them no worst or better. I am a monster also because I stated that sometimes " the victims of cults", in fact, turn into executioners of their own former friends and that the associations which aim to help the "victims" should learn self-criticism, not in order to blame but to improve themselves, to increase their research and studies, to verify and compare different points of view.
So: I am a monster because, starting from an extreme anti-cult position, I have become a strong critic, first of all of myself, and then, as a consequence, of the world I belonged to, where I was very appreciated. The answer to my detailed criticism, based on my own direct experience of the modus operandi of some extreme anti-cult groups, has been to treat me like they treat "cults", "gurus" and "plagiarists": you don't answer on the issues and the facts to these people - who lost their humanity - because they are no more human beings: they are monsters. You must not speak to them, you must stab them in the back.
Maybe looking themselves in the mirror they saw their own image and they did not like it? It would be better to take a big stone and break the mirror. That way the image of the monster disappears and everything is again as before.
Excerpts from declarations and complaints addressed by yoga practitioners to Romanian authorities
Following the attack carried out by Romanian police against the spiritual communities of the M.I.S.A. Yoga school and in response to an extremely grave denigration and slandering campaign hosted by Romanian media, many yoga practitioners have addressed complaints and memos to Romanian institutions, which were largely denied or ignored.
The unjust actions of Romanian police and judiciary, doubled with the inactivity of Romanian authorities in addressing human rights violations led to stigmatizations and marginalization of yoga practitioners in Romania and a fragile social environment in respect to freedom of conscience and belief.
„I would like to point out that not only my personal, but also my professional life were negatively influenced by the harsh criticism directed against us, those who have been doing yoga with M.I.S.A. school; such ill-intended criticism is all the more strange, since our convictions are pacifist and our principles of life, looking for the healthiest possible way of living, are even highly adequate for the modern civic spirit that may need to be implemented in Romania with our country's EU accession. Accordingly, there is an ongoing conflict between the effort to gain acceptance in a democratic community such as the EU and the state institutions' authoritarian practices, often regretably run with a mentality still sadly reminding us of the old communist system that had seized the country until 1989.
I would like to mention, that I received professional recognition and promotion within the institution I have been working in; the recognition I got manifested itself through the high grades I had for my in-service higher position exams I took. I was holding the position of S1 grade librarian. Among my professional achievements, I should like to include here the fact that i was assigned, together with another colleague, to be in charge of the free access reading room library fund, under the heading 'philosophy' at the Central University Library's Main Unit. I am also the author of the book "The Reference Works Guide from the Bucharest Central University Library - Religion".
The artificially created crisis about M.I.S.A. (a crisis brought about by the pressure and campaigns that the media and authorities mounted against us) gained its momentum on March 18th 2004, when hundreds of special force police broke into the houses of some M.I.S.A. yoga students, ostensibly searching for drugs and weapons (not a single trace of these was found, but the authorities did not apologize for that, not even today!!!). That clearly shows that the institutions of the Romanian state cannot adjust themselves to an allegedly democratic system as they still break elementary human rights. „
C. A., teacher
“The reason why I want to make this declaration is that the international authorities must find out about the discriminatory, despising and humiliating way in which we (the yoga students) are treated by our authorities. Particularly, I want to let the international authorities know how this way of treatment had and still has a negative effect on my life.
Many times mass media presented MISA using tendentious comments, keeping a hostile atmosphere, manipulating public opinion for disapproving MISA and yoga students of MISA, on the basis of some fictitious crimes which have never been proved such as: drugs traffic, group sex, paramilitary organization and so on...
Here are the results of this kind of presentation of MISA on TV within my family and relationships with my friends:
C. I., jurist
“Try to imagine how embarrassing it was for the older ladies and gentleman, who are no longer in their youth that are attending this yoga course. They are my colleagues. It’s obvious that they came to this course in order to restore their health and to find solutions, hidden for a long time, by our society. They are presented, by the media, as participants to sexual orgies.
I am sure that you already know that many people from this course are people with an education, family people, children, and parents, people that the mass media is slandering without any judgment, without looking for the truth.
I have never felt myself “depersonalized” at this yoga course; to the contrary, my personality has become more vibrant along time, as I have discovered more about myself. ”
B. D, economist
“The most ridiculous thing I have heard is that on our course people take drugs. All the principles of a yogi lifestyle sustain liberation from any kind of vices. Moreover, during the last years, I worked as a psychologist at The Maramures Anti-drug Centre. I think that the authorities wouldn’t have commited such an error, as to let me work in this place, if I had ever consumed such substances or if there would be any suspicion of this kind about me.”
B. F., psychologist
“In 1997 I was teaching physics at the Theoretical High School in Costesti, department of Arges. At a teachers’ meeting, the director of the high school told us precisely about an indication from the Education Department, to immediately report any person who practices yoga, both among the pupils and among the teachers. This report should have been made in order to take immediately some restrictive decisions concerning that yoga student.
I must say that the situation had a deeply negative impact on me, as I felt myself totally discriminated as a yoga student, and submitted to public disapproval.
The big surprise for me is that discrimination is continuing also now, even after becoming part of the EU.”
B. M. Teacher
“As I perceived pretty fast the special effects of Hatha Yoga on my health, I also recommended to my daughter to join these classes. She was 15 years old at that time, being in the 8th grade at school. The defamation campain against our yoga school had already begun, and my husband and my mother-in-law, influenced by everything they saw and read in the media, didn’t want us to follow these yoga classes. This caused serious quarrels among us. Their supreme reason was: “I saw on TV…”.
As the years passed, our quarrels amplified. We weren’t allowed to speak at home about yoga, and even going to the yoga classes was the subject for conflicting discussions. Even the fact that me and my daughter solved all our health problems wasn’t enough to convince them that we were doing a good thing.
The accusations were like: “I saw on TV”, “I read that the yogis are immoral, are drugged, that they are having group sex, they prostitute themselves and they are brain washed.”
Neither my efforts of becoming a better wife, nor my daughter’s good results at school (she graduated the first of her section in mathematics-informatics) could determine them to see the tremendous advantages of this yoga school.
The things got worse at the end of 2004, when my daughter was called to Bucharest to testify in the Bivolaru case at the Penal Inquiry Section, on the 15th of April 2004. This was a very tense moment for the child that she was. The policemen asked our neighbours about us, there were some comments on our street and in our block of flats. Very angry, her father gave me an ultimatum: either I choose the yoga classes, or him. My daughter was having the admission exam at university, and in order to preserve her and my marriage, and deeply threatened by this aggressive campain against our yoga school, I decided to quit the yoga classes for a while. I went in Bucharest with my daughter, who passed through difficult moments, as she was examined by a police inspector who tried by all means to obtain from her a statement about knowing Mr. Bivolaru, about the yoga practices and about receiving tendentious proposals. As she denied all the accusations, he tried to make her feel guilty to follow these yoga classes, even when I told him that my daughter was always accompanied by me.
We had a bad time then in Bucharest and after that, at home: I was taken as an irresponsible mother, who was taking her child to some perverted and dangerous places. We live in a small town, and my colleagues at work found out about all these things. The relations were very tense, also being nourished by my husband and the TV news. Being watched by the police is a very serious matter in our town, and the fact that we were examined at the Penal Inquiry Section seriously affected our image.”
A. D., hairdresser
„ On 23.03.2004, during the 7 p.m. news, PRO TV broadcast a live interview with my mother, conducted by news presenter Andreea Esca, transmitted by PRO TV Iasi. My mother answered by making all sorts of slanderous allegations and meanwhile my photo was displayed on the whole screen with a blue label saying: “psychic disorders” posted on the left upper side. I am a perfectly healthy human being presenting no “psychic disorders”. At the age of 19, through physical coercion, I was tied up and taken to the Socola Hospital on the grounds of being a yoga practitioner. At the hospital, the doctors had given to my mother treatment for a month and had told her that the way that she had brought me up, there was abuse. But, because I am a yoga practitioner, nobody from PRO TV doubted the truth of her information.
TVR 1 had the same attitude. Mr. Marian Voicu, by inviting my mother on his broadcast on the 30th of March 2004 and by offering her the possibility to backbite me again on live television, exposed me to public humiliation.
In the “Evenimentul zilei” newspaper from the 24th of March 2004, Teo Popescu published an article “A student from Barlad disappeared in Bivolaru’s flock”, where, besides the fact that he tendentiously and incorrectly presents my relationship with my family and MISA, he suggests that I should be investigated by the police and asserts that I would be “involved in all sort of dirty activities”. But these assumed facts that incriminate me are not mentioned, they are only ambiguously given the term of “activities”.
I am not a member of MISA, I do not have a fix gaze, I am not an introvert and I didn’t disappeared.
I also assert that, as the result of these broadcasts and articles, I was subjected to public humiliation: people used to shout after me on the street “The yogi!” or “Have you been released, weren’t you in prison? “”
C. D., student
„I want to say that I feel discriminated against and people should have a bit of willingness to find out the truth! I feel discriminated against, as I fear everyday that my colleagues from work could find out that I practice yoga. I feel discriminated against, as everyday the thought of my mother being reproached for her daughter practicing yoga worries me. I feel discriminated every time I hear someone making bad remarks against yoga, MISA or Gregorian Bivolaru and I do not reply, hoping that they will never find out about me, so that they wouldn’t criticize and make up all kinds of lies about me. I feel discriminated everyday when I am cowardly happy that my boss does not know about me practicing yoga which could make me lose my job. Especially when this already happened to a former colleague, Maria Moglan, who had to leave Coca-Cola Company after her boss persuasively asserted in public: “I would have all those who do yoga up against a wall and I would shoot them down”. For a while she tried to find out if her boss had said this knowing that she practices yoga or if it had nothing to do with that. When she was given more work than normal and other problems added to this, she had a nervous break down and left to go to a place where colleagues do not know that she practices yoga and that she sympathizes with MISA.”
B. A., computer informatics
„I worked at TVS for 3 years as a talk-show host with very good results; but the very moment that the media campaign against MISA started, my managers asked me not to say any word about or present any image of Gregorian Bivolaru. At that time I was the host of some live talk-shows and the station managers started monitoring me; the editor in chief even punished me a few times, “because somebody important complained about my shows”. They did their best to make me resign: they refused to draw an employment contract for me, (although other employees got the contract immediately); they gave me a low salary, much less than my younger colleagues. Despite all these I continued to work for one more year until, for the reason that they had to make serious changes, they dismissed only me and no one else. „
C. T., chemist
„On May 5, 2004, 8:30 hours I was called to the main police officer Sorescu Dumitru – the chief of the General Inspectorate of Romanian Police (IGPR). Here I also met Mr. Drajneanu Gelu, deputy of the chief of the General Inspectorate of Romanian Police (IGPR). In the same office there were another four people: the chief accountant of IGPR, chief police commissary Zidu Ovidiu, the chief of the Human Resource Management Direction – and other two unknown persons.
Here the events took place as follows: Mr. Sorescu Dumitru accused me of being a member of MISA (Spiritual Movement for Integration in Absolute) and because of this “I had to quit immediately the Ministry of Administration and Internal Affairs, because the yoga practice in MISA is incompatible with the position I used to have”. I was asked: “Since when are you a MISA member?” I mentioned that I was not a MISA member, but only a yoga practitioner for about ten years, ever since I was admitted at the police school. I mentioned that yoga is a sports-recreational activity – as well as a follow up to my sports activity (I practiced martial arts, swimming, football etc.). I told them that the Policeman Statute says we are allowed to enter any non-governmental, apolitical, humanitarian, professional, technical-scientific, religious, sports-recreational organization if it does not prejudice the job assignments. “
G. L., police sub -officer
“I am a chemistry engineer by profession. Since 1990, I have been working with ICEPALV as a research chemistry engineer. In 1994, after an exam I got the title of scientific researcher. In 1998, I had to leave by a Governmental Ordinance and I continued my research on my own. I succeeded in creating the ink for computer printers, being the only country with this achievement at that time.
Despite these beautiful professional achievements, I had a lot to suffer because I was so uninspired to tell those from work that I do yoga with professor Gregorian Bivolaru and to express my personal convictions regarding the vegetarian diet and yoga exercises. Due to these facts, it happened as follows:
I was avoided by my colleagues, who were spreading rumors about me that I would be a witch, a sectarian, even if I stated many times that I do not follow any sect, that I am Christian orthodox and that yoga helped me to really believe in God.
They did all kind of bad jokes to me (for example they were stealing from me boxes for paint or they were putting sand and dust into the paint with which was supposed to be painted some ship merchandise).
During a party that I went to ( I was not eating meat or drinking alcoholic drinks as the others were doing), while talking to a colleague, the manager of the institution that we worked for said in front of others that we are lesbians.”
N. A., scientific researcher
„I was working as a first degree scientific researcher within the institute for construction research ICECON and, because of the frenzied denigrating mass-media campaign against M.I.S.A., I was reproached (both directly and indirectly) for taking part in the yoga courses, which always were associated with group sex. I was verbally abused both by my colleagues and by the manager of the institute. Consequently, I was compelled to leave my job in 1999 and look for another job, where, of course, I never mentioned anything about my yoga practice.
My wife, Marcela Dumitra (also a yoga practitioner), was the manager of the Human Resources Department within INCERC (the National Institute of Construction Research). She was replaced (in 1998) and then compelled to quit her job, because she was practicing yoga! She also quit the yoga course afraid of the same problems occurring with her new job.
My son, Alexandru - Vasile was a yoga practitioner within M.I.S.A., but left the course saying: "I'm not going to the yoga classes...you know what people say about that!"
N. N., Doctor Engineer
“As a consequence, of the denigrating campaign in the mass media against MISA yoga school, whose classes I attend, I had problems at my job where I was an employee for 17 years, risking to lose my job, although professionally I am appreciated. When I was told about it, I asked the head what were the reasons, and he told me that the reason was my yoga practice at the classes organized by MISA.
Besides these professional problems, I specify that I had also problems in my family as a consequence of the calumnies spread by mass-media. The climax of that situation was when my daughter, Orjanu Andreea Cristina, 14 years old, a yoga student in the 1st year, was called to the Bucharest Prosecutors’ Office, to give declaration as a witness.”
O. M., engineer
“My marriage was ruined because of these unreal images presented by the media. My husband forbade me to practice yoga after he found out everything that was published about Grieg, although he could feel by himself that the yoga practice had only beneficial effects on his physical, mental and emotional health, and on his faith in God (he practiced yoga for 3 months).
As a citizen of this country, as an adult and a free person I could not and I did not want to give up my right of freedom of thought, of consciousness and of religion provided even by the constitution. This made my husband mad; he hit me. This made me leave him. He applied for divorce and the reason was based on the following: my yoga practice with M.I.S.A. that was legally considered a “SECT” (see the copy of the court's sentence for divorce). It was not me who asked for the divorce and I did not say what happened to me in fact (I was beaten up because I did not want to renounce to my religious beliefs) because I did not want it to affect his position as a deputy manager. As a “reward”, a strong campaign against yoga started in my town, with the generous help of the lawyers, magistrates, and mass media. I was almost dismissed from the school where I used to teach but the manager of the school and the inspector of my specialty supported me thanks to my flawless professional activity.
However, after one and a half years of pressure, disputes and hostile atmosphere created in town because of this “scandal”, I was forced to ask to be transferred to another town and then, after one year, to give up working in school. During the divorce my husband’s friends and relatives have often looked down upon me, because I was doing yoga and they did not even greet me in the street.
The divorce sentence found me 'guilty' because I practiced yoga and I did not want to give up this belief. I was “evacuated” from the house that through common right belonged to me too and our daughter was obliged to choose to live with my husband for fear she could be also left to live in the street with me in case she dared to choose me. However, the 6 years that she spent with my former husband and her stepmother were full of insulting remarks against me (her mother) because I chose the freedom to think and to follow a spiritual path. She even wanted to run away from home but I found her, guided her and helped her to get to a place, where she could be free of that tense and degrading atmosphere, which she did. Now she is a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Timisoara.
My whole life was influenced by these events. I have never had the courage to work in education because my “case” was known in the whole country. The mass media didn't neglect it. The story of my divorce was published in the local newspapers after two years and then it was taken over by the national papers, of course, without asking for my opinion. The pompously entitled article: “Seduced and abandoned” presented falsely and tendentiously what had happened. That is, I was the one who left my husband without reason being “seduced” by my yoga practice and then I was “ abandoned” in misery by my “yogic brothers”. These were in fact the interpretations of me leaving home (after I was beaten up), of leaving my town and my job because of the pressure generated by the scandal with the “sect” - as even the judicial system considered. The truth is that my friends from our yoga school helped me to find a job and received me in their houses when nobody wanted to let me a room. I was obliged to sleep for some nights in the gym hall where I taught my dance classes. “
B. C., sports teacher
„I have been a pensioner since 01.03.2005, and between 1970 and 1992 I worked as an accountant. Between 1992 and 1999 I was a staff manager in a bank. My job there had ended in 1999 when the bank closed down.
During the period of my work there, all the people knew that I was a studying Yoga in MISA yoga school, whose mentor is Gregorian Bivolaru. Any time in which a television show or a newspaper article presenting a negative view of the school would appear, my colleagues would immediately outcast me and would use rude words to embarrass me. This attitude repeated itself whenever a new television show would appear.
In addition, I also encountered many problems with my neighbours. When this denigration campaign began, my neighbours would physically spit on me whenever they saw me. On two different occasions I found all the wheels of my car pierced.
My relationship with my mother also suffered from this denigrating campaign. She offended me by calling me a “sect follower“, “look what bad things are said about you on television” and she forbade me from going to the Yoga courses.
My daughter began studying in this Yoga school, but due to repeating insults from her friends who were saying that: “orgies are practiced in the school”, she was forced to renounce the course.
My ex-husband would call me a “whore”, saying that I only attend these classes to find other men to sleep with.
Now, I am afraid to tell anyone that I am practicing Yoga. I avoid talking to my yoga colleagues in public, being afraid that someone may overhear the conversation and hit us.”
B. M., Accountant ( retired)
„My name is Jan Hansen, and I am a Danish shaman. After many years of meditation, psychotherapy and living with Buddhist monks in Thailand I came to Peru in 2007 to learn shamanic tradition from the Amazon’ Shipibo-tribe. After some years my Maestro invited me to be his apprentice, and since then I have practiced as a shaman. (...)
This ethnobotanic drink has been used since immemorial times in connecting to our inner nature.(...)
Late June I was sentenced to 6 month in jail for importing illicit drugs equal to 300-600 doses of LSD. Ayahuasca has nothing to do with LSD. It turns out that Ayahuasca contains <0,1% DMT, and DMT in its pure form is a classified drug. It seems the same as if the laws concerning alcohol would regulate the import of yoghurt.
The sentence is the first were a Danish shaman is criminalized for his religious practice. Shamanic practice is growing all over Europe, and I think it is important for every one to know how the law can misinterpret it. The laws used against me were meant to fight dangerous drugs, not shamanic practice.
I have found my spiritual path, only to find that misunderstandings within the law seem to hinder me to walk it home in Denmark. I implore the Danish government, European Institutions and experts to thoroughly look into the issue at stake. (...)
The shaman practice is new in Europe, and the institutions must secure that it is not criminalized due to ignorance and lack of understanding.”
„My name is Jungle Svonni, and I am a Sami shaman. We Sami are the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula. Currently our land is occupied by Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. My family migrates with our reindeers between Sweden in winter and Norway in summer.
Our ancestral culture and religion is shamanic. However, the colonizing countries, like Sweden and Norway, have for centuries acted to exterminate our religion. By cutting our spiritual connection to nature through shamanism, the connection of all our culture is lost.
Practicing shamanism has been illegal for centuries. Any cultural expressions related to shamanism, such as joik (the sami way of singing) or having a shamanic drum was severely punished, even by death. The heavy persecution resulted in the near extinction of shamanism among us. The persecutions of our roots have created social marginalization, a high rate of suicides and environmental problems, due to a decreased understanding for nature.
My grandfather and great grandfather were all shamans, but without any possibility to know or practice it fully. As a child I realized that this destructive situation must be fixed, if we Sami people are going to have any future. About 10 years ago I left on a journey to the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Amazon, to rediscover my shamanic roots. I stayed with the native people for eight years, learning my own culture. In the end I worked as a shaman on a large healing center, where we among other things were curing drug addictions with great success.
Two years ago I moved back, to share the shaman knowledge with my people. Swedish authorities arrested and jailed me for 18 days. They confiscated my sacred plant medicine, the San Pedro cactus, and I was accused of smuggling narcotics - mescaline. The San Pedro plant is completely legal and can be bought in any Swedish flower shop. It was only the shamanic context that triggered the judicial to actions and imprisonment.
Media portrayed me as a criminal, fuelled by ignorant and false statements from the prosecutor. Surprisingly it took the judge one and a half year to find that the legal San Pedro has nothing to do with mescaline or the drug market. I became the first Sami shaman ever to win against the Swedish authorities, without denying being a shaman. (...)
Today shamanism is supposed to be legal in Sweden and Norway, protected by the fundamental rights. In reality shamanism is still persecuted. It is only accepted as a "play" for eccentric adults. If it is serious, if you gather knowledge from the nature as our forefathers did and use the natural plants sacraments, you can still today get arrested and imprisoned. The Swedish authorities would use the excuse that you allegedly have violated their narcotic law. But the shamanic ceremonies of Sami people have no connection to the drug problems of Swedish society. What about our human rights to search our roots and practice our religion, shamanism? (...)
The wounds on my people are so deep after centuries of persecution that we must turn to our shaman brothers in the Amazon for our cultural survival. For centuries we were forced to practice a foreign religion, and speak a foreign language, our own being forbidden. Our mountains are destroyed by foreign mining companies, the liken necessary for our reindeers are polluted by a foreign society. Our forests are cut down by foreign companies with foreign technology. But WE are NOT allowed to share the shamanic plant knowledge from our shaman brothers and sisters, which we so badly need to recover our own culture.
I was imprisoned and prosecuted. (...) Sweden and Norway must reconsider how to deal with it, in order to hinder further violations of our fundamental rights!”
“CASE AGAINST ANANDA ITALY 2002 – 2009
The investigation into the Ananda community and its various corporate structures began with a Complaint lodged by an individual who had lived in the community for about 2 years. He complained that Ananda was a sect which held people against their will, enslaved them by forcing them to work without being paid, conspired to engage in criminal activities, coercion of handicapped and vulnerable individuals, and other accusations including the premise that Ananda was a “pseudo-religion”.
This complaint was not acted upon at the beginning, but eventually found its way to the office of a Marshall of the police who took it to a prosecutor in the regional Tribunal, both of whom saw in it the potential for a high-profile case that might advance their careers. In fact, both of them were eventually rewarded for their part in the process, even though the Tribunal eventually dismissed the case entirely.
An investigation ensued, during which time the telephones of the community offices and individuals were monitored. The prosecutor obtained a search warrant, and the offices and homes of certain individuals 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.
This in itself could have closed the community had we not been able to obtain financial support to continue our operations and to engage excellent lawyers.
When the computers were returned, they contained listening devices and it required extensive legal action by our attorneys to unblock the bank accounts and get the files returned.
The investigation continued, and in March arrest warrants were issued for 10 individuals, including the community’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, who at the time was residing at the Ananda community in India. 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 case eventually came to the Preliminary Hearing. Aside from the original complaint, evidence of which was not presented, no other substantive evidence had been collected, even after years of electronic surveillance. Ananda’s lawyers were aggressive and brilliant in their presentation, and 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.
In his written judgment, the judge addressed two very important issues:
This case has become known in legal circles throughout Italy for several reasons: that it was dismissed at Preliminary Hearing is rare, almost unheard of. Judges will always agree to send cases to trial and let the trial judge make the decision. Our lawyers are recognized as having presented a brilliant case.
Also this case touched on important constitutional issues, and it recognized a non-Catholic religious group as having constitutional protections. This sets a precedent for future cases, and also acts as a warning to both police and church officials that the courts will not sanction collusion between church and state to deny groups freedom of religion.”