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July 31, 1983, Page 001016
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Although no sightings have been reported yet of saffron-robed youths chanting rapturously in Soviet streets, the Hare Krishna movement seems to have made sufficient inroads into the Soviet Union to alarm the authorities.
A major Soviet daily reported last year on the break-up of a Krishna chapter in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk and conviction of its leader for “parasitism.“
The paper treated the movement as a kind of misguided idealism imported from the West that was deplorable because it lured people away from socially useful lives.
The warning apparently went unheeded, because Nedelya, the weekend supplement of Izvestia, has issued a far more alarmed and threatening report on doings of the sect.
The journal reported the trial of leaders of a Krishna group in Moscow. Although the date, sentences and charges were not specified, the authors of the article, Vadim Kassis and Leonid Kolosov, described the Krishna organization in the Soviet Union as a deliberate American “diversion“ whose victims became mentally warped and whose American leader was nothing less than an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Soviet opposition to a new manifestation of religion is hardly surprising, and the attempt to brand the newly imported sect as somehow subversive recalled similar assaults on Christian denominations introduced from the West like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Pentecostals. American Woman Expelled
Only recently, a young American woman working as a governess for American diplomats in Moscow was expelled after she was caught at an “illegal gathering“ of Jehovah’s Witnesses outside the capital. The Soviet press subsequently accused her of having a “link“ to the C.I.A.
But the attack on the Krishna sect stood out from the usual flow of anti-religious propaganda because the spread of the movement had been virtually unnoticed by Westerners here. One possible explanation for the official concern gleaned from the press reports was that the movement seemed to have taken root among the Soviet equivalent of a middle class -the better educated, urbanized, privileged youths, while earlier Christian sects had traditionally found followers among less-educated rural people.
The Krishna members identified in the Soviet articles included engineers, technicians, a budding athlete and others with higher education. This young intelligentsia has shown increasing fascination in recent years with a whole range of ideas outside Soviet ideology, from exotic Eastern philosophies to extrasensory perception or faith healing, without reports of heavy resistance from the state. Anxieties in the Kremlin
But the Hare Krishna movement appears to set off elemental anxieties in the Kremlin. After harrowing accounts of young people destroyed by the movement, Nedelya said:
“This, then, is the ‚International Society for Krishna Consciousness,‘ a pseudo-Hindu mystic-religious sect, having a distinct anti-Communist character. The Krishna ‚movement‘ calls for an escape from reality, since all existence is only illusion. Thus, a person need not be interested in the fruit of his work, he must abandon socially useful activities, he has no fatherland, no family, no close ones, only an all-embracing love for god.“
Accompanying the article was a photograph of Krishna members in full regalia on a Western street, with a caption terming them “mindless.“
The Krishna sect was founded in the United States in 1966 by an Indian ascetic, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, calling on adherents to turn all their worldly possessions over to the society and to accept whatever duties are assigned by their guru.
The shaven-headed youths in flowing robes with whitish smears on their foreheads, chanting and beating out rhythms on drums, have become a familiar sight on New York streets. Two months ago, the daughter of Walter Reuther, the late labor leader, and the greatgrandson of Henry Ford opened a Detroit mansion as a showpiece of the movement. 2 Accused of Recruiting
Nedelya, however, did not dwell much on the Western manifestations of the sect, focusing instead on the Moscow chapter headed by Vladimir Kritsky, 32 years old, and Sergei Kurkin, 19, the defendants at the trial, who were accused of recruiting new members and disseminating the Krishna teachings.
A woman, identified only as Yelena P., was described as a promising athlete when she fell in with the defendants in 1979. “Suddenly something happened to the girl,“ Nedelya said. “It was as if she had been transformed. She disappeared from home, became rude, hysterical. She developed a barely concealed hatred for her parents. ‚You’re meat eaters,‘ she told them, ‚and when you die you’ll turn into pigs.‘ “
The woman dropped out of her institute and when her mother became terminally ill she displayed only disdain. “Thus the life of a once cheerful, kind, life-loving girl was destroyed. And not her’s alone. The fact is that the Krishnaists cannot return to their former, normal life without psychiatric treatment. Why? Because the fundamental “re-education“ in the sect is the state of ecstasy, which in conjunction with fasting and exhausting prayer leads to destruction of the human personality.“ U.S. ‚Special Services‘ Accused
Luring people to such an anti-social stance, Nedelya said, was obviously the work of American “special services.“ The agent in this case, the magazine asserted, was Robert Campagnola, described as one of the original 11 disciples of the guru of the Krishna sect.
The Nedelya account opened with a scene of Mr. Campagnola stretched out on a couch in Moscow and having his feet ceremonially washed by a Soviet follower, a medical technician named Sergei Mitrofanov.
But he was more than the emissary of the religion, Nedelya declared: “After a closer and longer familiarity with the ‚blessed tourist‘ Robert Campagnola, there emerged highly curious ‚elements‘ from his biography. It turned out that Mr. Campagnola is a longtime agent of the C.I.A., specializing in ideological diversions.“
The goal, the journal said, is to “control public opinion, to study the political orientation of this or that part of the population, to cause divisions in progressive movements, to gather information under the cover of ‚missionary‘ work.“
The article on the Krishna sect last year gave a considerably less pernicious account of the spread of the movement to the Soviet Union. It reported that the sect arrived via the International Book Fair in Moscow in 1979, when the Krishna movement’s publishing arm, the Bhatkivendanta Book Trust of Los Angeles, was permitted an exhibit. It drew curious Russians, the books spread, and Hare Krishna was on its way in Russia.
A version of this article appears in print on July 31, 1983, on Page 1001016 of the National edition with the headline“