As Russia’s war on Ukraine approaches its first anniversary next month, it’s worth noting how a group of Ukrainian intellectuals and activists recently responded to the crisis in an appeal to French President Emmanuel Macron.
In a November 11 letter to Macron, 82 of Ukraine’s most outstanding religious scholars and human rights activists asked that France stop funding the Federation of European Centers for Research and Information on Sects, a French anti-cult umbrella group with international ties that is typically referred to by its acronym FECRIS.
The nongovernmental organization is notorious for its global campaigns against new religious movements, including such criminal activities as defamation, kidnapping and the forcible detention of individuals against their will. But the signatories to the letter, who included Anatoly Kolodny, president of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine, accuse FECRIS of also supporting the Kremlin’s “very well documented” propaganda against Ukraine.
The letter started by thanking France for the help it provides to Ukraine “in the most difficult situation that we are facing during these terrible times for our people.”
It went on to note that Alexander Dvorkin, a board member of FECRIS and its vice president for 12 years until 2021, has been banned from entering Ukraine since 2014 because he is a “very rabid anti-Ukrainian propagandist” known for smearing Ukrainian officials on state-controlled Russian television as “‘cult followers’ controlled by cults and the West.”
Dvorkin has also called Ukrainian authorities “Neo-Pagans” and “Nazis,” the letter said, adding that he has lately maintained his propaganda from Russia and the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, a region in southeastern Ukraine that Russian-backed separatists have controlled since 2014.
The letter also named Alexander Novopashin, a FECRIS representative in Russia, saying he frequently uses Russian media to accuse Ukrainians of being “cannibals” and “satanists to be fought by the Russian troops” in a war he describes as holy.
“The point of the letter is to raise awareness of the strong support that FECRIS has provided to its Russian members and to the Kremlin in their outrageous propaganda against Ukraine and the West,” according to The European Times in a November 26 article, “FECRIS Under Fire.”
The issue of France’s funding for FECRIS came up at the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference last September. The 10-day conference discussed human rights and basic freedoms among the 56 nations from Europe, North America and Central Asia, which make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest regional security group.
At the forum, the letter states, nongovernmental organizations urged France, an OSCE member, to stop funding FECRIS. The French delegation’s response was to “continue supporting [FECRIS] activities.”
“We deeply regret that the French representation did not take seriously the facts that were denounced during this conference,” the scholars told Macron. “This is why we respectfully ask you to ensure that France stops funding such an association, which is an enemy of the West and of democracy and which works hand in hand with the Russian authorities against Ukraine.”
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