MotherJones MJ93: L. Ron’s Russia

Post-Soviet Russia is finally getting religion. Surprise–it’s made in America.

At Moscow State University, journalism students gather in the new L. Ron Hubbard Reading Room. It’s a khalyava, or freebie, courtesy of the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology.

Across town, city council member Irina Bogontseva is setting up a new kindergarten using Scientology teaching manuals, thanks to what she calls “several thousands of dollars” from church representatives. And at the city’s new Narconon drug rehabilitation center, patients will soon undergo “auditing”–a crude, Scientology-based form of psychotherapy–to help overcome their addictions. Medicine is taboo.

The church and its founder, Hubbard, have been haunted for years by fraud, criminal scandals, and their image as a Mafia-like cult. Hubbard died an IRS fugitive in 1986. His wife and other church leaders spent time in prison in the 1980s.

“I do not want to pass judgment on whether Hubbard’s wife sat in prison, or whether they paid taxes,” says the Narconon center’s Vladimir Ivanov, who also heads the government’s drug prevention program. “That is now totally unimportant.”

Why? After seven decades of Soviet rule, Russians are “willing to support any group that offers a way out of our spiritual crisis,” says Alexander Asmolov, deputy minister of education.

Since early last year, the Russians have welcomed the Scientologists and other expansion-minded sects like Reverend Moon’s Unification Church. In return for their help, Asmolov and other Russian officials have received gifts, free trips to the West, and funding. Asmolov is currently considering a nationwide teaching project from the Moonies.

“All I want to do is beat those Soviet approaches out of my teachers,” Bogontseva says. “Be it Montessori, Hubbard, or Waldorf schools, whatever–as long as they forget about Soviet education. Then all will be fine.”