MotherJones MJ93: L. Ron’s Russia

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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.”

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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