The history of the “Antisekt” project dates back to 1995. It was founded by a group of activists, and later became known as “The Latvian Committee for Combating the Totalitarian Sects” – a famous professional organisation in Latvia. At that time the rate of appearance and growth in the numbers of various totalitarian sects was shocking. Moreover, there were no governmental or public organisations that could fight such an aggressive phenomenon or specialists who could give appropriate advice to those whose friend or a family member became involved in a sect. The Media, for its part, either ignored the mass occurrence of sects or was full of frightening headlines about the mass suicide attempt of “The White Brotherhood” members and the “Aum Shinrikyo” terrorist attacks which, due to a lack of knowledge, often formed erroneous pessimistic ideas about the irreversibility of negative personality changes in the followers of sects. In other words, society was convinced that it was impossible to bring back a person, who became involved with a sect, to a normal lifestyle and that they were forever lost to their family, friends and society.
In October of 1995, a group of activists from the Russian Youth Club launched a challenge against the largest sect in Latvia by disrupting the reception of dozens of new converts with a well-prepared discussion. After the event the activists continued their anti-sect work by collecting information on other sects in Latvia, establishing locations, doctrines, quantity and activity.
In 1996, group activists organised the first protest in Latvia “against the mayhem of totalitarian sects”. The protest was held in front of Riga Sports Manege, where the largest sect would usually gather with up to six thousand people. Half of these people were invited to a “celebration” and a “concert” which was, in fact, a mass recruitment for new followers. As a result of the protest, a significant number of people, who were invited to the “concert”, received alternative information about the event. This caused aggression among sect representatives, however, the presence of a large number of journalists did not allow the verbal confrontation to develop into a physical conflict. The media, for the first time, began to publish a series of stories devoted to the threat of totalitarian sects. Later, such protests were held annually up to and including the year 1999. During the same period, group activists took an active part in various discussions and roundtables devoted to the problem of sects and cults. Due to the high profile of information these events took place in schools and public organisations.
In 1997 a decision was made on transforming the group of activists into The Committee for Combating the Totalitarian Sects (which until 2007 legally acted as a structural subdivision of two public organisations).
In 1999, the activists of the Committee were invited to a conference held by the Board of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Latvia, which addressed sect issues at the state level.
In March of 2001 a protest was held at the Latvian Parliament demanding improvements to legislative measures aimed at controlling the activities of various sectarian organisations. During 2000 and 2003 information campaigns were held in order to mass distribute printed material, describing the real history of sects, disguised as various educational and charitable societies. As a result it was possible to prevent the intervention of a number of sects into schools and state social institutions. By virtue of activities of the Committee several sects completely ceased their activities in Latvia. The media from time to time published revealing articles, created with the help the Committee’s activists. By that time, a breakthrough in the informational vacuum and a primary literacy project for society were achieved. The first wave of many sects and cults suffered a loss of new followers and the stagnation began.
In the year 2004 the second (professional) period of the Committee’s activities began, as by that time the Committee was joined by its first specialists (psychologists and lawyers), who were very familiar with how to work with the victims of totalitarian sects. The decision was made to stop mass events and turn to specific areas of professional work. At one psychological centre we constantly received the friends and family members of sect followers. They received psychological, legal and informational help. As a result of many years further work, dozens of sect members were returned to their families. Many former sect members received rehabilitation counselling. The reception of victims continues to this day. At the same time, awareness-building work within society is increasing. The Committee holds lectures in universities, schools and public organisations. The current situation is regularly highlighted by the media. Specialists in the Committee periodically consult law enforcement officers of the Republic of Latvia, officials and deputies of the parliament and local governments, as well as university tutors and school teachers.
In 2005, the Committee’s staff helped in publishing materials related to the attempt of some sects to get their representatives into power, out of sight of the broad electorate. One Latvian party was actively cooperating with a group of Neo-Pentecostal sects and, as the result, the latter have received several deputies in local governments, a member of parliament and even, for a short period, the Minister for the Economy. Information gathered with the help of the Committee contributed to lowering the party’s rating, and thus, in subsequent elections sect representatives lost their seats. In the same year the Committee opened an office in Old Riga where meeting members of the public, consultations, some lectures and training, as well as work meetings moved to a regular basis.
In October of 2006, a round table was held, to which representatives of all parties running for the new parliament were invited. The event was held by the Committee’s staff – professor Oleg Nikiforov and psychologist Victor Yolkin where they raised a question to politicians regarding reforms to legislation in order to protect individuals from the aggression of totalitarian sects. Later, the Committee prepared a number of its own legislative initiatives.
Since March of 2007, the Latvian Committee for Combating the Totalitarian Sects has been registered as an independent organisation. Doctor of Psychology, professor Oleg Nikiforov and psychologist Victor Yolkin became the heads of the Committee. In addition to professional psychologists, the permanent membership of the Committee also included a lawyer, specialising in the field of identity protection, a children’s teacher and other specialists in social professions.
In April 2007, Co-chairman of the Committee Victor Yolkin was invited to Hamburg, to participate in the annual conference held by FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects), the largest organisation on sect issues, which was granted “ECOSOC Special Consultative Status” by the United Nations and the status of participation of international NGOs at the Council of Europe, and the member of The Fundamental Rights Platform of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. At the conference and through recommendations by the most famous Russian sectologist A.L. Dvorkin and other colleagues, the Latvian Committee for Combating the Totalitarian Sects became a corresponding member of this international organisation. In subsequent years, representatives of the Committee periodically participated in European international conferences devoted to the problem of sects, held in Pisa, Poznan, Warsaw, Magdeburg and other European cities. Reports of Latvian anti-sectarians revealed attempts to rebrand several known totalitarian sects and showed the real quantity of these sects, as well as the number of their followers in Latvia. Measures have been proposed to reduce threats from such groups, as well as sharing best practices on working with victims in various countries.
From 2007 to 2011, the Committee held a series of press conferences, during which the Latvian society was regularly informed about potential threats. On separate occasions, press releases were sent out. By virtue of the informational activity of the Committee, the construction of a Neo-Pentecostal church (the largest in Europe with a capacity of 9 to 15 thousand people) was prevented. The promotion of Scientology programs for schools that had already been licensed by the Ministry of Education and Science was blocked. Due to the Committee’s activities, many front organisations of various sects have been revealed, it also did not allow the resumption of killer sect activities, such as Aum Shinrikyo and the White Brotherhood in Latvia, etc. During that period the Committee received annual reports from the Department of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Justice of Latvia and presented alternative information to the society about the real number of sects.
Since 2011, we have been contacted by Russian citizens and, from 2012, representatives of the Committee make regularly expert appearances on the federal channels of Russian television.
In 2013, expert assistance was provided which helped in winning a lawsuit against a sect that deprived the parents of their only son.
From 2013 to 2016, our specialists conducted several researches in psychology and sociolinguistics, contributing to understanding the problems of cults and sects and, as a result:
- signs of totalitarianism in religious groups were collected, summarised and structurised. The term “totalitarian religious group” was defined;
- the methodology for analysing religious groups for signs of totalitarianism in its activities was created and then tested;
- traits of psychological traumas in people who left sects and cults were studied;
- “Life After” psychological rehabilitation methods were developed in order to help former members of sects and cults;
- the actual linguistic meaning of the word “sect” was studied and described in the Russian-language speaking space.
Presently, our specialists continue to regularly inform the society about the activity of sects and cults through Russian and Latvian media, as well as receive the victims and lecture-educational activity both in Latvia, and in Russia.