Mar 25, 2008

On Russian Cults and Morbid Curiosity

Left: Cave that holds dozens of Russian cultists

I don't quite know what it is about lunatics and cults that fascinates me. As a social historian, I am intrigued about people on the margins of mainstream society, and I have a curiosity about the factors that turn people away from what passes for normal in a given culture.

But I must confess that my interests go beyond the merely academic. If I am on vacation, I am just as likely to take pictures of the homeless as I am of typical tourist traps, and I enjoy a political protest as much for the people watching as I do for the message.

It was thus with a mixture of scholarly inquisitiveness and macabre rubberneckery that I read today of the True Russian Orthodox Church, a Russian doomsday cult whose members have buried themselves in caves to await the end of the world. Cult members also shot at police today after local authorities attempted to offer assistance to the group.

The leader of the True Russian Orthodox Church is a Russian man named Pyotr Kuznetsov, who has been detained at a psychiatric hospital for several months. Kuznetsov and his followers believe that the world will end on May 28 of this year. An estimated 35 members of the cult - including four children - have been holed up in the Penza region since last November, and Kuznetsov and his followers dug an underground well and septic system prior to the group's subterranean seclusion.

Members of the group previously threatened mass suicide if Russian authorities tried to intervene.

Left: Russian cult leader Pyotr Kuznetsov

Russian prosecutors also announced that they intend to file charges of inciting religious hatred against Kuznetsov, which carries a punishment of up to four years in prison. The cult leader already faces charges of organizing a religious group associated with violence.

Kuznetsov reportedly prohibited his followers from watching television, listening to the radio, or handling money. The group reportedly stockpiled enough food and supplies to last through the winter, as well as large quantities of gasoline that Russian media sources claim will be used for mass immolation should the police or military storm the cult's underground bunker.

So I sift through media reports about Kuznetsov and his followers, hoping that we do not see another type of Peoples Temple massacre, but all the while acknowledging that I have a cynical presumption that the next few weeks will likely bring news of an underground tragedy in the hills of Penza.


dr-exmedic said...

Gasoline is just way too expensive to kill yourself with....

Barb said...

Is that his picture? You usually think that a cult leader must have tremendous charisma and powers of persuasion --but the guy in the photo wouldn't attract anybody, would he??

I never understood the People's Temple group -if they were like prisoners and guarded after they got there, unable to leave --or if they knew what the red kool-aid was.

These groupss are very bizarre, aren't they. You can't tell if they are held against their will, apparently --when guns and threats are used to keep people out; are they also being used to keep people in?