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July 27, 2010

Russia’s Parliament Takes On The Occult

27 July, 2010

People are always fascinated by the possibility of catching a glimpse of the future. And psychics are always ready to turn people's curiosity into cash. But now the Russian parliament has taken the future into its hands.

The allure of the unknown and the showcasing of psychic abilities have become big business in Russia. While simple entertainment for some, others turn to these self-proclaimed mystics for healing and the promise of answers to the problems of everyday life.

“Six years ago trouble came to our family: my son was lured into a relationship by a woman who used some witchcraft,” said Larisa Kazakova, a victim of psychic fraud. “As a mother, I couldn't help seeing that his health was impaired and was getting worse. His mind was suppressed; he changed completely.”

Larisa put her trust in a psychic, who claimed to have special insight into the situation, but as time passed it became clear that all the psychic was after was more of Larisa’s money.

“I paid her about 600,000 rubles [$20,000] a year for three years. That’s not because we are rich, but for the sake of your child’s health you’d do anything – sell possessions, take loans, anything!” Larisa said.

Experts say the nature of this industry provides a prime opportunity for people to take advantage of those desperate for something to believe in.

“Some quasi-shamanic things in the worst meaning of this word are all too close to a hoax – but people want to keep believing, so they trust them,” said psychiatrist Sergey Enikolopov. “And when they finally turn for help to real doctors, they find out it's too late, too hard, and that a patient is in need of critical measures.”

Now there is a movement in the State Duma to protect people like Larisa from being conned.

“We’re prohibiting advertisement of services which are not backed by professional or commercial experience,” said Victor Zvagelsky, a State Duma deputy from the Economic Policy Committee. “We believe these people practice tax evasion and swindling. Moreover, they’re deceiving potential consumers with these occult services.”

The new law is aimed at articles and advertisements offering services of people who claim they can heal or tell the future using mystic abilities. But those who make a living at this say that a ban on such ads won’t really make a dent in their business at all.

“I’d say that today, the internet brings the most clients into this business, rather than printed resources or TV,” said fortuneteller and parapsychologist Darya Mironova. “The only ad that really works is the grapevine; you help someone, and they in turn bring their family and friends.”

And while it may seem counter-intuitive, some who claim to have such powers say they provide a valuable service and that a ban on advertising could actually be helpful.

“I help people in their family relationships, and I do fortunetelling, depending on their needs,” she said. “Most psychics do the same thing; however those who don’t know what they’re doing are trying to gain notoriety through ads and other means. I believe there should be a set of documents to prove their abilities.”

The Duma is trying to make the same point.

“They could get a diploma or a medical certificate, or undergo a medical commission,” Zvagelsky said. “Each region of Russia issues their particular diplomas, which makes each healer work in that region only. The same way, one can be deprived of their diploma if their healing doesn’t work, just like any other doctor.”