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«State danger» Yoga. Freedom of belief in Romania (13-04-2006)
By Lodewijk Dros
Freedom of religion and belief is not obvious in Romania, a country that will be a member of the European Union no later than 2008. Justice within a yoga movement invaded without any grounds, with much violence and broadcast on television.
“With axes they broke in the front doors, men with masks, large guns. They dragged me out of the toilet. I was not even allowed to pull up my pants, while a camera taped me continuously.” Mathematics teacher Elena Enescu (29) nervously tells about 18 March 2004.
Sixteen locations in Romania were invaded that day by 300 policemen, prosecutors and other government authorities, the homes of yoga practitioners for ‘Operation Christ' – the name of justice for the leader of MISA, the Romanian yoga group Movement for Spiritual Integration in the Absolute'.
Everything was taken, from computers to underwear. Also Enescu was confiscated all the things she had. The police took tonnes of material with them. On the suspicion that Enescu's employer dealt in weapons and drugs. During the interrogations Enescu concluded that “they knew everything about us, they had telephones eavesdropped, followed us”.
That evening it was big news on TV: during the images of raids and searches, MISA was indicated as a paramilitary, criminal organization and a danger to the state. The Justice Department spoke about the 'most sizable action ever against organized crime, prostitution and drugs trade'. Elena Enescu was shown on TV, half nude, like other surprised women. She was taken along to a police station where accusers put pressure on her to make a statement that connected her with pornographic chat-sites. She filed a complaint against the police and their brutal treatment. So did another 600 yoga practitioners.
Soon after the raids, the authorities recognized that only little was left of the heavy suspicions against MISA. All the complaints have not been answered even to this present day, says Diana Calinescu, manager of the Romanian division of the Helsinki Committee, APADOR-CH. Her organization examined the complaints, and produced in January a report. Calinescu: “The authorities broke laws, listened illegally to people, humiliated men. Soon, nothing was left of the accusation of state danger.”
APADOR-CH also checked the statement of a female minor, where a cliam to have had sex with Gregorian Bivolaru, the leader of MISA, was made (see framework). But reporters concluded that the girl had been held under extreme circumstances ‘to create proof against Bivolaru’.
‘Operation Christ’ is, as concluded by APADOR-CH, “A serious damage of human rights and freedoms of many people” being in a country that, at the latest in 2008, becomes a member of the European Union. Meanwhile the responsible prime minister has left office, but, says Calinescu of APADOR-CH, “On our official charge against the action of the Romanian authorities we have never yet had an answer”. Until this present day, it is not clear to her why the Justice Department wanted to take these actions against MISA.
Two years after the violent police action, Elena Enescu, George Popescu (32), Raluca Popescu (48) and Alina Marinescu (39) make up the balance. They are happy ‘Operation Christ’ created no deaths.
Marinescu: “Thanks to our non-violence. Where once Romanian rebellious miners retaliated violently against the police, 100 men died instantly”.
The target of the action, according to them, was “To decapitate MISA and let it fall apart. That nearly succeeded: Gregorian Bivolaru ('Christ') lives abroad now, in Romania about ten yoga instructors were forced to stop their work, fearful of losing their jobs”. says Popescu. According to his wife Raluca Popescu, a few hundred yoga practitioners dropped out. “But it also created publicity, and new members have joined the school also”.
According to the estimates of the Romanian authorities there are 70,000 to 100,000 yoga practitioners, Popescu thinks it is more like 30,000. For these people yoga generally is not an hour per week on a little mat like aerobics, but a way of life with some Christian touches.
The life for Romanian yoga practitioners is difficult, even though the country recognizes the freedom of religion. Their houses become graffitted; they are being watched by their neighbours and colleagues at work. In the report of APADOR-CH, there is also a case of a yoga practitioner who was sent to a psychiatric clinic like a mentally ill person. The physician on duty refused the patient because nothing was wrong with the person. Furthermore the researchers report cases of dismissed soldiers, teachers and judges.
Alina Marinescu has moved to The Netherlands for love and teaches yoga. Sometimes she visits Romania. “During large yoga events there always are armed policemen in a bus around us. It only needs for something to happen and they come in”.
Yoga in Romania means an involuntary isolation. “They call us members of a sect,” says Marinescu. The yoga instructor worked as building engineer at a business, but finished her job after eleven years. She was, as she mentions, a good employee, but remained low at the career ladder, while others who drank and stole, came higher up’. Reason: 'Alina is a yogi'. Later she worked as a commercial manager within the company of a likeminded yogi. George Popescu would like to work in a normal hospital, “But then I need to conceal that I have yoga-views”.
The different lifestyle turns many Romanians off. When Popescu told his parents about his yoga beliefs, they found it most awful that he does not eat meat any more, he says. “For a Romanian that’s dreadful, for many years my parents no longer spoke with me.” His parents thought that he would die from a vegetarian diet, and even colleague-physicians were very worried.
Many yoga-practitioners receive opposition from the Romanian-Orthodox church, according to the Helsinki Committee. The church “Leads a campaign against MISA”, according to the report, that reproduces a 'representative' quotation of a priest: “The large new–age trends found in the Romanian society, since the Revolution, their easy way, abuse tolerant laws, push deep into the mind of men that they deceive.” As a frightening example Bivolaru is named, “A yogi that has reached a high state of demoniacal possession” and holds “sexual group orgies”.
There are priests that have sympathy for yoga, but they do not dare to say in public. “Most priests refuse admittance to yogis”, says Alina Marinescu. “They use strong language to oppose on Sunday, words that I would rather prefer not to repeat here.” Some priests refuse yoga practitioners holy sacrament of confession.
Marinescu names herself Catholic and Orthodox – she lives in the Netherlands and goes to the church. Popescu: “When my parents said that I quit my orthodox faith, I said: I want to fast, you don’t want. I do read the Bible, you don’t. You know what they said? We are Orthodox.”
Elena Enescu carries a golden crucifix “Because I believe in God”. That God is, having learned through yoga, “Loving and forgiving, not punishing”. The yoga lessons begin with the Lords Prayer.
Elena Enescu goes back to Romania soon. She is fearful, she says. “My parents often get a visit from the police that ask for her. What can I expect on the airport? Police?”
*The names are not the original ones for reason of personal safety.
Asylum for yoga leader and conspiracies thinker
MISA leader is Gregorian Bivolaru (54). He was tortured under Ceausescu. In 1995, his apartment exploded; the fire department thought because of an attack, the Romanian authorities insisted it was at his own fault. After ‘Operation Christ’ Bivolaru fled to Denmark and Sweden after. Romania asked for his extradition. Sweden granted Bivolaru political asylum: The Swedish high Court judged that in Romania he would not get an honest trial and that he would expect 'serious continuations'. Bivolaru blames that on a lecture in Paris, in which he reveals a freemasons plot. Not only Ceausescu and his successors, also homosexuality, AIDS, SARS, Presidents of the U.S., supervision of the press, the Vatican, the French and Russian Revolution, and Operation Christ its part of that plot.