Asylum in Sweden >>> Supreme Court of Justice decision >>> The Report on MISA and NATHA of the Swedish Sociologists from Skop-Research
The report was one of the main defense evidence in the extradition trial ruled on by the Supreme Court in Stockholm on October 11th – 12th 2005. The final and irreversible decision of the High Court from Stockholm was to decline the extradition request submitted by the Romanian state against Gregorian Bivolaru.
Lawyer company Delphi & Co from Stockholm intermediated a report of SKOP-Research regarding the Danish yoga movement from the NATHA yoga center and the MISA yoga movement, for MISA – the Romanian Yoga School.
This study states our conclusions following some interviews we had with the MISA founder, Gregorian Bivolaru and one of his students, the leader of the NATHA centre in Copenhagen. The study also stands on interviews with former and current yoga practitionners, living in Copenhagen. Some of them are Romanian sojourning in Denmark.
The chief scientist of the study on MISA and NATHA is senior lecturer doctor Orjan Hultaker.
There are many forms of yoga and different ways to present and teach them. Yoga can be related to religious representations, but this is not a compulsory feature. These days yoga is part of the western culture, just as it occurs in the adverting of the American multinational companies for their products in different countries.
The multinational companies usually avoid references to any form of sect. The fact that a company like Kellogg’s (producing cornflakes for breakfast) makes use of yoga for international advertising (including in Sweden) is clear evidence that yoga belongs to the western culture at present. In the West, yoga is not considered a threat for the social institutions, as it may occur in some countries including Romania. On the contrary, when Kellogg’s offers their customers a DVD presnting some yoga exercises, it actually refers to a serious trend connected to welfare.
The webpage of Kellog’s http://www.kelloggs.se/spk/Yoga/DVD%20Content.aspx – states about Yoga: “The form of yoga sampled on the Kellogg’s Special K Yoga DVD is an active form of yoga, based on dynamic moves and breathing aiming at perfecting the harmony of body and conscience. Conscious breathing also triggers inner warmth, this is why you are going to get warm during the yoga session. The yoga training sessions of 20 and 45 minutes are based on Astanga yoga, which combines movement, flexibility and force. The 45 minutes program will provide complete training. When you practice yoga you should think that it is your yoga. There is no need for you to reach the same flexibility in practicing the body postures like the women in the pictures. You will probably notice that some poses are more at ease than the others, which is quite natural. Think that your body needs to get used to the body poses of yoga, for in everyday life we do not perform all poses that our body is capable of doing. In time, you can go further in practicing the poses and you will have more strength to perform this form of yoga. Be patient to get ready for the exercises that require more strength.
The presentation of the Kellogg company concerning yoga is quite similar to the way the Danish yogis of NATHA and the Romanian yogis of MISA are talking about it in the interviews.
The research presentation
There are two grounds to support this study. The first is that MISA – the Romanian Yoga school MISA was accused of jeopardising the public order. Among other things, there have been references to human beings trafficking as compulsory work. Due to these accusations against the yoga practitioners, both MISA leaders and ordinary followers are subject to continuous persecution. In this respect we have reliable evidence from the Helsinki Committee, as reported by the Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania – Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH).
The other reaosn is the request for Gregorian Bivolaru, the founder of MISA, to be extradited to Romania, the country persecuting the yogis, according to APADOR-CH reports. Subsequent to our investigation, we can reinforce the conclusions of the APADOR-CH reports that state the accusations against Gregorian Bivolaru in Romania are unfounded.
Choosing the country and the investigated persons for this research
For practical and personal security reasons we could not perform this study in Romania. Together with the company that agreed to this research we chose to interview some yoga followers of MISA in Denmark. The yoga system founded by Gregorian Bivolaru acknowledged as MISA in Romania is practiced in lots of countries, among which Sweden. The yoga activity is larger in Denmark, where for a few years there have been a few centres in Copenhagen and over the country.
The school in Denmark is based on the yoga system founded by Gregorian Bivolaru and it is called the NATHA center. The NATHA centre in Copenhagen offers a large variety of courses. There are also some collective residences in Denmark, ashrams, where the yoga practitioners can live for longer or shorter periods of time.
There is one reason we chose Denmark for our investigation: the yoga activities are managed here by a Romanian yogi, quite close to Gregorian Bivolaru. His name is Mihai Stoian; he has had a close relationship to Gregorian Bivolaru and he often used to ask for his advice, including for the schedule of the yoga courses. Mihai Stoian, the leader of the yoga activities in Copenhagen, also had an important role in MISA in Romania, where he was the manageer of the publishing house where the yoga courses and different other materials were issued.
There are many similar points in the statements of the interviewed persons about the activities of NATHA in Denmark and MISA in Romania. There are similar activities, practical courses in the yoga halls and in the ashrams. Gregorian Bivolaru has a special status among the yoga practitioners and his picture is on the front wall of the training hall in Copenhagen.
The interviews for the study were conducted by the scientific manager of SKOP, senior lecturer in sociology Orjan Hultaker, by the sect issues expert, priest Karl-Erik Nylund and his SKOP associate Oscar Hultaker, expert in behaviour issues and doctorship candidate at the University of Uppsala.
Interviewing the leaders
The interviews with Gregorian Bivolaru and Mihai Stoian took place during Gregorian Bivolaru’s detention at the Malmo Police. As Gregorian Bivolaru was restricted under custody there was no way for him to communicate to Mihai Stoian and influence one another’s statement in their interviews with Karl-Erik Nylund respectively Orjan Hultaker, who had separate interviews with them.
Karl-Erik Nylund and Örjan Hultåker also interviewed some yoga followers and staff members from the NATHA center in Copenhagen, where most of the work is performed as karma yoga, which implies volunteer work - not to be taken for human beings trafficking, which means compulsory work. For instance, there is a yoga practitioner, living in an ashram, who meanwhile attends the Copenhagen University courses.
Interviewing committed yoga practitioners Karl-Erik Nylund and Örjan Hultåker also interviewed six yoga practitioners about their activities, moral principles and their attitude about yoga. Three of them are Romanians, currently living in Denmark, therefore they could report on practicing yoga in Romania.
Interviewing former yoga practitioners and persons no longer living in the ashrams
According to Karl-Erik Nylund and Örjan Hultåker’s interviews with the yogi, SKOP set up an interview guide, which may be used for random quiz on the persons who have practiced yoga in NATHA or had been living in the ashram for a while, but they no longer live there. Studies on social structures and movements usually point to the persons that no longer belong there as proper sources of information.
The SKOP assistant Oscar Hultaker is a behaviour issues expert and degree candidate at the University of Uppsala, in Sweden. He interviewed by phone five persons, among which two former followers, who had only got in touch with NATHA by attending the courses, and they currently have no contact to NATHA.
Three of the interviewed persons had been living in the ashram, but they moved out. One of them at least gave up practicing yoga. They have all personal contacts with persons still attending NATHA, even to persons belonging to other yoga movements.
Oscar Hultaker chose the persons to quiz on the lists of former followers, which NATHA placed at his disposal.
The five interviews followed a quite detailed guide, containing the following questions:
What was the influence, order and persuasion process, the personal example, the relation to the leaders?
What was most important about yoga, techniques, ideas and karma?
Do/did people believe in the religious part of the ideas?
What was karma yoga about?
Do you still practice yoga techniques / karma yoga?
What is your contact to other yoga practitioners?
Örjan Hultåker’s conclusions
The interviews conducted by Oscar Hultaker were enclosed to this report. Karl-Erik Nylund also wrote a separate report « Gregorian Bivolaru and the MISA movement ».
There are two things indicating a social movement as a jeopardy for the social order:
- First, the movement should have some direction concerning moral values (accepted by the practitioners) which goes against the social values, regulations and standards.
- Secondly, the social movement pattern should isolate and get away from the rest of the society, when it comes to social contacts and information.
Yoga practitioners do not consider MISA a religion, or a mass of beliefs
The MISA founder, Gregorian Bivolaru makes use of lots of religious symbols and ideas in his courses. He states a syncretic vision and his ideas are based on different sources and religious traditions, which Karl-Erik Nylund reports in his study: “Report on Gregorian Bivolaru and the yoga movement MISA”.
Nevertheless, there is no religious core common to all yoga practitioners of MISA and NATHA. For people answering the interviews, yoga is most of all physical exercise and many of the practitioners describe it just as the multinational Kellogg’s company in its yoga exercises DVD.
Aiming to reach harmony between body and spirit - this can be no breach of social rules
Besides physical training, many followers of NATHA consider yoga a way to connect the physical and the psycho-mental enhancement of the individual. As the Kellogg’s put it: “it’s an active form of yoga based on motion and breathing, aiming at a state of harmony between body and consciousness”.
This does not stand against the general values of society in any way. On the contrary, yoga is quite popular – even outside MISA and NATHA – which complies with the current trend in the individual evolution and the consciousness development by means of physical training that provides health.
MISA and NATHA voice their ideas and moral values in the open. There are lots of articles in the internet introducing of Mr. Gregorian Bivolaru’s moral ideas and values and the yoga classes of MISA and NATHA. The leaders of the movements were quite open in their presentation of the courses and different activities.
Open social structure
Sects usually imply serious separation between their adepts and the outsiders. Not only do they have to accept a particular faith, but there are also special rites required in order to have access as a member of the group or to leave it. People who belong to the sect can be easily identified by other members.
As far as our interviews with the followers in Denmark pointed out, we can state an open structure there, which has nothing to do with the restricted, sectarian structure. People who moved out the ashrams say they could do it with no conflicts or worries.
Concerning the sects, people who leave it can no longer stay in touch with their friends there. People intervied in Denmark tell us they keep in touch with their friends in the ashrams, even after moving out.
These subjects do admit some connection between MISA / NATHA and other forms of yoga. There is no way to take any of the above differences for sectarian differences, the followers state confess with regard to the professional value and reliability of the courses they attend, for the activity of the yoga centres does not pursue material advantages.
Yoga can be considered a hobby competing with other spare time activities, with regard to the time allotted. Former followers stated they gave up practicing because it required too much time.
The yoga practitioners are not isolated from society
Considering the interviews we had in Denmark, we can absolutely draw the conclusion that the yoga practitioners want to be part of the society. There is no reason for them to get isolated. They even expressed their wish to include yoga as part of the public education, such as university courses - mutual wish for yoga schools or other alternative medicine organizations.
No program for social changing was detected
The interviews pointed out no program for social changing. The practitioners did not start to practice yoga in order to change the society, but they aim to enrich themselves in order to become more kind. The changing that may occur at a social level is the result of their being living examples that can stand as models for the others. There is no documented plan for collective actions meant to disturb the social order.
It’s quite difficult to stir the yogis for group actions
The yoga movement is open to society and it considers itself part of it. People practicing yoga at MISA also belong to other groups. The followers have no mutual principle about changing the society or disturbing the social order.
It would be rather difficult to stir the yogis from Denmark or from other countries to group actions, therefore there is no ground to define this movement as a sect. The conclusion to draw is that the yoga practitioners do not stand for a threat of a genuine democratic society. Given that this movement lacks any revolutionary ideology and it is part of society there is no reason to consider it a sect.
Intead, yoga practitioners can represent the ground of a social protest in the countries under totalitarian regimes that fear and block the legal democratic channels.