The deep crisis of the French governmental anti-cult mission has been revealed by the resignation of its chief, Hanène Romdhane.
by Massimo Introvigne
Earlier this month, French media reported that the chief of the MIVILUDES, Hanène Romdhane, a judge, resigned from her position—or perhaps was compelled to do so by the president of the mission, Christian Gravel. The MIVILUDES is the French Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances (dérives sectaires: note that the French “secte” and its derivative words should be translated into English as “cult” and not as “sect”), a unique French anti-cult agency that is part of the government itself.
No French media outlet has really explained why Romdhane had to leave, but Bitter Winter collected some comments from well-informed sources, who spoke under condition of anonymity. Romdhane is a magistrate, and was reportedly dispatched by the Ministry of Justice to the MIVILUDES to give to the mission a clearer legal framework, avoiding at the same time potential legal liabilities. If this was so, her work has not been successful.
The legal status of the MIVILUDES’ activities remains unclear, and its reports continue to include fake news that amounts to slander and exposes the mission to lawsuits for defamation. In its most recent report, the MIVILUDES has republished false information about the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgium for which its Belgian counterpart CIAOSN has been found guilty of defamation by a decision of June 16, 2022 of the Court of Brussels. MIVILUDES and CIAOSN meet every month to exchange information.
Not only the MIVILUDES creates legal liabilities for the government, it also sends other state agencies and security services into merry chases based on unreliable information. The MIVILUDES had to admit that its figures about “cults” in France are speculative and not based on recent data, and that its work and statistics are derived from “saisines,” which are not “reports” on specific wrongdoings but also include simple comments and questions by other branches of the French administration and private citizens.
Another reason of dissatisfaction, perhaps shared by Romdhane and mentioned by some French media, is that politicians have consistently used the MIVILUDES as a vehicle for self-promotion. Before the last French political elections, it was the French Minister Delegate for Citizenship at the Ministry of Interior, Marlène Schiappa. Today, it is Secretary of State for Citizenship Sonia Backès, who tells a strange story about being a “survivor” of Scientology, which has been challenged by her own brother in an interview he gave to Bitter Winter.
Understandably, the government is even less happy when the MIVILUDES is used for political purposes by politicians of the opposition such as Georges Fenech, a rabid anti-cultist who was the mission’s president until 2013 and came back as a member of its Orientation Council in 2021.
Speaking of Bitter Winter, according to our sources a main reason of dissatisfaction with the MIVILUDES is its relationship with private anti-cult organizations such as the French UNADFI and the European federation FECRIS, whose wrongdoings we expose systematically. After Romdhane left, the MIVILUDES’s President Gravel claimed that the mission’s main success has been to obtain one million euros from the government and distribute it to the private associations. However, that MIVILUDES functions as an ATM for the associations is not without challenges. The NGO CAP-LC (CAP Freedom of Conscience) reported the UNADFI to the French National Court of Audit (Cour des comptes) to be investigated on how it spends its money.
FECRIS is in even deeper trouble for its relationship with Russian organizations and individuals—such as Alexander Dvorkin, who sits in its board of directors, Alexander Novopashin, and Roman Silantyev, who has been invited by a FECRIS affiliate to a conference in France as late as July 2022—, who are fanatical supporters of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. FECRIS has published a short text condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has “hidden” the Russian affiliates from its list of members, and finally eliminated the list from its website altogether, claiming it is “under revision.”
To no avail, as Novopashin himself revealed on December 2 that the Russian organizations, Dvorkin, and himself had never been expelled from the FECRIS and are still its representatives in Russia. Novopashin also wrote to Bitter Winter calling our attention on his statement.
After 82 Ukrainian scholars wrote to President Macron calling for an end to the French support of FECRIS, whose Russian affiliates effectively help the invasion of Ukraine by portraying it as a country dominated by “cults,” MIVILUDES’s tight relationship with FECRIS became an even more embarrassing topic.
It is indeed a “bitter winter” for the MIVILUDES, and the French agency should blame only itself for it. Years of slander of religious minorities based on press clippings and dubious information supplied by anti-cultists created an international image of bigotry that is now impossible to overcome.