One was that of Beata, a 36-year-old single mother who did not want to disclose her full name for fear of stigma in her deeply Catholic community.

When she became pregnant with her second child, she said the father of the child and her family shunned her. No bank would lend her money because she had no job. No one wanted to hire her because she was pregnant. And she was refused unemployment benefits on the grounds that she was “not employable.”

“The state completely abandons single mothers,” she said.

Then one day, as she was sitting on the floor in her tiny unfurnished apartment, Father Kancelarczyk, who was alerted by a friend, called, encouraged her to keep the baby and offered help.

“One day I had nothing,” Beata said. “The next day he shows up with all these things: furniture, clothes, diapers. I could even choose the color of my stroller.”

Nine years later, Beata works as an accountant and the son she chose to have, Michal, thrives at school.

For many women, Father Kancelarczyk has turned out to be the only safety net — though his charity comes with a brand of Christian fervor that polarizes, a division on stark display in Szczecin.

Father Kancelarczyk’s gothic red brick church towers directly opposite a liberal arts center whose windows are adorned with a row of black lightning bolts — the symbol of Poland’s abortion rights movement — and a poster proclaiming, “My body, my choice.”

Every year, Father Kancelarczyk organizes Poland’s biggest anti-abortion march with thousands departing from his church and facing off with counterprotesters across the street. Before a local gay pride parade, he once called on his congregants to “disinfect the streets.”

He gets hate mail nearly every day, he says, calling it “Satan’s work.”

Ms. Kacpura, the advocate who opposes the government ban, says that the lack of state support especially for single mothers has opened up space for people like Father Kancelarczyk to “indoctrinate” women who find themselves in financial and emotional distress.

Under Communism, child care was free and most Polish workplaces had on-site facilities to encourage mothers to join the work force. But that system collapsed after 1989, while an emboldened Roman Catholic Church put its shoulder behind the 1993 abortion ban as it also rekindled a vision of women as mothers and caregivers at home.

The nationalist and conservative Law and Justice Party, which was elected in 2015 on a pro-family platform, saw opportunity and passed one of Europe’s most generous child benefits programs. It was a revolution in Poland’s family policy.

But it still lacks child care, a precondition for mothers to go to work, as well as special support for the parents of disabled children. Over the past decade, groups of parents of disabled children twice occupied the Polish Parliament to protest the lack of state support, in 2014 and 2018.

When someone contacts Father Kancelarczyk about a woman contemplating abortion — “usually a girlfriend” — sometimes he calls the pregnant woman. When she does not want to talk, he says he will engineer bumping into her and force a conversation.

He also admonishes the fathers, waving ultrasound images in the faces of men looking to leave their pregnant girlfriends. “If men behaved decently, women would not get abortions,” he said.

While abhorred by many, he is admired in the religious communities where he preaches.

Monika Niklas, a 42-year-old mother of two from Szczecin, first attended Mass with Father Kancelarczyk not long after she had learned that her unborn baby had Down syndrome. This was 10 years ago, before the ban included fetal abnormalities, and she had been contemplating an abortion. “I thought my world was crumbling down,” she said.

During his service, Father Kancelarczyk had played a video from his phone with the sound of what he described as a fetal heartbeat.

“It was so moving,” Ms. Niklas recalled. “After the Mass, we went to talk to him, and told him about our situation.” He was one of the first people to tell her and her husband they were going to make it and offered support.

After her son Krzys was born, Ms. Niklas gave up on her career as an architect to take care of him full time. Krzys, now 9, got a place in a school only this fall, one example of how government support falls far short of matching their needs.

She now advises expecting parents of disabled children, trying to counsel them to keep their babies — but without sugarcoating it.

“I never just tell them, ‘It will be all right,’ because it will be hard,” she said. “But if you accept that your life will be different from what you had envisaged, you can be very happy.”

“We have these ideas about what our children will be — a lawyer, a doctor, an astronaut,” she added. “Krzys taught me about love.”

But in all her counsel, she said, one thing barely features: the abortion ban.

“This has not impacted how people make decisions,” she said. “Those who want to get an abortion do it anyway, only abroad.”

Many women here concurred.

Kasia, who also did not want her full name used because the stigma that surrounds the issue, is one of nine women currently living at Father Kancelarczyk’s shelter. She was 23 when she became pregnant. She said her boyfriend had abused her — the police refused to intervene — and then left her. Her mother had kicked her out of the house. A friend contacted an abortion clinic across the border in Germany.

“It is not difficult,” she said of getting an illegal termination. “It is a matter of getting a phone number.”

In the end, it was a near-miscarriage in the eighth week of her pregnancy that changed Kasia’s mind and persuaded her to carry out her pregnancy.

Father Kancelarczyk offered her not just free room and board in his shelter but a lawyer, who took the former boyfriend to court. He is now serving a 10-month sentence and might lose custody.

“I feel safe now,” Kasia said.

Father Kancelarczyk says the number of women referred to him because they were considering abortion did not increase when Poland’s ban was tightened for fetal abnormalities. But he still supports the ban.

“The law always has a normative effect,” he said. “What is permitted is perceived as good, and what is forbidden as bad.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Covid-19 Misinformation Goes Unchecked on Radio and Podcasts

On a recent episode of his podcast, Rick Wiles, a pastor and self-described “citizen reporter,” endorsed a conspiracy theory: that Covid-19 vaccines were the product of a “global coup d’état by the most evil cabal of people in the history of mankind.”

“It’s an egg that hatches into a synthetic parasite and grows inside your body,” Mr. Wiles said on his Oct. 13 episode. “This is like a sci-fi nightmare, and it’s happening in front of us.”

Mr. Wiles belongs to a group of hosts who have made false or misleading statements about Covid-19 and effective treatments for it. Like many of them, he has access to much of his listening audience because his show appears on a platform provided by a large media corporation.

Mr. Wiles’s podcast is available through iHeart Media, an audio company based in San Antonio that says it reaches nine out of 10 Americans each month. Spotify and Apple are other major companies that provide significant audio platforms for hosts who have shared similar views with their listeners about Covid-19 and vaccination efforts, or have had guests on their shows who promoted such notions.

protect people against the coronavirus for long periods and have significantly reduced the spread of Covid-19. As the global death toll related to Covid-19 exceeds five million — and at a time when more than 40 percent of Americans are not fully vaccinated — iHeart, Spotify, Apple and many smaller audio companies have done little to rein in what radio hosts and podcasters say about the virus and vaccination efforts.

“There’s really no curb on it,” said Jason Loviglio, an associate professor of media and communication studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “There’s no real mechanism to push back, other than advertisers boycotting and corporate executives saying we need a culture change.”

Audio industry executives appear less likely than their counterparts in social media to try to check dangerous speech. TruNews, a conservative Christian media outlet founded by Mr. Wiles, who used the phrase “Jew coup” to describe efforts to impeach former President Donald J. Trump, has been banned by YouTube. His podcast remains available on iHeart.

Asked about his false statements concerning Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Wiles described pandemic mitigation efforts as “global communism.” “If the Needle Nazis win, freedom is over for generations, maybe forever,” he said in an email.

The reach of radio shows and podcasts is great, especially among young people: A recent survey from the National Research Group, a consulting firm, found that 60 percent of listeners under 40 get their news primarily through audio, a type of media they say they trust more than print or video.

unfounded claim that “45,000 people have died from taking the vaccine.” In his final Twitter post, on July 30, Mr. Bernier accused the government of “acting like Nazis” for encouraging Covid-19 vaccines.

Jimmy DeYoung Sr., whose program was available on iHeart, Apple and Spotify, died of Covid-19 complications after making his show a venue for false or misleading statements about vaccines. One of his frequent guests was Sam Rohrer, a former Pennsylvania state representative who likened the promotion of Covid-19 vaccines to Nazi tactics and made a sweeping false statement. “This is not a vaccine, by definition,” Mr. Rohrer said on an April episode. “It is a permanent altering of my immune system, which God created to handle the kinds of things that are coming that way.” Mr. DeYoung thanked his guest for his “insight.” Mr. DeYoung died four months later.

has said his research has been “misinterpreted” by anti-vaccine activists. He added that Covid-19 vaccines have been found to reduce transmissions substantially, whereas chickens inoculated with the Marek’s disease vaccine were still able to transmit the disease. Mr. Sexton did not reply to a request for comment.

more than 600 podcasts and operates a vast online archive of audio programs — has rules for the podcasters on its platform prohibiting them from making statements that incite hate, promote Nazi propaganda or are defamatory. It would not say whether it has a policy concerning false statements on Covid-19 or vaccination efforts.

Apple’s content guidelines for podcasts prohibit “content that may lead to harmful or dangerous outcomes, or content that is obscene or gratuitous.” Apple did not reply to requests for comment for this article.

Spotify, which says its podcast platform has 299 million monthly listeners, prohibits hate speech in its guidelines. In a response to inquiries, the company said in a written statement that it also prohibits content “that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive content about Covid-19, which may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health.” The company added that it had removed content that violated its policies. But the episode with Mr. DeYoung’s conversation with Mr. Rohrer was still available via Spotify.

Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s content and advertising business officer, said at a conference last month that the company was making “very aggressive moves” to invest more in content moderation. “There’s a difference between the content that we make and the content that we license and the content that’s on the platform,” she said, “but our policies are the same no matter what type of content is on our platform. We will not allow any content that infringes or that in any way is inaccurate.”

The audio industry has not drawn the same scrutiny as large social media companies, whose executives have been questioned in congressional hearings about the platforms’ role in spreading false or misleading information.

The social media giants have made efforts over the last year to stop the flow of false reports related to the pandemic. In September, YouTube said it was banning the accounts of several prominent anti-vaccine activists. It also removes or de-emphasizes content it deems to be misinformation or close to it. Late last year, Twitter announced that it would remove posts and ads with false claims about coronavirus vaccines. Facebook followed suit in February, saying it would remove false claims about vaccines generally.

now there’s podcasting.”

The Federal Communications Commission, which grants licenses to companies using the public airwaves, has oversight over radio operators, but not podcasts or online audio, which do not make use of the public airwaves.

The F.C.C. is barred from violating American citizens’ right to free speech. When it takes action against a media company over programming, it is typically in response to complaints about content considered obscene or indecent, as when it fined a Virginia television station in 2015 for a newscast that included a segment on a pornographic film star.

In a statement, an F.C.C. spokesman said the agency “reviews all complaints and determines what is actionable under the Constitution and the law.” It added that the main responsibility for what goes on the air lies with radio station owners, saying that “broadcast licensees have a duty to act in the public interest.”

The world of talk radio and podcasting is huge, and anti-vaccine sentiment is a small part of it. iHeart offers an educational podcast series about Covid-19 vaccines, and Spotify created a hub for podcasts about Covid-19 from news outlets including ABC and Bloomberg.

on the air this year, describing his decision to get vaccinated and encouraging his listeners to do the same.

Recently, he expressed his eagerness to get a booster shot and mentioned that he had picked up a new nickname: “The Vaxxinator.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

In Romania, Hard-Hit by Covid, Doctors Fight Vaccine Refusal

COPACENI, Romania — As a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic crashed over Eastern Europe last month, devastating unvaccinated populations, an Orthodox Church bishop in southern Romania offered solace to his flock: “Don’t be fooled by what you see on TV — don’t be scared of Covid.”

Most important, Bishop Ambrose of Giurgiu told worshipers in this small Romanian town on Oct. 14, “don’t rush to get vaccinated.”

The bishop is now under criminal investigation by the police for spreading dangerous disinformation, but his anti-vaccine clarion call, echoed by prominent politicians, influential voices on the internet and many others, helps explain why Romania has in recent weeks reported the world’s highest per capita death rate from Covid-19.

On Tuesday, nearly 600 Romanians died, the most during the pandemic. The country’s death rate relative to population is almost seven times as high as the United States’, and almost 17 times as high as Germany’s.

Europe’s second-lowest vaccination rate; around 44 percent of adults have had at least one dose, ahead of only Bulgaria, at 29 percent. Overall, the European Union stands at 81 percent, with several countries above 90 percent. Complicating matters, Romania has been without a government since last month, when a centrist coalition unraveled.

some form of a vaccine requirement. Here’s a closer look.

As she spoke, a 66-year-old Covid patient, Nicu Paul, gasped for breath on a bed nearby. His wife, Maria, also suffering severe pulmonary problems from Covid, lay in the next bed. Mr. Paul said he had worked for 40 years as an ambulance driver and never gotten sick — “God saved me,” he said — so he decided against vaccination because “there are so many rumors about the vaccine that I did not know what to believe.”

Romania began vaccinating its citizens last December and put the program under the military, the country’s most respected institution, according to opinion polls. The second most trusted institution, however, is the Orthodox church, which has sent mixed signals on vaccines, with Patriarch Daniel in Bucharest telling people to make up their own minds and listen to doctors, while many local clerics and some influential bishops denounced vaccines as the Devil’s work.

Colonel Ghorghita said he had been shocked and mystified by the reach of anti-vaccination sentiment. “They really believe that vaccines are not the proper way to stop Covid,” he said, adding that this was despite the fact that “more than 90 percent of deaths are unvaccinated people.” Old people, the most vulnerable demographic, have been the hardest to convince, he said, with only 25 percent of people over 80 vaccinated.

In central Bucharest, huge signs display photographs of gravely ill patients in hospitals as part of a campaign to jolt people back to reality. “They are suffocating. They beg. They regret,” reads a caption.

Dr. Streinu-Cercel said she was uneasy with trying to reach people by scaring them. “We should be talking about science, not fear,” she said, but “fear is the only thing that got the attention of the general population.”

Distrust of just about everyone and everything is so deep, she said, that some of her patients “are gasping for breath but tell me that Covid does not exist.”

“It is very difficult when so many people are denying all reality,” she added.

At a vaccination center at her hospital, only a trickle of people pass through most days, though vaccines are free and increasingly necessary following new rules requiring vaccination certificates to enter many public buildings.

One of those getting vaccinated was Norica Gheorghe, 82. She said she had held off for months on getting a shot but decided to go ahead this past week after seeing reports that nearly 600 had died in one day. “My hair stood on end when I saw this number, and I decided that I should get vaccinated,” she said.

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Covid disinformation in Romania mostly followed themes that found traction in many other countries, according to Alina Bargaoanu, a Bucharest communications professor who tracks disinformation, with people spreading wild conspiracy theories under fake names on Facebook and other social media.

But as the pandemic dragged on, she added, this largely fake virtual phenomenon morphed into a political movement driven by real people like Diana Sosoaca, an elected member of Romania’s upper house of Parliament. Ms. Sosoaca led a protest in the north of the country that blocked the opening of a vaccination center, denouncing the pandemic as “the biggest lie of the century,” and organized anti-mask rallies in Bucharest. Videos of her antics have attracted millions of views.

Ms. Bargaoanu, the disinformation researcher, said she suspected a Russian hand in spreading alarm over vaccines, but conceded that many of the most popular anti-vaccination conspiracy theories originate in the United States, making them particularly hard to debunk because “Romania is a very pro-American country.”

Colonel Ghorghita has taken to social media to rebut the more outlandish falsehoods, and also met with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to ask them not to fan the flames of disinformation. “They don’t have a duty to recommend vaccination but they do have a duty not to recommend against it,” he said.

The Orthodox church is particularly important because of its strong influence in rural areas, where vaccination rates are half those in cities like Bucharest, where more than 80 percent of adults have received at least one shot.

In Copaceni, a rural county south of Bucharest, workers at a small clinic offering vaccines said they were appalled by Bishop Ambrose’s anti-vaccine tirades.

“I am fighting to get people vaccinated every day, and then he comes along and tells them not to bother,” said Balota Hajnalka, a doctor running the clinic.

Boryana Dzhambazova contributed reporting from Sofia, Bulgaria, and Anton Troianovski from Moscow.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Japan’s Communists Are Hardly Radical, but Make a Handy Election Target

TOKYO — The Japan Communist Party is the oldest political party in the country. It’s the largest nonruling Communist party in the world. It’s harshly critical of China. And the Japanese authorities list it, along with ISIS and North Korea, as a threat to national security.

To many in Japan, that comparison seems exaggerated. The party, which long ago abandoned Marx and Lenin and never really had time for Stalin or Mao, is about as radical as a beige cardigan: antiwar, pro-democracy, pro-economic equality.

But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a primary target of Japan’s dominant political force, the Liberal Democratic Party, ahead of parliamentary elections on Sunday that will help set the country’s path out of the pandemic.

Though clocking in at only 3 percent support in the polls, the Communists have become a handy boogeyman after teaming up with Japan’s leading opposition parties for the first time in an effort to dethrone the L.D.P. The Communists agreed to withdraw their candidates from several districts to avoid splitting the liberal vote.

C.I.A. — carried out heavy-handed crackdowns on the group, which briefly flirted with political violence and became a rallying point for anti-American student protests.

Despite its name, the J.C.P. has largely abandoned its roots in favor of its own homegrown ideology. It broke with the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s and has recently become one of Beijing’s most vocal Japanese critics, denouncing its neighbor for following the path of “hegemony” and violating human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. When the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, the J.C.P. was the only major Japanese party not to send congratulations.

Still, Japan’s National Police Agency has continued to treat the group as a menace. In its annual report on threats to the nation, it lumps the J.C.P. in with the Islamic State, North Korea and Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that killed 13 and injured thousands during a 1995 nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway.

The Japan Communists, the police note, are rapidly aging, losing their financial resources — mostly generated by subscriptions to their newspaper, Akahata, or Red Flag — and are having difficulty attracting new members.

The agency is not clear about what actual threat the group poses. It does note that the Communists were planning to join other opposition parties to challenge the L.D.P., and that they had “added ‘gender equality’ and ‘a nuclear-power-free Japan’” to their platform. (The J.C.P. runs more female candidates than nearly any other Japanese party.)

Both of those initiatives are opposed to some extent by the Liberal Democrats — who, for example, have rejected legislation to allow women to keep their last names after marriage — even though they are popular with the general public.

But those are not among the top issues for voters in the coming election. Their priorities are clear: keeping the coronavirus in check and putting the pandemic-ravaged economy back on track. Neither of these are necessarily winning issues for the L.D.P., which, though unlikely to lose, faces a strong risk of emerging from the election seriously weakened.

Japan is reporting just a few hundred Covid-19 cases each day, and vaccination numbers have surpassed those of most other countries, despite a slow start. Nevertheless, there is a sense that the governing party mismanaged the crisis, fumbling the national vaccine rollout and delaying the country’s recovery. Stories of coronavirus patients dying at home despite ample supplies of hospital beds have further hardened public opinion.

Current economic policies, which have failed to lift the country out of stagnation, are also unpopular — so much so that Fumio Kishida, who became prime minister this month after winning an L.D.P. leadership election, ran against them. Mr. Kishida promised that he would confront growing inequality through a (very socialist-sounding) program of wealth redistribution.

He has since walked back those promises and looks set to continue his predecessors’ policies largely unchanged.

The threat that the Japan Communist Party poses to the L.D.P. may come not from its size — the Communists have never gained more than 13 percent of the vote in a lower house election — but from its members’ dedication. The J.C.P., which has a highly organized base, could play a big role in drawing votes to the opposition, said Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of political science at Nihon University.

“It’s an organization that has the power to gather ballots” he said.

In focusing attention on the Japan Communists, the L.D.P. and its governing partner, Komeito, are betting that voters’ distaste for big “C” communism and fear of a rising China will drive them away from the opposition coalition, said Taku Sugawara, an independent political scientist.

“Until recently, as far as the L.D.P. was concerned, the Communists were just a group that got in the way of the other opposition parties,” he said. “But now that they’re clearly a threat, they’ve become a prominent target of criticism.”

Although there is widespread consensus in Japan that Beijing’s growing power poses a threat to regional stability, the L.D.P. and J.C.P. are split over how to deal with it.

The Liberal Democrats have called for doubling military spending, increasing defense cooperation with the United States, and changing Japan’s pacifist constitution to give it, among other things, the ability to carry out first strikes against adversaries that threaten national security.

The Japan Communists, however, prefer a diplomatic approach and are strongly opposed to the substantial American military presence in Japan, a position that makes it an outlier among Japanese political parties.

During a recent rally in front of the bustling Shinjuku station in central Tokyo, candidates for Komeito warned a small group of potential voters that the differing views of the J.C.P. and its political partners on national defense would make it impossible for them to govern competently.

(The hawkish L.D.P. and its dovish coalition partner have themselves long been at odds over whether to increase military spending or alter Japan’s constitution to remove its prohibition against waging war. And Komeito is notorious for its reluctance to criticize Beijing.)

The Japan Communists have said that their differences with other opposition parties would have no bearing on a new government. The Communists say they won’t seek any role if the opposition topples the L.D.P.

But it’s hard to say what would actually happen if the opposition somehow won power, Mr. Iwai, the political science professor, said.

None of the coalition members “actually think they’re going to win,” he said. So when it comes to discussions of what’s next, “No one’s thought that far.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Long Arm of Russian Law Reaches Obscure Siberian Church

ABODE OF DAWN, Russia — High on a hilltop bathed in the autumnal colors of pine, birch and larch trees, Aleksei Demidov paused for a few minutes of quiet prayer. He was directing his thoughts to his religious teacher, known as Vissarion, hoping he might feel his energy.

As he prayed, a cluster of small bells rang out from a spindly wooden gazebo. They belonged to the Church of the Last Testament, founded in 1991 by Vissarion. Except then his name was Sergei Torop, and he was just a former police officer and an amateur artist.

These days, Mr. Demidov and thousands of other church members consider Vissarion a living god. The Russian state, however, considers him a criminal.

dramatic operation led by federal security services. Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top federal prosecutorial authority, accused them of “creating a religious group whose activities may impose violence on citizens,” allegations they deny.

A year later, the three men are still being held without criminal indictment in a prison in the industrial city of Novosibirsk, 1,000 miles from their church community. No trial has been scheduled.

Since taking power at the turn of the century, President Vladimir V. Putin has gone to great lengths to silence critics and prevent any person or group from gaining too much influence. He has forced out and locked up oligarchs, muted the news media and tried to defang political opposition — like Aleksei A. Navalny.

outlawed in 2017 and declared an “extremist” organization, on par with Islamic State militants.

Though there are accusations of extortion and mistreatment of members of the Church of the Last Testament, scholars and criminal justice experts say the arrest of Mr. Torop underscores the government’s intolerance of anything that veers from the mainstream — even a small, marginal group living in the middle of the forest, led by a former police officer claiming to be God.

“There is an idea that there is a defined spiritual essence of Russian culture, meaning conservative values and so on, that is in danger,” said Alexander Panchenko, the head of the Center for Anthropology of Religion at the European University at St. Petersburg, who has been asked to serve as an expert witness in an administrative procedure that could strip the church of its legal status as a church, an act that he said was based on “false accusations.”

“Somehow the new religious movements are now dangerous as well,” Mr. Panchenko said.

told Russian state-owned media that while there was no requirement to donate money, it was encouraged.

She said that some food items were banned and that seeking medical care was difficult. The church drew notice in 2000 when two children died because the community is so remote that they could not get medical help in time. But Ms. Melnikova also said that conditions had softened since the early days.

The accusations come from a vague Soviet-era law used to punish nonregistered groups like Baptists, evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mr. Lunkin said. The prosecutors’ office did not respond to messages seeking information about the status of the case.

In interviews last month with more than two dozen church members, none said that they had been mistreated or strained financially, and all that they could come and go freely for work or school. They said the church did not impose a financial burden on them. When the authorities searched Mr. Torop’s home, they found only 700 rubles (about $10).

Mr. Torop and his church have not been politically active or spoken out against the government. Instead, followers believe their very independence from normal Russian life is what made their church a target. “We’ve created a self-sustaining society, and our freedom is dangerous for the system,” said Aleksandr A. Komogortsev, 46, a disciple who was a police officer in Moscow for 11 years before moving to one of the biggest villages three years ago.

“We have shown how it is possible to live outside the system,” he said, gushing over a breakfast of salad and potato dumplings about how fulfilling it was to work with his hands.

Tanya Denisova, 68, a follower since 1999, said the church was focused on God’s judgment, not politics. She moved to the village in 2001, after divorcing her husband, who did not want to join the church.

“We came here to get away from politics,” she said.

Like the other faithful, Ms. Denisova eats a vegetarian diet, mostly of food grown in her large garden. Pictures of Vissarion, referred to as “the teacher,” and reproductions of his paintings hang in many rooms of her house.

Each village where followers live, like Ms. Denisova’s Petropavlovka, functions as a “united family,” with the household heads meeting each morning after a brief prayer service to discuss urgent communal work to be done for the day, and with weekly evening sessions where members of the community can solve disputes, request assistance or offer help.

At one recent meeting, members approved two new weddings after ensuring the betrothed couples were ready for marriage.

For many of the believers, their leader’s arrest, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, is a sign that Judgment Day approaches.

Others said they felt his arrest was the fulfillment of a prophecy, comparing their teacher’s plight with that of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.

Stanislav M. Kazakov, the head of a small private school in the village of Cheremshanka, said the arrest had made the teacher more famous in Russia and abroad, which he hoped would draw more adherents.

Mr. Kazakov said his school, like other community institutions, had been subjected to repeated inspections and fines since 2019, with at least 100 students as young as 8 questioned by the police. He said the arrest and intimidation by the police had made the community stronger.

“They thought we would fall apart without him,” he said. “But in the past year, we have returned to the kind of community that holds each other together.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Why Tunisia’s Promise of Democracy Struggles to Bear Fruit

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — In the 10 years since its popular uprising set off the Arab Spring, Tunisia has often been praised as the one success story to emerge from that era of turbulence. It rejected extremism and open warfare, it averted a counterrevolution, and its civic leaders even won a Nobel Peace Prize for consensus building.

Yet for all the praise, Tunisia, a small North African country of 11 million, never fixed the serious economic problems that led to the uprising in the first place.

It also never received the full-throated support of Western backers, something that might have helped it make a real transition from the inequity of dictatorship to prosperous democracy, analysts and activists say. Instead, at critical points in Tunisia’s efforts to remake itself, many of its needs were overlooked by the West, for which the fight against Islamist terrorism overshadowed all other priorities.

Now, as Tunisians grapple with their latest upheaval, which began when President Kais Saied dismissed the prime minister and suspended Parliament over the weekend, many seem divided on whether to condemn his actions — or embrace them.

terrorism and the pandemic, Mr. Kaboub said.

overthrew the country’s authoritarian president of 23 years, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

But Western officials were obsessively focused on the Islamists — namely the Ennahda, or Renaissance, party that swept early elections — and where they were going and what they represented.

“In conversations, those sorts of questions ate up almost all the oxygen in the room,” Ms. Marks said. “It was almost impossible to get anybody to ask another question.”

awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 — to the point that it became a “fetish,” she said.

After the 2011 revolution, Al Qaeda and other extremists were quick to mobilize networks of recruits.

Terrorism burst into the open in 2012 when the U.S. Embassy in Tunis came under attack from a mob. Over the years that followed, extremist cells carried out a string of political assassinations and suicide attacks that shattered Tunisians’ optimism and nearly derailed the democratic transition.

training and assisting Tunisian security forces, and supplying them with military equipment, but so discreetly that the American forces themselves were virtually invisible.

By 2019, some 150 Americans were training and advising their Tunisian counterparts in one of the largest missions of its kind on the African continent, according to American officials. The value of American military supplies delivered to the country increased to $119 million in 2017 from $12 million in 2012, government data show.

The assistance helped Tunisia defeat the broader threat of terrorism, but government ministers noted that the cost of combating terrorism, while unavoidable, burned a larger hole in the national budget.

But it is the structure of the economy that remains the root of the problem, Mr. Kaboub said. All of Tunisia’s political parties have identical economic plans, based on World Bank and International Monetary Fund guidelines. It was the same development platform used by the ousted president, Mr. Ben Ali, Mr. Kaboub said.

“Right now,” he said, “everybody in Tunisia is begging for an I.M.F. loan, and it is going to be seen as the solution to the crisis. But it is really a trap. It’s a Band-Aid — the infection is still there.”

Lilia Blaise contributed reporting from Tunis.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

In Nagorno-Karabakh, Land Mines, Bulldozers and Lingering Tensions

When I came to Nagorno-Karabakh after the war last year, the sight of a hillside Armenian military cemetery brought to my mind the layers of tragedy embedded in this land.

After returning in June, I left wondering just how much heartbreak a patch of earth can bear.

In Shusha last October, I stepped into the concrete basement of an apartment block, where Armenian women were sheltering on flattened cardboard boxes. They thought they had known what war was like, one said, recalling the 1990s conflict. But the enormous firepower of modern weapons was different, “a horror, a horror.”

Back then, as Communism collapsed, the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh — an area mostly populated by Armenians within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Armenia won that war, leaving about one-seventh of Azerbaijan’s territory under Armenian control.

As international efforts to mediate the conflict failed, and Azerbaijan’s oil and gas riches boomed, the country invested in modern drones from Israel and Turkey. By the time Azerbaijan attacked last September, its military, supported by Turkey, was overpowering compared with that of poorer and smaller Armenia.

When I returned last month to the Shusha apartment block, it was gone, razed to bare, brown ground. The area will become part of a new “streetscape,” the British architect, Adrian Griffiths, told me.

Rather than allow the Azerbaijanis to simply return to their homes, President Ilham Aliyev, the country’s authoritarian ruler, wants to rebuild Shusha as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital. About 15,000 people, mainly Azerbaijanis, lived there before the 1990s war; until last fall, there were roughly 5,000 Armenian residents.

The striking hilltop city was a cradle of Azerbaijani music and poetry in the 19th century, though Armenians also see it as core to their historical identity.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

As Secular Peace Effort Stutters in Israel, Religious Mediators Hope to Step In

JERUSALEM — The rabbi stood before the grave of the imam, weeping as he gave his eulogy. In life, Rabbi Michael Melchior said, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish had promised him that he would never leave his side. In death, the sheikh had left him feeling as bereft as an orphan.

Sheikh Abdullah died in 2017, four years before the Islamist party he helped found, Raam, became the first independent Arab faction to join an Israeli government coalition. But the sheikh’s funeral and his unlikely friendship with Rabbi Melchior, as well as their below-the-radar attempts at religious-based peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians, were all part of an unexpected, decades-long back story of an effort by some Islamists to find a place within Israeli politics.

For Mansour Abbas, a politician standing in tears to the rabbi’s right that day, the sheikh’s death was one of several pivotal way stations in his journey to lead Raam into Israel’s government.

“At Sheikh Abdullah’s funeral and Rabbi Melchior’s speech, it hit me — that I need to be committed to Sheikh Abdullah and Rabbi Melchior’s joint approach,” said Mr. Abbas, who became Raam’s leader in 2018 and entered Parliament two years ago. The speech and the funeral “made me go from being a supporter and minor contributor to it to someone wishing to strengthen it and push it forward,” he said.

violent clashes in May. And Israel had just ended a brief war with Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in the Gaza Strip.

Both Raam and Hamas have roots in the same Islamist movement. And Raam’s leading influence, Sheikh Abdullah, was convicted and imprisoned in the 1980s for links to a militant Islamist group.

To those in and around Raam, its new role makes more sense in the context of Sheikh Abdullah’s spiritual journey since he left jail, when he had an ideological about-face and sought to use Islamic teachings to justify a more peaceful approach.

helped legitimize the idea of Arab participation in government by pursuing Raam’s support.

are fighting to restore momentum to a formal peace process that petered out in 2014. To them, Mr. Abbas’s political maneuver was a natural outgrowth of a long-term project of religious-based peace building begun by Sheikh Abdullah.

“My sheikh went through several stations in his life,” said Sheikh Raed, citing Sheikh Abdullah’s break with militance after leaving prison in the 1980s.

“The whole religious dialogue,” Sheikh Raed said, “started from that point.”

Born in 1948 in an Arab town in what became Israel, Sheikh Abdullah flirted briefly with Communism as a young man before turning more seriously to Islam.

In the 1970s, he founded the Islamic Movement, a group based in Israel that aimed to encourage the Muslim minority to deepen its faith and, ultimately, to create a society governed by Islamic law. The group also had a militant wing that carried out arson attacks on Israeli property.

But in the 1980s, he surprised his followers by pushing to establish better relations between Arabs and Israelis, within both Israel and the occupied territories.

participation of the Islamic Movement’s political wing, later known as Raam, in Israeli parliamentary elections. That caused a split in the movement, with some members forming a now banned splinter group that rejected participation in the Israeli parliamentary process.

But Sheikh Abdullah continued on a path of moderation, writing a book that rejected any religious justification for suicide attacks. He also began to work on several peace-building projects with Rabbi Melchior, then a deputy foreign minister in the Israeli government.

communal violence in the city of Acre, in northern Israel.

In 2014, they coordinated to avoid religious violence in mixed Arab-Jewish cities when the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, fell on the same day as the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha, and tried to taper conflict during a low-level intifada the next year.

Mr. Abbas became involved in the initiatives and later developed a close relationship with Rabbi Melchior, speaking with him several times a month.

To the rabbi, these religious-based peace initiatives offered a way to move on from the secular-led diplomatic efforts of the 1990s and 2000s, which he said failed in part because they did not sufficiently include religious elements from the two populations.

“The traditional and religious population felt that the peace was part of the uprooting of what they felt was their sense of belonging, of their DNA, of their identity, of their narrative,” Rabbi Melchior said.

After Sheikh Abdullah’s death, Sheikh Raed took up his mantle. He worked with Rabbi Melchior to defuse another crisis in 2017, when the installation of metal detectors at the entrance to the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem almost set off another uprising.

In 2020, Sheikh Raed released a lengthy religious tract that provided a theological justification for Raam’s joining an Israeli government. Several months later, Mr. Abbas joined the current governing coalition.

During the coalition negotiations, Mr. Abbas gave a televised speech in Hebrew, largely pitched at Israeli Jews, in which he called for coexistence and presented himself as a citizen of Israel. Analysts later said it played a pivotal role in positioning him as an acceptable partner for Jewish-led parties. The speech was his own, but he spoke beforehand with Rabbi Melchior about its content, both men said.

To some Palestinian citizens of Israel, Mr. Abbas is a sellout for helping put right-wing Jewish politicians in power in exchange for what critics perceive as only token victories.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the left-wing party Hadash, said Mr. Abbas’s approach was transactional, positioning Palestinian citizens of Israel as servants and subjects instead of as true citizens with collective rights.

“I don’t want to work as a politician under a Jewish supremacy,” said Mr. Odeh, whose party includes a mix of Arabs and Jews. “I fight for deep equality on both a civil and national level between the two peoples.”

But to advocates like Sheikh Raed and Rabbi Melchior, Mr. Abbas’s decision was a hopeful byproduct of a long process of religious peace-building that seeks to place Palestinians and Israelis on a more equal footing, and which political leaders would do well to amplify.

“If the religious element is not inside the peace camp, and not included fully, it just won’t happen,” Rabbi Melchior said. “I, for one, do not want to exclude the secular — not from our society and not from the peacemaking,” he added. “I just want to expand that sense of peace.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<