Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
A Profitable “Miraculous” Business

Moskovskaya Pravda 12 April 2004

The social shocks and the change of economic policy knocked the ground from under many people’s legs. Disappointed in their own abilities they search for help from swindlers and healers ready to offer healing and protection from mysterious forces for a certain price. Until now such a socially dangerous phenomenon as the demand for the occult deeds of masters was facilitated by flaws in legislation and insufficient monitoring by the authorities. The correspondent of the weekly “Interfax VREMYA” decided to look into the reasons for the disruptions of services in this area.

Whom do healers fear?

Law-abiding representatives of nontraditional medicine must have a license and be actually able to confirm the positive results of their healing activity. In a List of Works and Services Falling Within Medical Activity Performed on the Basis of Licensing” published in 2001 it said that all the methods of restoring health and diagnosis permitted by the Ministry of Health (which include many methods used in practice by folk healers) are subject to licensing, and therefore healing activity without a license is outside the law. Folk healers without a license, attracting patients with promises of wondrous healing, even of hard-to-treat illnesses, AIDS, drug addiction, mental illnesses and cancer, indeed operate by a banal extraction of money. If after the “session” the patient gets a brief improvement in his condition, it is not necessary to forget about the effect of autosuggestion called “the placebo effect” by scientists (from the Latin “placebo” – “I heal”[Translator’s note: actually, it means “I will please”]). Common sense warnings are not in effect when a seriously ill patient wants to believe in quick “mystical” help and traditional treatment does not promise a quick result. Specialists of the Moscow City Licensing Chamber wave their hands helplessly when they see these examples, but they can monitor only those healers who have a license.

According to law, only those representatives of nontraditional medicine who can present a diploma of traditional medical education have the right to a private medical practice, as stated in Articles 56 and 57 “The Principles of Legislation About Health Protection”. As a source in the Department of Standardization and Licensing of Medical Activity of the RF Ministry of Health informed a correspondent of the weekly Interfax VREMYA, the responsibility for violations in this area rests on the regional health protection agencies who often issue documents to healers who do not have medical diplomas. For example, in St. Petersburg the issue of licenses to healers without a medical education was recently halted.

But healing is a very profitable niche in the market for medical services and in pursuing clients charlatans use words in their announcements like “I heal” or “I treat” to which they have no right. They violate not only licensing regulations for nontraditional medicine but also the Law on Advertising, deceiving the consumer about the services offered. In the words of Sergey Puzyrevsky, Deputy Chief of the Advertising Activity Monitoring Directorate of MAP (the Ministry of Antimonopoly Policy), in this event they can only be fined a maximum of 500 MROT [minimum wage rate] (which is 3,000 rubles today) for dishonest advertising. Sergey Puzyrevsky admits that in the past year of 4,000 orders prohibiting advertisements in the mass media only 1% applied to violations in the area of occult services.

Justice for a wizard

Can you prove that you are right in the event a healer didn’t help you, although the announcement guaranteed a result? Those who have suffered from healers would be interested to find out that there is an article in the Criminal Code according to which it threatens from 2 to 5 years imprisonment for causing harm to the health of a citizen. But the officials of law enforcement agencies do not need just declarations from victims to start a case but also an evidentiary base, which in “occult” cases practically does not lend itself to analysis and expert opinion. According to data of the International Confederation of Consumers Societies (KonfOP), cases where people try to get their money back from representatives of nontraditional medicine and occult services are extremely rare. In the words of the Chairman of the KonfOP Board, Dmitriy Yanin, not a single expert will undertake to prove that such a service turned out to be of poor quality. But Zhanna Yefimova, a jurist of the Moscow Branch to Defense Consumers’ Rights, said that all the same, in her experience there was a case when a consumer complained about healers. They promised him a 100% recovery after an accident but his health did not return. The consumer turned to the lawyers for consultation and they contacted the healers and explained that the victim has legal rights and they returned the money to avoid further proceedings.

Occult services (shamanism, wizardry, fortune-telling, clairvoyance, putting and removing the Evil Eye, and correcting karma) are activities of another sort which have no definition in law. Experts in occult sciences usually receive a certificate of registration as a private entrepreneur which states, “Type of activity – other services to the population”. According to the “All-Russian Classifier of Economic Types of Activity” on the basis of which legal persons and individual entrepreneurs are registered, in general there is no such type of activity as magic or fortune-telling. It turns out that no license or documents attesting to qualifications are required to register an OOO [limited liability corporation] or PBOYuL [enterprise without being a legal person] and pursue fortune-telling or clairvoyance. A fake number and series of a non-existent license are often mentioned for credibility in advertisements of wizards.

But to talk?

“Merchants of miracles” will exist as long as there are buyers who believe in mystical means of obtaining personal happiness. Most often highly suggestible, so-called intellectually lazy people turn to wizards and healers. It is hard for them to try to investigate situations themselves, to work out concrete plans of action, or to turn to specialists (lawyers, psychologists, and doctors) for help. Using the problems of such people, swindlers extract money from another person’s misfortune. They do not deny this, declaring that the clients want them to take them by the hand like children, and lead them to a wonderful place where they themselves will grant all desires. It is said, “having received assurances in exchange that problems can be resolved in an instant, it is easier for such people to hand over money”.

Of course, sometimes for a person who has gotten into an ordinary difficult situation an open heart-to-heart talk is sufficient for the market for psychotherapy services in our country is at present poorly developed. Until now many have thought the very fact of turning to a psychologist is shameful, fearing damage to their reputation as a mentally healthy individual. In spite of this, several representatives of the occult business hasten to acquire an advanced education in psychology in order not to lose clientele. But then they continue to consult clients in the capacity of psychotherapists. This occurs because the market for occult services is experiencing a decline right now and the profits of the “magic” business have fallen sharply, but will never disappear completely. It is desirable while this is going on that swindlers do not feel themselves immune.

Sveta Orekhova

A love potion – is it a contract or service? Commentary of a lawyer

Many mass media have flashy advertising announcements of the type: “Hereditary clairvoyant will return a husband, help in business, remove a rival”. As an advertisement, this all the same is information about services or goods called upon to attract a consumer’s interest to them and it means what the bearers of similar announcements offer is completely legal and, moreover, is a service or a product. By the way, it is possible to offer a potion and some sort of idiotic talismans as a product or, for example, to acquit oneself well in the food supplement market with enviable success.

So let’s try to understand this from a legal standpoint: this “gentlemen’s collection” which we see about a guild in an advertisement of healers, clairvoyants, and their other colleagues– this is a contract or a service. The question arises because a contract differs from a service in that the performer transfers the material result of his work to you. For example, a contractor builds you a house, sews you a dress, or, let’s say, installs new windows. But a contract for services does not provide for the transfer of the fruits of these services in material form; for example, this could be the organization of a tourist trip (but not the preparation of dinner), the preparation of some sort of thesis, [or] the shipment of goods.

Hence there comes the limitation of responsibility. That is, the contractor is responsible just for the end result, but he who performs a service is responsible, to put is more simply, for a process not a result. So, if some sorcerer (wizard, hereditary warlock, or whatever you like) offers you only his recommendations, of course this is a service. For example, an all-powerful Monsieur proposes to guess what is in store for you, this even involves conducting some research where the result could be completely unpredictable: one fortune-teller says that “he will get you married in the next year” and another “a marriage is completely impossible and you don’t need it”. There is no question that you got what you wanted, namely: everything boiled down to an offer of consulting and, possibly, information services.

So, what kind of wizards should bear responsibility, such as for contracting a service? Most likely, those who talk about a guaranteed result. Well, for example, about a completely charmed beloved. Since before conclusion of the contract, let’s say quite openly (otherwise, one wouldn’t have to turn to magic or witchcraft), the object was completely indifferent, but you were promised this result: to fall in love and get married. Probably, inasmuch as the object rarely changes his traits, such activity is a contract; it means the contractor could be called to account in a judicial procedure provided for by the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights”. It means that you can demand the removal of deficiencies in an established timeframe (that is, give a period for him to fall in love with you) or return the money, dissolving the contract.

Well, and finally we have a small chance of sending a dishonest “wizard” to prison for swindling. Only it’s necessary to prove that the wizard himself (unfortunately, as distinct from you) did not at all believe that he would bring about a benefit to you and wanted to make money by deceptive means.

But if you thought of something completely miraculous: let’s say, you wanted to turn a rival into a mouse or a pillar of salt. Would they condemn you and the performer of black magic for attempted murder? It’s difficult to foresee what they can lay at your door. Through what path will judicial practice travel in the case of an attempt at a transformation? Possibly a transformation qualifies as serious bodily harm (there it envisions in particular a permanent disfiguration of the face) or, let’s say, in the case of a transformation into a likeable little beast – less serious [harm], inasmuch as the face might even be improved.

In any case, if unpleasant but harmless things are used like pouring powder from dried mice and charms, then criminal responsibility does not exist because of the extreme ignorance on the part of someone who seriously tries to use such means. In legal science there is even a concept “attempted crime with deliberately unsuitable means”.

Viktoriya Krasnyuk

Translated by Gary Goldberg