HEILIGENBRUNN, Austria: Ines and Norman Kosin left everything behind to follow the teachings of Anastasia, a far-right Russian sect that preaches a return to the land.
They used to work on Sylt, a trendy holiday island in the Baltic off northern Germany.
“Our life was very secure, but our heart was not happy,” said Ines, a pastry chef and chocolate maker.
“Something was missing,” she said.
So three years ago they set out to found a New Age Anastasian community on an isolated farm in the bucolic Burgenland of eastern Austria.
Interest in the movement — whose teachings reject much of modern medicine, contain anti-Semitic tropes and qualify democracy as “demonocracy” — surged during the pandemic.
The neo-pagan sect began in Russia in 1996 inspired by a series of bestselling books called the “Ringing Cedars” by Russian entrepreneur Vladimir Megre.
He claims the teachings come directly from Anastasia, a mysterious hermit with supernatural powers he met in the Siberian taiga. The beautiful blonde preached against the “enslavement” of modern industrial society and the “dark forces” leading humanity to disaster.
As her prophet, Megre passed on her call for people to return to living in harmony with nature in “kinship” groups on small, self-sufficient permaculture farms.
The group claims some 400 Anastasian settlements have since sprung up across Russia.
Norman Kosin dreamed of welcoming 100 families to an Anastasian “space of love” in Austria.
“Imagine a doctor, midwives, lumberjacks and artisans all settling down with each one plying their trade, doing what fulfills them as humans,” said Kosin, who hopes to do the same, touching his cedar wood medallion for “positive energy.”
But so far Kosin has not been able to persuade anyone to join them permanently in Austria.
In another blow, officials have asked them to leave the country because they failed to show sufficient income to stay.
Kosin, who is sometimes known online as Felix Kramer, or Felix von Elysion (“from Elysium”, the name of his hoped-for community), has also campaigned against Covid vaccines and restrictions.
The couple took two of their three daughters, aged 10 and 14, out of school in protest at Covid testing and “indoctrination” at school. Their four-year-old still goes to kindergarten.
“Children’s souls are so innocent,” he said, drawing parallels with what he called anti-Russian “propaganda” since the war in Ukraine, which he said was “marking people for life.”
Kosin regularly denounces media “lies” in online conspiracy theory channels that have several hundred thousand followers, and is convinced that the “system” — which he claimed “degenerated” people — will collapse.
He said the Anastasia movement has between 3,000 and 4,000 followers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, with members scattered across the rest of Europe from Portugal to Bulgaria.
A recent Austrian government report said the “pandemic has given Anastasia a considerable boost in German-speaking countries,” highlighting links with the anti-vax movement.
Ulrike Schiesser from Austria’s Federal Office for Sectarian Affairs, which monitors sects, said the movement has attracted official scrutiny because of its “anti-democratic” stance.
While the movement “contains all sorts of harmless ideas for better living,” she told AFP, “it poses a problem… because it positions itself against democracy, the state and science.”
Schiesser said “the anti-Semitic elements clearly present” in the sect’s books were “generally ignored, denied or played down” by members, who refuse to “criticize the guru’s writings.”
Kosin defended the books, saying “because of two or three chapters, everyone who reads the works is placed in the national socialist (Nazi) category.”