Models' suicides blamed on return of 1970s US cult

Friends Ruslana Korshunova and Anastasia Drozdova attended Russian training centre based on Lifespring

May 9, 2011

A documentary maker has linked the suicides of two Russian models to the re-emergence of an American cult in Russia that was closed down by lawsuits in the 1980s.

British TV producer and writer Peter Pomerantsev investigated the death of 20-year-old Ruslana Korshunova, who jumped off a building in New York in 2008, leaving no clue as to why she would have taken her own life.

Although Korshunova (pictured above in 2006) had recently broken up with her business tycoon boyfriend, her friends told Pomerantsev, who relates the full story in Newsweek, that she was over the relationship and planned to study at university.

Then, a year after Korshunova's death, her friend and fellow model Anastasia Drozdova also committed suicide by jumping from a block of flats - this time in Kiev. The note she left for her mother read: "Forgive me for everything. Cremate me."

Searching for answers, Drozdova's mother found papers among her belongings from Rose of the World, a 'training centre' the model had attended with Korshunova.

Pomerantsev attended Rose of the World training sessions with a hidden camera. "When you enter the Rose," he writes, "there is darkness and shouting, everything is designed to stun the conscious mind, suspend critical thought. Then the 'life trainer' emerges. He talks so fast you can't help but be confused, the microphone set at a level your head starts hurting."

Participants, who pay $1,000 for a three-day course, are asked to recall their worst experiences. Pomerantsev found that Korshunova had been the centre's "most enthusiastic speaker", telling of her father's death and her failed love affair.

Pomerantsev describes his own experience at Rose of the World as "three days of shouting, recalling repressed memories, meditation followed by dancing, tears followed by ecstasy".

In an echo of the methods of the notorious Church of Scientology, participants are persuaded to pay for more sessions: Korshunova and Drozdova were among those who had continued their 'training' in this way.

Pomerantsev found that the ideology of Rose of the World is based on Lifespring, a cult founded in the United States in 1974. A book about this New Age ideology describes "authoritarian trainers who enforce numerous rules" and favour "feeling and action" over reason.

After numerous lawsuits brought in the 1980s by former members and their relatives, some of whom accused the cult of 'wrongful death', Lifespring was effectively shut down in the US. However, branches of it survive around the world, including in Russia.

Drozdova attended Rose of the World for a year, while Korshunova was there for three months. However, a member of the cult denied that either suicide was linked to Rose of the World, telling Pomerantsev: "Korshunova had what we call a 'rollback'. She felt a little strange. You'd find her wandering round town, unsure what she was doing there. Maybe she'd cry at night. But she couldn't have killed herself. We cured her of any problems she might have. And Drozdova? She was messed up already. We tried to help her, we really tried. But she refused transformation. Blame modelling, maybe drugs, not us."

However, Rick Ross, head of the Rick Ross Forum is less sure: "These organisations never blame themselves. They always say, 'It's the victim's fault'. They work like drugs: giving you peak experiences, their adherents always coming back for more. The serious problems start when people leave. The trainings have become their lives - they come back to emptiness. The sensitive ones break."

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