Victoria Smolkin is an Associate Professor of History at Wesleyan University where she specializes in atheism and religion in the Soviet Union, religious politics and secularism, and the Soviet space program. She’s the author of A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism published by Princeton University Press.
Christian Death, “Song of Songs,” The Scriptures, 1987
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By Sean — 11 years ago
The past week has been big on the archive news. First the United States returned 80 stolen documents to the Russian Government. Now the FSB announces that it is making public documents relating to repression dating back to 1920-1950. Formerly a decree issued in 1992 made the documents only available to relatives who made formal requests. As Interfax explains:
The Law on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Reprisals (1992) says that rehabilitated citizens, as well as their relatives and other authorized persons, have the right to read the records of declassified criminal cases.
To prevent incursions into convicted persons’ private life, applicants – researchers or journalists – are requested to produce a notarized permit, provided by the convicted person’s relatives.
Last year, says Vasily Khristoforov, the head of the FSB’s Registers and Archives Department, 3500 persons made requests to view documents. 1500 were given permission.
The FSB archive reclassified the documents again in 2000 “without any explanation” says human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeuyeva to the Associated Press. My guess is that the “reclassification” was simply a way for a declassification commission to actually go through the documents in preparation for their full declassification to the public.
Getting access to the these declassified FSB documents is not without overcoming some bureaucratic hurdles. A interested person must file “a request with the archives, indicating what materials he needs to read and for what purpose,” Khristoforov told Interfax. “The request will be processed and if the materials requested are declassified, they will be made available to the applicant.” The only question I have is how long will this process will take, especially for foreign researchers who have limited time to wait for archives to grant access to materials. But be that as it may, getting around such a process when it concerns declassified documents is a whole lot easier than when they are classified.
The documents may prove to be a treasure trove for researchers. In interview Khristoforov did with Interfax, he said that a batch of the declassified documents deal with NKVD units that operated in occupied territory during the war. The force number around 15,000 agents who “liquidated 157,000 “Hitlerites” and 87 high level Nazi officials and unmasked and neutralized more than 2000 agents of these enemy groups.” My suspicion is that included in the number of 157,000 “Hitlerites” were a whole bunch of people the NKVD indiscriminately labeled Nazi sympathizers. In addition, the documents dealing with the war also includes information to identify Russian prisoners who died in Nazi camps, surrendered or were taken by force.
There is no doubt that the declassification will spark a series of new document collections. There are already many great ones. And Khristofornov mentions many examples of them. Already in the works is a collection of documents relating to F. E. Dzerzhinskii, the famed head of the Cheka. This year marks Dzerzhinskii’s 130th birthday and in commemoration a document collection titled “Dzerzhinskii –VChK-OGPU Chairman” is planned for publication. Also planned, and a bit more bizarre, is a collection of his love letters called “I Love You.” The collection features love letters Dzerzhinskii wrote to Margarita Fedorovna Nikolaeva between 1898-1899. Apparently these letters have been known about since Nikolaeva died at a ripe 84 in 1957. Then they were packed in a box and sent to IMEL (the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute , now the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, RGASPI). Despite his ruthlessness as head of the Cheka, Dzerzhinskii was known for having a soft spot. He wrote poetry and headed the Soviet agency for child homelessness while hunting down bandits, saboteurs and counter-revolutionaries.Post Views: 778
By Sean — 9 years ago
RIA Novosti is featuring a six-part series on the history of Russia’s religious sects, their leaders, and particularly, asks why “Russia has proved such fertile ground for the growth of new and bizarre beliefs.” It is estimated that there are 300-500 religious sects in Russia with a total flock of around a million people. They range from small occultist and pagan groups, to more controversial new “religions” like Scientology, foreign imports like Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists and other Protestant groups, homegrown Old Believers (and their offshoots), the small and rather strange Khysty, Skoptsy, Molokans, the Dukhobors, and the flourishing of new cults and the popular practice of magic and divination. And though Russian law ensures the freedom of conscience, some wonder if Russian Orthodoxy under the politically proactive stewardship of Patriarch Kirill is becoming Russia’s state religion. “One has to wonder,’ writes Brian Whitmore, “given these trends and Kirill’s rising influence, if Russia’s much-discussed diarchy of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin is on the way to becoming a de facto troika.”
Perhaps Kirill’s political flexing is a direct response to the fact that Russian religious sects are flourishing. Many argues that the religious vacuum produced by Soviet communism has resulted in spiritual revival often devoid of rhyme or reason. I often wonder if this “spiritual vacuum” is overstated, because frankly we don’t have the historical studies to prove it, and most works looking at the promotion of atheism show that it didn’t really take among most Russians. After all, Russia is hardly alone in the spiritual revival department. I suspect the increasing search to spirituality has more to do with general global collapse of secular ideologies’ ability to explain our present historical moment. Nevertheless, in her summation of Susan Richards’ observations on Russian religious faith in Lost and Found in Russia, the Guardian‘s Lesley Chamberlain writes:
What then of the actual spiritual life? Susan Richards . . . sees the Russians as emerging from a long period of addiction to unfreedom, with the result that many have lost their spiritual bearings in the relative personal freedom they now have. They don’t know what to believe in and reach for extremes. Travelling in the provinces during 1992-2008 she came across a remote settlement of Old Believers, a sect devoted to a 16th-century form of Orthodox worship, with new converts still joining. In another remote area she found a young couple building a new life for themselves based on self-sufficiency, sensitivity to nature and chastity. At the same time she met scientists keen to measure the ungraspable life-force and intelligent individuals captivated by fortune-tellers and UFOs.
Perhaps this quest for the spiritual in post-Soviet Russia is the reason why Russian religious sects have increasingly become the subject of historical study in the American academy. Sergei Zhuk’s Russia’s Lost Reformation: Peasants, Millennialism, and Radical Sects in Southern Russia and Ukraine, 1830-1917, examines the spread of radical Protestantism in their Russian countryside; Heather Coleman looks at Russian Baptists life and survival in late Tsarist and early Soviet Russia in Russian Baptists and Spiritual Revolution, 1905-1929; Laura Engelstein’s Castration and the Heavenly Kingdom: A Russian Folktale delves into the strange faith of the Skoptsy; for a broad scholarly examination of the occult, there’s Bernice Rosenthal’s edited collection The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture; and finally, for an explication of magic and divination see W. F. Ryan’s mammoth classic The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia.
Religion in Russia is a rich and complex subject. RIA Novosti‘s series proves to be a good primer into a present world neglected by most Russia watchers: Russia’s multi-confessional culture and the large number of religious sects it has spawned over the centuries. So far four of the six parts have been published:Post Views: 1,320