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Johnson's Russia List
30 July 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
DJ: The secret is a subject line under 256 characters.
This one should work. Thanks Anne.
1. Reuters: Martin Nesirky, Russia's Putin on a roll, and he
2. Boston Globe editorial: Putin the listener?
3. Peter Juviler: Re: 4429-Luryi/Gusinsky.
4. AP: Angela Charlton, Russia's Demographic Decline Grows.
5. AFP: Being a journalist in Russia is really risky.
6. The Independent (UK): Patrick Cockburn, Two decades after
anthrax poisoned this Russian city, a new generation is blighted.
7. Ira Straus: Re: JRL 4430 Lucas/Mujahaddin in Chechnya.
8. Los Angeles Times: Robyn Dixon, Life Without 'Sin' May Spell
Death of Sect . Russia: The Fyodorovtsy, who are forbidden to marry
or proselytize, risk extinction.
9. The Globe and Mail (Canada): Sandra Martin, Meet 'the Alice
Munro of Russian literature'. (Ludmila Ulitskaya)
10. The Guardian (UK): Basic instincts. It's brash, flash - and
sexist. Jonathan Glancey offers an up-to-the-minute guide to
nightlife in the Russian capital.]
ANALYSIS-Russia's Putin on a roll, and he knows it
By Martin Nesirky
MOSCOW, July 30 (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin is on a roll, and he knows it.
In the past week the Russian president made a praised debut at a summit of
the Group of Eight nations, clipped the wings of regional governors, saw
parliament approve radical tax reforms and sought to ease tensions with
He even found time on Saturday to rub shoulders with Russia's film industry
elite, displaying a self-deprecating but confident humour to excuse his by
now trademark tardiness.
``If I said I got caught in traffic you wouldn't believe me,'' he told the
Moscow International Film Festival award ceremony.
True, little seems to get in his way.
But Russia's roads -- real and metaphorical -- are notoriously bumpy. He has
a long way to go, not all the oligarchs are on board and there are some
notable holes in his performance so far.
Almost exactly a year ago, few would have believed he was about to be made
prime minister, let alone Boris Yeltsin's preferred presidential successor.
The FSB domestic security chief, a former KGB spy, scarcely warranted a
Now -- nearly three months after an inauguration at which he vowed to unite
the nation but promised no miracles -- it is difficult to ignore him, whether
you like his background and methods or not.
STAMPING HIS AUTHORITY ON PRESIDENCY
``Putin is stamping his authority on the Russian presidency,'' London's
Financial Times wrote in a recent editorial.
``While Mr Putin's authoritarian tendencies may, for now at least, be good
news for economic reform, they bode far less well for progress on human
Some Russian media have also questioned whether Putin's consolidated power
will limit press freedoms and other post-Soviet developments.
Yet opinion polls suggest few ordinary Russians are particularly bothered
about perceived attempts -- denied by the Kremlin -- to curtail such freedoms
and centralise authority.
They seem more interested in seeing lifestyle changes to match improving
economic indicators and applaud any moves, such as Friday's Kremlin meeting,
to reduce the political influence of the oligarchs.
``Public opinion is full of praise and approval for virtually everything he
(Putin) does,'' said Igor Bunin, director of the Centre for Political
Foreign investors may be similarly encouraged by Putin's stated aim of
levelling the playing field and by his meeting with the oligarchs. He told
them he had no intention of reviewing post-Soviet privatisations that handed
many of those present their vast wealth and influence.
EUPHORIA OVER OLIGARCHS PREMATURE
Tax reforms, growing foreign exchange reserves and other favourable economic
indicators have undoubtedly helped to bolster Putin's position and extend his
But investors are unlikely to be as euphoric as liberal politician Boris
Nemtsov, who declared the era of oligarchs over and said they simply wanted
to do business and pay taxes.
Even one of those present, including Kakha Bendukidze, president of heavy
equipment maker Uralmash, sounded cautious.
``It's pointless to expect miracles from this meeting,'' he said. ``This is
not the very first love.''
The absence of three of the most politically active businessmen -- magnate
Boris Berezovsky, media baron Vladimir Gusinsky and metals and oilman Roman
Abramovich -- from the guest list underscored that point.
Even if the oligarchs stick to business, corruption in Russia's vast and
underpaid bureaucracy is unlikely to end soon, regional governors have been
alienated and a drop in world oil prices would hit Russia hard.
Furthermore, some members of Yeltsin's inner circle, notably Kremlin chief of
staff Alexander Voloshin, still have senior posts in the administration and
Kremlin sources say for all Putin's confidence and authority, there is still
manoeuvring going on between the younger newcomers and holdovers.
NO HOLIDAY IN SIGHT YET
Periodic rumours surface about the possible dismissal of Prime Minister
Mikhail Kasyanov and his replacement by someone closer to Putin, such as
Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.
There has also been a rather public row over military reforms between veteran
Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev and the younger chief of General Staff,
But there is no clear evidence yet that Putin is about to resort to
Yeltsin-style ejector-seat premierships or sideline Sergeyev in favour of
Putin has invested considerable time in military matters and visits, seeking
to boost morale and promising better funding.
Yet the war and anti-terror operation he launched in rebel Chechnya have yet
to end. Peace talks are frequently mooted but have yet to materialise. The
rebels have not gone away.
That means the conflict remains an irritant in relations with the West. It is
one of the few subjects which can rattle Putin, who sees the operation as a
crusade to stop Islamic fundamentalism spreading across Russia's southern
He also speaks forcefully against U.S. plans for a possible national
anti-missile defence shield. Here he is not alone in his opposition, as
recent trips to China and North Korea highlighted.
Putin has travelled widely inside and outside Russia since he was inaugurated
in May after his March election victory. Some critics say he is spending too
much time abroad, others argue he needs to state Russia's case outside the
Either way, there is no sign he plans to scale back the pace and frequency of
his travels or activities at home.
Indeed, his idea of a summer holiday is apparently an informal mid-August
summit of ex-Soviet states on the Black Sea coast.
July 29, 2000
Putin the listener?
There are promising signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be
Western objections to recurrent authoritarianism in Russia.
The most evident gesture in this direction was the dropping of criminal
charges against Vladimir Gusinsky, whose Media-Most conglomerate controls
papers, magazines, and broadcasting outlets critical of established power.
The official stance was that last week's move came as a consequence of
normal, independent prosecutorial procedures. But the timing suggests that it
was a direct consequence of the criticism Putin heard from President Clinton
and other heads of state at the recent summit meeting of the Group of Eight
Less noticed abroad was the gangland-style murder Wednesday of Sergey
Novikov, the owner of an independent radio station in the city of Smolensk.
Novikov had discussed allegations of local corruption on a TV program three
days before and received death threats earlier this year. The Committee to
Protect Journalists has sent a letter to Putin asking for a proper
investigation of Novikov's murder and punishment of those responsible.
For Putin to establish the substance as well as the appearance of a genuine
rule of law in Russia, he must institute fair and impartial justice for
everyone. That means eliminating arbitrary or political misuse of the legal
system in Smolensk as well as Moscow, for obscure cases as for those that
receive international attention.
Putin's meeting Friday with 21 so-called oligarchs may have been another
effort to respond to advice he received in Okinawa. The parley suggests that
he wants to create a level playing field for economic players in Russia
without exacerbating the capital flight that has been a damaging side effect
of the crony capitalism tolerated by Boris Yeltsin.
Even more encouraging was the disclosure that a Putin envoy is negotiating
with Chechnya's elected president, Aslan Maskhadov, for the purpose of ending
the brutal and futile warfare in the Caucasus.
If these changes in Russian behavior are due to pressures from the West,
Russians and Westerners share an interest in keeping the pressure up.
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 2000
From: Peter Juviler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: 4429-Luryi/Gusinsky
re 4429, Yuri Luryi on the Gusinsky arrest. I fully with Yuri Luryi,
assuming that there really was no evidence. Of course somehting else might
have intervene to have the case dropped--political considerations and the
parleys with the oligarchs. But then, this throws other shadows over due
process. The lack of transparency and public accountability makes it hard
to assess the sources and nature of illegalities in law enforcement of the
RF. But illegalities there seem to be, and more closely linked to top sate
interference than is the case with the sorts of illegalities still haunting
my countries justice system, in prisons, criminal process including death
penalty trials, police work etc, as amply reported in reports by leading
domestic and foreign NGOs.
Russia's Demographic Decline Grows
July 29, 2000
By ANGELA CHARLTON
MOSCOW (AP) - Over the past six years, Dr. Irina Budnikova has examined
thousands of Russian women who want to give birth but can't - women who have
had six miscarriages, women whose ovaries atrophied before they turned 30,
women so anemic that pregnancy made them faint daily.
These problems, she says, combined with Russia's still staggering abortion
rate, are helping drive Russia's demographic decline.
``The population keeps getting sicker. That's one reason the birth rate is
going down,'' she said, blaming widespread poverty, disintegrating health
care, environmental hazards and poor nutrition.
Fertility problems are just one facet of a trend that deeply disturbs this
bedraggled nation: Russia's population, currently around 145 million, is
shriveling at a tempo unheard of in the modern era. At the current rate of
decrease, demographers predict the world's largest country will have a
population smaller than Japan's - 125 million - within 20 years.
President Vladimir Putin warned in his first state of the nation address last
month, ``If this continues, the survival of the nation will be in jeopardy.''
Half of Russian men die before they can retire at age 60, as heart disease,
alcoholism and smoking escalate unchecked. And Russian women aren't having
children, or at least not enough. The country's birth rate has halved since
1988 to 1.3 children per woman, according to the Statistics Committee.
Most avoid childbirth by choice - either by not having children or by ending
their pregnancies. Russia has the world's highest abortion rate, with two of
three pregnancies ending in abortion.
Some women don't have that choice. Russia's Health Ministry and other experts
estimate that 10 percent to 25 percent of Russian couples are infertile, and
that many of them never turn to professionals for help.
And infant mortality is on the rise, a phenomenon extremely rare for an
industrialized nation. Some obstetricians say one-tenth of Russian newborns
die of infections.
``We have sick women, and they're having sick pregnancies,'' Budnikova said
in her office at the city-funded Center for Family Planning and Reproduction
in southern Moscow. She said the maternity ward used to handle 36 births a
day when she started working there in 1994; now it handles just 10 daily.
In another wing of the clinic, Anya Morozova waited for an examination.
Morozova, 18, is four months pregnant and juggling medications to protect her
fetus from the herpes virus that she contracted last year.
``I didn't know much about women's health issues before I got pregnant,'' she
said quietly, twirling her woven purse strap nervously.
Doctors at the clinic suggested one reason for increasing reproductive
problems is that Russian women are having sex earlier, in their mid-teens.
That gives a woman more chances to contract infections that could affect
It also increases the chances that a woman will have more than one abortion
before she has a baby. A history of multiple abortions can increase the risk
of complications during pregnancy.
Though contraceptives are increasingly available in Russia, they are still
mistrusted or misunderstood, and abortion remains the primary method of birth
control. It is also free, unlike birth control, which is relatively expensive.
Dr. Andrei Akopian, a fertility specialist and director of the Republic
Center for Human Reproduction, blamed a weak tradition of preventive health
care and deteriorating food and water quality for the problems he encounters.
``Prevention is the number one priority,'' he said.
Government spending on medicine has shriveled in recent years, but the vast
majority of the population still depends on public facilities. Women's
clinics lay patients on tattered cots and use old, stiff speculums.
Doctors also say a legacy of Soviet environmental destruction has damaged the
health of millions of Russians.
The government promised this spring to spend $125 million in the next two
years on a program aimed at increasing the birth rate.
While birth rates are declining in most of Europe, it's happening faster in
Russia and for different reasons.
Many potential Russian mothers are insecure about the future. Russia's
economy has seen little but decline for the past decade. Paychecks and
employment are no longer guaranteed.
Still, despite her health problems, Morozova is hopeful for her unborn child.
``I want all the best for my baby,'' she said. ``Times are always tough.
That's not enough of a reason not to have children.''
Being a journalist in Russia is really risky
MOSCOW, July 30 (AFP) -
Being a journalist in Russia is a really risky business, with a death toll of
120 in the profession since the collapse of the Soviet Union in December,
1991, according to the Russian Union of Journalists.
The latest killing was that of Sergei Novikov, the head of an independent
radio station in Smolensk, 300 kilometres (180 miles) from Moscow, last
Wednesday, which his colleagues denounced as "a political crime."
The killing followed closely on the case of Andrei Babitsky, journalist with
US Radio Liberty, who was arrested by Russian forces in Chechnya last January
and "swapped" for Russian captives of Chechen separatists.
Novikov, head of the only independent radio station in the Smolensk region,
was shot dead outside his apartment block, in what the interior ministry said
was probably a contract killing.
The radio station ran into problems in 1999 when it tried to make a
television programme entitled "The Other Side of the Mirror" that denounced
corruption within the regional administration, the courts and the police.
The programme was eventually dropped but the radio continued to denounce
corruption. Novikov a month ago wrote an open letter to Smolensk governor
Aleksandr Prokhorov that named the names of people suspected of corruption.
The letter was the direct cause of his murder, radio jounalists said on NTV
"This was a political crime," said Nikolai Goblubev, chief news editor of the
That killing and the arrest in Vladivostok on Thursday of a journalist, Irina
Grebneva, on the opposition newspaper Arsenevskye Vesty were denounced as
"new attacks on freedom of speech" by Igor Yakovenko, secretary-general of
the Russian Union of Journalists.
Grebneva's arrest showed "the true face of the regional authorities" and
their "complete hypocrisy," he said on a Moscow radio station.
Yakovenko also recalled the unsolved murder in June 1988 of Larissa Yudina,
editor of Sovietskaya Kalmykya, the only opposition newspaper in the Kalmykya
republic in southern Russia.
Novikov's killing came 10 days after the death of a journalist for the Moscow
bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta, Igor Dominikov. He died from blows from a hammer
after attackers mistook their intended victim, another journalist.
Babitsky had made a name for his criticisms of the Moscow authorities for the
conduct of the war in Chechnya.
Babitsky accused the Russian secret service, the FSB, formerly the KGB, of
fomenting his problems which sparked a media campaign in Russia and the West.
Also the arrest on fraud accusations in June of media magnate Vladimir
Gusinsky, an enemy of President Vladimir Putin, was seen as a threat to the
Gusinsky was freed three days later and placed under house arrest and his
property sequestered. On Wednesday, the justice system finally closed its
investigation into his case.
The Independent (UK)
July 29, 2000
Two decades after anthrax poisoned this Russian city, a new generation is
By Patrick Cockburn in Yekaterinburg
Nikolai Burmistrov still speaks with weary bitterness about the escape of
anthrax bacteria from a Soviet military compound, which killed 62 people in
the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals 21 years ago.
"People died and died," says Mr Burmistrov, a heavy-set middle-aged man,
who was working in a ceramics plant in the path of the poisonous plume
blown by the south-east wind through the city.
That was on 2 April 1979, and for years the Soviet authorities claimed the
anthrax outbreak was the result of people eating contaminated meat. "We
never believed it," says Mr Burmistrov. "In a situation like, that ordinary
people catch on fast. We knew lots of people who had eaten the meat did not
get anthrax. After a few days, we guessed it must have come from the
In the weeks after the anthrax leaked from the bacteriological warfare
laboratory in Compound 19, a heavily guarded area behind long grey walls,
22 workers in and around Mr Burmistrov's ceramics factory died of anthrax.
"We weren't even allowed to go to the funerals," he says.
The local medical authorities, in Yekaterinburg, then called Sverdlovsk,
responded to the rising death toll by an immediate vaccination campaign.
For Mr Burmistrov, what happened next has poisoned his life for more than
Because of the danger of a reaction to the heavy-duty vaccine, young
children, old people and pregnant women should not have had the injections.
Mr Burmistrov's wife had just given birth to a son they had called Anton
when the anthrax escaped. She had the vaccine as she was weaning him. "We
had three injections in three days," he says. "We were not told about the
side-effects. When Anton was 18 months old he started to have slight tremors.
"We sent him to hospital but it did no good. The doctors finally told us he
has a rare form of epilepsy. Now he is 21 years old but he can only speak a
few words and he cannot work."
In one respect, Mr Burmistrov was lucky. Yekaterinburg, the largest city in
the Urals, was at the heart of the Soviet arms industry. Since the collapse
of the Soviet Union, most of the military factories closed or have little
But the ceramics factory, producing tiles and bathroom equipment, and where
Mr Burmistrov still works as deputy commercial manager, has prospered, and
now employs 1,000 workers.
When we met he was sitting, guarded by a ferocious dog, in a new red-brick
house he designed and built himself in a village outside Yekaterinburg. He
strongly suspects Anton's epilepsy is the result of his wife breast-feeding
him just after she had been vaccinated but he has also heard that Soviet
scientists had re-engineered the anthrax for use in bacteriological warfare.
Stories of what had happened in Yekaterinburg began to spread in the West
soon after the epidemic, but only in 1991 did Boris Yeltsin, the Communist
Party leader in the city at the time of the outbreak, admit "our military
development was the cause". By then the KGB security police had confiscated
and destroyed most of the essential medical records. The cause was probably
faulty filters in the laboratory.
Scientific proof of what happened emerged only through studies by American
scientists, whose detective work is chronicled in Jeanne Guillemin's book
Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak, University of California
The houses and apartments of the 62 admitted victims of the outbreak were
scattered all over Chkalovskiy district, in the south of Yekaterinburg.
Proof of what really happened came when the scientists plotted on a map
where the victims had been working the day the anthrax escaped. From
Compound 19, where six people died, they found a narrow corridor of death
stretching south-east through the city.
Meteorological records showed there had been a south-easterly wind blowing
through Yekaterinburg that day.
The bacteria were blown through another walled military facility, called
Compound 32, where 11 people were killed, across a main road, a district of
workers' houses and past the ceramics factory. Then it drifted, still
south-easterly, into countryside, causing anthrax in animals in a line of
six villages before dissipating into the air.
Compound 19 still exists,behind elaborate, ornamental, electrically
operated metal gates, but the rest of the outer-perimeter wall, topped with
barbed-wire, is ruinous in places. One red-brick building inside the
compound has half-fallen down and has weeds growing out of its roof.
The only memorials to the anthrax victims of Yekaterinburg are their graves
where they were buried in metal coffins, carried by policemen, in a
separate plot beneath the birch and pine trees in Vostochniy cemetery.
Jeanne Guillemin, who spent many years trying to discover how they died
before writing her book, cannot forget the visible memories of the victims,
the photographs of the dead, attached, as in all Russian cemeteries, to the
gravestones, showing faces, smiling and sad, a certain haircut, a thin tie
or a flowered shawl.
From: IRASTRAUS@aol.com (Ira Straus)
Date: Sat, 29 Jul 2000
Subject: Re: JRL 4430 Lucas/Mujahaddin in Chechnya
Edward Lucas writes that "The Kremlin hypes the muslim involvement, both to
bolster its claim that this war is a fight against international terrorism,
and also to play on deepseated Russian fears of the islamic hordes to the
south and east. In fact, this is basically a colonial war against a nation
that never wanted to be part of Russia."
I think I am missing something here. No doubt this is mostly true as far as
it goes; but, ergo?
The heart of political Islamism is not the religion Islam, but Islam as a
political-ethnic identity, particularly as an identity for use in the
struggle against European-Western imperialism. Pretty much the same as the
core role of Christian identity politics, not the Christian religion, in
politicized Christian fundamentalism. To distinguish between the general
struggle of political Islamism on the one hand, and a struggle of a
particular Islamic people against a European imperialist power on the other
hand, as if they were opposite things, is a logical fallacy. They are
inherently overlapping phenomena; indeed, from the Islamist point of view,
the particular struggle is just a subset of the general struggle. The
question is the significance of the overlap.
What disappoints me a bit is for this kind of failure of logic to be coming
from The Economist. It used to be that the British encouraged Americans to
learn to take balanced view of colonial wars. To realize that it was not
enough to say that something was "basically" a colonial war in order to
condemn it. And that it was a fallacy of reductionism to treat that as the
only significant factor and dismiss all other aspects of the war as morally
irrelevant. To get over the idea that the "evil empire" was the root of all
evil. To distinguish "empire" from "evil empire". To stop presuming the
horrid guilt of all imperialists and the pristine innocence of all
anti-imperialists. To stop equating independence with freedom. To stop
identifying every band of anti-imperialist rebels with the mainstream of
Considering the deep-seated American prejudices against the British empire,
this was an uphill battle. Still, eventually it had some effect. For a time
it did some good for the maturing of America in an era when America was
beginning to have some big responsibilities in world affairs.
That role on the part of the British and of Europeans in general seems to
have gotten lost in the mists of time. Maybe it was because the "evil empire"
shifted from Britain to the Soviet Union, once Britain had given up its own
empire (eventually you even got a squeak of sympathy out of America over the
Falklands and Hong Kong). It seems that after a certain point, no one had any
interest in challenging the American anti-imperialist assumptions. Americans
and Soviets competed in their anti-imperialism, and everyone else became an
anti-imperialist, too. It was the only language game in town, the lingua
franca of the global village, the coin of the realm. More damagingly, it
became the fundamental premise of international debate, a fundamentalism with
as truncating an effect on thinking worldwide as it had once had only in
Even the most imperialist Europeans, once having given up their empires,
discovered that the cleverest strategy of argumentation against Americans,
the best way to get Americans ticked off and trap them into their own logic
and wring some concession out of them, was to call the Americans
"imperialist". As it was explained to me by one aging Britisher in Oxford, no
doubt a convinced imperialist in his time: the breath went out of us after
Suez; if the Americans were going to stab us in the back over Suez, there was
no point in standing up for the Americans when they got caught in their own
rhetorical traps, better to join in setting the traps and using them as
bargaining chips for our own particular interests.
Et tu, Brute?
But then there was The Economist, which I used to think still had a larger
view of things.
>From the high snootish culture of The Economist, I expect a presentation that
is not only clever, but a kind of intelligence service: an accurate rather
than hysterical picture of the evils on the imperialist side, a willingness
to educate Americans about the evils on the anti-imperialist side as well, an
awareness that it is possible after all that the fighters against European
imperialism are not strategic friends of the West, and a willingness to look
at the strategic implications of that and of various other scenarios. I even
expect a bit of sympathy for a Russia that gave up its empire, as Britain did
a couple generations ago, in a fit of yielding to the anti-imperialist
outlook of its would-be new American ally, only to find that the successor
states were often worse than the empire itself. I'd expect neither hyping the
Islamist elements and the internazionalsista elements in the Chechen rebel
movements, nor dismissing these and other unpleasant aspects of those
movements, but trying to appraise them accurately and looking at the
implications under various scenarios of the seeds currently visible. What I
don't expect from The Economist is a least common denominator, one size fits
all anti-imperialism as a fundament of argumentation, or hair-splitting
methods of sidetracking other issues. So, while not disputing Ed's particular
points, and appreciating his candor, I'm still hoping for a broader view of
things from him.
Los Angeles Times
July 30, 2000
[for personal use only]
Life Without 'Sin' May Spell Death of Sect
Russia: The Fyodorovtsy, who are forbidden to marry or proselytize, risk
By ROBYN DIXON, Times Staff Writer
TISHANKA, Russia--The fresh-faced Shestopalov sisters of Tishanka are
keeping their lives simple. No makeup or miniskirts, no alcohol or
cigarettes, no complications like romance that could lead to the sin of
Olga, 23, Nadezhda, 22, and Tatyana, 17, gaze out on their small world
in central Russia, their clear blue eyes blazing with the certainty of youth.
They are members of the Fyodorovtsy sect, which believes that Christ
returned to Earth early this century as a Russian peasant named Fyodor
Rybalkin. The Fyodorovtsy have another belief: that after the Second Coming,
marriage is prohibited by God.
Through a lifetime of celibacy, the siblings must suffer for their
faith. Suffering, the Fyodorovtsy believe, purifies the soul. Yet because of
its very beliefs--that both marriage and proselytizing are sins--the sect
seems destined to die out.
A similarly self-denying sect, the Shakers, arrived in America in the
1770s and practiced celibacy, but the group augmented its population by
converting people and taking in orphans. For about 60 Fyodorovtsy in
Tishanka, it seems that only an outbreak of sin or a miracle can save their
Without a new generation on the way, these believers hope only to care
for one another in life and bury one another simply in death.
The size of the sect at its peak in the 1920s is unclear, but according
to Russian news reports, about 2,000 Fyodorovtsy were sent to a gulag in
The Fyodorovtsy saw Soviet power as embodying the antichrist, and they
vilified the Russian Orthodox Church for cooperating with the authorities.
They refused to sign any Soviet documents, serve in the army or work on their
religious holidays. In prison, they stubbornly resisted the authorities. Some
closed their eyes when they were photographed or gave their patronymic name
as "Christ" during interrogations.
One of the sect's bearded elders, Alexander Perepechyonykh, 77, walked a
hundred miles over stones to his gulag, ran through a gantlet of flailing
batons, passed the piled-up bodies of dozens of other prisoners and
persevered in a freezing punishment cell, all for the sake of his Christian
With their noble prison records, the older members expect the young to
suffer--leading celibate lives--in a way that they themselves have not
experienced. Most of the older members became followers--and celibate--after
they married and had children.
Waiting Tensely for Judgment Day
The Shestopalov sisters, who follow the religion of their parents, are
less concerned about the prospect of lives devoid of romantic love and
motherhood than the fear of being caught reading light literature or watching
television at the moment when Judgment Day suddenly arrives.
"That would not be good," says Olga, who avoids TV and reads only
religious tracts, just in case. "We have to be vigilant. We have to think
about eternal life all the time.
"Marriage is a sin. Whether you want to or not, you can't get married.
In our position, it's best not to think about it. We hope we won't do it. We
hope we will stand firm."
The sisters' clothes and deportment convey their asceticism. Crisp
scarves, knotted sternly at their chins, cover their heads. Their long skirts
whisk and swirl with each brisk step. In the plain front room of their family
cottage, they sit with ramrod spines, never once fidgeting.
They hope for strength. So did Sergei Shilov, 33, but he weakened, moved
in with the woman he loved and had two children. Now his daily companions are
not only his family but also his sin, guilt and repentance. If anyone asks
about following his example, Shilov says, he would sincerely advise them not
"The feeling of sin is always with me. It was my weakness. I couldn't
cope with my feelings," he mumbles humbly.
It is Easter every day for the Fyodorovtsy, who greet each day with a
sense of celebration and resurrection.
Tishanka's plain wooden cottages are strung along a wide, rutted dirt
road that turns into a slippery bog with every summer rain. The Fyodorovtsy
live in polite separation from several thousand other villagers, with little
contact between the two groups.
The Fyodorovtsy live frugally and embrace visitors with joyful
hospitality, opening their homes without suspicion or defensiveness. Their
meals are simple: soured goat's milk and cucumber soup, mashed potatoes,
sweet buttery pancakes with honey, fragrant summer strawberries, crunchy baby
cucumbers and fresh farm eggs.
Before each meal, Perepechyonykh bows deeply to the icon in the corner
and crosses himself three times. His beard is long and white, his eyes are
soft, and peeking out from a top pocket is an old plastic comb that he
occasionally pushes distractedly through his hair.
In 1967, when he and about 130 other sect members came to settle in
Tishanka, 325 miles southeast of Moscow, the Fyodorovtsy were refused
registration, ordered to leave and denied their pensions. The villagers
refused to sell them bread and threw rocks through their windows. The village
children teased and beat up the strangers' children.
When men from the group sought work under contract at a nearby
collective farm, the Communist Party representative said there was no room,
although the manager begged to accept them. As late as 1986, a local
newspaper ran a series of 40 articles about the sect with headlines such as
"Aliens!" "Wolves!" and "Doomed!"
The Shestopalov children grew up in the village of Volya, 95 miles from
Tishanka, where the teacher told the class that Christians believe in blood
"She turned the class against us. We were not human beings in that
class. We were just rubbish. It was considered shameful to socialize with
us," Olga says. The family moved to Tishanka 10 years ago.
Murky Accounts About Russian Peasant
The Fyodorovtsy willingly endure their hardships, all for the peasant
named Fyodor Rybalkin.
To the Soviet authorities, Rybalkin was a counterrevolutionary from the
village of Novy Liman, near Voronezh, who faked miracles and stirred up
trouble. In 1929, 16 of his followers were given sentences that afforded "the
highest level of social protection": They were shot.
To the Russian Orthodox Church, Rybalkin was a false god whose followers
allowed themselves to be led astray.
With these murky, competing accounts, tracing the real history of
Rybalkin and what he did is difficult. His dates of birth and death are
unknown. He was a peasant who fought in World War I, returned and took to
preaching. He was tried in Voronezh, reportedly in 1926. His fate is unclear,
but according to some reports, he was sent to a lunatic asylum.
To the Fyodorovtsy, however, Rybalkin was Christ who walked barefoot in
the snow and performed miracles. They say he was jailed by Soviet authorities
and disappeared, but they believe that he will return to Earth soon, to
resume his Second Coming and conduct the Day of Judgment.
"We're expecting him any day now," says Yegor Lepyokhin, 62.
Only one inhabitant of Tishanka, Arseny Ivashenko, who is now dead,
claimed to have met Rybalkin and seen his miracles. The survivors all got the
word of the Second Coming through Ivashenko, and the sect's existence today
is partly attributable to his conviction and charisma.
The room where the Fyodorovtsy gather for prayer and song is adorned
with icons; hand-painted pink, red and green Easter eggs trimmed in gold; and
festive Easter bread.
Their songs are neatly written into a communal exercise book. With no
recognized priests to carry out the highly stylized Orthodox service, the
meetings are casual and homey, ambling free-range through various psalms and
The Fyodorovtsy see themselves as true Orthodox faithful but believe
that all the true priests died in the early years of Soviet rule--another
reason there can be no legal marriage ceremonies.
The women sit at the back of the meeting room, and the men sit at the
front. Here, women mildly accept their role--to serve and obey the men.
When three elderly women venture an opinion during an interview, two
senior men, Perepechyonykh and Lepyokhin, glaringly cut them off with sharp
words and an impatient gesture of the hand.
At mealtimes, the women stand respectfully back from the table, ladling
out food to the men and guests.
For Lyudmila Yevstigneyeva, 20, the day begins at 5 a.m. with prayer.
Since the age of 17, she has not only been serving the men in the communal
house where she lives but also caring for a group of frail elderly women,
whose numbers have dwindled to five.
"It's physically hard, but it's satisfying helping people," she says.
Like the Shestopalovs, she unquestioningly accepts a life without marriage.
"I prefer to live here with some suffering to be safe in the next life."
One woman, Agafya Volchkova, 73, left her husband and three grown
children in Siberia to join the sect in 1970. "And to think at the time I
felt sorry for that!" she exclaims.
In the communal house, the oldest woman is Vera Shabelskaya, 98.
Questioned proudly by her religious brothers about a virtuous life, she
mutters repeatedly, "Nothing to be proud of. Nothing to be proud of."
Her temporary life of suffering is nearly over. One day, in her memory,
they will plant a plain wooden cross over a grass plot, with no name, no
epitaph, no adornment that might damage her soul on its way to a higher
Several dozen wooden crosses are huddled at one end of the village
graveyard. In coming decades, it seems, the number of crosses will grow like
a forest, and the survivors coming to tend the graves will decline.
After the last cross is planted there, the world will go on. "But it
will be the end of the spiritual world," Perepechyonykh says. "If there's no
belief in God, it means there is no world, because God is the world."
Yakov Ryzhak of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
29 July 2000
Meet 'the Alice Munro of Russian literature'
Ludmila Ulitskaya's New York visits provided background for her novel
The Funeral Party, which garnered enthusiastic reviews.
The international praise made her compatriots take notice.
Moscow -- Freedom always has a price. In Soviet times, the state determined
which writers prospered; now the market does. This change has brought boom
times for writers of popular fiction who cater to crime and romance
audiences. For literary authors like Ludmila Ulitskaya, the difference
between writing as a vocation and as a livelihood depends on sales abroad.
Still largely unknown at home, Ulitskaya, who has been called the Alice
Munro of Russian literature, sells widely in France and Germany in
translation. Thanks to her foreign earnings, Ulitskaya has recently moved
into a spacious, light-drenched apartment with her third husband, the
visual artist Andrei Krassulin. His geometrical drawings and paintings
decorate the puce-coloured walls, but the room that seems to give her the
most pleasure in her new home is the gleaming bathroom with its modern
fixtures and automatic washer and dryer.
At 57, with two grown sons who live with their own families in New York,
Ulitskaya seems a trifle old to be called a young Russian writer. In fact,
she trained as a biologist, and although she wrote plays, poetry and bits
of fiction, she "was not mentally ready" to try publishing her work until
the early 1990s -- after the children had grown up.
A slight woman with large, mournful eyes, Ulitskaya speaks English fairly
well, mainly because she spends six weeks in New York every year. Those
visits provided much of the background research for her novel, The Funeral
Party,which was published late last year in England to enthusiastic reviews
and included in The Guardian's hot list of national treasures from
bookshelves around the world. She will break into the North American market
next March when The Funeral Party is published by Schocken Books in the
United States and Random House in Canada.
Set in New York in August, 1990, the novel tells the story of Alik, a dying
Russian émigré, who is breathing his last in his sweltering apartment --
the air-conditioning has broken down -- as the television news reports show
Russia dissolving into economic and social chaos. On another level, The
Funeral Party is a meditation on the Russian émigré community and the
contrasts between Russian and American attitudes to pain and death.
"In America everybody avoids talking about death," says Ulitskaya. "Here,
illness and dying are big topics of conversation." The other big difference
is that Russia is frozen in time for the émigré community. "Russia has
changed greatly since Soviet times," she says, "but I'm always struck that
the people who left in the seventies think we continue to live in a society
that has ceased to exist."
In her mind, Ulitskaya says she is writing for women about her own age and
social position. It came as a big surprise, she says, to learn that her
circle of readers is much wider than she thought and includes lots of young
Ulitskaya writes sparingly -- The Funeral Party is barely 150 pages -- in a
form that she calls melodrama in the tradition of Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago.
The funny bounces off the sad in her storytelling and her tone is gently
ironic and understated. She likes to place herself in the tradition of Saul
Bellow, what her friend, the editor and publisher Natasha Perova, calls "a
stamp of Jewish mentality on cosmopolitan writing." An early champion of
Ulitskaya's short stories, Perova was the first to publish her in English
translation in Glas: New Russian Writing, the Russian equivalent of a small
literary press in Canada.
Ulitskaya's success abroad is a Cinderella story. In the early nineties,
she gave some stories to a translator friend to read, who passed them on
enthusiastically to another friend who worked as a translator for the
French publisher Gallimard. Eventually, a publishing contract arrived and
Ulitskaya, in a state of shock, signed it. That was five books ago.
Meanwhile, she kept sending stories to Novy Mir, the prestigious "fat"
magazine that heralds literary success in Russia, but she says "nothing
happened until I became famous in France and Germany." Finally, an excerpt
from her next novel, which is tentatively titled Travelling to the Seventh
Side of the World, will be published in Novy Mir in August. Now why does
that sound like literary publishing in Canada?
The Guardian (UK)
29 July 2000
It's brash, flash - and sexist. Jonathan Glancey offers an up-to-the-minute
guide to nightlife in the Russian capital
You would think me drunk if I sat down and told you what Moscow nightlife is
like today. It is, in a word, delirious. And, in other words, it's sexist,
chauvinistic, painfully loud, flashy, wasteful, boastful, swaggering,
libidinous, overpriced, decadent, sometimes dangerous.
It's dangerously hormonal, too - as highly charged as a Vostok rocket about
to lift off, and as far in spirit from life in the former Soviet Union as a
weekend in Las Vegas.
Things have settled down a bit since the New Russian heyday - or, more
accurately, wild night - of the first five years following the collapse of
the Red empire. I had last been in Moscow in 1994, when the first generation
of late-night bars, clubs and casinos really were stuffed, wall-to-wall, with
low-cut Versace, black Armani suits, fistfuls of dollars, champagne by the
bucketful, and protected by the meanest- looking hoods this side of Ronnie
and Reggie Kray.
My friends took me to eat - the men packing pistols - at the Up & Down Club.
It is still there, at Zubovosky Bulvar 4 (Metro: Park Cultury), if you want
to experience the fag end of New Russian excess - real gangsters and molls.
But as they charge $70 to get into the restaurant and bar before you eat, you
might decide that trying to relive the early days of nighttime glasnost and
perestroika is best left to the smoke-windowed BMW set.
Versace might have given way to DKNY and Prada in the minds of wealthy young
former comrades yet, although less frontier-town in spirit than it was in
1994, Moscow after dark remains a riotous if far from revolutionary place.
This is, says the cosmopolitan staff of listings magazine The Exile (TE), "no
place for Dutch tourists" or "sexless, progressive Canadian couples".
Nor for those with socialist sympathies, weak livers or high moral standards,
either. Feminists, save for those seeking to be offended, should never step
across the threshold of these testosterone-, vodka-, cocaine- and E-fuelled
meat markets. Bars and clubs in Berlin, London and New York might be
infinitely more sophisticated, but if you want to get drunk, laid and
ripped-off in equal measure, dive in.
If you want to begin to understand Moscow today - a city through which 80% of
Russia's GDP passes - you ought to give yourself a wild weekend out on the
There are a few things you should bear in mind, though, before you head off
into the wild yonder. There is zero tolerance for drinking and driving. The
Moscow Metro runs like clockwork - trains every one-to-two minutes on all 10
lines on weekdays from 5.30am to 1.15am. Not late enough for those heading
home around 2am, but early enough for those leaving all-night bars and clubs.
There is never a problem with transport. When the Metro, trams, trolleybuses
and diesel buses have packed up for the night, flag down almost any private
car - more often than not a jacked-up Lada driven by an Ali G wannabe with a
Mother Russia of a sound system - and negotiate your way home.
Expect to pay between 50 and 100 roubles (£1.25 and £2.50) to get to most
places in the city limits. Women best travel in pairs or packs, but this
holds true for most big cities. Moscow isn't particularly dangerous unless
you're involved in big business deals, drugs or want to pick a fight. Just
don't, even if you think you are tough. Older men in bars, despite a lack of
wedding rings are mostly married; many younger women are on the game. There
are very few gay bars and only one for women only.
Opening hours vary, with some serving 24 hours a day. Bars and clubs come and
go: the latest travel guide will be out of date by the time it reaches the
There may or may not be cover charges; women are nearly always admitted free.
Weekdays can be quiet, while Fridays and Saturdays are crowded. Drinks are
generally more expensive than in Britain, and pushing and shoving is regarded
as something of a local custom.
The mwaa, mwaa, twittering boho-chic of London's Clerkenwell, Hoxton and
Shoreditch has yet to invade Moscow. In fact, it's as likely to get to Red
Square as Napoleon or Hitler were. TE has definite, although realistic views,
about the bars designed for refined British tourists (sorry, travellers) with
history-of-art degrees keen on scented candles and difficult ethnic recipes.
Doug and Marty's Boar House
Address: Zemlyanoi Val 26.
Hours: 24 hours.
Cover charge: 60 roubles for women, 100R for men.
What TE says: "Weekend packed with liquored-up clientele working their mojo,
sweaty prole chicks doing their best to look sexy, commercial DJs playing
Ricky Martin, and loose young prey." The Boar House boasts $50 hookers,
"aggressively quasi-latino men".
What you get: A heaving bar set up by Doug Steel, a big, shaven-headed
Canadian best known for his former Hungry Duck bar, where hundreds of girls
were admitted for a single greenback, fuelled on free liquor for a couple of
hours before the local lads and ex-pats were let in. Result: bedlam and what
Time Out's unsexist and considered guide to Moscow described thus: "The
stench of Slavic pheromones burns your nose, sweat drips from the ceiling,
the floor is slip pery with spilled beer and vomit, and the toilets are awash
Address: Raushkaya Nab 4.
Cover charge: None.
What TE says: "Strippers and hookers go here on nights off."
What you get: Colourful interior; two bars serving the kind of fancy blue or
red cocktails of the plastic-monkey-climbing-up-a-plastic-swivel-stick
variety that were popular in London in the early 1980s. Live music, good deli
restaurant, TV monitors (Beavis and Butthead are very popular among
sandpaper-headed young Moscovite men.) Affordable. Be warned: the place is
empty on weekdays.
The Embassy Club
Address: 8/10 Bryusov Per.
Cover charge: None.
What TE says: "Walk-in humidor should impress upwardly-mobile dyevs [babes]
and Cuban bar tenders are said to make some wicked cocktails. Appropriately
impressive toilets. Live jazz that doesn't suck... but do you really like
cigars? How about the people that smoke them?"
What you get: Upmarket cigar lounge and bar. Bit like Che's in London's St
James's. Late flowering yuppy hangout comes with hangover.
Address: Krymsky Val 6.
Cover charge: 80R on live music nights.
Metro: Park Kultury.
What TE says: "When we say skanky teens, we mean really skanky."
What you get: Really tacky club for the former proletariat (sorry, heroic
sons and daughters of the Revolution). Clientele like to strip. Young men are
big and scary.
Address: Corner of Petrova and Strastnoy Bulvar.
Cover charge: None.
What TE says: "Tasteful minimalist interior, with a nod to Egon Schiele,
designed as an ironic low-key gallery for the Merc-Jeep set. Babes de Milio
on every square inch of floor - touch a chick, though, and your body won't
float to the top of the Moskva River until mid-spring."
What you get: Designer chic bar; there are a few of these in Moscow. Drinks
are mega-expensive. Not for Brits on average salaries.
Address: Nochnoi Polyot, Tverskaya Ultisa 17.
Cover charge: None.
What TE says: "Features a 'Business Class' section for married men with
hastily removed wedding rings... The place is packed with drop-dead gorgeous
women, practically every one of whom is for sale; a place for corporate
entertainment where you can run into your boss or Russian girlfriend."
What you get: Night Flight is a Swedish-run club that, while down at heel a
few years ago, is back on hideous form. Meat market for ex-pats. Food is said
to be great.
Address: Strasnoi Bulvar 10, Str 2.
Cover charge: None.
What you get: If you thought any of the above were beyond the pale, Sirius
boasts a "Monica Lewinsky Cigar Room". Don't even ask. The "Crazy Menu"
allows you to choose anything, from the songs the working girls sing to the
Address: 3rd Yamskogo Polya, 15.
Cover charge: 250,000 roubles for men (ie to stop outsiders getting in);
women admitted for free.
What you get: A taste of 1920s Chicago, Moscow-style. This is the place for
those (stupidly) in love with gangster chic, except the gangsters are for
real and the guards tote pump-action shotguns. Forget it; Brits just don't
have this sort of money.
Unless you are mad, leave this one well alone. This is a
skinhead/grunge/techno club. Can be a touch violent. Don't ask if they do
kosher food. Mind you, that's pretty good advice for all too many places in
Moscow, which has Viennese tendencies.
Address: Spartakovskaya 14.
Hours: "Hell if we know" (TE).
What TE says: "Boho-arty club, said to have a cool crowd. This place was as
dead as William Burroughs the last time we were here."
Address: Bolshoi Vlasyevsky Per, Dom 4.
What TE says: "Come here and mellow out with the rest of Moscow Boho-intelli
crowd. Good place to sit and act alienated, waiting to be discovered by
someone... Too many quirky, horn-rimmed glasses types."
What you get: A safe place to sport your goatee and combat trousers and talk
intensely, or not at all. Few Muscovites.
Address: 8/12 Potopovsky Pereulo Str 2.
Metro: Chistiye Prudi.
What TE says: "Good place to take Dutch tourists."
What you get: Poetry and book readings for those of a literary disposition.
The Horse and Hounds
Address: Malaya Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa 16/27.
What you get: Same as in any of chain of John Bull pubs.
Address: Znamenka 9/12.
What you get: By the Kremlin; "Irish" staff hail from the Caucasus, but what
Shamrock Irish Bar
Address: Arbat Irish House Novy Arbat 11.
What you get: The first foreign-owned pub to open after "perestroika".
Closes, like Rosie's, when the last punter wobbles out.
British Airways (0845 7733377) flies direct from Heathrow for £357 including
tax; Scandinavian Airlines (0845 6072772) for £306.20 inc tax from
Heathrow/Stansted via Stockholm. Tourist visas for the Russian Federation
(£25) are valid for 30 days and available through travel agents or the
Russian National Tourist Office in London (020-7937 7217); Moscow City
Tourist Office: www.moscowcity.com