The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Neo-pagan Myths and Antisemitism
Victor A. Shnirelman
Acta no. 13, Analysis of current trends in antisemitism, 1998. Copyright ©
Neo-paganism is one branch of contemporary Russian nationalism that emerged
and developed in the 1970s–1990s. Its ideology is based on the glorification
of the pre-Christian Russian past and accuses Christianity of the brutal
destruction of the legacy of the Great Ancestors. At the same time, Christianity
is treated as an evil ideology created by Jews in order to establish their
own dominance of the world and the subjugation of all peoples. Russian
Neo-paganism is in fact rooted in Nazi-style rhetoric full of latent or
open antisemitism. This paper discusses the ideology and its political
Contemporary Russian Nationalism and Neo-paganism
In November 1995, the Moscow newspaper Moskovskii komsomolets informed readers of the establishment of the Pagan community there with its own folklore, cults, and rituals. One more cult, a reader could say, already tired of endless information about exotic religions competing for space in contemporary Russia. True, one can appreciate that pluralism—a principle long accepted in democracies—has come to the Russian religious sphere. However, on February 10, 1996, the meeting of the National Republican Party in St. Petersburg decided to support the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), Gennadii A. Ziuganov, in the presidential elections scheduled for June 1996. What could be in common between the Neo-pagans (who claim to be dissociated from politics) and a political party that represents an extremist wing of the contemporary Russian nationalist movement?1Nothing, save that at the December 1994 meeting of this party, its newly-elected leader Yuri Beliaev (a favorite student of Viktor N. Bezverkhii, well known as the father of the Neo-pagan movement in St. Petersburg) proposed that the Neo-pagan ideology should be the “ideological and methodological core of the Russian national movement.” Beliaev insisted that the “Union of the Veneds” (discussed below) had to work out this very ideology. Beliaev has been tried several times for disseminating Hitler’s Mein Kampf and for antisemitism. Bezverkhii praises Ziuganov an “outstanding Russian geopolitician of the twentieth century who advocates Russian imperialism (derzhavnost).” Alexei Boikov, former editor-in-chief of the Neo-pagan newspaper Rodnye prostory, approved the CPRF drift away from CPSU principles and considers this party to be the main political stronghold of the “patriots.” In December 1995, the Neo-pagans decided on a course of rapprochement with the CPRF and almost all the leaders of the Union of the Veneds joined that party.2 This explains why the National Republican party supported Ziuganov in the presidential elections.3 The same political strategy appears in Viktor Korchagin's newspaper Russkie vedomosti, which shares Neo-pagan values.4 Clearly, Neo-paganism is thus a distinct political force in contemporary Russia.
Russian Neo-paganism emerged and flourished in the wave of the “Third Russian nationalism” in the 1970s and 1980s. 5 Some Russian intellectuals were alarmed with what they perceived as the eradication of traditional Russian culture and the loss of a distinctive Russian identity in the wake of Communist modernization and internationalization with the formation of a “new Soviet personality” as an inclusive identity for all Soviet citizens. They saw this process as the end result of a long history of expansion of the Russian state with the formation of an empire that sacrificed the particular interests of the ethnic Russians.
The ideology of Russian Neo-paganism is shared by several Russian patriotic movements and parties: the Russian Party of Russia (Viktor Korchagin); the National-Democratic Party (Evgenii Krylov, Roman Perin); the National Republican Party of Russia (Yuri Beliaev); the National-Social Party—the Youth Front (Alexei Andreev); the Right-Radical Party (Andrei Arkhipov, Sergei Zharikov); the Russian Liberation movement (K. Kondratev et al); the Pan-Slavic Council (Vladimir Popov); Yemelyanov’s Pamyat organization (Valerii Yemelyanov, Alexei Dobrovolski); the Russian Communal Union (Alexander Sudavski); and the like. The periodicals of the National-Democratic Party, Za russkoe delo (before December 1993 known as Russkoe delo), and the Russian Party’s Russkie vedomosti share the Neo-pagan ideology, which is also disseminated by the extreme antisemitic Russkaia pravda of Alexander Aratov. In addition, Alexander Barkashov’s Russian National Unity (RNU) movement is sympathetic toward Neo-paganism and occultism, as is evident in its newspaper the Ruskii poriadok.6 Barkashov associates himself with Russian Orthodoxy, albeit alloyed with Slavic paganism. His “historical knowledge” of the origins and early history of the Slavs is mainly based on Neo-pagan publications of the 1970s and 1980s, along with Yemelyanov’s book, Desionizatsiia (1979), with its version of the origin of the Jews.7
Neo-pagan ideas can be found in the following magazines of the Russian Right: Natziia (Russian National Union); Nasledie predkov (Folk National Party); Ataka (Right-Radical Party); Orientatsiia, and Russkaia mysl. The editors of Volshebnaia gora claim to have an orientation toward “enlightened Slavophilism” and Russian Orthodoxy, but include an interest in Neo-paganism as well. Viktor Korchagin’s Vitiaz Publishing House publishes Neo-pagan literature together with antisemitic pamphlets in the “Library of the Russian Patriot” series. From time to time one finds Neo-pagan articles in the Stalinist oriented newspaper Norodnaia zashchita. Published irregularly in a print run of about 20,000 copies, this paper is primarily for military and security personnel. In general, Neo-pagan newspapers have a limited circulation and appear irregularly in editions ranging from 10–50,000 copies, or more rarely, as many as 500,000 copies. Still, Neo-pagan ideas are spreading, even appearing recently in the well-known and democratically-oriented Moskovskii Komsomolets.8
Although Neo-paganism in its full scope is not widely popular, elements of the ideology have a wide circulation and influence: some Russian nationalist newspapers oriented towards Russian Orthodoxy, such as Russkii vestnik and Kolokol, have also published material with Neo-pagan historiosophic ideas. Dozens of Neo-pagan communities have emerged in a number of Russian cities and include elements that do not appear harmless. In the early 1990s, for example, nearly fifty clubs for “Slav-Gorets wrestling”—invented by Alexander Belov, a Neo-pagan leader—were established.9 This activity appears to be a form of paramilitary training for the militant Neo-pagans who wish to forcefully establish ethnic Russian power. In 1992, the Russkii legion (Russian legion) was established as a military auxiliary of the National Republican Party; its fighters gained experience in military actions in the Balkans, the Trans-Dniester region, and in Abkhazia. The legion supports anyone who proposes the introduction of “strong order” in the country based on ethnic Russian power.
respect of these facts, what should one expect in the development of the
Neo-pagan movement? What is the core of its ideology?
The Myths of Neo-paganism and the “Book of Vles”
Russian Neo-paganism provides an instructive example of building a nationalist ideology on an invented past. This artificial extension of the Russian past in both time and space is seen as a primary means for achieving a political end. Its main goal is to “prove” the natural and eternal existence of the Russian state in its chauvinist imperial form. In this respect, Russian Neo-paganism is strikingly original in its use of a mythological pre-history. In other respects, it is similar to conservative movements that reflect a common response to modernization and democratization. As with other forms of nationalism, the Russian variety has developed a historiosophic myth to legitimize an ideology of “restoration.” The myth’s three universal elements include an image of a “Golden Age,” a catastrophe that led to decline, and prescriptions for overcoming the present crisis.10
In contrast to Russian nationalism of the nineteeand early twentieth centuries, which identified Russianism with Russian Orthodoxy, the new nationalism that developed under the atheistic communist regime began to emphasize the pre-Christian legacy, as if that were the true essence of Russian culture.11 Neo-pagans consider the past thousand years of Russian history as a dark age, and point to a mythical Golden Age of the pre-Christian Rus, whose baptism in the tenth century is viewed as a catastrophe. The previous age they glorify as the epoch of a strong Slavic-Russian empire with a well-developed pre-Cyrillic writing system and extensive literature, and charge Christianity with the destruction of this rich intellectual legacy. One writer argues that the decline of true Russian culture had already begun by the time of the Kievan Rus (tenth century), and he calls for a restoration of the pagan Rus empire, which he claims was flourishing before the ninth century.12 Historically, there is almost no written evidence of the Eastern Slavs, let alone the “Rus,” and hence the door is open for the creation of extravagant fantasies and the invention of a glorious past.
The curious history of the “Book of Vles” (VB) provides insight into the development of Neo-pagan historiosophy. It has been shown that the document is a forgery created by Russian emigrés in the early 1950s.13 Yet despite the energetic protests of scholars, the VB continues to be promoted by contemporary Neo-pagans as authentic evidence of the Slavic past from the second millenium BC onwards. Twenty-five years ago, the VB became better known in the Soviet Union through the article by the poet Igor Kobzev, who was fascinated with Russian pre-Christian beliefs. Christianity, he contended, had been introduced by force, and damaged the genuine faith and culture of the Russian ancestors. From that time on, this “ancient chronicle” has continued to draw the attention of Russian-oriented writers and journalists who see in it a lost link to the “true” Slavic past. It has been reprinted a number of times in recent years and was enthusiastically received by patriots in general and by patriotic scholars like the academician Yu. K. Begunov of the International Slavic Academy of Sciences (well-known for his antisemitic views), and I. V. Levochkin, chair of the department of manuscripts of the Russian National Library. Although originally promoted by amateurs, now much more powerful forces are involved.
Our knowledge of the Book of Vles comes from a Russian emigré, the chemical engineer Yuri P. Miroliubov.14 Supposedly, during the Russian civil war, a little-known White Army Colonel, F. A. Izenbek, discovered a bag containing curious wooden boards covered in writing in the devastated home of a Russian noble family (the exact place is unknown). Having taken part in archaeological excavations in Turkestan in his youth, and being fond of old things, Izenbek took the bag with him. Miroliubov met Izenbek in Belgium in the early 1920s, and since he, too, was fascinated with Slavic folklore and history, Izenbek allowed him to make copies for study. Izenbek died in 1941, and the original boards disappeared, perhaps during the Nazi occupation of Belgium. Between 1954 and 1959, a Russian emigré general, A. Kur (A. Kurenkov) published several articles on the VB and some extracts from it (which he had obtained from Miroliubov) in his magazine, Zhar-ptitsa, published in San Francisco. Scholars, however, were very suspicious of the Vles Book’s legitimacy, since Miroliubov’s tale was full of contradictions. Miroliubov himself changed his mind about it several times during the 1950s, and eventually refused to use it as a source for his writings on the ancient Slavs. An admirer of his, the Ukrainian emigré Sergei Lesnoi [Boris Paramonov], an entomologist who became well-known for his less professional writings on the ancient Rus, sent a photograph of one of the boards to the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in 1959. There, examination showed that the photograph had been made from a paper copy, rather than the supposed wooden original. The paleographer L. P. Zhukovskaia determined that the writing itself incorporated several styles from different periods, including recent ones. The major finding was that the language combined Slavic forms from several periods; thus the book could only have come into existence after the tenth century.15 Linguists have accurately traced the evolution of the Slavic languages, and thus there is no basis to the claims of Vles Book advocates that it represents a previously unknown dialect or language that could lead to a reevaluation of what is known about Slavic languages. In sum, although the Vles Book has been demonstrated to be a forgery, its popularity is undiminished, and it remains the primary source for the myth of the pre-Christian Golden Age. Moreover, the “Slavic-Aryan” myth of the book has recently been enriched by the notion of an “Arctic Homeland.”16
Since 1992, the VB has been publicized in popular magazines like Nauka i religia (at one time, 30–55,000 copies of each issue were printed; but in 1997 this dropped to 20–25,000 copies). It has also been covered in Chudesa i prikliucheniia (20–30,000 copies), and in 1995 in Svet. Priroda i chelovek, widely distributed throughout the CIS (in 1995, 21–26,000 copies were printed; by 1997 this had fallen to 16–19,000).
Articles in Nauka i religia are substantially influenced by Aleksander Barashkov (who writes under the pseudonyms A. I. Asov and Bus Kresen), a member of the magazine’s editorial board, and well-known advocate of the Vles Book. Barashkov, a geophysicist, began his literary career with pseudoscientific articles on the mystery of the “world flood” and Atlantis.17 Although he has no training in linguistics or paleography, nor experience in dealing with ancient manuscripts, he has “translated” and published the VB three times under the titles Russkie vedy (Moscow, Nauka i religia, 1992, 50,000 copies); Velesova kniga (Moscow: Meneger, 1994, 5,000 copies); and Kniga Velesa (Moscow: Nauka i religia, 1997; 8,000 copies). In addition, he has completed a kind of Slavic-Russian “Old Testament” — Zvezdnaia kniga Koliady (Moscow: Nauka i religia, 1996; 1,000 copies), comprised of fragments of Indian Vedic literature, Russian folklore, the VB, and the fantasies of the patriotic writer Vladimir Shcherbakov.
Neo-pagans aggressively oppose professional scholarship, insisting that one can only understand the old religious texts and myths “from the inside” as believers.18 Barashkov/Asov objects to “professional narrowmindedness,” declaring “it is impossible to express in words the main confirmation of authenticity. The latter is based on personal spiritual experience. The spirit of the Book of Vles tells of its authenticity…. For one who has spiritual knowledge [i.e., religious faith, V.S.], the authenticity of the Book of Vles is doubtless.”19
In the 1990s, Vles Book ideas were enthusiastically disseminated by a number of Russian ethnonationalist newspapers and magazines, including some associated with Russian Orthodoxy such as Russkii vestnik and Kolokol. In 1996, the St. Petersburg extremist Za russkoe delo published a special supplement entitled Potaennoe which discussed the claims for an “Arctic homeland” of the Russians.20 Aleksander Barkashov of the Russian National Unity party identified the Aryans with the White Race and declared that Russians were their direct genetic and cultural descendants.21
artist Ilia Glazunov is another advocate of the White Aryan race myth,
and goes on to claim that Slavs authored both the Rig-Veda and Avesta.
Glazunov is also noted for having funded publication of Drevnost, aryi,
slaviane, which popularized the glorious Slav-Aryan past in its Arctic
homeland.22 Two well-known astrologists, Pavel
and Tamara Globa have taken up the idea23;
and it appears in a number of books by Vladimir and Dimitrii Kandyba, and
others eager to join the search for the “northern Aryan homeland.”24
Even some Russian politicians give credence to the myth of Aryan ancestors
who spread from Eurasia and established the ancient civilizations of the
Old World.25 Those who accept this “Vedic
world view” insist that it be included in school curricula.26In
fact, the idea of a Slavic-Aryan ancestry can be found in popular children’s
books and school textbooks.27 And the “Vedic”
ideas of Asov are especially popular among those ethnonationalists who
are attracted to mysticism and the occult. Some young intellectuals have
even established an Institute of Russian Vedic Culture in Tiumen and Yekaterinburg;
the institute has been licensed to teach voluntary courses in a few schools
on the “basics of Vedic culture,” based on the Vles Book and Asov’s fantasies.28
Anti-Christianity and Anti-Zionism
Neo-pagan ideology developed in the 1970s and 1980s among Russian patriotic intellectuals who were simultaneously engaged in the official campaign against Zionism. Anatolii Ivanov [Skuratov] and Valerii Yemelyanov were among the best-known ideologists of the anti-Christian historiosophic myth. In a condensed form with some latent antisemitism and a very modest anti-Christian aspect, the myth was disseminated through the poetry of Igor Kobzev, the fiction of Vladimir Chivilikhin, and the science-fiction writings of Valerii Skurlatov and Vladimir Shcherbakov. Until recently, the myth’s advocates avoided combining the story of the Great Slavic ancestors with the criticism of Zionism. The case of Skurlatov’s writings are very instructive on this point. In the 1970s, he was the first to present the Vles Book in the general media as a “historic” document, and occupied himself with writing science fiction based on the prehistoric Slavic past. At the same time, he published one of the most militant anti-Zionist pamphlets.29
Only in the 1990s was the myth of the Great Slavic prehistory combined with open militant antisemitism.30 The myth incorporates a notion of a world struggle between Good (Russian Slavs, i.e., “Aryans,” who occupied Europe and half of Asia in the distant past and defended their territories against various enemies) and Evil (the Jews, their most dangerous enemy). The emergence of the Jews, according to this myth, was the result of a conspiracy of evil forces who dreamed of world dominance and attempted to seduce the Slav-Aryans who stood in their way. All of world history can be seen as a process of Semitic Jewish expansion to push the Slavic “Vened” ancestors out of their original lands, destroying their civilization, and exploiting the indigenous peoples. (Note that the myth identifies the Slavs with the “Veneds” of classical writers, but in the mythic version, the Veneds were settled throughout the Near East and Europe.) The mythic history focuses on the conquest of the Canaanites by the ancient Israelite tribes, the Semitic invasion of Mesopotamia, the collapse of the Hittite kingdom, the flourishing of the Khazar khanate, and finally, the baptism of the Rus by Prince Vladimir. This latter event is crucial to the Neo-pagan myth, in which Prince Vladimir is said to be the son of a Jewish woman who sought through him to gain revenge for the brutal destruction of the Khazar khanate by Prince Sviatoslav in 965. Thus the Neo-pagan ideologues argue that Jews from the beginning of time sought to enslave the Russians.31 Christianity, many of them claim, was actually created by the Jews in order to establish world dominance.32 The transition to Christianity undermined the vital power of indigenous intellectual life and pushed those societies into a crisis that led to their enslavement and decline.
Not all Neo-pagan ideologues take such an anti-Christian stance. In order to enlarge their political base, some of them temper their criticism, and treat Russian Orthodoxy as a “younger brother” of Russian paganism, thus building a basis for a joint Christian–Neo-pagan struggle against a common enemy.
At the same time, an extreme branch of Neo-paganism is represented by Yemelyanov, who was fascinated with the rich literary and cultural traditions of pre-Christian civilization in Russia.33 He wrote about the ancient Aryans of India as “Aryan-Veneds” who brought “our ideology, which survived at the core of Hinduism and Yoga” to India. The Veneds (“Aryans”), he claims, once dominated the Eastern Mediterranean region, and provided Palestine with its name—“Opalennyi Stan,” i.e., the burnt country. The Neo-pagans forge many of their arguments from such spurious folk etymology.
Yemelyanov identified the Phoenicians with the Veneds as the inventors of the alphabet, and claimed that “the Veneds and the Baltic Aryans were the only indigenous peoples of Europe, whereas the Celts and the Germans came later from the Asian interior.34 Their pure Aryan language and ideology survived only “at the territory between Novgorod and the Black Sea” where the notion of “the triplication of three triple Trinities” (triedinstvo trekh triedinykh troits) was maintained for so long: “Prav-Yav-Nav, Svarog-Perun-Svetovid, or Soul-Flesh-Power.”35 The true Golden Age occurred there: “there was no notion of evil.” Yemelyanov glorifies the pre-Christian past in which the Russians (“rusichi”) lived in harmony with nature, had no sanctuaries or priests, and a religion that did not call for blind obedience to the Lord. The yoginis (women who practiced yoga) had occult powers. All these fantasies, of course, bear no resemblance to what is known from contemporary archaeology about the life of Eastern Slavs in the pre-Christian period. The Vles Book was extensively cited by Yemelyanov as representative of the true Russian worldview which made the “people’s soul.”36
In Yemelyanov’s view, the Jews were savages who invaded “Aryan” Palestine and usurped the “Aryan” cultural legacy; in particular in the formation of their Hebrew language. These inferior people supposedly conquered the “Aryan” lands through the intrigues of Egyptian and Mesopotamian priests. According to the author, these priests feared the “tall people called Ros or Rus,” who lived in Asia Minor and Palestine, and sought to destroy them by cultivating a hybrid criminal genotype of the black, yellow, and white races — thus explaining the origin of the Jews and their harmful nature.37 Geopolitical history is seen as a Manichaen confrontation of Good and Evil, and an openly racist (not only antisemitic) ideology arose in the wake of Russian nationalism, which flourishes in the writings of Bezverkhii and some other Neo-pagans (but by no means all of them).
Yemelyanov was the originator of numerous code terms widely used in science fiction writing and pseudoscientific literature — readily understood by readers as if they were initiates of a secret order—such as the “Yav-Prav-Nav,” “Opalennyi Stan” as a name for Palestine, the references to ancestors from the steppes who traveled throughout ancient Eurasia, and the Khazar Khanate as a parasitic state that encroached upon the freedom of the Rus; malicious secret agents attempting to enslave the world; and the coming Aquarian age. Such terms are important since few Neo-pagans dared (or still dare) to state their views openly. Through the use of such terms, one can express sympathy for the concepts and ideas of the Neo-pagans, while avoiding undesirable accusations of being anti-Christian or antisemitic.
Meanwhile, authors of contemporary science fiction prefer a “mild Neo-paganism,” such as that advocated by Yuri Nikitin, a former Russian nationalist dissident who was forced to move from the Ukraine to Moscow in 1983. In his writings, Nikitin is obsessed with a Judeo-Masonic plot to establish the world dominance of the chosen wise Elders. Although he does not identify these Elders with those of the Protocols, the association is inevitable.38The main character of his books is a Russian (rusich) sorcerer (volkhv), the Prophet Oleg (Veshchii Oleg) who remains loyal to his pagan customs after the introduction of Christianity. With a Frankish knight as his companion, the two travel from Palestine to Rus and Western Europe. Nikitin emphasizes the importance of the pre-Christian Russian intellectual legacy, and accuses Christianity of destroying the original faith of the Russian ancestors, its priests, and its literary heritage.39 As with the German Romanticists of tnineteenth century, he considers culture (linked to paganism) to be superior to civilization (linked with the Devil). Jesus Christ is seen as an advocate of culture, whereas civilization is associated with sinister forces who dream of world domination, or else have already established a world government.40 Like other writers in this genre, he makes anti-Khazar and anti-Jewish statements: the Jewish God is perceived as brutal, with an endless thirst for bloody human sacrifices, and whose followers attempt to destroy the Slavs.41 Ritual murder accusations appear as well.42 The Prophet Oleg’s enemies are the bloodthirsty “Masons” or “Judeo-Masons” who consider themselves endangered by the uncontrolled, freedom-loving Slavs.43 In Nikitin’s writings, Prince Vladimir is associated with the Masons, who catch the rusich in the Christian net and enslave them. At the same time, readers associate the secret evil forces seeking world domination with the Jews.44 Some of Nikitin’s characters make openly antisemitic remarks, about which the protagonist Oleg voices skepticism.45 Clearly the author wishes to avoid accusations of being antisemitic, yet with each new novel, he becomes bolder. It is instructive that in all the novels, Oleg acts hand in hand with Christians, even though Russian paganism is represented as the basis for all later religions, including those with adherents worldwide.46 Christianity is treated with sympathy, although condescendingly as if it were an ignorant younger brother of paganism.47 Nikitin’s thinking is close to that of the St. Petersburg Neo-pagans: “My God is an intellect, knowledge.... My world is without Gods at all.”48 “Paganism” here is actually atheism.
Nikitin considers the ancient rusich to be the true basis for the formation of all other peoples.49 With little regard for historical knowledge, he claims the ancient Russians are at the same time descendants of the Scythians (whom he also considers rusich in a sense), and who once inhabited a vast territory from the Near East to Western Europe. The Scythians’ culture and gods were taken over by other peoples. He claims that the Greeks borrowed their gods from the Scythians, and that the Scythians build the Phoenician cities (at a time at which the Scythians did not exist!). He identifies the Phoenicians with the chisteishie rusy (pure Russians) who invented the alphabet. The Canaanites are also identified with Russian tribes, and thus the ancient Levant is represented as originally Russian territory.50 Through the voices of his characters, readers learn that all peoples are descended through the ancient rusy. 51
Although Nikitin writes ironically, he clearly sympathizes with the ideas found in his works, and he focuses throughout on the cultural superiority of the pagan Russians.52 He also writes of the final battle between Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, and it is clear from the context whom he associates with these polarized forces.53 Yet Nikitin falls among the Neo-pagans willing to compromise with Christianity in the joint struggle against the “Judeo-Masonic plot.”
In the late 1980s, during a wave of popular interest in ESP, sorcery, and folk healers, a father-and-son team, V. M. and D. V. Kandyba, arrived on the scene with outstanding discoveries in the “Culture of Trance.” They claim their knowledge of psychology derives from an unbroken tradition of “Russian Vedism,” which they see as the basis of all world religions. It is significant that V. M. Kandyba was a student at a naval academy in Leningrad, possibly under the influence of the racist Bezverkhii (see below), who taught there in the 1970s.
Kandyba’s assertion that the original Russian (russy) homeland was the Arctic is derived from the nineteenth-century occult teachings of Helen Blavatsky, who held that the white race originated there (an idea appropriated by Austrian and German “Aryosophers” from whom Hitler and future Nazi leaders borrowed many ideas). The language of the Arctic russy gave birth to all “daughter languages”; the russy also invented the earliest writing system. All these achievements were later destroyed by Christians. D. Kandyba wrote about the “idea of the appropriation of the world dominance and victory of Yav” [In Kandyba’s view, Yahweh is the Hebrew form of the Slavic Yav! — V. S.], as the idea of the “victory of the bright side of a human being over his dark profane nature.”54 Naturally he means the “world dominance” of the Russians (rusy) which they had already achieved several times and which the Kievan Prince Vladimir tried to get back. The author is convinced that this will be exactly the future of world civilization.55 Thus, one can read into the extravagant writings of the Kandybas a true “Russian World Conspiracy” instead of the “Jewish World Conspiracy.”
Kandyba depicts the Jews as a “branch of the Southern Russians” (rusy), and in this way attempts to reduce tensions between the Russians and the Jews to the level of a family quarrel. At first glance, he even sympathizes with the ancient Israelites, “our younger brothers” who lost their state and were taken into captivity by the Babylonians.56 At the same time, he identifies the Jews with the Khazars, referring to them as the “Volga Russ” who attempted to establish economic, cultural, and administrative dominance in the “Russian Empire” of the early Middle Ages. Their “international financial intrigues” oppressed many Southern Russian groups, he claims. 57
writings of Nikitin and the Kandybas are representative of what one finds
in “patriotic” newspapers like Rodnye prostory, Za russkoe delo,
Russkaia pravda, and others. In addition, many of the concepts fall
within Russian messianism, and contain a prophetic message about the change
of epochs. The difficult present (Piscean) era will soon be replaced by
the Aquarian. It is said that the Jews are Pisceans, while the Russians
are Aquarians, the bearers of providence who will be victorious in the
battle against Evil.58
The Neo-pagans do not object to the idea of Russian world domination, claiming
that it has held it in the past in a way that was beneficial to many peoples.59
The Organizational Structure and Political Strategy of Contemporary Russian Neo-pagans
According to some experts, the Pamiat movement in its early period in the 1980s was based on Neo-pagan ideology.60 Its leaders were proud of their association with the Communist Party and were sincere advocates of the stable and highly integrated Soviet empire. There were neither Christian believers nor monarchists among them. At the same time, Neo-paganism included a mixture of Slavic paganism and popularized Hinduism. By the 1990s, however, Neo-pagans had access to the mass media and were able to establish political movements.
Three types of Neo-pagan groups exist today in Russia. First, there are small communes consisting of those who have moved to rural areas in order to live in relative isolation from mainstream society and observe their various rituals. One example is the family of A. Dobrovolski (Dobroslav) who settled in a small village in the Kirov region. A second group comprises urban intellectuals whose way of life differs little from that of their neighbors, although they gather from time to time to celebrate pagan holidays and perform rituals. “Ideological pagans” make up the third group, for whom paganism is a world-view, and an expression of their attitude toward the outside world. In recent times, this group has insisted that paganism is not a religion, but rather a system of scientific “Vedic” knowledge which supposedly flourished among the Slavic ancestors, but is now almost completely lost. Hence, the appeal is to restore, develop, and disseminate this knowledge for the benefit of humanity. A number of myths — with antisemitic undertones — form the basis of their beliefs. Recently, racist aspects have become more popular, and the need to rescue “white humanity” is proclaimed.
Only a small number of the first type of commune exists, scattered about the country, with each having a few dozen members. Communities of the second type are more widespread, each group having upwards of a hundred members. Sevesuch can be found in the larger Russian cities; three or four are found in Moscow, for example. The ideological Neo-pagans comprise the largest grouping, and include those who take part in political movements based on these ideas.
The role of the Neo-pagan ideological myths, especially those concerned with the supposed Aryan legacy of the Slavs, will be discussed separately. In recent years, these myths have spread rapidly, and have even been picked up by some Russian ethnonationalist political parties and movements which continue to stress their loyalty to Russian Orthodoxy and otherwise distance themselves from Neo-paganism. The most popular myth presents a Manichaean confrontation between good Aryans and evil Jews (Semites). In the past two or three years, such ideas have been disseminated by the Volgograd newspaper Kolokol, an organ of the restored Union of the Russian People. The newspaper is willing to publish anything appropriate for propaganda; it recently printed an article by a Neo-pagan denying the Holocaust. 61
The “Vedic” movement in St. Petersburg, established by the openly racist and antisemitic Viktor N. Bezverkhii, is the best known of the ideological Neo-pagan movements. Born in 1930, Bezverkhii graduated from the Mikhail Frunze advanced military and naval high school. He received his Ph.D. in Marxist-Leninist Philosophy in 1967 from Leningrad University, with a dissertation on anthropological views of Immanuel Kant. He then taught Marxism-Leninism at that university and other civil and military colleges. At the same time, he used to invite his favorite students to informal gatherings in his apartment, where he taught them that society needs to be delivered from the “defective offspring” that resulted from mixed marriages. These “hybrids” were “Kikes, Indians or Gypsies, and Mulattos” — all of whom prevented the founding of a truly just society. Bezverkhii’s “Vedism” argues that “in case of the fascist victory all the peoples will be passed through a sieve in order to reveal a racial origin: the Aryans will be united, the Asian, African and Indian elements will be put in their place, and the Mulattos will be eliminated as completely useless.”62 The “Vedists” argue that “hybrids” enslaved humanity, hiding knowledge and introducing a system of “usurer slavery” (ekonomicheskoe protsentnoe rabstvo) based on “Judaism and its daughter branches like Marxism-Leninism, the ecumenical worldview, Krishnaism,” etc.63 Thus, while borrowing extensively from other ideologies and religions, the “Vedists” treat them as bloody enemies and distance themselves from all of them.
Around 1979, Bezverkhii developed the idea of forming the “Volkhv Club” which was to include Nazi-style para-military groups. At this same time, he drew on his knowledge about the workings of the Gestapo in order to compile files on Jewish intellectuals in Saint Petersburg.64 His dream became reality in 1990 when the “Historic-Cultural Enlightenment Club” was established; it was called the “Union of the Veneds” and was headed by Konstantin V. Sidaruk, a former member of the Leningrad section of the National-Patriotic Front “Pamiat.” The Union publishes its own newspaper, Rodnye prostory, with a magazine supplement, Volkv. Both are put out by the Vedy cooperative run by Bezverkhii. The Union’s aim is “closer integration of the peoples (narodov) who live in our country.” In fact, its activity is focused on the integration of the national-patriotic forces of Saint Petersburg, which includes Orthodox Christians who are disillusioned with “Marx-Leninism” (the “Veneds” term), the Communists, and —what is more instructive — officers of the secret police and military forces. The “Union” also supports an openly Nazi movement called Russian National Unity (Russkoe Natsionalnoe Yedinstvo), headed by Alexander P. Barkashov. The “Union” suffered a split in 1991 when it proved unable to work out a unanimous attitude towards Russian Orthodoxy. Sidaruk’s “Union of the Golden Veneds” recognized Russian Orthodoxy as an integral part of the pan-Aryan tradition, while V. N. Kuzmin’s “Union of the White Veneds” prefers to maintain a “pure Vedic ideology,” although it does not take an anti-Christian position.65
More recently, the Veneds claimed that their true leader is “Vened grandfather” Bezverkhii. In 1995, the staff of the “Union of the Veneds” had, besides the “grandfather,” eleven assistants responsible for such things as “internal and external affairs,” and “protection of the gene pool.” A Council of the Volkhvs, the “Stronghold of Rationality” (Tverdynia zdravomysliia), consisted of sixteen members — one of whom is a eugenics expert — responsible for the further development of ideology. An important area of Council activity was the “development of rites of de-Christianization.” There is a staff of seven “professional researchers.” Nine regional sections are based in Russian cities and provinces: Yaroslavl and Riazan, Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar, the Krasnodar region, Alexandrov, the Black Soil region of Russia; and other sections operate in the Ukraine, Armenia, and even Germany. A reorganization took place in 1997, when Viktor Fedosov was elected head (“Vened grandfather”) of the Union of the Veneds and Eugene Sokolov became head of the Council of Volkhvs. It is said that now the Union has branches in Malaia Rossiia (Ukraine), Belaia Rosiia (Belorussia), Obninsk and Astrakhan, Rybisk, Pskov, and Vladivostock. It also maintains contacts with Neo-pagans in Omsk, Samara, Kolomna, Krasnodar, and Zheleznogorsk [Moscow is omitted. V. S.]. It also has contact with related groups in Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Poland.66 Neo-pagans (not affiliated with Bezverkhii’s group) are active in Belorussia as well: In 1996 they desecrated a church in Minsk, writing graffiti which read “Christians, depart from our Belorussian soil.”67
Three essential points mark the Vedic program. The first, “respect for, and protection of nature, living in conformity with its requirements,” and the “promotion of scientific study,” is attractive to environmentalists. The other two points, however, demonstrate the extremist nature of their ideas — to “maintain the gene pool and protect the purity of blood”; and to “struggle for social justice for the members of society who reproduce the toilers of full value and produce the required material and intellectual goods.”68 To Neo-pagan insiders, the implication of this last point is that Jews, who are not looked upon as being true “toilers” are thus unable to contribute to society by giving birth to valuable workers.
Maya Kaganskaya and Boris Grois were the first to point to the similarities between Russian Neo-paganism and Nazism, including the emphasis on purity of blood (allied with environmental concerns), plus the use of the swastika as an Aryan or Slavic symbol of the sun and Good.69 “[The] obliteration of race feeling is one of the main crimes of Christianity against humanity,” states the newspaper Russkoe delo.70 Thus, in recent times, notions of racial purity are associated by the Veneds with the rejection of religion (not just Christianity, but all “superstitions”), to be replaced by the establishment of the cult of the human intellect and knowledge, i.e., “rationality.” At the same time, they call for a restoration of folk beliefs, and claim that by “faith” they refer to a “belief in the abilities of the mind and cognition.”; supposedly this is the core of the “Vedic worldview.”71 The combination of open atheism with the call for a restoration of pre-Christian beliefs is the basis for common ground with the Communists, many of whom are close to Bezverkhii, and whose slogan is “real Socialism” and “distancing Orthodoxy from the Bible.”72
Not surprisingly, the nationalist and non-religious Communists are shifting toward racism and antisemitism, and while rejecting the ideology of internationalism and Marxism, they close off all paths toward the “triumph of rationality and justice” save the National-Socialist one. Indeed, even in the early twentieth century, close links were noted between patriotic socialism and fascism. J. Valois, for exampl, a founder of the French fascist movement, formulated it as “Nationalism plus Socialism is equal to Fascism.” Britain’s Oswald Mosley advocated a similar idea.73 No wonder that Russian Neo-pagans enthusiastically support Gennadi Ziuganov, who argues that the West has been corrupted by the Jewish Diaspora, and that a thirst for world dominance is an essential Jewish trait.74 At the meeting of the representatives of all Russian Neo-pagan communities held in Moscow in 1994, it was decided to focus on the “struggle against enemies of the Russian People and of Russia.”75 It is easy to guess who these “enemies” are.
Is There Room for the Jews in a Russian Pagan State?
Contrasted with the tone of the articles found in the Neo-pagan press, the actual programs proposed by these groups is much more modest. For example, the Russian Party adopted a program in March 1993 aimed at the restoration of the Russian nation and the establishment of ethnic Russian power. Respect toward traditions, customs, and the religious beliefs of other peoples was emphasized, as well as the major role of Russian Orthodoxy in national self-awareness. In fact, the party recognized an equal role for Russian Orthodoxy and the “Aryan Vedic worldview” for the Russian people, and called for their restoration and strengthening.76 A similar statement was issued by the National Republican Party headed by Yuri Beliaev.77
However, all Russian Neo-pagans bear a grudge against the Jews. The Russian Party states that all the Russian misfortunes of the twentieth century were caused by “world Mason-Zionism” and the thirst of the “chosen people” for world supremacy. Hence, “the main goal of the Russian Party is a restoration of the Russian ethnos, its rescue from the Mason-Zionist yoke, and a restitution of goods, robbed by Zionists, to the laborers.” The party demands the separation of any Jewish elements from the Church, and a rejection of any “Masonic” notions of “chosenness.” The Russian party also advocates the introduction of “ethnic proportional representation” in both the power structures and in the professions. They say that the Zionist monopoly for power, control of the mass media, economics, education, and science must be eliminated. The party plans to “struggle irreconcilably against ideologies which are hostile to the Russian national idea, the Russian people, and Russia itself.”78 The writer Andrei Kanavshchikov identifies Russian enemies: “Only enemies of Russia would call the Book of Vles a forgery, and Pamiat by Vladimir Chivilikhin a middling novel….”79 The Russian Party, like other ultra-nationalists, excludes the Jews from their lists of indigenous peoples in Russia. Thus, another point of their program indirectly refers to Jews: “to provide indigenous people with full employment, and to arrange deportation (if necessary) of foreign workers and white-collar workers back to their native countries.”80
The National Social Party, founded in 1992, goes even further. While declaring equality and fraternity for the peoples of Russia, it demands “to identify those guilty of genocide of the Russian people and other peoples of the country,” and to try them at the “international tribunal.” The head of the party at that time, Yuri Beliaev, identified the criminals with “Jewish chauvinism” and anyone who stood for humanist values and personal freedom.81 Since 1994, Beliaev has led the National Republican Party of Russia, which calls for a struggle against the “spread of religious teachings that have no roots in Russia,” including Judaism.82 Beliaev states that the Aryans have to struggle against the “dark forces serving cults based on human sacrifice—Judaism, Moloch cult,…” since “a warrior has to exterminate demons.”83 At the same time, the party distances itself from fascism, which it calls a “purely Western political doctrine.” 84
A brutal antisemitism mixed with the Neo-pagan “Aryan idea” formed the core principles of the Nazi-like National Democratic Party, which existed from 1989 to 1993 and was connected to the Union of the Veneds. When the party was dissolved, the editorial board of the newspaper Za russkoe delo established the Russian National Liberation Movement. Its bitter enemy is identified as Zionism, and it calls for the prosecution of “Zionism as the political stream responsible for the usurpation of power in Russia in 1917, mass genocide, the destruction of the Russian economy and culture, and the stirring up of class and ethnic discord.” It further demands a ban on Judaism, which “infuses and propagandizes the racial and ethnic superiority (iskliuchitelnost) of the Jews. Its program includes a paragraph on ethnic proportional representation.85 This call for ethnic-proportional representation sounds fair enough at first, but in fact, it is a code term that actually refers to the desire to drastically limit or altogether exclude Jews from any positions of power.
The recently-formed youth party, the National Front, headed by Ilia Lazarenko, takes an extreme racist approach, calling for “Aryan awareness” and sees itself as part of the resistance movement of the White Peoples. Its primary enemy is “Zion-Mondialism” and it openly calls itself a fascist movement.86 Lazarenko was arrested for spreading race hatred in 1996. During the period of his trial, he managed to establish and head a Neo-pagan “Nav Church” in which the “old Slavic gods” Yav and Nav were worshipped, and whose rituals and vestments resemble those of the Ku Klux Klan. This church’s followers assembled secretly on April 20, 1997 to celebrate Hitler’s birthday and the “beginning of the White Man’s Era.”87
One can note similarities between the statements of the Neo-Nazi-style Russian movements and the principles of the Union of the Veneds (which initially called itself a political movement but has since distanced itself from political activity.) For example, “The Union of the Veneds insists on the prosecution and punishment of those organizations and particular people who are guilty of the genocide of the Russian People and the destruction of the Russian State regardless of how long ago they committed the crimes and wherever they live on earth today.”88 They refer to the same “enemies” noted elsewhere: the hybrids who developed the Judaic ideology and who temporarily seized power over the “White World.”89
A New Social Russian Movement (NORD) appeared on the political stage in 1995. Its Manifest was based on Neo-Nazi rhetoric as found in the magazine Ataka. It adheres to Neo-pagan notions of a “solar ideology” and “Nordic principles,” and aims to establish ethnic Russian power with an anti-democratic “hierarchy” which was supposedly inherited from the “most ancient northern ancestors.” The movement calls for ethnic-proportional representation in the country’s power structures.90
Russian National Unity, headed by Alexander Barkashov, is one of the largest Russian ultranationalist movements. Officially it proclaims its loyalty to Orthodoxy, but there are nevertheless a number of Neo-pagans among its members, and symbols such as the swastika, and the racial principle are integrated into its ideology. RNU speaks of the “Jewish-Communist yoke” established in 1917, along with the genocide of Russian and indigenous peoples. RNU promotes a recovery from the consequences of the “genocide” and the introduction of ethnic-proportional representation. Anyone in a mixed marriage should be brought to trial, and control of the birth rate of non-Russians is advocated. Schools should be cleansed of anti-national elements, of the teaching of “human values,” and contemporary intellectuals should be replaced with a “new ethnic intellectual elite.” The movement opposes cults which spiritually enslave the Russian and other inhabitants of the country. Their term “inhabitants of Russia” (rossiiane) refers to “non-Slavic indigenous peoples of Russia for whom Russia is the only Motherland.”92 Thus, the Jews will have no place is the society. A new RNU program has been adopted which at first glance appears to be more modest. It does not insist on ethnic-proportional representation and refrains from explicit antisemitism. However, it still sees future Russia as a state of “ethnic Russians and Rossiians.” By definition, Jews are excluded.93
The only Neo-pagan political movement whose program does not include extreme antisemitism is the Russian Liberation Movement (RLM) which grew out of the St. Petersburg Spiritual Union “Tezaurus.” In the past few years it has modified its program and now emphasizes the Russian (rossiiskaia) nation as a multiethnic community; reflecting this, the name of the movement was changed to Russian (rossiiskoe) Public Movement. It protests the genocide of the Russian People and other peoples of the USSR by “false democracies” and “extreme racists.” It swears to respect all ethnic traditions, and denies the presence of any nationalism [i.e., “chauvinism” in the popular mind] in the Russian nation. Although RPM openly distances itself from antisemitism, its program contains implicit anti-Jewish articles. For example, it seeks to restore only the traditional religions of the “indigenous peoples” — Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, and Buddhism. Judaism is not included.94
One of RPM’s ideologists, the physician Sergei P. Semenov has stated that one of the obstacles for the Russian future is the supremacy of the “transnational financial oligarchy” that includes a number of Jews and is based on “Zionism.”95 He finds within Christianity certain obvious “Jewish traits” which do not fit the Russian people.96 He distances himself from antisemitism, but recognizes the “anti-Zionist” mood of the movement, while adding that “there is no danger to normal Jews and even Orthodox Jews from the side of the RPM.” He believes that the “spiritual substance” of the Jews and Russia do not fit, and hence there is no place for Jews in the governmental structures of the Russian state, and Jews should not attempt to change the situation. Semenov avoids any open admiration of Hitler, but allows that there were some “benefits” of his ideology.97 As with the other parties described, Semenov asserts that was there ethnic-proportional representation in all institutions, it would “solve half of the painful problems [of Russia]”.98 Somewhat earlier, Semenov shared the position of many Russian ultranationalists that “Marxist Jews” had seized power in 1917 and had launched a genocide of the main ethnos” and took part in the democratic reforms. Today, he warns against a threat to the CIS from “World Zionism.”99 Interestingly enough, he blames the “struggle against xenophobia” as if it contradicts the interests of the Russian people.100
Russian Neo-paganism is hardly original. Rather, it mirrors the same trend found in the West in which people look to pre-Christian and Eastern cults for solutions to various crises—ecological, economic, social, and intellectual.101 The past two millennia, they hold, has been dominated by the monotheistic “Judeo-Christian” religion that they see as anthropocentric, which legitimizes exploitation, persecutes minorities, and seeks to eliminate cultural diversity. Only a return to pre-Christian beliefs can foster proper care for the environment and inspire toleration and equality. It is allied with a feminism in which the Mother Goddess is worshipped and only women serve as priests. Contemporary Russian Neo-paganism is clearly influenced by Western “New Age” ideas, with its prophecies of a coming “spiritual revolution” that will change human nature and rescue humanity from catastrophe.103
Both Neo-paganism and the New Age movement are very amorphous; composed of many different and even opposite ideas, worldviews, and predictions about the future, some aspects of which are both questionable and alarming. Some groups, as we have seen, take an extremely negative view of multi-culturalism, object to the “mixture” of kinds, support isolationism and the prohibition of immigration.104 Racist and antisemitic trends are explicit, for example, in the occult teachings of Alice Bailey (founder of the New Age movement) and her followers, who wish to cleanse Christianity of its “Jewish inheritance” and reject the “Jewish Bible” as a prerequisite for entering the Age of Aquarius.105 In her view, the twentieth century has been a period of world catastrophe, soon to be replaced by a Golden Age. Jews were depicted as the “human product of the former Solar system,” linked with “World Evil” and justly punished for their rejection of the Messiah.106 Similar ideas are found in the philosophy of the Italian fascist Julius Evola, who held that the contemporary epoch was part of the decline which began in the 8th–6th centuries B.C. He, too, predicted a coming catastrophe to be followed by a Golden Age.107
Such thinking was taken up enthusiastically by Russian Neo-pagans, who have “enriched” them with their own “Russian idea,” including a radical conservative ideology characterized by anti-intellectualism and populism. Advocates of Russian Neo-paganism assert that contemporary misfortunes are the result of a betrayal of the “original” pre-Christian Slavic-Russian treasury of ancestral wisdom. Salvation depends on a total rejection of the “Judeo-Christian” ideology that supposedly aims to achieve cultural homogenization and the destruction of Russian culture.108 Thus, Russian Neo-paganism explicitly represents itself as an ethno-national movement, which distinguishes it from Western Neo-paganism. It is also distinguished by its imperialistic goal of rescuing and restoring the “Russian Empire,” hence the emphasis on the historiosophic myth that claims vast territories of Europe and Asia as part of the “Slavic-Rus” empire of ancient times. The “Aryan myth” serves this end, as well as depicting world history as an eternal struggle of “Slavic Aryans” against malicious “Semites.”
This ethno-national focus also explains the difference with Western Neo-pagan environmental and feminist concerns, which the Russian Neo-pagans view as secondary in importance to considerations of race, and social and ethnic problems. While appealing to the “original values” of remote ancestors, Russian Neo-pagans maintain loyalty to local patriarchal traditions: all the communities and political parties are headed by men. As to its ecological concerns, the emphasis is on an “ecology of culture,” from which one easily builds a bridge to concepts of “purity of blood.” Contemporary Russian Neo-paganism is, in fact, the first serious attempt to bring racist doctrines onto Russian soil and infuse them into nationalism.
Open racism and disregard of Russian Orthodox values have marginalized Neo-paganism within Russian society, however, since a great many Russians—despite a general decline in religious feelings—consider Orthodoxy to be an invaluable part of their cultural legacy and a core element in Russian identity. This inclines some Neo-pagans to take a more moderate attitude towards the Orthodox church. It also seems unlikely that Neo-pagan racist ideas would become widely popular in Russia, since the Russian people were in fact formed through assimilation with various non-Russian ethnic groups with whom they made contact in the long course of territorial expansion. Most are well aware that such ethnic mixing has taken place in the twentieth century as well.
In spite of this, Russian Neo-paganism is a dangerous development. It is, for example, growing in popularity among the students of some Moscow universities. The most recent sociological surveys indicate that while in general, the intensity of antisemitism is decreasing in Russian society, it is growing significantly among those in the state bureaucracy, among intellectuals, and white collar workers.109 These latter groups are among those involved in Neo-pagan literary production and other activities. In this author’s observation, there is an increase in Neo-pagan literature, as well as that which reproduces and exploits these ideas. More and more people, especially youngsters, will be infused with such ideas in the future.
mentioned above, there are fifty Slav-Gorets wrestling clubs in various
cities which are quite popular with teenagers; and the number of Neo-pagan
communities is growing. The existence of several political parties associated
with the movement, the formation of armed units, and access to the mass
media make it a potential force that could break the fragile balance of
power in the current political instability. It is worth mentioning, for
example, that the armed Barkashovians took an active role in the defense
of the rebellious Russian parliament in October 1993. It includes about
350 local organizations with several dozen members in each section. In
Moscow there are 200–300 members, with an estimated 5,000–6,000 altogether
in Russia. In the current environment, the representation of the Jews as
an obsolete group permanently engaged in disrupting peace and order in
the world, and which must be suppressed, could serve as a mobilizing factor.110
It would be unwise, in the circumstances, to forget the disastrous experience
with German Nazism.
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