Recently, I stumbled upon an interesting article while searching to learn more about the Doukhobors, a Russian religious sect who emigrated to Canada’s West en masse in the 1890s. The name of this group means “spirit wrestlers,” originally a derogatory term in response to what was seen as their fighting against a traditional interpretation of the Holy Spirit.
Facing persecution in their homeland Russia, over 7000 Doukhobors emigrated to Western Canada at the end of the 19th century. This migration was assisted by men such as Leo Tolstoy and Peter Kropotkin, admirers of their traditional lifestyle.
Shortly after their arrival in Canada, a radical group of the Doukhobors formed known as the Sons of Freedom. These men were in search of Christ and earthly paradise. As an act of demonstration, they walked naked through Doukhobor villages, apparently seeking the purity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
This early protest seems reflected in the opening line of an article written by Christopher Shulgan in The Walrus Magazine entitled “Taking the Cure: How a group of British Columbian anarchists inspired democracy in Russia.” His piece begins, “It stands as one of the more unusual turning points of the Cold War, thanks mostly to the surprise appearance of several naked middle-aged women.” The full text of Shulgan’s article can be found here.
The article stems from Shulgan’s research for a biography of Aleksandr Yakovlev, at that time the Soviet Union’s Canadian ambassador who went on to become “Gorbachev’s strategic adviser.” Shulgan contributes to Yakovlev much of the influence behind Gorbachev’s famous policies of perestroika (a restructuring of the Soviet Union’s economic policy involving limited free enterprise and private property ownership) and glasnost (“openness,” increased freedom of the press allowing discussion and criticism of the state of the Soviet Union). Remarkably, Shulgan argues that Yakovlev’s ideals which led to these policies were greatly influenced by a visit he made to British Columbia’s Doukhobors in 1980.
To what degree this group was in fact influential in bringing about Russian democracy I cannot yet knowledgeably say. Nonetheless, it appears that there is more to this radical and yet conservative group than meets the eye.Though slightly lengthy, I recommend Shulgan’s article, as both his argument and his subject matter are highly interesting.
To learn more about Yakovlev, his obituary from the New York Times can be found here.
I hope that you enjoy the reading.
Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley