Join 3,438 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Old Believers
May 5, 2013 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Alaska is home to two small villages of Russian Orthodox "Old Believers," whose ancestors left the church and their home in Siberia in 1666 in the face of state-issued church reforms. They have traveled more than 20,000 miles over five centuries in the search for the perfect place to protect their traditions from outside influences. Now, assimilation into American culture is slowly overtaking them. (Via)

Background
* Orthodox Wiki: Old Believers
* Discovering Russian Orthodoxy: The Old Believers
* Documentary on YouTube: 'Russian Amish': Children of the schism
* Another documentary: Old Believers
* The History of Oregon's Old Believer Community
posted by zarq (49 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Anchorage Daily News article in the "via" link mentions how the Atlantic article came about: Three University of California Berkeley master's candidates in journalism traveled this past winter to the Russian Old Believer communities on the Kenai Peninsula, to work on a documentary film. The Atlantic article is an offshoot of their trip, and includes still photos from their trip.
posted by zarq at 11:05 AM on May 5, 2013


Related: The Lykov family of Old Believers.
posted by lewedswiver at 11:28 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks, interesting read. Struck me looking at the date of the intial schism that it coincides with that period one historian (don't recall the name) characterised as the mid-17th century crisis - Wars of the Three Kingdoms in what is now UK, fall of the Ming etc., with the English Revolution and Chinese peasant movements including a strong strand of the sort of milllenarianism the Patriarchal reforms seem to have inspired here. Think they linked it to social upheavals attendant on an economic crisis caused by a prolonged cold spell in the 1620s.
posted by Abiezer at 11:50 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fascinating. It's going to be hard for them to retain their traditions in the face of global culture intruding.
posted by arcticseal at 12:04 PM on May 5, 2013


Kind of amazing that the Old Believers were "old" as of Peter the Great. Traditions die hard in Russia.
posted by selfnoise at 12:18 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


that period one historian (don't recall the name) characterised as the mid-17th century crisis

Wikipedia: The General Crisis.
posted by stebulus at 12:35 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am I reading too much into these descriptions by inferring that we're supposed to regard the plight of the Old Believers' cultural institutions with sympathy?

If the Old Believers were not an obscure exiled religious group, but say, fundamentalist Southern Baptists with objectively similar social prerogatives (viz. subordination of women, rejection of education save through religious texts, and criminal hostility towards outsiders (e.g. ignoring mayday calls from non-Russian ships)), would it even be conceivable to write of them as "search[ing] for the perfect place to protect their traditions from outside influences"?
posted by lambdaphage at 12:39 PM on May 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


So, they're basically Christian Hasidim.

For the record, I hate Every Single Thing about the way this article is framed. It feels disingenuous and like we're not getting a good picture of what the community is actually like.

Also, these people kind of sound like assholes.
posted by Sara C. at 12:48 PM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I used to work with a bunch of Old Believers from Woodburn. Other than taking some non-standard vacation days for religious holidays, they were all great coworkers. I never got the impression that they were hostile to outsiders or that they were subjugated women. Looking at one of my coworkers Facebook page, I see that she is still in her words, "single and lovin' it" (accompanied by a photo of her and a gigantic margarita.)
posted by vespabelle at 12:51 PM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


lambdaphage -- that's a good point, and it's also worth noting that most of those values and questionable ways of relating to the outside world are true of the Hasidim, and they're typically the reasons people tend to have problems with that group.

Why are we giving this patriarchal batshit religious community a pass we give almost no other patriarchal batshit religious community, ever? Because they're more photogenic? Because they fled communist Russia?
posted by Sara C. at 12:51 PM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


There was an article recently that I can't locate at the moment explaining how the Old Believers had cornered the market on a certain kind of fishing allocation ( I believe it was halibut) in Alaska because, in part, they didn't have to pay their familial crews as much and also owned the boat yards that built their boats. This caused some resentment amongst other boats.

Ah, here it is Seattle Weekly: Sharecroppers of the Seas (PDF)
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 12:54 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would have liked it if the article had interviewed some women about what life is like there. The only women interviewed are teachers talking about educational conditions, meanwhile the priest and his son pretty much dominate the narrative of Who The Old Believers Are.

Clearly if there are female teachers, they must be college educated. One of them mentions that more kids from the community are leaving for "higher education" (which I'm assuming means college, since the village school is K-12) and that gradually the community is beginning to speak English rather than Russian. So they must be much more integrated to mainstream culture than the piece wants to admit.

I'm left assuming that the author of the Atlantic piece had to try very hard to achieve the Keepers Of An Ancient Tradition Who Live Outside Mainstream Society narrative they must have pitched (or that the editors might have wanted).
posted by Sara C. at 12:59 PM on May 5, 2013


Somewhat stunned that the character Yevgeny the Raskolnik from Stephenson's Baroque Cycle was actually part of a real religious movement that still exists..
posted by Ahab at 1:04 PM on May 5, 2013


For the record, I hate Every Single Thing about the way this article is framed. It feels disingenuous and like we're not getting a good picture of what the community is actually like.

Also, these people kind of sound like assholes.


Damn. That's a pretty high grade of bitterness.

Why are we giving this patriarchal batshit religious community a pass we give almost no other patriarchal batshit religious community, ever? Because they're more photogenic? Because they fled communist Russia?

I don't know about we, but I give them a pass for seeking out a place where they can worship and live freely as they see fit. This isn't to say that I approve of their backward culture or religion. Just that I approve the ability of people to seek their own path. The kind of freedom that some of us take for grants, and others still don't quite enjoy.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:08 PM on May 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just a point of order: The "Old Believers" is a blanket term for a number of groups that are not necessarily part of a monolithic whole, but were treated similarly by authorities from Peter the Great onward. (that is, with a healthy dollop of contempt, torture and executions)

Also, the comparison to Hasidic Judaism does not in my mind hold water(although to be fair, I am not a religious scholar). Hasidism was really a somewhat radically different reform movement, whereas the "Old Believers" are united by their rejection of reforms introduced by the patriarch Nikon (and by Peter the Great, really). It would be like comparing Lutherans to Catholics that reject Vatican II.

While I know a little about these people, I don't know a lot about them, and I find it's always most useful to approach such situations with the attitude that they want to live the way they do, and so do I, and hey, maybe we can start by trying that out instead of telling them and their traditions that they suck.
posted by selfnoise at 1:22 PM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


For the record, I hate Every Single Thing about the way this article is framed. It feels disingenuous and like we're not getting a good picture of what the community is actually like.

Also, these people kind of sound like assholes.

Why are we giving this patriarchal batshit religious community a pass we give almost no other patriarchal batshit religious community, ever? Because they're more photogenic? Because they fled communist Russia?


Because we give passes to all kinds of people that hold judgements about others based on limited information?
posted by salishsea at 1:29 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why are we giving this patriarchal batshit religious community a pass we give almost no other patriarchal batshit religious community, ever?

You mean, except for all of them? (Read the First Amendment lately?)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:44 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's another example of Old Believer self-isolation (taken to an extreme).

It's possible that the op's links do not fully describe the extent of civilization's inroads into Alaska's Kenai peninsula. When the Old Believer communities were forming in the peninsula in the 1970's, the general population was thinner, the roads were scarcer, subsistence fishing and hunting for salmon and moose was probably much less competitive, and the first Walmart store wasn't to come for another 40 years.
posted by rub scupper cult at 1:56 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I say this is close enough to count as a double.. Less than a week ago.
posted by spitbull at 2:17 PM on May 5, 2013


Not to mention that I posted the primary link here in the prior Old Believer thread.
posted by spitbull at 2:17 PM on May 5, 2013


Read the First Amendment lately?
I don't think that Sara C. was saying that the government should force these people to give up their religion. I think she was saying that these people seem like jerks.
posted by Flunkie at 2:23 PM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Selfnoise, I'm not saying that the Old Believer movement and Hasidism are similar theologically, or even really historically. But they're both extreme minority religious groups who hold their religion as their primary social/cultural identity, and with that comes some very specific shared values about the role of women in society, the value of secular education, a desire to be as insular as possible, and their responsibility to people outside their community.
posted by Sara C. at 2:35 PM on May 5, 2013


Re the first amendment comment, guys, I think it's clear from my comment that I'm talking about we, the readers of the Atlantic piece, being expected to sympathize with these people.

When typically the media presents accounts of religious groups with similar beliefs (the FLDS comes to mind) as a dangerous antisocial element, or at the very least as bad neighbors making questionable life choices.

Obviously they should be free to practice their religion, though I found it interesting how little the article actually talked about that.

Also, to clarify -- I don't have a problem with these people's traditions. They just... all sound like jerks. Splintering into separate villages over the tiniest doctrinal distinctions. The whole thing about going to Oregon to get a wife, like you get a wife the same way you get a new pair of workboots. Expressing negative feelings about the fact that children from their community want to go to college. Not answering the mayday calls of non-Russian fishing boats. You can have all the traditions you want, but I don't have to think you're a nice person.
posted by Sara C. at 2:47 PM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


A very interesting article; thanks for posting it. The caption "The only way to get to one of the splintered priestless communities is down a steep and dangerous switchback and then across a thin strip of icy beach. The geographical isolation helps protect the community from outside influence" reminded me of a Viktor Astafyev story, "Стародуб" [The windflower], which I wrote about here: "This village is inhabited by Old Believers (for whom I learned a new word, кержак) who have chosen the inaccessible spot to avoid contamination from the sinners around them." I've long been fascinated by the Old Believers, but I had no idea there was a community in Alaska. What a big, complicated world it is!

> Am I reading too much into these descriptions by inferring that we're supposed to regard the plight of the Old Believers' cultural institutions with sympathy?

You can hoard your sympathy as you like; a lot of people around here seem to have sympathy only for those who think and behave pretty much as they themselves do. Me, I have enough to spread it around freely, and these people, having been viciously persecuted for centuries by one regime after another, have earned it as far as I'm concerned.
posted by languagehat at 3:22 PM on May 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Languagehat,

I think your comment illustrates the need for a distinction I meant to make above: confusing cultural groups with individuals is a category mistake. For example, the Old Believers' religious community can die off without the people comprising that community dying off. Similarly, the fact that certain heterodox groups have been persecuted for centuries does not imply that any particular individual has been persecuted for centuries, and indeed the Old Believers who are the subject of the article have AFAICT been persecuted not at all. In fact, the article suggests that the primary cultural obstacle that contemporary Old Believers face is not being ostracized enough!

My point was that if the community is "in danger" of ceasing to exist, that's because it's running out of people willing to see that way of life as a project worth pursuing. Why should our reaction towards the voluntary extinction of the Old Believer movement be any other than to shrug?

Further, I suggest that you're confusing sympathy with goodwill. I can regard Old Believers with the respect due any human being seeking the good life as they see fit (modulo allegations of refusals to heed maritime distress calls, which is criminal) without concluding that the culture they participate in has any moral interests in se over and above those of its members.
posted by lambdaphage at 4:04 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


and indeed the Old Believers who are the subject of the article have AFAICT been persecuted not at all.

Well... of the two people the article devotes the most time to, one remembers fleeing Russia for China (though it's admittedly kind of unclear that he's talking about himself--this article is not the clearest) and the other doesn't know where he was born because he was born about the time they went from Russia to China. Then they got kicked out of China. The last two moves were by choice, as far as I could tell. (It sounds like there was nothing wrong politically with Brazil, but it wasn't working out economically.) Such things tend to still have repercussions in a community a couple of generations later.
posted by hoyland at 4:17 PM on May 5, 2013


Yes, some of the older ones were in fact persecuted when they were very young. But the most recent moves (to Alaska from Oregon and from Alaska to more secluded parts of Alaska) were done not because they were persecuted, but (at least in part) because they wanted younger members not to have as much of a choice about what to do with their lives.

If anything, the more recent moves were to further their ability to persecute, not to avoid being persecuted.
posted by Flunkie at 4:29 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


If anything, the more recent moves were to further their ability to persecute, not to avoid being persecuted.

I kind of feel like I've read a completely different article to everyone else. I don't think it's a very good article because there's a lot of stuff that's unclear. But, honestly, it sounds like the most terrible thing they're doing is the behaviour of the fishing fleet, which sounds like it might be liable to result in someone's death sooner or later. But they're not denying children education as some people seem to be thinking--it says specifically they're losing school enrollment because people (men and women) are going to college and not returning. Who are they meant to be persecuting?
posted by hoyland at 4:54 PM on May 5, 2013


Am I reading too much into these descriptions by inferring that we're supposed to regard the plight of the Old Believers' cultural institutions with sympathy?

Well, at least human empathy. I don't think that means endorsing everything about them. I mean, I don't particularly endorse Mormonism, but the attacks at Nauvoo, the burning of the temple, and the assassination of Joseph Smith are heartbreaking, and the trek to Utah is an amazing achievement of human will against tremendous odds.

By the same token, I'm basically OK with people, within the law, living autonomously and not imposing their religious beliefs on anybody else -- whatever they may be. Completely the opposite of e.g. the situation in Kiryas Joel or East Ramapo, for example.
posted by dhartung at 5:12 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


But they're not denying children education as some people seem to be thinking--it says specifically they're losing school enrollment because people (men and women) are going to college and not returning. Who are they meant to be persecuting
That (according to the article) is true now, but only recently. And only for the community with the priest, not for the communities who splintered off. The latter have doubled down on their remoteness and isolationism, and at least one of the quoted people in the, uh, priestful community thinks they're onto something there.

And the fact that when in the past members have been given a chance to give up the tradition, they have in significantly large numbers done so, compelled them to decide to give such members less of a chance to do so. That was explicitly the reasoning behind the move to Alaska from Oregon, and it seems likely to me that it was also a factor in the priestless group doubling down on their remoteness and isolationism.

I'll admit that perhaps "to further their ability to persecute" might be somewhat overstated, and that I should have said that it was more akin to persecuting than to being persecuted. But "The next generation don't like our lifestyle and will leave it when adults if possible, so let's raise them in a way and a place that will intentionally cripple their ability to make that decision for themselves" strikes me as, well, maybe not persecution and certainly not persecution akin to what I imagine happened to their great-great-(...)-grands under the czars, but... not good.
posted by Flunkie at 5:23 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


For example, the Old Believers' religious community can die off without the people comprising that community dying off.

Furthermore, if the next generation wants to speak English and go to college and maybe chooses not to live in a remote and desolate area, are they "killing" their religious community, or are they just being individuals who deserve our sympathy every bit as much as their parents did? What is it about the priest, Nikolai, that causes him to deserve our sympathy more than Nikolai's hypothetical daughter who moves to Anchorage to become a CPA? They are both descendants of a long-persecuted religious minority.

This community isn't dying because they're being persecuted by the US government, or because of evil outsiders making them assimilate. The community is eating itself from the inside out.
posted by Sara C. at 5:55 PM on May 5, 2013


one remembers fleeing Russia for China (though it's admittedly kind of unclear that he's talking about himself--this article is not the clearest) and the other doesn't know where he was born because he was born about the time they went from Russia to China.

My understanding of the article is that they were forced to leave Russia around the time of the Revolution (so, ~ 1920). It seems unlikely to me that any of the people interviewed for this article have memories of life in Russia as none of them appear to be going on 100 years old.

One thing I think about a lot is the way that culture (and especially these sorts of tribal identities) map onto us, so that we can take the experiences of our grandparents or even great-grandparents very personally. As a Cajun, my grandmother was beaten for speaking French in school in the 30's. I still identify with that persecution, despite the fact that I am a monolingual English speaker and corporal punishment was frowned upon by the time I was school age.

I imagine that some of the stories told in this article are those kinds of stories, not the stories of individuals specifically hunted down and oppressed for religious reasons.
posted by Sara C. at 6:05 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sara C. wrote: I'm not saying that the Old Believer movement and Hasidism are similar theologically, or even really historically. But they're both extreme minority religious groups who hold their religion as their primary social/cultural identity, and with that comes some very specific shared values ...

Not all Hasidim are as insular as you think, and there are a number of non or anti-Hasidic Jewish groups (e.g.) who are at least as insular as anything you would find among Hasidim. Kiryas Joel is an American phenomenon, and it's an outlier even in the USA.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:28 PM on May 5, 2013


I imagine that some of the stories told in this article are those kinds of stories, not the stories of individuals specifically hunted down and oppressed for religious reasons.

I'll definitely accept that as a plausible reading of the paragraph about the move from Russia to China. The timeline is really fuzzy and the writing feels really strange to me. However, they could have gone to China as late as the mid-1930s. The Smithsonian article rub scupper cult linked above is about a family that fled into the forest in 1936. My grandad is alive and kicking and can remember 1936, so there's no reason this guy couldn't, assuming he was, uh, born by then, which we don't seem to have a good way of guessing. The other hint we have about that move is the age of the guy who doesn't know where he was born, but does remember living in China, which also points to sometime in the 1930s at the earliest. God only knows about Father Nikolai, but I'd believe there are people in the Old Believer community (in Alaska or elsewhere) who remember the move into China.
posted by hoyland at 6:31 PM on May 5, 2013


That (according to the article) is true now, but only recently. And only for the community with the priest, not for the communities who splintered off. The latter have doubled down on their remoteness and isolationism, and at least one of the quoted people in the, uh, priestful community thinks they're onto something there.

I'm really reading this totally differently. For a start, I gathered the priestless group left not to further isolate themselves, but because they thought (be it rightly or wrongly) someone torched their church and they were being driven out of town. In any case, we don't know what's going on in that town at all, really. I did find an unrelentingly cheery article in a local paper. If nothing else, they're a lot less cut off than the Atlantic article makes it sound, though more isolated than Nikolaevsk. For example, the principal talks about kids coming into the school speaking English and Russian, so they're learning English before age five. (In the course of my googling, I found that Nikolaevsk isn't populated entirely by Old Believers. My guess is that's the difference he's talking about. After all, even the teachers in Kachemak Selo don't seem to live in the town.)

I guess I'm saying I don't really know what you want from them that isn't assimilation.
posted by hoyland at 7:11 PM on May 5, 2013


Yes, I understand that they left at least in part because of the church fire, and in the broader context of the priestification. But that does not mean that was the only reason, and at least according to the Atlantic article, they went to a place that was even more isolated, they stuck up signs on the entrance to town saying "No Trespassing" -- no trespassing applied to the town as a whole -- and "outsiders are not welcome". "They don't like outsiders coming in, affecting their way of life, introducing more English and stuff like that."

I realize that this is not 100% proof of my feeling that part of the reason they did this was similar to the stated reason they left for Alaska in the first place - to decrease the likelihood that people would leave upon realizing what the world has to offer them. That's why I have tried to be careful to say things like "it seems likely to me that it was also a factor" rather than things like "it was why".
I guess I'm saying I don't really know what you want from them that isn't assimilation.
I guess I'm saying I don't really know why you think I want something from them.
posted by Flunkie at 7:28 PM on May 5, 2013


I guess I'm saying I don't really know why you think I want something from them.

You seem to think they're running their community in a bad way, so I kind of figured you'd prefer they run their community better, but I don't know how you'd define that.
posted by hoyland at 7:40 PM on May 5, 2013


I guess I'm saying I don't really know what you want from them that isn't assimilation.

I think you're misunderstanding what some of us are saying here.

I don't want anything from them. I'm perfectly OK with them continuing to live their cloistered, insular lives however they see fit.

I just don't feel bad for them. I don't feel like their way of life is sacred.

Frankly, I don't really see what is to be assimilated. Lots and lots of Americans have all kinds of divergent religious beliefs and fit just fine into mainstream society. Lots and lots of Americans are immigrants and speak languages besides English, and fit into mainstream society. Aside from their insularity, which I suppose they're welcome to, I don't see what makes them different from others, and how the differences I can surmise make them some kind of protected culture that should be preserved at all costs.

I'm also aware that 99% of my concerns are with the Atlantic article, and not with these people themselves, who I don't know and who live thousands of miles away from me. It comes off as half National Geographic peeping through the underbrush at the Exotic Natives who are Different From Us, and half David Koresh.
posted by Sara C. at 7:53 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


By not intentionally making it so that people who would leave if they could can't.

I understand that they (at least the priestful ones) are at the very least better in this respect now than they were not so long ago. I think if you're not clear on that, perhaps you should go back and look at what I actually wrote in the comment that made you start questioning me, because I wasn't talking about their current state of affairs. And in my first response to your questioning, I tried to make that clear (at least for the priestful ones).

In any case, it feels like you're poking me about something that I'm not actually saying in the first place, and you keep poking despite my attempts to explain that I'm not saying what you seem to think I am, so I guess I'm done here for now.
posted by Flunkie at 7:53 PM on May 5, 2013


Sara C.: "The whole thing about going to Oregon to get a wife, like you get a wife the same way you get a new pair of workboots."

This is a very normal practice in small remote communities. If you look around and of the three people of the appropriate age and sex none of them rock your world you don't have much choice. A larger community with similar language and religion is going to be a natural destination.
posted by Mitheral at 8:12 PM on May 5, 2013


But you don't "Go to Oregon to get a wife". You, like, go live in Oregon for a few years, where you meet someone, date them, fall in love, and get married. They then move "back home" to live closer to your family.

It's not like you drive down to The Wife Store one weekend and come back with Wifey.

My grandmother did the "none of the four dudes my age I'm not related to float my boat" thing and lived in New Orleans until she met my grandfather and dragged him back to rural Louisiana with her. My dad did the same with my mom. I myself looked around my high school at some point and thought, "I better get into college because otherwise I'm going to have to be an old maid..."
posted by Sara C. at 8:32 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


But you don't "Go to Oregon to get a wife". You, like, go live in Oregon for a few years, where you meet someone, date them, fall in love, and get married. They then move "back home" to live closer to your family.

Yes, and if the basic reason for you going to Oregon is to meet people outside of your tiny town, this is called "going to Oregon to get a wife".

It's not like you drive down to The Wife Store one weekend and come back with Wifey.

I think this is an interpretation of your own that you're putting on it.
posted by hattifattener at 9:02 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to work with a bunch of Old Believers from Woodburn. Other than taking some non-standard vacation days for religious holidays, they were all great coworkers. I never got the impression that they were hostile to outsiders or that they were subjugated women.

In Alaska Old Believer girls are pulled out of school and married off at age 15 or so.
posted by fshgrl at 11:08 PM on May 5, 2013


But you don't "Go to Oregon to get a wife". You, like, go live in Oregon for a few years, where you meet someone, date them, fall in love, and get married. They then move "back home" to live closer to your family.

Obviously that's not true for these people, nor need it be. In the article, one of the men went to Oregon and met his wife at a party, assumedly organized specifically for this purpose. He went to Oregon to get a wife, plain and simple.

Ultimately, the only differences between this and any other matchmaking party - like the monthly dances for rural farmers I read about here recently - or online vehicles such as Match or JDate - is that marriage is the only goal, and it tends to happen much more quickly. So what? I've seen couples in marriages formed in similar ways to this in many cultures, with at least - if not more - real affection, tenderness and partnership between the husband and wife than in most of the marriages formed through "our" means.

I've never understood the Orthodox faith much, and I have a great many problems with the open support that the Serbian Orthodox Church granted to a genocide against my own people. But I don't get the hate. As a largely self-supporting community, I respect these people, what they've been through and how they're trying to hold their community together.

I have met Lipovani, who are Old Believers who went southwest from Russia a few hundred years ago and ended up in Romania. They have several communities, and from my eyewitness they seem to be doing pretty well within an agrarian, peasant lifestyle. They are not wildly effusive people, but they are not "batshit insane."

(Being from a cosmopolitan city and background, I don't relate to their lifestyle, but "assholes?" In the very recent past, one could have written quite a similar article about Cajun culture, and possibly so even today - the Cajuns have clearly had much longer to assimilate into mainstream American culture, but traditionally they've been a characterizable by the persecutions they've suffered, their patriarchal dominance, heavy church doctrine, religious, linguistic and cultural separatism, geographic isolation - lessened today, but still evident. Frankly, there's not difference between the Old Believers and the Cajuns except where they are in their historical arc, the batshit insane patriarchal assholes!)

In many ways I found the Lipovani less patriarchal than the neighboring Romanian or Ukrainian communities, amd to some extent more open to education as well. I know that their self-sufficiency and isolation was a positive during the Ceausescu years and could serve as a lesson to us in many ways. They know how to do stuff we can't manage on our own any longer. They do not, unlike many conservative Christians in America, attempt to push their beliefs on others outside their group, such as through political or legal processes, if one needs a reason to "give them a pass," though to be realistic, I don't think anyone was doing that . . . just saying their story was interesting, which it certainly is.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:48 AM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


People who want more about the Old Believers and the Russian history that forced them towards Alaska may like Colin Thubron's In Siberia. Although he never makes it to Alaska, Thubron visits several places in Siberia (of course) to find the story of how the people got there and what changes forced them into long isolation in such an unforgiving environment. He talks to more women and other village figures, but the priests remain important. Written in the late 1990s, things may not be exactly the same today. No pictures, but vividly descriptive writing.
posted by whatzit at 3:27 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't have a problem with these people's traditions. They just... all sound like jerks.

So...you don't have a problem with them, execpt for the fact that you do.

And I think the reason that we "give them a pass" is because they just want to be left alone, and in turn they leave the rest of us alone. From what I understand, the Old Believers do not vote or participate in government, and so whatever their views on women may be, they are not attempting to enforce them upon the rest of us, so I do not know why what they do alarms you to such an extreme point. Even within their community they have relented on whether girls can attend school, and many of these girls do indeed leave the community.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:52 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


But they do take permanent fund money, with lots of children this can add up to a large sum.
posted by yodelingisfun at 12:18 PM on May 6, 2013


I'm not sure what your point is yodelingisfun.

The probably use roads; register their births, deaths and marriages; operate under the protection of various civil protection agencies; hold passports; pay required taxes; buy regulated fuel from licenced distributors; etc. as well.
posted by Mitheral at 1:38 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Being from a cosmopolitan city and background, I don't relate to their lifestyle, but "assholes?" In the very recent past, one could have written quite a similar article about Cajun culture, and possibly so even today

And I'd agree with it wholeheartedly.

A big part of the problems I have with the community described in this article (and, again, I wonder how much of this is really problems I have with the article itself) is that it reminds me a lot of the worst of the culture I grew up in. I would probably not really have any opinion of these people if I didn't recognize them.
posted by Sara C. at 8:24 PM on May 6, 2013


« Older For decades Brown Windsor Soup stood as a culinary...  |  Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Ca... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments