16 September 2010

Return to Buzuluk

Judy and I weren't able to return to Buzuluk personally for last week's important events--Judy was still in the USA and I was overbooked in Elektrostal ... and then got sick. (Notes from our 2008 trip to Buzuluk, Sorochinsk, and Totskoe, are here and here. And here we are finally back, in May 2011!) However, we Friends returned to Buzuluk last week to launch the newly-translated Russian edition of the book Constructive Spirit: Quakers in Revolutionary Russia.

Sergei Nikitin, who wrote the foreword to Constructive Spirit and currently directs the Moscow office of Amnesty International, was a prime organizer of this return to Buzuluk and the related events in Samara. There, the historical museum of Samara's Russian Orthodox seminary is hosting an exhibition of the paintings and drawings of British Quaker Richard Kilbey, who was part of the US/British Quaker famine relief team whose work is the main subject of the book. Sergei's photos, below (posted with his permission) show both the exhibition's opening in Samara on September 6 and the visit to Buzuluk on September 8.

As Sergei reported,
... The exhibition is a great success, the "Constructive Spirit" book on Quaker relief work is a success too.

We had a tremendous exhibition opening (crowds of people, 2 local and 1 federal TV cameras, journalists) blessed by the Samara Archbishop presence. Later that day I gave an interview to BBC Russian Service--it went live in Russian.

Next day was a day of a historical conference at the Samara "House of Scientists" with all the major local historians and some 200-300 attendees, great success--the Russian Translation of the Constructive Spirit was launched.

The third day was in Buzuluk, where Richard Kilbey worked. The book launch in the local museum was another success, -- 2 cameras from local TV, newspaper journalists. A rep from the local authorities came to greet us all. Many people approached us thanking for the book and for the truth revealed.
It's a total joy to see and share these photos--and an incentive to begin planning our own return to Samara and Buzuluk....

(above) September 6: The Samara Archbishop speaks, opening the exhibition
(above) The Archbishop, the museum director, and Margarita Wood are opening the exhibition.
(above) Margarita Wood from Wells Meeting, Britain Yearly Meeting (Richard Kilbey's meeting)
(above) Richard Kilbey's pictures, on loan from Wells Meeting.
(above) Samara Parochial Museum
(above) September 8: Book launch in Buzuluk
(above) Sergei Nikitin at book launch

A selection from Richard Kilbey's work:

Late Thursday PS: A report from Friends House Moscow's Peter Dyson provides more details on the second day in Samara and the visit to Buzuluk. (Excerpted; let me know if you'd like a fuller version.)

Historical conference in Samara:
We were welcomed in an eloquent speech by Alexander Repinetski. After a general introduction on the topic by celebrated Samarian Historian, Petr Kabitov, Julia Anshakova, one of his research student’s gave the main address on the history of the 1921 famine and international efforts to alleviate its consequences. Not surprisingly it focused on the work of the American Relief Association but there were many references to the Quaker teams and other groups working in the field.

Margarita provided an introduction to the Kilbey exhibition in the Museum, , recalling that until the late 1970s, Russian ships brought timber into the harbour at Wells next the Sea. She did not know whether Richard Kilbey had seen such ships, but he came to Russia as an ordinary man from an ordinary town who was moved by compassion not power, (so contrasting the Quaker input with the other agencies already mentioned).

Margarita went on to say that the Quakers did not just provide relief, but reconstruction ‘for if you feed a man you support him for that day, but if you give him a horse, a plough and seed corn, you give him back his life”. And, also, in that encounter, person to person, something important happens and she found that this was still happening with the people she had met whose parents, grandparents and great grandparents had survived the famine. Famine was the ultimate trauma and that grandparents of those in the hall had had the physical and mental strength to make a new life.

Sergei followed on with some detailed vignettes of some of the team members and the work they were involved in by way of introduction to the new Russian edition of Constructive Spirit, retitled 1920’s Soviet Russia through the eyes of Friends. It was self evident that Sergei has become an Expert in this field of Quaker activity in Russia. The passion and enthusiasm, skill, competence and authority with which he spoke showed him to be a valuable resource which we should continue to use.

At the end of each presentation there was the opportunity for questions. This was taken up by the audience. One telling question asked by a student from Buzuluk was "Why was this hidden from us; the story of foreign relief work in the region?"
Buzuluk, 3 hours away by minibus:
We were met on arrival by writer Vladimir Nikitin, (a former assistant prosecutor who has written a book on the Stalin Purges), Olga Osetskaia from the Buzuluk Museum, and Anatolii Panteleev, a local businessman. After dropping our bags off and registering, we were taken in two cars to see some of the places Kilbey had sat to draw his pictures. These included a magnificent spot on the top of the hills offering a wonderful panoramic view of Buzuluk....

One of the monasteries Kilbey painted was taken over after the monks were expelled and turned into Children’s detention centre, in which capacity it still remains. However another church, surrounded by five ponds in the village of Sukhorechka, has been restored after having its tower demolished during the Soviet period.

There we were met by Father Anatoli who had afternoon tea waiting for us. Kilbey’s picture of the church has been used to provide detail to assist in the reconstruction and restoration of the building and indeed his pictures of other churches have provided essential information towards restoration too. These particular pictures have been published in a book (Obitel) written by Sergei Kolichev about the reopening of this group of churches. Richard Kilbey would have been well pleased if he were still alive. About halfway through tea there was a power-cut (not unusual apparently); candles were brought and this just added to the tranquil atmosphere of this small old village church. There was a good opportunity for Sergei Nikitin to tell those presented about Quakers, their history and principles--because Sergei Kolichev had asked how many Quakers are there in the world. When Sergei Nikitin mentioned that there are no priests in Quaker services as everyone present at a Quaker Meeting for Worship can speak their hearts, Father Anatoli gave his explanation why it is essential that God’s word is transferred through those who are better prepared for the delivery of such messages. It was a nice example of sharing points of views, not arguing.

Wednesday. 8th September

... We walked to the Museum and were stopped in the street by a woman, one of the librarians, who with tears in her eyes, wanted to thank us for feeding her grandmother and thus enabling her granny to survive and hence her mother’s and her own life. We were welcomed at the museum by Vera Tkachenko.

After a brief tour round the museum we joined the waiting audience in the larger room (about 50 school students and teachers). Sergei Kolichev gave an introduction to explain the background story to the exhibition in Samara and Sergei Nikitin repeated his talk presenting The BOOK; followed by Margarita this time.

Questions were more focused to the history here. Another woman stood up to express her gratitude for having a life because Friends had fed her grandmother. This story is one that repeated itself several times in conversations. Four TV channels were at work at this event and interviews taken afterwards. Our departure to see the old Quaker Headquarters (now the Children’s Polyclinika) was delayed by waiting for the Head of the Town Council of Deputies, Ivan Kashkin, to arrive, who wanted to thank us for coming. Thus the visit in the Polyklinika was very brief. It is so appropriate that this building continues to serve the community in this way.

... In Sorochinsk we went to the small town museum, run by its elderly communist director Vasili Baklanov and performed our routine once again before the assembled members of the press and one TV camera. This museum continues to amass the social history of the town in its albums of photos and cuttings of its citizens. Like Buzuluk there are many new small houses.

Afterwards we went to the old Quaker Headquarters (now the office of the Sorochinski Vestnik newspaper) for a cup of tea and a chat with our old friend The Editor Lubov Mazilo. On the way back, we talked just as intensively as on the way there.

"The Gospel makes the everyday possible"--another interesting interview with Stanley Hauerwas. Sample:
The focus of your work is the extraordinary importance of the church but in some ways the churches that you have been a part of look from the outside to be quite ordinary. How did they get it right?

By God's help. I don't think the churches that have made my life so much more than it otherwise could have been have been extraordinary because I don't think the church is extraordinary. Part of what my work has always been about is to show that the apocalyptic character of the gospel makes the everyday possible. It gives us the time that lets us care for one another as we are ill, helps us care for one another as we experience broken relationships, and helps us take the time to worship God in a world of such violence. The church is called to do that as an alternative in a world that doesn't know there is an alternative. The ordinary churches that I've belonged to seemed to have embodied the kind of life that the world so desperately needs.
The Lamb's War: "Bridging the generational divide in ministry."

Robin Parry presents Richard of St Victor on male language for the Trinity. Is Richard's reasoning valid? (In his time? Now?)

"Marilynne Robinson takes on bad science writers."

Reader Åge Jonny Jørgensen sent me the link to his delightful Web site for the Norwegian Balalaika Orchestra. Enjoy!

"The Museum of Soviet Arcade Games" ... and play Flash emulations of the games on the Museum's own site.

Michael Miner provides a thoughtful and useful reflection on the American media's increasing use of the word "warrior." What are the spiritual implications of language that can have the simultaneous effects of honoring, romanticizing, and marginalizing? It reminds me of why Dorothy Day didn't like being called a saint--"... I don't want to be dismissed that easily." In the case of romanticizing and marginalizing our "warriors," I'm deeply suspicious that it serves the creeping militarization of our society while doing little or nothing to heal the bodies and souls of the people we're supposedly honoring.

Blues dessert fresh from Chicago.... Thinking about two of our friends in the USA who are recovering from recent strokes, it's great to see Matt 'Guitar' Murphy onstage with the great James Cotton. Murphy suffered a stroke while onstage in Nashville several years ago, but he's definitely come back. Even if you don't follow blues, you may know him from his role as Aretha Franklin's husband in the two "Blues Brothers" movies. If you do follow blues, you may already be familiar with this clip from French TV, featuring pianist Memphis Slim. Now to Chicago:

James Cotton Blues Band feat. Matt "Guitar" Murphy from Ladyglen ChicagoStyle on Vimeo.

1 comment:

'Mela said...

Hello STRANGER! I 'm glad to reconnect with you in Russia! Beautiful stories, images, and the sketchbbok pieces, WOW! I've bookmarked your blog, I'll revisit. I know you've found me! Be well, Johan!