04 November 2021

Vitaly Vladimirovich Adamenko 1977-2021

Vitaly (right), speaking on the history of conscientious objection and alternative service in Russia, on a video prepared by the Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg, 2017.

Screenshot from another video on alternative service,
with subtitles added by Friends House Moscow.
I want to tell you about our friend Vitaly Adamenko, mathematician, historian of pacifism and nonviolence, editor, librarian, and student of the Tolstoyan movement -- and now, at 44 years of age, a casualty of the COVID pandemic. He died this past Monday in St. Petersburg.

Historian Irina Gordeeva spoke for many of us when she posted these words on Facebook yesterday:

The first thoughts that come to us -- self-centered though they may be -- are these: how will we go on without him? He had such a detailed knowledge of the history of pacifism in Russia that, in one article, I had to write that those who participate in this social movement are ahead of the professional historians by one step. On any little thing I could turn to him for help -- for a clarification, a text.

And I feel so sad on a personal level -- he hadn't even reached 45 years of age.

We first heard of Vitaly through Friends House Moscow, which supported the periodical Alternativshchik ("The Alternative Service Worker"), which was published for conscientious objectors and the church congregations that supported them. At that time, Vitaly lived in Samara. On one of our visits to Buzuluk, the central point for U.S. and British Quakers working for famine relief and economic redevelopment in the early 1920's, we stopped in Samara, and he accompanied us on the train to Buzuluk.

That was how our friendship began. In 2011, when Vitaly needed to do some work in Tolstoyan archives located in Moscow, he stayed with us in our Elektrostal apartment. He returned for another visit three years later. As a vegetarian, he had a strict (it seemed to us) diet, consisting mostly of potatoes. I remember sometimes coming home from the institute where we taught, and seeing a big new pile of potatoes, I'd say to Judy, "I see Vitaly has done his grocery shopping."

Most memorably, we spent hours talking into the night at our kitchen table. Once the subject of Russian persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses came up. He later followed up in a letter to me:

... If they [Jehovah's Witnesses] did not have a principled opposition to violence, there would be no repressions and no attempts to portray them as extremists. Take the Roman Catholics, for example -- everyone knows that the Catholics for several centuries killed their opponents by burning them at the stakes of the Inquisition, but nobody tries to portray them as extremists. Everyone knows that there were Old Believers who incinerated themselves, but nobody tries to prove that the Old Believers are a totalitarian sect. Why? Because each of these, and others, by and large have nothing against participating in state violence and killing. I say "by and large," not wishing to forget about individual exceptions. And if in our country there were similar numbers of Quakers [as Jehovah's Witnesses], there would be a daily campaign to make them out as a totalitarian sect and the principal extremists of our country.

One of his other interests was late Soviet-era rock music. We spent several wonderful evenings looking at his collection of music videos of the bands of that period.

The last time I saw Vitaly was on Zoom, just a couple of months ago, August 29, when he dropped in on our Russian-speaking online Quaker meeting for worship. Later that day, he wrote me, saying that I didn't look any different from years past. I could say the same of him. As one of his fellow team members at tolstoycenter.org said of him, "He is really a unique person with encyclopedic knowledge and a pure heart like a child."

Goodbye for now, Vitaly. Eternal memory!

In our kitchen -- playing Dixit with our students and guests, 2014.

With Judy (left), Kara Maurer, and Anna Thomas, in 2014.

With Sergei Grushko at Friends House Moscow, 2011.

At the Sorochinsk newspaper office, 2011. This building was the headquarters of the U.S. Quakers participating in the Buzuluk-based relief operation. At center: Liubov Surkova, editor at the time.

A quiet moment in our apartment, Elektrostal, 2011.

Vitaly's legacy: the huge online Russian-language Nonviolence Library. The home page bears the sad news of Vitaly's passing, and continues: "... Now our task is to persist and not give up, to find time to communicate and support both our resources and ourselves, to continue adding high-quality content to the site -- now in memory of Vitaly's enormous contribution to the benefit of all seekers."

Once again, here is the bilingual Tolstoy Center for Nonviolence, whose organizers included Vitaly, and for which I served as an editor.


Mondoweiss: The Times Are a-Changin'? (Or, how happy is Israel, really?)

GetReligion gives a hat tip to Al Jazeera's strong coverage of religious persecution.

Emily Provance: When new people show up in your meeting or church ... hooray, and what next? (Part of her series on "being the church.")

Greg Morgan: The Northern Lights and the worshipping community.

Mark Russ on James Cone and white liberal Quakerism.


Steve Guyger in Brazil. "I Tried So Hard."

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