Modern Tolstoyans, Eastern Europe
Tolstoy Center for Nonviolence
Jan 7, 2015
The Leo Tolstoy Center for Nonviolence is not a form of Tolstoyism. However, without a doubt it owes a great deal to the talent and courage of this well-known writer. At the beginning of the 20th Century Leo Tolstoy had many followers who were inspired by his disarming sincerity, honesty, and the directness of his views, as demonstrated most clearly in his works The Kingdom of God is Within You and The Four Gospels Harmonised and Translated. Tolstoyans were known for making nonviolence and love the core principles of their lives.
But have you ever asked yourself if these people still exist? If so, where are they? Let’s see what’s changed in the 100 years since Tolstoy’s writings shone a light on the hypocrisy and lies of ritualized Christianity and our entire traditional way of life.
When I had only just started collecting material about Tolstoy’s modern followers, I already had a decent-sized list. But one important thing should be kept in mind when making this kind of list: we mustn’t insult the memory of the early 20th-century Tolstoyans, many of whom gave up their freedom, even their lives, for believing that evil should not be resisted with violence. You cannot compare them with modern-day quasi-Tolstoyan movements, discussions, social media groups, societies, sects, professional researchers, scientists, etc.
It is also wrong to compare those early Tolstoyans with theoretical Tolstoyism, especially in view of the fact that, thanks to the people listed below (who are not only authors but also custodians, collectors, and distributors), we have access to those early experiences. It’s also wrong to limit Tolstoyism to only one feature (the rejection of rites, alternative service, vegetarianism, the teaching of nonviolence etc.) as you can’t limit the entire doctrine to a single element.
Then what is modern Tolstoyism? There’s probably only one definition: being preserved from temptation, and following the principles of love and nonviolence every hour of every day, on a foundation either of faith or of reason, linked in any case to Tolstoy’s interpretation of Christian teachings. Self-control and nonviolence towards others become a way of life, with all life’s mistakes, failures, and disappointments. It’s a way of life that is pursued every day, consistently and relentlessly.
Who is capable of this today? Who is known for it?
Aleksandr Lobachev (1953-2011), Ukraine. I absolutely must begin with this person. Unfortunately, Aleksandr is no longer with us. I was not lucky enough to be acquainted with him personally, but several of my close associates testify that he was a man with rare spiritual qualities, and a sympathetic and caring Tolstoyan.
Yordan Yordanov, Bulgaria. A sincere, attentive, caring Tolstoyan. He has walked a difficult path and experienced many misfortunes and disappointments. On his blog, he lays bare his soul and his pain, and helps those in need of support. He also compiles and publishes anthologies about the history of Tolstoyism. He is campaigning for the creation of the ‘Yasnaya Polyana’ public library in Varna. He’s open to any contact.
Boris Zolotov, Russia. A 74-year-old Tolstoyan from the Yaroslavl region. He has an amazingly clear mind and sober judgment (the interview linked above is mediocre and solely for reference; don’t be fooled). He has an intense desire to create a Tolstoyan commune, and carries out construction work in his village himself. He is looking for like-minded people and is open to contact.
Vladimir Moroz, Russia. He is an artist and a collector of folk paintings who spent six years in prison under the ‘Anti-Soviet’ article. Excerpts from his diary were published in 1996 under the title ‘Tolstoy in my prison life.’ From 1991 to 2001 he published and distributed The Tolstoy leaflet, with little-known or previously unpublished selections from Tolstoy. Born in 1929, Moroz is now in his nineties.
Aleksandr Shevchenko, Ukraine. Another elderly Tolstoyan (b. 1928) who’s from Bakhchisarai. He’s known mostly for his autobiography in which he explicitly detailed his life’s path, including his spiritual rebirth after coming across Tolstoy’s articles. He spent several years in Sevastopol distributing brochures with excerpts from Tolstoy’s works. He’s the only one I haven’t yet contacted.
Irina Petrovitskaya (...- 2016), Russia. On the one hand, she was a teacher in Moscow State University and a researcher associated with the Leo Tolstoy State Museum. On the other hand, she was one of those rare people in our day who truly comprehended Tolstoy’s nonfiction, was saddened by people’s general indifference toward this work, and made considerable efforts to disseminate Tolstoy’s ideas, going far beyond the scope of traditional academic activity.
Tolstoy schools in Russia. A distinct educational movement, at the junction of Tolstoyism and Tolstoyan studies, that became widespread in the 2000s thanks to the enthusiasm of inspired teachers and organizers (Boris Grosbein, Vitaly Remizov, etc.). Unfortunately, the educational potential of such schools is eroded from the very beginning by the compromise curriculum, which cannot deviate significantly from the state educational standard, and also from the worldview of the teaching staff itself, which is unfamiliar with and even hostile to the principles of nonviolence.
Is that all?
To our great dismay, Tolstoyism lives more in the hearts and souls of people than it does in real life or in practice. Why exactly this is the case remains to be seen, certainly least not because of the extreme honesty and uncompromising qualities that it suggests.
This short list details only modern Tolstoyans from Eastern Europe. Where are the representatives from other countries and nationalities?
Believe me, I’d like to know the answer myself. There are many genuinely spiritual and caring people. Russia has many, there’s India with its deeply-rooted tradition of nonviolence, there are those Doukhobors in the USA and Canada, there are many more of these kinds of people around the globe. But try and find real Tolstoyans among them, those who could say “this is my teacher.” If you know such a person, let me know about them and this list will be updated. If you want to tell us about yourself, we’d be glad to get to know you!
- Jesus and the army