Tolstoyans, Eastern Europe

At the beginning of the 20th Century Leo Tolstoy had many followers who were inspired by his disarming sincerity, honesty, and concrete views demonstrated best in his works ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’ and ‘The Unification and Translation of the Four Gospels’. Tolstoyans were known for making non-violence 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 illuminated divine hypocrisy, the lies of ritualised 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 had to be kept in mind when making this list – we mustn’t insult the memory of the early 20th century Tolstoyans, as many gave up their freedom and lives for believing in non-resistance to evil by violence. You can’t compare them with the modern day quasi-Tolstoyan movements, discussions, social media groups, various societies, sects, professional researchers, scientists etc.

It’s also wrong to compare them with theoretical Tolstoyism, despite the fact that thanks to the following people, who are not only authors but also custodians, collectors and distributors, it was possible to understand the experience in the past. It’s also wrong to limit Tolstoyism to only one side of the argument (the refusal of rites, alternative service, vegetarianism, the teaching of non-violence etc.) as you can’t limit the entire doctrine to a single element.

Then what is modern Tolstoyism? There’s probably only one definition: salvation from temptations and following the principles of love and non-violence every hour of every day, justified either by faith or reason, but certainly in reference to Tolstoy’s interpretation of Christian teachings. For example, self-control and non-violence towards others become a way of life not only with your mistakes, failures and disappointments but also daily, consistently and relentlessly.

Who exactly is capable of this today? Who is famous for it?

 

Aleksandr Lobachev (1953-2011), the Ukraine. I must absolutely begin with this person. Unfortunately, Aleksandr is no longer with us. I was not lucky enough to be acquainted with him personally, but according to those close to me 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. He lays his soul and pains bare for people on his blog and helps those in need of support. He also compiles and publishes collections about the history of Tolstoyism. He fights 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 a surprisingly clear mind and sober judgement (the interview linked above is mediocre and solely for reference, don’t be fooled). He desires to create a Tolstoy commune and carries out construction work in his village himself. He’s looking for like-minded people and is open to contact.

Vladimir Moroz, Russia. He’s 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 collection ‘The Tolstoy leaflet’. He’s a man of advanced age (b. 1929).

Aleksandr Shevchenko, the 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 a very rare example of comprehending Tolstoy's publicism, despairing of indifference of people around and making considerable efforts to disseminate his ideas, which goes far beyond the scope of traditional scientific activity.

Tolstoy schools in Russia. A separate direction at the junction of Tolstoyism and Tolstoyan studies, which 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 contradict the state educational standard, as well as the worldview of the teaching staff itself, which is unfamiliar and even alien to non-violence principles.

 

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’s many in Russia, there’s India with its deeply-rooted tradition of non-violence, there’s the same Dukhobors in the US and Canada, there’s many genuinely spiritual and caring people. But out of them try and find the real Tolstoyans, those who could say “this is my teacher”. If you know any such person let me know about them and this list will be updated. If you want to tell about yourself I’d be glad to get to know you!

 

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