Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Q70: Do Doukhobors Resemble Ukrainian 'Amish'?

Lawrence Klippenstein of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada writes:

'I have just received this item about Amish in Ukraine who are not really Amish.

'They live like Amish, but they are not', by Yuliana Romanyshyn, KyivPost, November 1, 2015.

I read the piece and was reminded of Doukhobors and thought I saw some practices in the group common to Doukhobors.

What do you think? ... [I am] interested in your remarks. [and] thought ... you would be able to give a more definitive word on this group ....


The staff writer Yuliana Romanyshyn describes this mysterious community of 1,800 in the western Ukrainian villages of Stinka, Kosmyryn, Snovydiv, Mostyshche and Budzyn as being religious 'close to Baptists', with a high birth rate. Because the boys wear flat caps, they are given the nickname of kashketnyky (kашкетники), from the word kashket, meaning a flat cap.

'They are Christians, but they don't go to church', she writes, but they use the Bible for home prayers, and 'they do not venerate Virgin Mary'. They dress plainly and women wear headscarves, they go to primary school but not beyond, seldom travel to cities, have houses with whitewashed walls, wash clothes in Dniester River or in washtubs. 'They don't have electricity and water supply', and they share their income with other members of the group. Also they don't vote except locally in the village, and refuse to serve in the army.

It is noteworthy to consider how nicknames evolve to describe a people whom outsiders do not have any reliable information on. Writers and officials often make up the names to suit their needs, resulting often in unexpected consequences.

The Russian Doukhobors, for example, were initially found in the Crimean area as dissidents against the church and state. In 1786 the Russian Orthodox Church labelled them as Spirit-Wrestlers (or wrestlers against the spirit of God) because they did not believe in the organized church and were pacifists. Outsiders also called them 'Russian Quakers' because they resembled the English Quakers in refusing to go to war, they did not have churches, and they relied on the Light Within (or Spirit Within) as the guiding source of their spirituality.

In a real sense, the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1700s hijacked the Russian dissidents as being 'enemies of the people'. (Luckily, the Doukhobors reframed the nickname as their own saying that 'we wrestle with the spirit of truth and love'.) This led to persecutions, settlement in the Milky Waters of Crimea in 1801, resettlement in the Caucasus in 1842, and then exile of one-third or 7,500 to Canada in 1899.

Fast forward to 2015 and the Ukraine, the Amish-like group nicknamed as kashketnyky is being labelled without much knowledge about them. Are they 'Protestant Christian' or simply a group that professes a way of life? (See picture and story in Ukrainian.). Are they similar to the Amish in USA and Canada who are known for simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adapt many modern conveniences?

If they are Protestant Christian, then they would be part of the estimated 700,000 Protestants in the Ukraine (about 2% of the total population) which today form 'a hub of evangelical church life, education, and missions'. In the current war-torn Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine which is largely populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Protestant Ukrainian Christians are suspect of being a Trojan Horse of American style of Christianity invading Russia and creating trouble. Locals see the Protestants as contributing to the 'Orange revolution', the Maidan and the illegal ouster of Victor Yanukovich.

About the only real similarity between Doukhobors and this so-called Ukrainian 'Amish' community is that both refuse to serve in the army. Here is a comparison of the two:
  • Both do not go to church, but Doukhobors generally do not believe in the Bible as a sacred document, nor do they believe in any of the Biblical re-creationist stories of human conception. Doukhobors can be more aptly called a social movement or a way of life.
  • Generally, most Doukhobor women in their prayer sobranies do wear shawls or plotoks, but this clothing habit is cultural not religious.
  • Practically all Doukhobors have embraced modern technology as well as accepted higher education. This is in contrast to many Amish who feel uncomfortable with modernity because they fear that the devil threatens ethical living.
  • The distribution of resources was an earlier practice of the Doukhobors during their survival period in Tsarist Russia and the Canadian prairies.
  • Today most Doukhobors have accepted voting as not contradicting their conscience. In courts, most 'affirm' the truth rather than swear allegiance to the Queen.
  • While this Ukrainian community is described as 'closed', Doukhobors have long left their sectarian past and moved towards the inclusiveness of a social movement.

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