Sunday, 18 September 2011

Anastasia's Amber —
          a love story in a troubled world

Review of a novel by Annie B. Barnes, Anastasia's Amber (self-published 2011), 223 pp. $17. Order from Annie B. Barnes, Box 40, Site 120, RR3, Sundre, Alberta TOM 1XO. Email:

Annie B. Barnes of Sundre, Alberta, is no stranger to the Doukhobor movement. She wrote a play about her Doukhobor grandmother who came to Canada on S.S. Lake Huron ship in 1899 which premiered at the Canadian Learned Societies Meeting in Calgary in 1994. Then she researched an article on 'Doukhobor women in the twentieth century' in which she presented the inner voices of the Doukhobor women who until then did not have a chance to reveal their societal worth as homemakers and career people (Tarasoff, ed., Spirit Wrestlers' Voices, 1998: 13-35).

In this first novel, Barnes continues the trend of Doukhobor women coming of age and speaking out and having a feeling of belonging to the group as well as to this world. Her experiences in coming from a blended family, with intermarriage, moving from Saskatchewan to British Columbia, and identity crisis is all paralleled in this novel. It begins and ends in Tula, Russia near the home of Lev N. Tolstoy the most famous Russian philosopher and writer who assisted the Doukhobor migration to Canada.

The book's title with its unifying thread is a ring made of amber — a yellowish translucent fossilized resin derived from extinct trees and used in jewellery. The story is about two teens in the Caucasus during the late 1800s who fell in love, but could not marry because their parents belonged to different ideological camps — the Big Party under the leadership of Peter V. Verigin, and the Small Party lead by the Gubanovs (direct relatives of the leader Anastasia Gubanova who died in 1886 in Goreloe village).

The heroes are Gregory Gubanov who presents an amber ring (with three missing diamonds) to his sweetheart Anastasia Glukov just before she left for Canada in 1899, as an act of secret engagement. He never saw Anastasia again, but would tell his father that the time would come when the Doukhobors would reunite in Goreloe village. So he hoped Anastasia would return to him then.

This reunion of love would never occur. However, the twists and turns of four generations of Doukhobor life in Canada brought out the sorrows and joys of family life including family break ups, with a new set of names: Palagea (Polly), Mikhailo Popov, Sam Negraev, Marusia, Alex (non-Doukhobor), Alexandra, Barbara Ellen, Grandfather Sam, Sofia and Stanley (Jewish owners of apartment in Vancouver), Sofia and Emma in Odessa, Tatiana and Sergei of St. Petersburg, Ivan Grigorovich Gubanov, Alexei Ivanovich Gubanov and son Victor in Tula.

Inter-group and intra-group conflicts were at play. When Palagea and her husband Sam (Independent Doukhobors who did not believe in spiritual leadership) moved from Saskatchewan to British Columbia, Palagea said:

'I wanted to go back to Saskatchewan. We don't belong here. The English don't want us because we're Doukhobors and the Doukhobors don't want us because we're Independent, not Community Doukhobors....' (p. 59).

There was also the nostalgia factor: how much should we look back to our communal Russian roots and how much should we adopt western values of private enterprise with emphasis on profit? A similar struggle has played out in the present Russian Republic with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 under an encouraged and supported Western rapid shock strategy.

The range of characters is international. The love story is only revealed at the end. The beautiful ring, mostly hidden for over a century in the hem of a women's woolen skirt had gone through a metamorphosis of fear and healing. It was a long journey, but love finally triumphed, as Marusia and Alexei Ivanovich exchanged rings of love. Doukhobor-Russian roots were finally validated as the identity crisis came to an end.

Author Annie Barnes used her imagination to include scribblers (of her mother's diary) and letters as part of her way to reveal this broad human landscape of sorrow, death, love and joy, in a kind of modern-day Shakespearean drama.

Transliteration of Russian words into English was frequently used as a folkloric device to provide a sense of place and time. Yet in another sense, it was used to bridge the realities of East and West, of Russia and Canada, of distance and strangers. Below is an example of these words transliterated appropriately (thanks to the author's careful research including consultation with Doukhobor scholars and books). Proper transliteration is important for the standardization of certain words, thereby making it accessible to the wider world.
  • babushka — grandmother
  • borshch — traditional cabbage soup
  • chemodanchik — small suitcase
  • chekhol — cotton cover
  • kasha — porridge
  • lapsha — broad noodles
  • lekharka — healer
  • nedostatok —flaw
  • Novyi God — New Year
  • poka — 'till we meet again, later
  • Pescheri — caves
  • pesni — folk songs
  • plakun trava — the grass that flows against, not with, the river current
  • platok — shawl for head
  • plov — rice dish
  • proshchanie — farewell
  • psalmy — prayers, Psalms
  • skazka — a fairy tale
  • spokoinoi notche — peaceful night, goodnight
  • Sirotskii Dom — Orphan's Home / administrative centre in 1800s
  • stikhi — hymns
  • sukhari — dried bread
  • vareniki — boiled dumplings
  • vecharushki — evening parties
  • rabota — labour, work
  • Vechnaya Pamyat — everlasting memory
  • zapoi — the engagement

Well done, Annie! Poka!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Reverend Apologizes to Doukhobors for Editorial Error

Yesterday I found an Editorial — Doing good the best response to the presence of evil — by Reverend David Shearman in the Owen Sound Sun Times, Ontario, in which he slandered the Doukhobors as 'terrorists'.

Below is my brief initial letter to the editor followed by longer responses from Jonathan Kalmakoff and Andrei Conovaloff.

Rev. David Shearman
In his letter below, David Shearman immediately fully apologized for his media mishap. As writer and researcher on the Doukhobors for over a half a century, it is a encouraging to see an author take full responsibility for his actions.

This is a good example for others in the public media who need to be careful in separating facts from fiction.  When dealing with the Doukhobors, it is important to distinguish between Doukhobors as a legitimate social movement and actions of violence (such as bombings and burnings) which are not connected to the group.

In our real world, no one group is immune to violence. This applies locally, nationally and internationally. When violence occurs, we need to be careful in separating this abnormal behaviour from the group — otherwise we are liable to condemn the whole group for the actions of the few (which would then be discrimination, hijacking and fiction).

Added links February 2018
Update December 2019

The Editor,
Owen Sound Sun News,

RE: Doing good the best response to the presence of evil [offline in 2019], Editorial by Reverend David Shearman, Sept 12, 2011.

Dear Editor,

I would like to take issue with you over your allegation and suggestion that the Canadian Doukhobors over the years have been 'terrorists'. If you do your homework well, you will see that the burnings and bombings that took place in the interior of British Columbia was the work of individual zealots who are not Doukhobors in spirit. According to the Doukhobor movement, the moment one participates in an act of violence, he or she ceases to be a Doukhobor.

Doukhobor values are based on the philosophy of love and nonkilling. Please have a look at my book Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living (2002) for details.You can also go to my website for many articles on the subject:

Koozma J. Tarasoff

Friday, 9 September 2011

Manitoba WWII CO Memorial

The Wall of Remembrance, a peace memorial and teaching aid recognizing all 3,021 Manitoba conscientious objectors during World War II, will be dedicated at 3 pm Sunday, September 11, 2011 in Winkler, Manitoba. See Program.

Wall of Rememberance, Bethel Heritage Park, Winkler, Manitoba.

Two Doukhobors from Benito, Manitoba, are among those who chose nonkilling alternatives to war in Manitoba during WWII:
Bethel Heritage Park during construction
According to Jonathan Kalmakoff, Doukhobor Genealogy Website, though they were from Manitoba, they registered under the Regina, SK Division "M" mobilization district. They lived ~1 mile from the Saskatchewan border, the Doukhobor North Reserve, and would be with other Doukhobor COs during alternative service.

Though a complete list of the 10,000+ WWII conscientious objectors in Canada was destroyed by the government, it is known that 3,021 lived in Manitoba. See a partial list in-progress with about 2,300 names collected so far.

The Wall of Remembrance is in the southwest corner of Bethel Heritage Park, north of West Pembria Ave along 6th Street. Winkler is 130 km (80 miles) southwest of Winnipeg, and 20 km (12 miles) north of the US border and North Dakota.

The monument has 3 functions:
  1. Past — Recognize the witness of 3,021 young men in Manitoba who chose alternative service in time of war.
  2. Pesent — A teaching aid. The production of peace teaching materials will equal the cost of the wall.
  3. Future — The exhibit and published material in the adjacent city library peace collection, and on the Internet, will educate the next generation about the values of peacemaking, nonkilling and nonwar.
Hundreds are expected to attend the broadly announced Sunday afternoon dedication program emceed by Bernie Loeppky, which includes:
  • greetings from representatives of the many congregations invited
  • the background of the memorial
  • announcement of educational booklet and video
  • choir singing
  • refreshments

Conrad Stoesz, archivist at the Mennonite Heritage Centre, will present the history. The National Anthem of Canada and 'Faith of our Fathers' are among the 5 songs scheduled. The Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship of Canada, representing 6 different Mennonite conferences in Canada, is hosting the dedication event. See Program.

This peace memorial was verbally attacked by a few Canadian veterans who claimed no peace memorials exist in Canada, or should be allowed. The protesters never appeared in person. Though war and veteran memorials exist by the thousands in Canada, about 100 peace monuments and museums are listed in the Peace Monument Directory for Canada.

The wall is sponsored by the Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship (EAF), the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society (MMHS), a group of C.O.’s who served in Alternative Service during World War II, and many other supporters. For more information contact Bernie Loeppky <>, Board of Directors Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship of Canada (EAP), and founding member of Grace Mennonite Church, Winkler.

Bethel Heritage Park

This wall is part of a concerted community effort, supported by donations, to do the right thing with a hectare (acre) of land in the middle of town. When their old Bethel Hospital was demolished 5 years ago, the city council heard proposals, from which emerged an educational park showcasing their diverse community.

The result was an outdoor classroom along a walking path with:
  • an entrance gate similar to Mennonite villages in Ukraine
  • storyboards depicting Winkler's history
  • war memorial for veterans
  • peace memorial to conscientious objectors (COs).
  • garden features — fountain, gazebo, flowers.

Though the majority (55% in 2001) are of Mennonite descent, with 10 of 19 churches being Mennonite, other denominations of Germans from Russia, and Jews have co-existed for generations.

“With this park we want to honour the past, build relationships in the present, and inspire our city for the future.” said Ken Loewen, secretary of the Bethel Heritage Park Committee on August 18, 2008 when plans for the site were unveiled.

100s Attend Wall Dedication, Sunday Sept 11, 2011.


Thursday, 8 September 2011

Tolstoy & Doukhobors — 42-image CD

42 large panel images about Lev Tolstoy and the Doukhobors were exhibited in Germany to commemorate the centennial of Tolstoy's death. The bilingual 'CD 7' of the exhibit is now available from the Gandhi Information Center in Berlin. See announcement (June 11, 2011) New CD: Leo Tolstoy and the Doukhobors.

These images were shown by the Gandhi Information Center in their exhibit Leo Tolstoi und die Duchoborzen: Kriegsdienstverweigerung aus Gewissensgruenden (Leo Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: Conscientious Objection) from September 11, 2010 to January 29, 2011 hosted at the Peace Gallery, Anti-War Museum. The Mayor of Berlin-Mitte, Dr Christian Hanke, opened it.

I have reviewed the CD and was impressed that director Christian Bartolf has chosen to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Tolstoy with the central core of his concern that of creating a culture of peace in a nonkilling world.

The Doukhobors were rightly featured as part of this tradition. Several panels illustrated the peace theme by citing their historic 1895 arms burning in Tsarist Russia. The CD cover design features the iconic image of the arms burning by Canadian artist Bill Perehudoff who was a conscientious objector during World War II, and spent several months in a Saskatchewan jail in lieu of military service. The captions and descriptions are familiar to me because they come directly from my books and others.

The first 39 panels are largely quotations from Tolstoy's books.
  • 'I cannot be silent' — reflections on Tolstoy's views to abolish the army.
  • 'The Slavery of Our Times' — is a view that military service destroys all benefits of the social order of life which it employed to maintain.
  • Quote from Manifesto Against Conscription and the military system.
  • Quotes from the Kingdom of God is Within You.
  • Quote from Tolstoy to Peter V. Verigin (such as found in Andrew Donskov's book).

Panel 40 is the arms burning triptych oil on canvas (image 4) created in 1995 by Russian artist Vladimir Gubanov in commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of the event. The description of this remarkable image reads:

'It characterizes a romantic view of the burning of guns near the village of Orlovka in Bogdanovskoi Raion, Georgia. The image depicts the struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. In the first plan, there is perturbance [disturbance or agitation], and the site of burning arms. In the lower place, is the sun — the centre of creation. On the right side, at the edge, is the earth. There is a moon, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. The colours have significance. Light colours are for the sun in the centre and its rays fill the whole. The perturbance relates to the worms and snakes which characterize evil. ... In front is a person who lights the fire. Next is a person who struggles for life. Higher up is a man who has fallen to evil. Higher up still is a man in the process of transformation between one form and another. On the bottom, right, is the city, churches, and homes. ... Doukhobors are separated from the main civilization. If the wrestler stops, this may cause an effect on the whole universe. Lower left shows a view of people carrying torches — they point the way to action. Women hug their children and save them.' (See description and image in Tarasoff, Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living, 2002: 224-225).

Panel 41 is a poem of thanks by Canadian and Russian Doukhobors to their mentor Lev N. Tolstoy who helped them financially and gave them a voice to the world. Without the wisdom and assistance of this Russian genius, Doukhobors would likely not exist today.

The visuals end with Panel No.42 — Doukhobor Peace Message 2010. The final two paragraphs proclaim the following message:

'As we commemorate the firm and courageous stand that our ancestors took in 1895, let us be reminded of the message of Tolstoy and the Doukhobors — that the slavery of our times must end, and that love should instead become the central unifying ethic of humankind.

'That, Brothers and Sisters, is the real meaning of the day! If words can fly, let this wisdom spread around the world. As Spirit Wrestlers, let us help build a Culture of Peace on Planet Earth!'