- by Arie van Ameringen
At the beginning of the last century, many Russians were active in the anthroposophical movement. We can still find today, in the center of Moscow, a reminder of this period. On Arbat street, in the museum dedicated to the poet Andrei Belye, there is an exhibition on the first Goetheanum; Belye participated with Assya Turgeniev (his first wife) in the construction work on the building. Since the fall of the communist regime, new anthroposophical initiatives have been founded, mainly in European Russia, with the help of Germany, Holland and the Scandinavian countries. Today, the challenges are great on both the social and economic levels in a country where the state and the orthodox church work hand in hand.
The Russian Anthroposophical Society has 500 members, which is quite a small number for such a large country.
When Monica Gold (from Vancouver) was president of ISIS, she organized many trips to support initiatives such as schools and curative centers. This time, the new members of the ISIS board decided to visit two places in Siberia in order to meet the people involved, share their experiences and get some idea of their needs.
After the Whitehorse conference, four members of the board, Mary Lee Plumb-Mentjes, Galina Fin, Renée Cossette, and myself, along with a eurythmist, Grace Ann Peysson, travelled to Irkutsk, the first stop on our journey. This involved a flight of roughly 20 hours made over a period of three days.
Irkutsk is a charming city on the Angara river and is located one day’s drive from Mongolia, to the south and from Lake Baikal, to the east. This part of Russia is something of a forgotten land as far as the central government of Russia is concerned. Basic infrastructures are often lacking. There are beautiful wooden houses from the 19th century in the city; many of them have no running water. Imagine pumping water outside in the winter, in temperatures hovering around minus 40o C. At the same time you can observe people driving late-model Japanese SUV’s.
We should not forget that Siberia was a place of great suffering during the period when dissidents were sent to work in the gulags. The Russians, however, want to forget this past. We had a taste of this mood when we visited a former labour camp. Our guide could not understand why we should want to visit this place. She drove through the camp very fast without stopping.
In the last 20 years a small community has grown up around the Waldorf school in Irkutsk (which in 2009 graduated its first 12th grade class). During our stay we got acquainted with the people, their initiatives and their needs. They welcomed us with great warmth. With the help of several local anthroposophists, we organized a conference, offering presentations on anthroposophy and Waldorf education, and including artistic workshops (painting, clay modeling and eurythmy).
Our presentations were appreciated and the participants showed a keen interest in the various themes, as well as in a report on the Whitehorse conference. Outside the city, we visited two centers for curative education. The largest, called Istok, is located one hour’s drive from town. We had to travel on muddy roads through birch forests. Upon arriving at our destination, we found young volunteers from Europe hard at work painting the exterior walls of the buildings. The villagers had gone home to their families for the school holidays. This initiative is carried by Tatiana Kokina. The adjoining land is farmed biodynamically.
Back in the city, the teachers took us on a tour of the curative education seminar and the kindergarten. Our hosts organized a short trip to Olchon island in Lake Baikal, well known as a holy place of shamanism (as practiced by the Buryat shamans). We had the privilege of witnessing a shamanistic ceremony where the shaman, in a trance, invoked the spirits of the ancestors.
The second part of our trip to Siberia brought us to Vladivostok, on the Sea of Japan, 7,200 km east of Moscow. This city was the site of a secret military base during the cold war and was also a place of transit for prisoners sent to Magadan, a famous gulag. Today, its harbour is the main port of entry for shipments of imported goods from Japan. We found the city’s physical surroundings, with its hills and sea, to be reminiscent of San Francisco.
We held a three-day conference there similar to the one in Irkutsk. This event was made possible thanks to Lilia Solkan, a psychologist who had met Monica Gold some years before. And Mary Lee knew a fellow botanist who obtained a conference room at the botanical gardens for us.
We had to meet great challenges during our stay in this city of 600,000; there are no Waldorf schools or curative initiatives and the participants (most of them work in the field of child care) were not familiar with anthroposophical concepts. They liked the artistic workshops best of all.
Only time will tell if what we attempted to do there was fruitful. We must mention once again that in this city, as was the case everywhere, people welcomed us with great generosity.
In Moscow, a eurythmist, Olga Kulagina, showed us around one of the two Waldorf schools, with 325 students. It is interesting to note that both Andrei Tarkovski the filmmaker and Alexander Men, the priest, attended classes in this very building when they were children. The classrooms were decorated with beautiful paintings by a German artist.
We also met with members of the Moscow branch and had a wonderfully open conversation with them on the relationship between East and West during the Second World War.
Since our return, we have continued to pursue our fundraising efforts. Generous donations have recently made it possible to send more than $3,000 US for various projects in Irkutsk and Yekaterinburg. After the Whitehorse Conference, we collected $2200 for the Meta Williams Fund. And we now have $2000 in the bank to begin a Prison Outreach project in Canada, which will be carried by Elaine Mackee.
ISIS Cultural Outreach International is a non–profit organisation with charitable status.