The Russian peace movement and its western friends

Interview with Tatiana Pavlova

By Metta Spencer (interviewer)

Tatiana Pavlova is a historian at the Institute of General History, Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. She visited Canada in August and September as a guest of the Canadian Quakers. We had a visit at Friends House, where I asked her how she came to be the first Russian Quaker. Ideally, Russian academics should earn two doctoral degrees. As she explained, it was in the course of this academic research that Pavlova's religious exploration began.

TATIANA PAVLOVA: My first thesis, in 1969, was about the second English republic. My second thesis was on folk utopias in England in the seventeenth century--an egalitarian utopia, a communist utopia, and a cooperative utopia. When I was doing my first thesis, I came across the Quaker movement. It struck me: What a strong belief and what a strong commitment to social work the early Quakers had! Then I proposed to study John Bellers, a Quaker social reformer of 1654--1725. Fortunately, I could tell my advisers, "Karl Marx approved of Bellers but we don't know anything about his teachings. Let me study him." So my next book was about Bellers and his social projects. I had to write about his background, so there was a chapter about Quakers.

After my book was published in 1979, British Quakers learned somehow that someone in our closed society was studying the Quaker movement professionally, and they came to our institute and found me. They invited me several times to England. The first time, our officials did not allow me to go because it was abnormal for a scientist to be invited by a religious organization without anyone along to watch her. But in 1988 and 1989 I was able to go. And then in 1990 I was invited by the American Quakers to spend the winter term at Pendle Hill, Pennsylvania. I wrote a letter of application to become a member of the society and I was accepted in 1990. I was the first Russian Quaker. Now we have four members of the Society of Friends in Russia. One person applied for international membership. Each Sunday we have 20 or 25 Russians. We are officially registered as the Society of Friends and can invite people and do things as an organization.

METTA SPENCER: Tell me about the actions in Chechnya.

PAVLOVA: First when the war started, Sergei Kovalyev and other members of the human rights committee showed us on television what a terrible thing had begun. At first, mothers started going to Chechnya, without any organization, to save their children. After that, they were organized by the Soldiers' Mothers. A peace march was organized to Chechnya by the Soldiers' Mothers, Japanese Buddhist monks, Russian Baptists, and some of our Quakers, both English and Russian. It took place in two stages. First, in April they flew to Vladikavkaz because the Grozny airport was closed. They walked from there toward Grozny, but at the border of Chechnya, soldiers stopped them, put them onto buses and sent them back. The soldiers had their orders; they were not very rude, but they were not nice. So the first time the peace activists were not able to go to Grozny, but the second time they negotiated with officials, flew back to Vladikavkaz and reached Grozny. Some Chechen women joined them. There were men too--Buddhist monks, Russian Orthodox. And besides the Soldiers' Mothers, there were also some Soldiers' Fathers.

SPENCER: Was there much press coverage of the march?

PAVLOVA: Not much. Just about 10 seconds at a time on TV, and tiny articles in some newspapers. Since the war started, the government turned to the right and the press came under much more control than before. Journalists do not feel free to publish what they want.

The anti-Chechen attitude is complicated. It is not just that Russians are nationalist and anti-Caucasian. Chechens traditionally were warriors. They always used to invade other established societies. That's why the Russian government had trouble with them. Then when Dudayev came to power, there were Chechen robbers on all the trains in Chechnya running from Moscow to Armenia or Georgia and back. Some Chechen groups are controlling part of Moscow. The Chechen mafia are very powerful, with a lot of money. Many people are robbed.

There is a feeling of compassion for those young boys of 18 or 19 who were ordered to go to Chechnya against their will. Some of them were crying on the streets of Grozny, not knowing what to do. Chechen snipers were shooting them. When we heard about it, we felt compassion, not only to the Chechens who were bombed, but also to Russian boys who were ordered to do cruel things.

I would like Russia to withdraw our military from Chechnya. It is not a solution to put soldiers there. Everybody suffers from that. But also I think we need to protect the Russian population of Chechnya who were suffering under the Dudayev regime. There was opposition to Dudayev among the Chechen people themselves because he didn't pay salaries and medical help was not working. Chechens should give up their weapons. The whole country is full of weapons. So there should be some compromise on their part. Even while negotiations were going on, there was shooting at night. I understand that there still is.

SPENCER: In the beginning, weren't Russians supporting the opposition?

PAVLOVA: Yes, but when the Russians started the bombing and this brutal invasion, even people who had been in opposition to Dudayev felt so offended that they became warriors to push Russian troops from their country.

SPENCER: They didn't reach an agreement about whether Chechnya would become independent.

PAVLOVA: No. There was an agreement that the railway and some other essential things will be under the control of Russia. Remember, I said the railways were constantly robbed. So it will not be complete independence but something like Tatarstan.

SPENCER: Will the Russians accept that much autonomy?

PAVLOVA: I hope so. The main problem is oil. They have a refinery and oil pipes in Chechnya. Dudayev had access to this oil. At first they were selling it abroad and sharing the profit with the Russian government, which was okay, but when Dudayev stopped sharing the profits, the Russian government thought they had to do something. Oil goes from Russian territory on the Caspian Sea to Chechnya, and Chechnya wants all the oil. If there is an agreement about oil. I think it will be okay.

One very interesting question is: if Dudayev is a criminal, as our government says, why was he not taken by the KGB? We have such an efficient system, our KGB--which can find anyone (as they found Trotsky) but why can Dudayev not be found, brought to the courts, and judged? Nobody knows and nobody cares where he is, but I think there is something secret about it. Why not take him and investigate him? They do cruel, dreadful things to people who are innocent but they don't touch Dudayev.

The situation is chaotic. Dudayev has warned that there will be terrorism throughout Russia. So I am afraid that something like that still could happen.

SPENCER: Could there be more regions that could demand autonomy or is it the end of that?

PAVLOVA: Not now, but who knows? I think it will take a long time to make positive changes in Russia. Now I have no idea whom to vote for in December, or next year for president. I don't trust our politicians. Probably Yavlinsky cares about the people, but everybody lost their savings in the bank because of Gaidar. A journalist asked him, "But you brought people poverty! How do you think people can survive?"

He said, "I don't care about people; I care about the new economic laws, and they are working now--our shops are full of food."

But people cannot afford to buy the food; they lost all their money. Every politician who comes to power in our country takes something for himself. Nobody is honest and nobody cares about ordinary people who are now in poverty. I don't like Lenin, but what was good about him was that when the whole country had no sugar and no bread, he lived the same way himself, having only tiny pieces of sugar. Our government lives in luxury and this is why people don't trust them.

SPENCER: How can we help?

PAVLOVA: First, keep in contact with us. For us it is very important when people from abroad understand our situation. Personal support means a lot. Just keep in touch. Also, Friends contribute for our elderly people; we have social work with them and alcoholics.

SPENCER: We are having a meeting tomorrow for a group that wants to support human rights in Russia.

PAVLOVA: Of course, I will help. I don't have much contact with human rights groups, though we have a good human rights group, Memorial.

Nonviolence workshops have become popular in Russia. Some are led by trainers from the U.S. and Britain. Some are organized by Russian psychologists who have been trained elsewhere. There is also a peace centre in Moscow now, staffed by Patricia Cockrell and Chris Hunter, who previously worked with the Quaker Peace Service.

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1995

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1995, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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