Taking the Cure

I shot a (still-unfinished) documentary a few years back about the Doukhobors of British Columbia, and am always happy to find new articles about their fascinating place in Canadian and Russian history. Here’s one about Aleksandr Yakovlev from the June ’08 issue of The Walrus:

It stands as one of the more unusual turning points of the Cold War, thanks mostly to the surprise appearance of several naked middle-aged women. It began with a plasterer named Peter Voykin driving his 1970 Ford Meteor toward the local community centre in Castlegar, in the Kootenay mountains of southeastern British Columbia, on the Saturday before Victoria Day in 1980. As a Doukhobor, a member of a sect of Christian anarchists who settled in the Kootenays after fleeing Russia in the 1890s, Voykin was a vegetarian and a pacifist who championed an ethic of communal living and sharing.

For most of the previous four decades, the Doukhobors had been harassed by a zealous splinter group, the Sons of Freedom, which had mastered several idiosyncratic refinements to the art of the political protest, including placard-and chant-filled parades in which many demonstrated without clothes. To punctuate these naked parades, the Freedomites also employed arson and firebombing, often targeting community centres and homes belonging to the main group of “orthodox” Doukhobors.

The latest issue in this version of the Hatfield-McCoy feud was the Doukhobors’ newly forged ties with Russia, a response to their creeping cultural assimilation after almost a century in Canada. The orthodox group was investigating the possibility of a mass migration to their homeland, and to help establish the necessary ties they had invited the highest-ranking member of the Soviet Union in Canada, Ambassador Aleksandr N. Yakovlev, to Castlegar, to attend the annual youth festival, the highlight of the Doukhobor calendar.

On the Saturday in question, Voykin was driving Yakovlev to the opening of the festival. They were heading for the peninsula where the Kootenay River meets the Columbia, the site of the local community centre, when Voykin spied something he’d hoped not to see: a small group of Freedomite protesters. As soon as they saw the car, they held up signs accusing the orthodox Doukhobors of ties with the kgb. Other placards told Ambassador Yakovlev to go back to Ottawa. Half a dozen of the elder women were stark naked. (Walrus Magazine)

H/T: lutherandjohnny