Friday, August 9, 2019

The Remarkable ‘Siberian Soviet Encyclopedia’ had an Equally Remarkable Editor

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 6 – One of the most remarkable works of scholarship in the USSR in the 1920s was the ‘Siberian Soviet Encyclopedia,’ three volumes of which were published and a fourth prepared before the scholars who worked on it were arrested, accused of organizing an anti-Bolshevik conspiracy, and confined to the GULAG or even shot.

            The publication, which had its origins among Siberian regionalists under Admiral Kolchak in 1919, became a bibliographic rarity under Stalin and afterwards, unavailable and uncited even by scholars, although talked about eventhen as one of the most important sources for the study of Russia east of the Urals.

            The first three volumes were issued between 1929 and 1932 with a fourth prepared but published only in New York in 1992 and two more planned but never completed. Now all have been republished in the Russian Federation and are readily available online – e.g.,

            The history of this publication became the subject of intense interest after the collapse of Soviet power, even resulting in the publication of a book on the subject by the Novosibirsk State Archive in 2002.  Now, the SibReal portal’s Mikhail Laytshtern offers new details on the founding editor of the encyclopedia, Panteleimon Kazarinov (

            He was just as remarkable as the encyclopedia he produced, his great grandson Dmitry Kazarinov tells Laytshtern. Born in 1885 in Irkutsk, Panteleimon was excluded form the local seminary for political unreliability. He then studied law in St. Petersburg before returning to Siberia.

            In December 1919, just before the collapse of Kolchak’s regime, he oversaw the release of political prisoners from the Aleksandrovsk Central and several months later was elected a Soviet judge there.  But he was always interested in the region and became president of the Eastern Siberia section of the Russian Geographical Society.

            Then, captivated by the possibility of describing Siberia in an encyclopedia, he and his family moved to Novosibirsk where research possibilities were greater and became the director of the Siberian Kray Scientific Library. It was there he worked on the encyclopedia until his arrest in January 1933 and dispatch to the GULAG camps in Solovki.

            While there, Panteleimon worked in the prison library, translated the Kalevala into Russian, and compiled a guide to the Solovetsky archipelago. His wife sought his release and secured Soviet procurator Andrey Vyshinsky’s agreement to free her husband. But that agreement came on November 22, 1934.

            Nine days later, Kirov was shot; and as a result, no one then in the camps could be released.  The family stopped receiving letters from Panteleimon in 1937 and for many years believed he had been shot in that year. But at the time of his 1958 posthumous rehabilitation, they were informed that he died in October of 1939.

            His great grandson says he did not see a copy of the encyclopedia until 2015, and then he was shown the fourth volume which was issued in a print run of 25 copies but kept in special collections beyond the reach of scholars.  Now, at least, all these volumes are available for widespread use.

            Dmitry Kazarinov was politically active earlier in the Yabloko party, participating in Novosibirsk elections and even being in the Duma for a time. But he was put off by politics and has since withdrawn from such public activity. “Strangely,” the younger Kazarinov says, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky explained why that happened.

            “To get involved in politics,” Yavlinsky once said, “is the same as going into a public toilet in bare feet.”  It isn’t something anyone can really want to do except under the direst emergency.

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