Staunton, July 21 – When the Sakha “warrior shaman” who has declared that he is marching on Moscow to exorcise the evil spirit Putin first appeared, Tomsk writer Andrey Filomonov says he thought Aleksandr Gabyshev was no more than “a remake” of the Pussy Riot demonstration of seven years ago.
At that time, a group of young women broke into a church and appealed to the Mother of God to “drive out Putin.” The results of that, the commentator says, are “well-known: the Mother of God didn’t respond, Putin remained, and the girls received two years imprisonment” (svoboda.org/a/30062934.html).
But now it is obvious “the comparison with Pussy Riot is not entirely correct,” Filimonov says. Not only is the warrior shaman speaking out for the people against the regime, but he is drawing strength and protection from reprisals because he is part of an older Russian tradition of deference to holy fools, a deference Russians don’t give to civil activists like Pussy Riot.
The shaman’s appearance in Chita where he declared “the highest power in the country is the popular assembly, the highest value is freedom and the president of Russia could be a woman” showed that he isn’t engaging in “performance” art but rather “in something more,” not so much a shaman as “a mystical warrior fulfilling an important mission.”
And because that is so, Filimonov continues, the warrior shaman is “eliciting sympathy and support from a multitude of people including both the residents of the Transbaikal, which have been feeding him on his way and the users of social networks who, via YouTube follow the march of the shaman to the West.”
The police have not moved to stop him, and only the Russian Orthodox Church has denounced him because of his supposed promotion of “mystical” rights. Most online commentators in contrast have treated him either as an object of amusement or as someone who is the voice of the people and must be listened to.
Russian society, Filimonov continues, has emerged after 20 years of “’rising from its knees” a different one. “No one believes in elections, but many believe in Holy Fire and miracles. In the political arena, the shades of the Byzantine Empire are appearing, and holy fools are becoming heroes of the news.”
According to the writer, “this is bad news in the first instance for the powers that be who have been playing at a new Medievalism.” Young women from the philosophy faculty of Moscow State University don’t attract sympathy and support; self-proclaimed shamans in contrast can easily get both.
“The people in Russia are irrational and unpredictable. Its idol in one hour can become ‘a Yakut shaman’ or God knows what other kind of ‘fighter with the regime.’” The main thing is that such people must emerge from the depths of and speak to a population that sees itself as set apart from and in opposition not just to the West but to modernity as such.
Russia’s powers that be understand this even if it ultimately threatens them. Their police will harass civic activists like Pussy Riot, but they won’t do the same against a holy fool like the shaman. “Even Ivan the Terrible was afraid to touch [such voices of the people]. The Cathedral of St. Basil’s on Red Square is a clear reminder of that.”