The Vissarion community, Abakan, Russia, 1996 and 1999.
The Anastasia movement, Novosibirsk, Russia, October 2010.
The Kukui community, Altai Mountains, Russia, October 2010.
The Nevo-Ecoville community, Karelia, Russia, November 2010.
Russia’s Green Exodus, the back to the land movement, is drawing thousands of professionals weary of the new consumerism, state policy and corruption. They live in tepees, raise horses and identify themselves with Native Americans. They believe in the magic powers of cedar trees and plant them by the thousands. They create hundreds of ecological communes in far corners of Siberia, the Altai Mountains and the Karelian woods in search of happier, alternative forms of living. Yuri Kozyrev documented four different communities.
The movement started about 15 years ago. Some represent the outgrowth of old Socialist ideals, transformed by religious rhetoric. At least 10,000 Russians have joined just one commune, City of Sun, led by the Christ of Siberia, or Vissarion, an ecological sect outside Abakan. By selling all their property and giving the money to their charismatic leader, Vissarion’s followers have burned all bridges to their old life. They are heavily criticized by the Russian Orthodox Church, as being “green” saved religious communes from political persecution.
The tree lovers, or Anastasia movement, involving over 100,000 registered activists of eco communes, idealize the return to rural peasant life. ‘All my life, I’ve been a part of the system: at school, as a university student, then as a faithful officer, but the system fell apart before my eyes, destroyed by traders, by stealers, by outrageously corrupt managers. The motherland is what teaches us to live in harmony,’ says Dmitry Ivanov, a former colonel and an ideologist of the Land of Plenty commune, outside Novosibirsk on the Ob River.
Back in the late 1980s hundreds of Russian fans of Native American culture ran away to the Altai Mountains, settling in Kukui community. They followed the traditional life of Native American tribes, living in tepees, working on Soviet horse collective farms and wearing traditional Native American clothes – they copied the designs from Marlboro adverts somebody brought from Poland, or from pictures found in books about American Indians.
The Soviet system did not accept them – during the commune’s eight years of existence, the KGB often questioned and chased young, sportsmen covered in feathers and the local kolkhoz fired the foreign-looking young men. The commune fell apart but most of its residents could not stop identifying with Native Americans and settled on individual ranchos in the Altai and the Ural Mountains, Tyumen and Kamchatka, where they live today.
Life on the land in Siberia is not easy: last winter, the temperature fell below –50°C/-58°F in the Altai Mountains. Communal life in Askat village was a disappointment – fights among artists became a more severe issue than Arctic winds. Olga Kumani has been trying hard to live a green and peaceful life since she quit her crime reporter career in 2002. ‘I could not breathe in the city; the state system choked me. And this commune is not an ideal society, either. I feel disillusioned at times,’ she said.
After almost 20 years of searching for the best alternative life, the residents of Nevo Eco-Ville commune say they have found harmony. About a dozen households of creative and successful professionals from St Petersburg and Moscow have settled on Ladoga Lake in the Karelia Republic woods, 25 kilometers from the Finnish boarder. ‘The key to successful life in a commune is strong family relations – nobody has managed to escape city life, go green and stay happy without family support,’ says Andrei Obruch, a father of four natural and four adopted children. Obruch’s family teach their children at home; vegetarians, they eat what they grow in their garden. Every summer crowds of European backpackers and eco-tourists stop at Nevo Eco-Ville commune, well-known for its hospitable and friendly atmosphere.
Text © Anna Nemtsova.