Doukhobor Trouble

Once again B. C. Is discovering that assimilation of the Doukhobors demands the wisdom of a Solomon

N. deBERTRAND LUGRIN September 1 1937

Doukhobor Trouble

Once again B. C. Is discovering that assimilation of the Doukhobors demands the wisdom of a Solomon

N. deBERTRAND LUGRIN September 1 1937

Doukhobor Trouble

Once again B. C. Is discovering that assimilation of the Doukhobors demands the wisdom of a Solomon


TROUBLE WITH the Doukhobors is looming large again. Like a never-dying fire, it is always there, ready at a little new flaming to run over and hurt somebody or something, or spread wholesale conflagration and suffering. Not all the king's horses and all the king’s men can succeed in putting it quite out.

It flared up again early in April this year with the burning of eleven schools and halls in the interior of British Columbia. As usual, there was no evidence against any particular person or group of persons. Police started an investigation at once, but beyond proving that the fires were of incendiary origin, nothing was learned.

Next, not counting manhandling of guards and interfering with the police and similar incidents, a number of persons in the community of Krestova fell suddenly and violently ill of no specified complaint. Two of them died. Investigation showed poisoning. But as the Doukhobors are fond of all kinds of wild greens, some of which are unfit to eat, it could not be proved that the deaths were not accidental.

During the month of May, what might have been a major tragedy was averted through the confession of a Doukhobor youth, who led the police to a section of the trans-Canada railway, where rails had been torn up. rubbish piled and sleepers laid on top of them, the whole soaked with kerosene. The boy was found to be mentally deficient, but it is believed he was the tool of someone else.

Early in June another mysterious death occurred: that of a Doukhobor married woman, whose people refused to give up the body. Arrests were made, and it was found she had also died of poisoning. And so it goes on. and the authorities are jwwerless to do anything about it. for no matter what disagreements there may be among the Doukhobors themselves, and disagreements are many and serious, they will not make any specific charges against one another.

The police brought Peter Veregin II down to Victoria for questioning. He asserted his grief and his innocence in regard to what was taking place in the communities of which he is nominally the spiritual head. A few days later, while driving on the King’s highway, Veregin deliberately took the wrong side of the road, impeding traffic and shouting abuse at all and sundry. He was arrested, fined fifty dollars, and sentenced to three months with hard labor. On appeal, his sentence was confirmed. This evoked another demonstration, and there were more arrests.

Then on July 1 two more houses were burned, a railway switch was dynamited, and a parade near Nelson was dispersed by police with some use of tear gas. This particular march appeared to be the climax of a three-day celebration of the anniversary of “the burning of arms” in Russia in 1895 when Doukhobors destroyed their military equipment and refused service in the Russian army.

In order to make a check up on the Doukhobor population and know definitely how many are born and die. a Russian, a naturalized British subject who speaks the Doukhobor language, has been appointed a registrar. He is having a hard time of it. Locked doors, mute lips or lips that were better mute, and already fifteen arrests have been made.

Meanwhile, extra police have been sworn in to guard schools, bridges and other public properties, and irate Canadian farmers who feel that they have been patient quite long enough, are threatening to take the law into, their own hands. Premier Pattullo has called for help from Ottawa and another Royal Commission, and the province found itself in exactly the same position it was in five years ago.

It was then that the Conservative Government of the province repudiated its heretofore patriarchal attitude and decided to administer severe punishment to these recalcitrant children of their adoption. Eight hundred of them were arrested for incendiarism, nude parading and so on. Husbands and wives were separated, children taken from their parents, infants from their mothers. The boys from eight years up were placed in the Industrial School at Coquitlam, the girls in the Girls’ Industrial School in Vancouver, the very young children put into the Protestant Orphanage in Victoria, and a special prison farm on Pier Island was prepared for the men and women. Did this drastic treatment make them any more amenable to Canadian law? Or bring about a clearer understanding between them and their neighbors? It did not. What is

happening today in British Columbia goes to show that it did not.

History of the Doukhobors

AS A MATTER of fact, the trouble dates from 1898, when the Canadian Government, persuaded by certain parties that the Doukhobors would make the finest kind of settlers, invited, welcomed and even bonused more than 7,000 of them, without having any real understanding of these people, who put their religious convictions before everything else, and will triumphantly suffer and even die for them if they get the chance.

A word about Peter Veregin IL A son of the first Peter Veregin. lie is said not to have inherited the best attributes of his father, who, a professed disciple of Tolstoy, was in many ways an admirable figure. The present Peter

Veregin is fond of stating that there are only three great men alive in the world today—Trotsky, Stalin and Veregin. His word to most of the Doukhobors is law. He expects the deference due a king or the head of a church. He has only to demand money, privilege or any favor from his communities to have them accede instantly.

Just how good or how bad a leader he is, it is impossible to say: just as it is impossible to knowr whether he is resjxmsible, directly or indirectly for the disturbed state of affairs at Brilliant’ Castlegar, Fruitova, Krestova, Glade and other points

With the accession of Peter Veregin I as spiritual leader of the Doukhobors. the first break was made in the long line of the dynasty of spiritual heads which dates back into the shadowy past of centuries. He wras appointed her successor by the then leader, Loukeriya Kalmikova, whose

favorite he was. This interruption in the line of succession aroused so much hostility that the Russian Government was obliged to interfere, and, as a result of the machinations of his enemies, Peter Veregin I was banished to Siberia, where he remained some time before coming to Canada.

The Doukhobors are divided into several sects—the Orthodox Doukhobors, the Sons of Freedom, the Independents who have broken away and ceased to live in com -munities, and a new lot, known as the “Named Doukhobors” who rally closely around Peter Veregin. The Sons of Freedom correspond in Canada to the party in Russia which considered Peter Veregin I a usurper. Their attitude toward Peter* Veregin II is distinctly hostile, and he entirely reciprocates their sentiments. There is constant miction between them.

Hope for a speedy settlement of the Doukhobor difficu,ties is not very bright, but there is hope that in time they can be solved through mutual understanding. To know something of the history of the Doukhobors is the first step in that understanding. From the beginning, theirs has been a story of persecution and suffering. Persecution engenders suspicion and distrust. It is against these two bugbears that B. C ’s Government has to contend.

Back in 1799 they were sent to Siberia in irons to work in the mines there, because of that item in their religion which has always proved a stumbling block with governments: “Inasmuch as all men are equal, and the children of God do good willingly without coercion, they do not require any government or authority over them. To go to war, to carry arms, to take oaths, is forbidden.”

Hostile Attitude

npHEY STILL proclaim this creed. Furthermore, they maintain an attitude of hostility to the registration laws, and to the School Act. They do not believe in education. “It takes them away from God . . . Sets up false standards . . . Doukhobors are children of the soil and education leads them away from the soil into commeicial life . . . Canadian teachers, especially the women teachers, with their jewellery, ribbons and rouge, set a bad example to our girls.”

Doukhobors are Christians. They believe in one God. in the Christ within, and that Jesus was the son of God in the same sense that all men are the sons of God; that men’s souls existed and fell before the creation of the material universe, and are sent here for their reformation; that the church of God is invisible and scattered over the whole world, and not marked by any creed; that Christians, Jews, Mohammedans and others may be members of it if they will harken to the inward word. They do not believe in priests. “In whomsoever Christ lives, he is Christ’s heir and is a priest unto himself.” They believe that marriage

should be accomplished without ceremonies It needs only the will of those who have come of age and are united in love to each other, the consent of the parents, and an inward oath, and vow before the all-seeing God to remain faithful.

From time immemorial the village Commune or Mir has been a unique Slavic institution, and the Doukhobors recognize no duties except those owed to the Commune. There is no written law, but the decisions of the Commune are unquestioned. Village assemblies are composed of heads of families with an elder or speaker. Everybody attends them, even the small children. One of the school troubles arose on this account. If an assembly is called, the children throw aside lessons to go with their elders.

No matter to what branch of the sect they belong, the Doukhobors all are vegetarians, chaste, abstemious, touching no alcohol. Their houses are kept scrupulously clean and without ornamentation of any kind. Their clothes are invariably plain. In manner they are modest, dignified and kindly, invariably courteous and hospitable in their own homes to the stranger. They love to sing. It is part of their religion,

But they are stubborn, intolerant, suspicious. They can work themselves into a fanatical frenzy, or go into an unbreakable silence strike. They glory in martyrdom, and are a little disappointed when they do not meet with the persecution expected. They regard all outsiders as potential enemies.

And this after nearly forty years residence in Canada.

Hope for the Children

T5 UT THERE is a ray of light in the darkness. Education is having its effect. It was hoped that a total change in the attitude of these people would be brought about in one generation, but that estimate was too optimistic. It will take two, three, or maybe half a dozen. Already a few Doukhobors have graduated from their schools and taken a Normal Course, returning to teach the Russian children. And another thing to be borne in mind is that when schools have been burned, no lives have been endangered. The fires have been set at night, or long past the time for anyone to be in the buildings.

Talks with teachers elicit the information that only kindness and consideration are shown them. They have no fear, personally, whatever. Some of the girl teachers who go out from Victoria are still in their teens, and it might be expected that they would not stay on the job. But they do. They learn to love the children, and the children soon love them. It is through the children that adaptation and assimilation will be brought about.

Among the 800 prisoners who were brought to the coast five years ago was a little girl said to be eleven but who looked no more than eight, whose name nobody knew, but who was called Tina. She had been put in charge, by their parents, of the twenty or more youngsters who were sent to the orphanage in Victoria. Blond, very white of skin, and with a mane of fair hair done in plaits, she would have been a lovely child had it not been for the hard lines of her little red mouth, and the forbidding coldness of her eyes. The other children, the youngest of them not quite three, were completely under her domination.

It was long after supper when the children reached Victoria, and all of them must have been very hungry. They sat at a table where there was plenty of bread and butter and fresh milk and cocoa, and eager little hands were stretched out instantly for the food. But at a sharp word from Tina they were all withdrawn and clasped tightly in small ’aps, while tears rained down baby faces. Nobody could coax them to touch anything so long as Tina remained in the room. Afterward, taken on laps and mothered a bit, thev consented to eat and drink. Tina had told them that if tney ate anything they would die. She believed that herself. Her parents had said so. All the 800 expected to be poisoned or put to death some other way.

In two weeks the babies were happy as sandboys, eating all they could get of fresh fruit and vegetables and bread, even milk. They were wearing the neat overall suits provided for them, and were evidently rather proud of them. All but Tina. She still had to be forced to eat. nor would she don any other clothes but those she had arrived in. The woman in charge tried to persuade her to talk; sat close 1 o her and put an arm around her and said kind things, for though Tina professed no English, it was known she could understand. But she kept her small body stiff as a ramrod and remained unresponsive. When she was asked to sing, however, she called her brood around her and led them in a hymn, even the baby joining in.

Within a few months Tina too had succumbed to kindness. From having been a daily hindrance in the public school, she soon showed signs of relenting, and became one of the best students. When at the end of months, instead of years, the young children were sent home to their own people, they wept bitterly at the parting, and Tina begged that she might come back again.

The 200 boys who went to Coquitlam were clean and upstanding, with a fine native dignity. Far more amenable than the girls, they took kindly to field work after the first few days, and donned the khaki uniform. They would not wear leather-soled shoes as it is against their principles to use any part of an animal that has been killed, and all of them wore running shoes.

The boys admitted that they were treated well, and could find no fault with their lot except that they would like to be at home getting their own farm work done. But they were not unhappy, except, ”... when we think of the babies taken from their mothers.”

In a few weeks amicable relations were established between guardians and charges, and it was with regret on both sides that they said good-by to one another at the end of a year. *

The older people, men and women prisoners, were a different problem. Set in their convictions, suspicious of everyone, they expected torture and death at Pier Island. Some of them were streaming with perspiration and could hardly walk the gangplank of the ship, so shaken were they with fear when they landed.

When they reached their destination they proved stubborn and sullen. They staged hunger strikes, sit-down strikes, and any other strike that occurred to them. Finding that these tactics were not getting them anywhere, things changed for the better, and long before the time of their incarceration was up, they too were sent, in batches, back to their villages.

I believe that, while most of us deplored it at the time, the drastic punishment of these 800 Doukhobors proved that there is every hope for the younger generations if the government takes a firm hand and insists upon their education along Canadian lines. Most of the Doukhobors are willing enough that their children should be taught; the difficulty is to get all of them to co-operate in this matter.

Patience Required

TN IS 12 a Royal Commission was appointed to deal with -*• the Doukhobor problem, and it recommended that instead of imprisonment the leaders should be fined for infringements against the law; that a member of the Doukhobor community should be made sub-registrar; that compliance to the School Act should be insisted upon, and Russian teachers employed with Canadian teachers; that a Doukhobor Agent, similar to an Indian Agent, be appointed; that the Government should adopt a policy of patience, and that no more Doukhobors be admitted to Canada.

With a nucleus of 7,000 to start with, nearly forty years ago. it can be appreciated that, in spite of restricted immigration, the population must have increased considerably. In British Columbia alone it is conservatively estimated that there are 12,000 scattered throughout the various communities. And while no Russian teachers have been appointed, the Government has been patient.

At the request of Premier Pattullo, Dominion authorities will work with a provincial body and go into the intricacies of the Doukhobor problem again. Just what their findings will be is very uncertain. With 12,000 people to shelter perhaps not more than half a dozen culprits, it will be very difficult to name the guilty parties.

There is magnificent fibre in the Doukhobors. They have the stuff of which heroes are made. But they also possess those strangling qualities of suspicion, distrust and intolerance, born of centuries of persecution. The solution of the problem is to win their confidence, show them that the government has only their own good at heart, and compel them to bring up their children as good Canadians. To do this, compliance with the School Act is essential, no matter what the cost.—The End