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History of the Russian Vegetarian Societies

From the Vegetarian Messenger (Manchester), March 1894, p106:

A Vegetarian journal, entitled The New Step, has been started in St. Petersburgh, to which Count Tolstoi is a contributor . . . Vegetarian restaurants are also on the increase in the capital.

The following item was contributed by the Soyfoods Center:

[St. Petersburg Vegetarian Society]. 1901. New vegetarian society. St. Petersburg, Russia.
Summary: Source: Boettcher, A. 1903. "Foreign notes: Russia." Vegetarian Messenger (Manchester, England). Jan. p. 7. "In December, 1900, a few vegetarians in St. Petersburg resolved to found a vegetarian society in order to promote vegetarianism with more energy and success. According to Russian laws every society has to be approved by the government. Therefore it was necessary to work out the rules for the society and to have them approved by the government before anything could be done. On the 25th October, 1901, the rules were approved by the Ministry of the Interior, and on December 14th, 1901, the first official meeting was held and the St. Petersburg Vegetarian Society founded." Dr. Alex. P. Selenkoff was the first president.

The society sent a letter of support to the first meeting of IVU in Dresden, Germany in 1908 - that Congress passed the following resolution:

"The International Congress now assembled in Dresden, send hearty greetings to Leo Tolstoy, for his 80th birthday; and express their admiration of his character and deep gratitude for his many labours in behalf of peace and the moral and religious improvement of mankind."

From the Vegetarian Messenger (UK VegSoc), February 1910:

The Russian Vegetarian organ gives a review of the movement in that country. It received its first great impetus in 1878, when a food article appeared in the Wjestnik Jewropüii, which was later issued as a pamphlet, translated into German, and attracted great attention in Russia and elsewhere. Its author, Beketow, also read papers on Vegetarianism in several of the higher educational establishments of Russia. In 1892, other pamphlets appeared, including Tolstoy's "First Step," which caused a great sensation, becoming truly the first step for the vegetarian movement in Russia. It found an echo everywhere. Journals and pamphlets advocating the cause were many, among which, one called The Week took up vegetarianism in real earnest. Soon adherents began to gather in St Petersburg, Kiew, and other towns, and restaurants were opened, and now enthusiasts are to be found in the remotest parts of Turkestan and Siberia. In 1893, Konstantin Nikolajewitsch founded a vegetarian journal which he entitled The First Step, to which Leo Tolstoy became a contributor. But it was soon transplanted by the Possnjednik, which may be looked upon as the second step. Cookery books now followed in due course, and in 1894 a vegetarian eating house opened in Moscow. But that active body, the Russian police, could not let even vegetarianism grow without supervision and hindrance, and the authorities positively objected to the word, so that a restaurant might not exhibit the word "vegetarian." But vegetarianism is too strong even for the Russian police force, and already 1895 it counted some ten thousands of adherents, including the Dukobors and all the followers of Tolstoy. In December, 1901, the fist actual Vegetarian Society, with strictly drawn up rules, was founded at St. Petersburg ; a library was formed and another organ, The Messenger, started. But the latter lived only 18 months ; doing some good work during its short period of existence. In 1904, Warsaw formed a society ; 1908, Kiew followed ; and in 1909, Moscow . In Odesssa, the attempt failed for the time, owing to some police interference, though there was no real difference between the Odessa Society and the other societies already established. In 1909, the Vegetarian Review as now existing, was started. The Petersburg Society numbered then 158 members. This does not sound brilliant. But the strength of the movement in Russia must not be counted by the official reports of Societies. There are tens of thousands of vegetarians in the country who do not belong to any society.

From the report of the 1910 IVU Congress held in Brussels, Belgium:

Russia sent its learned President, Prof. Woeïkov of the University of St. Petersburg, who gave a long and interesting address. I am sure our English friends will take him to their hearts, when I say that he reminded Dr. Axon, myself, and some others, of our beloved President, Prof. Mayor. Dr. Woeïkov alluded to Count Tolstoy.

The report of the 1932 Congress, in Berlin & Hamburg, Germany, includes the following:

... Monday morning at 9 o'clock witnessed a huge gathering in the open to hear addresses by .... and Mr. Valentin Bulgakov (late Secretary to Leo Tolstoy). ...

The chairman next called upon Mr. VALENTIN BULGAKOV (Prague) to give his address on "TOLSTOY AND VEGETARIANISM AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DUKHOBORS." He said that four years had passed since the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tolstoy - a man who held an honoured place among the greatest men of all ages. Many world representatives of literature and art were vegetarians, and for the last 23 years of his life Tolstoy devoted himself to the propagating, through his writings, of humanitarian ideals. In the propagation of vegetarian ideals Tolstoy had been a great power, and his teaching had borne fruit over a very wide area, not only in Russia, but in other countries, e.g., Bulgaria. With Tolstoy, vegetarianism was primarily an ethical principle, although its other aspects were well-known to him. To a man who accepted the idea that life of all kinds was sacred, he had no alternative in following the course he did. Tolstoy held that killing-whether it be animal or human life-was one of the greatest sins. The law, ''Thou shalt not kill," was written in the hearts of men long before it was written by Moses, on Mount Sinai. It was impossible to lead a full life and attain moral perfection unless we took what Tolstoy regarded as "The First Step" and refrained from the use of animals for food. We could not reach the highest unless we took this "first step." Tolstoy's vivid description of the slaughter of animals, in Tula, made a big impression on the Russian people and was responsible for many converts to the Cause. Mr. Bulgakov dealt with many interesting and controversial problems related to vegetarianism and the killing of animals, such as the use of dairy products, the use of animals by man, the destruction of insect pests. etc., and concluded by referring to vegetarian colonies which had been formed at various periods throughout Russia. Most of these, including the Moscow Vegetarian Society (the chief centre of vegetarian activity in Russia), he said, had been dissolved under the Soviet regime. The only surviving colony was that of the Dukhohors, now represented in the three provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. They left Russia, for Canada, in the year 1898, Tolstoy helping them to obtain the necessary money to emigrate. From 7,900 their numbers had grown to 15,000, and with very few exceptions they were all vegetarians.

From Jan Stastny in Prague:

Below is a photo from czech magazine Sbratreni, 1932, there was an article about Russian vegetarian settlement of Tolstoy sympathisers in Kuzneck, Siberia (1000 people - all of them vegetarian and pacifists, about 3000 hectares - i.e. 7400 acres of land). They were persecuted and banned, but then the Russian government decided to allow the farm in 1932, because only they were able to supply the
inhabitants of the area with food - especially for the steel industry in Kuzneck.

The article below is compiled from information provided by the Eurasian Vegetarian Society in Moscow:

Vegetarianism appeared in Russia in 14th century. The famous Russian saints – Sergiy Radonezhskiy, Seraphim Sarovskiy, Epiphaniy the Wise - in their sermons persuaded the orthodoxies that the true belief in God was incompatible with eating of meat and called them to follow Lenten mode of life. The majority of Russians observed the fasts (over 200 days per year) and kept to Lenten fare. The representatives of many religious communities were passionate adherents of the vegetarianism. In the late 19th and early 20th century Lev Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer and philosopher made a great contribution in the development of the vegetarian concept and its introduction in the common life. He believed that vegetarianism was very useful from the moral, ethical, medical and economic point of view.

At the beginning of the 20th century about ten societies were established in Russia: in Saint-Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Saratov, Poltava, Odessa, Minsk and in other cities. Moscow vegetarian society was founded in 1909. L.N. Tolstoy became its honorary member. The Moscow vegetarian society was a very active one: a dinning-hall was set up, lectures were delivered, articles dedicated to vegetarian problems were published, a Society Almanac was issued.

Due to vegetarian societies dinning-halls were established in 24 Russian cities – 6 in Moscow, 7 – in Kiev, 5 – in Saint Petersburg. Hospitals with vegetarian nutrition were founded, vegetarian newspapers and magazines etc. were published as well.

In April 1913 in Moscow there took place the 1st All-Russia Vegetarian Congress. Vegetarianism was widely spread in the country. Among vegetarians were the writers Bunin and Leskov, the composer Skryabin, the painter Levitan, the scientist Rerikh, the academician Nesmeyanov and other famous people. The famous Russian wrestler Ivan Poddubny also followed the vegetarian diet.

The revolution of 1917 stopped the development of vegetarianism in Russia. The Soviet State authorities considered vegetarianism as a pseudoscientific theory that reflected the bourgeois ideology and therefore harmed to Soviet people. In 1929 the last vegetarian society in Moscow was closed [the 1926 IVU Congress in London, England, received apologies from the Russian Society for being unable to attend]. The communist leaders scorned the principle idea of the vegetarianism – non-violence, spirit of independence, love to all the living and freedom of thinking. The leaders of the vegetarian societies were persecuted, many of them arrested and sentenced.

The Big Soviet Encyclopedia (1961) commented: "Vegetarianism is based on false hypothesis and ideas and has no followers in the Soviet Union!" The word "vegetarian" was taken away from the dictionaries of the Russian language.

The revival of vegetarianism was in post-war period when the interest in oriental systems of health, particularly in yoga increased. This time is marked by successful medical work of professor Uriy Sergeevich Nikolaev, who treated psychic diseases by means of diet with further adoption of vegetarian food. Later U.S. Nicolaev managed to establish the department of medical fasting for somatic patients in Moscow State hospital 1968.

Uriy Sergeevich Nikolaev was a son of the passionate adherent of Lev Nicolaevich Tolstoy’s teaching – Sergey Nicolaev, who’s wife took part in foundation of Moscow dinning-halls, all his children were vegetarians from childhood as well as some of his grandchildren. Uriy Sergeevich Nikolaev interested himself in natural philosophy, oriental methods of health, was in correspondence with several foreign doctors-naturopaths and gathered around himself a large amount of Muscovites and people from other cities those who were interested in natural ways of health. In Moscow’s cultural centers lectures concerning natural methods of health, especially – vegetarianism were held; volunteers translated and reprinted free of charge books of foreign authors: P. Bregg, G. Shelton, A. Cheis, M. Gerson, K. Geffery. So by the time of the first vegetarian society in post-soviet Russia, in 1989, there were a lot of people seeking to shape vegetarian movement.

In 1989 at the time of perestroika in the USSR on initiative of Y.S. Nikolaev, Doctor of medicine, T.N. Pavlova (Center of ethical attitudes towards animals) and Irina. L. Medkova (Vegetarian Medical Center) at the Ecological Fund of the Soviet Union there was established a vegetarian society. The Vegetarian Society is headed by Tanya .N. Pavlova.

In 2001 the Eurasian Vegetarian Society was founded - an independent international non-profit and non-religious association for propaganda of the healthy life style . The activity of the Society's members is aimed at supporting and developing the principles of the vegetarianism. President of the Society is N. A. Kalanov. One of the main objectives is the creation and consolidation of vegetarian societies on the territory of Russia and CIS. In order to fulfill this task the representatives of the Society work in 25 cities of Russia, in the Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. The Society supported the establishment of vegetarian organizations in Vladivostok and Krasnoyarsk. The members participated in the anti-corrida action in Moscow. They promote vegetarianism in the central publications, on radio and TV. The Society launched a TV-show "I don't eat meat" that was watched by 60 million viewers in Russia and CIS. Vegetarianism has been also promoted at the exhibitions-festivals in Moscow - “Pressa-2001”, “New Era”, "Soya food", "SNACKEXPO" and "Food technology". The Society supports the "Vegetarian" magazine and three web sites and has organized the first vegetarian library. Eurasian Vegetarian Society is a member of the International and the European Vegetarian Unions.

The 1964 minutes of the IVU Council, discussing the 1965 World Vegetarian Congress noted: "That the Moscow Medical Academy might send a delegate to talk on the recent establishment of 4 Nature Cure Centres with State recognition in Baku and other Russian cities. " From the above article this would appear to have been Prof. Nikolaev, but it is not known at present whether he was able to attend the Congress.

Further items about Russian Vegetarianism:

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