Siberia, protest, and politics

Shaman Alexander in context

in Focaal
Author:
Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University, Georgetown balzerm@georgetown.edu

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Abstract

After a spiritual epiphany, the Sakha shaman Alexander Gabyshev became prominent in 2018–2020 by calling Vladimir Putin an authoritarian demon. Critiquing Russia's corrupt society through the internet and a protest march, Alexander rose to civic society leadership with multiethnic sympathizers. This article explains why Alexander became popular, and how he became a threat to Russia's authorities, especially influential Russian Orthodox elites. Alexander's repression is placed in comparative contexts: Robin Hood, Amerindian religious movements, Russia's politicized abuse of psychiatric hospitalization. It examines the relationship among indigeneity, dissidence, and the state in times of trouble, highlighting the ethical need for anthropologists, through long-term and in-depth fieldwork, to expose human rights violations interpreted as changeable. The author views Alexander's potential martyrdom as an indicator of Russia's political and social fragility.

In 2021, a long-haired Siberian man named Alexander Gabyshev, descended from the Sakha (Yakut) people, was arrested at his family compound on the outskirts of Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in Far Eastern Russia. His detention was a show of force unprecedented for the republic featuring nine police cars and over 50 policemen. For the third time in two years, Alexander, famed for proclaiming himself a shaman determined to oust President Putin, was subjected to involuntary psychiatric hospitalization.

Some analysts see Alexander's medicalized punishment, increasingly common in President Putin's most recent term, as a return to the politicized use of clinics, a practice that had been prevalent against dissidents in the Soviet period. Alexander's hair was cut, and his dignity was demeaned. By April 2021, his health had seriously deteriorated, allegedly due to treatment with debilitating drugs, and his sister feared for his life. A private video of his arrest circulated, possibly filmed by a sympathetic Sakha policeman.1 It revealed police overwhelming him in bed as if they were expecting a wild animal. He was forced to the floor bleeding, and handcuffed. Official media claimed he had resisted arrest using a traditional Sakha knife, but this is not evident in the video. A trial in Yakutsk affirmed the legality of his arrest, and a further criminal case was brought against him using the Russian Criminal Code's Article 280, prohibiting extremism. His incarceration in a “closed clinic” was affirmed by a Yakutsk court, and by the fall his family and friends learned he had been sent to Novosibirsk. In 2022, he was sent to a remote clinic in Ussuriisk. Appeals are pending, including one accepted by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.2

What created such official vehemence against an opposition figure who had dared to critique President Putin but whose powers and influence were relatively minor, compared to prominent Russian oppositionists like Aleksei Navalny? How did a localized movement in far-from-Moscow Siberia become known across Russia and, to some extent, abroad? Why and how did Alexander feel spiritually compelled to proclaim leadership of an inclusive democratic movement?

To answer these questions and more, this article combines an interpretive anthropology approach with an activist, engaged anthropology goal of making Alexander's actions better known and understood outside of Russia. Alexander's life may depend on his fame, since high-profile political prisoners are cushioned from oblivion, and sometimes treated with a modicum of respect within their incarceration institutions. My depictions and interpretations of Alexander's movement are based on periodic long-term fieldwork in the Sakha Republic, and on shorter-term field trips to the Buryat Republic and the Republic of Tyva (Tannu-Tuva), interspersed with continued collaborative work with friends and colleagues in the Siberian diaspora.3 My understanding of Alexander's social and cultural contexts requires virtual and visual anthropology analysis, increasingly possible and necessary in our interconnected, internet-dependent world of multimedia COVID-haunted communication. Alexander's protest, which has attained the level of a multiethnic social movement with spiritual motivations, is particularly appropriate for internet ethnography because Alexander of necessity launched many of his appeals on YouTube and has relied on the internet to magnify an initial “on-the-ground” semiorganized march on the Kremlin from distant Yakutsk. Alexander's movement invites increased attention to the nexus of spirituality and protest politics in times of trouble.

In his 2018–2020 meteoric rise to national and international attention, Alexander Prokopievich Gabyshev, also called “Shaman Alexander,” “Sasha shaman,” and “Sania,” came to mean many things to many people. For some, he is a potent symbol of protest against a corrupt regime led by a president he calls “a demon.” For others, he became a coopted tool in some part of the government's diabolical security system, set to attract followers so that they can be exposed and repressed. Some feel he is a “brave fellow” (molodets), “speaking truth to power” in a refreshingly articulate voice devoid of egotism. Others see him as misguided and psychologically unstable, made “crazy” by a tragic life that included the death of his beloved wife before they could have children. Some accept him into the Sakha shamanic tradition, arguing that his suffering and two–three years spent in the taiga after his wife's death qualify him as a leader and healer who endured “spirit torture” in order to serve others. Others, including some Sakha, Buryat, and Tyvan shamans, reject him as a charlatan whose education as a historian was wasted when he worked as a welder, street cleaner, and plumber.

These and many other interpretations are debated by my Russian and non-Russian friends with a passion, and this at minimum reveals that he has touched a nerve in Russia's body politic. Alexander and his followers represent multiple layers of identity and loyalty. He identifies himself when appropriate as an Indigenous Sakha, while his followers, who are multiethnic, include many Russians. The term “Indigenous” in the context of Russia is problematic, since Russian law defines its “Native” (korennye, from “rooted”) peoples as only “small-numbered” (under 50,000), while UN definitions incorporate nonstate ethnonational groups with long-term recognized homelands, such as the Sakha, Buryat, and Tyvans of the Siberian Far East (cf. Balzer 2021; Donohoe et al. 2008).

The organization of this article flows from controversy about Alexander's rise to fame and his punishment as an Icarus-like spiritual leader who flew too close to the flames of Russia's authoritarian power-holders. I begin by describing how Alexander, born in 1968, describes himself and his mission as a “warrior shaman” before analyzing some of the comments made by his high- and low-profile followers and critics within Russia. I then place him in historical context, using ethnographically salient Indigenous movement comparisons. Guided by principles of open-mindedness and alertness to contradictory social trends, my synthetic analysis pursues no single argument. Political context has become crucial, given the increased use of psychiatric clinics for the institutionalized punishment of perceived dissidents in President Putin's Russia. The range of dissent in Russia, overt and covert, Russian and non-Russian, territorialized and individualized, is great enough to make generalizations about state persecution difficult. Historical precedent reveals state-sponsored conscious capriciousness, including in the notorious Stalin period, concerning who is jailed in Russia, keeping all potential oppositionists wary and sometimes terrified. Current Russian authorities have been as likely to incarcerate a secular anti-corruption fighter like Aleksei Navalny as they are a religious-spiritual activist like Shaman Alexander. Nonetheless, my conclusions suggest that some institutionalization can be seen as targeted violence against Indigenous and other non-Russian people and their leaders. Violence in this form may be derived from biases and senses of superiority, a variation on colonial and neocolonial logics, with the state's human rights violations particularly insidious and hard to call out.4

A growing storm: Alexander's thunder shaman movement

Picture Alexander, with a lightning tattoo across his face, on foot pushing a gurney and surrounded by well-wishers, walking a mountainous highway before being arrested by masked armed police for “extremism.” Combining shamanic and Russian Orthodox concepts of communal healing, Alexander became notorious for promising to publicly “exorcise” Putin by driving him from the Kremlin in a Red Square ritual. Among more than a hundred internet video clips of Alexander's epic journey, from Yakutsk to Ulan-Ude via Chita, is a revealing interview from Shaman on the Move! (12 June 2019):5

I asked, beseeched God, to give me witness and insight. … I went into the taiga [after my wife had died of a dreadful disease ten years ago]. … It is hard for a Yakut [Sakha person] to live off the land, not regularly eating meat and fish. … I came out of the forest a warrior shaman. … To the people of Russia, I say: “Choose for yourself a normal leader, … young, competent.” … To the leaders of the regions, I say: “Take care of your local people and the issues they care about and give them freedom.” … To the people, I say: “Don't be afraid of that freedom.” We are endlessly paying, paying out. … Will our resources last for our grandchildren? Not at the rate we are going … Give simple people bank credit. … Let everyone have free education and the chance to choose their careers freely. … There should not be prisons. … But we in Russia [rossiiane] have not achieved this yet, far from it. … Our prisons are terrifying. … At least make the prisons humane. … For our small businesses, let them flourish before taking taxes from them. Just take taxes from the big, rich businesses. … For our agriculture, do not take taxes from people with only a few cows. … Take from only the big agro-business enterprises.

In this interview and others, Alexander made clear he is patriotic, a citizen of Russia, who wants to purify its leadership. “Let the world want to be like us in Russia,” he proclaimed. “We need young, free, open leadership.”6 While he explained that “for a shaman, authority is anathema,” he has praised the relatively young and dynamic head of the Sakha Republic: “Aisen [Nikolaev] is a simple person at heart who wants to defend his people, but he is constrained, under the fear of the demon in power [in the Kremlin].”7 Alexander has acknowledged that the route he has chosen is difficult, and that many will try to stop him. He has begun his “march to Moscow” (a route of 8,000 kilometers) three separate times, once in 2018 and twice in 2019, including after he was apprehended after having temporarily slipped away from house arrest, been rearrested, and fined.

Alexander's 2021 arrest, described in my introduction, was hastened by his refusal to cooperate with medical personnel as a psychiatric outpatient, and was further provoked when he announced that he would again try to reach Moscow, triumphantly on a white horse with a caravan of followers. His video announcement of the new plans, with a photo of him galloping on his white horse carrying an old Sakha warrior's standard, mentioned that he would begin his Spring 2021 renewal journey by visiting the sacred lands of his ancestors in the Viliui (Suntar) territories, the “source of my strength.” He encouraged followers to join him, since “truth is with us.”8 An eclectic group of followers launched plans to gather sympathizers in a marathon car, van, and bus motorcade. Their route was designed to pass through the sacred Altai Mountains region of Southern Siberia. What had begun as a quirky political action on foot acquired the character of a media-savvy pilgrimage.

At moments of peak rhetoric, Alexander has explained that “for freedom you need to struggle.” Into 2021, he hoped to meet his goal of reaching Red Square to perform his exorcism ritual. But his arrests and reconfinement in a psychiatric clinic under punishing “close observation” conditions make that increasingly unlikely, especially given massive crackdowns on President Putin's opponents, including Aleksei Navalny and his many supporters. One of Alexander's most telling early barbs critiqued the “political intelligentsia,” who hold “too many meetings” and do not accomplish enough. He told them: “It is time to stop deceiving us.” Yet he repeated in many interviews that numerous politicians in Russia, across the political spectrum, would be better alternatives than the current occupant of the Kremlin.9

In an interview in 2021, reflecting on his earlier march and why he was determined to try again to galvanize followers, Alexander carefully resurrected the word “democracy,” despite its cooption and eroded meaning in President Putin's Russia:10

Democracy must be without terror. Now people are scared to speak out, scared to lose their jobs and their pay. Simply put, we have a state (gosudarstvo) that has become limitless, demonic. The people are driven into a kind of artificial depression. And naturally a curer is supposed to cure depression, although when it is done with a wave of the hand, it is truly artificial, only sorcery (koldunstvo). A koldun can banish terror using illusory means and seem to dispel the depression of the whole country, but a white shaman, as I am, can actually disperse the causes. Politicians here are useless, only [good] sorcery [can work] against [deception] sorcery.

Among Alexander's most controversial actions before he was arrested was a rally and ritual held in Chita in July 2019, with a microphone-equipped stage under the banner that read “Return the Town and Country to the People.” After watching the soft-spoken and articulate Alexander on the internet for months, I was amazed to see him adopt a more crowd-rousing style, asking hundreds of eclectic demonstrators to chant “That is the law!” (Eto zakon!) even before he told them what they would be answering in a “call and response” exchange. He bellowed “Give us self-determination,” and the crowd answered “That is the law.” He cried “Give us freedom to choose our local administrations,” and the crowd answered “That is the law.” His finale included “Putin has no control over you! Live free!”11 Only after this rally did I begin to wonder who, if anyone, was coaching him and why. Had he changed in the process of walking, gaining loyal followers, and talking to diverse media outlets? The rally, with crowd estimates from 700–1,000 people, had been organized by the local Communist Party opposition. Local Russian Orthodox authorities denounced it, and suggested that Alexander was psychologically unwell. Alexander himself simply said after his arrest: “It is impossible to sit home when a demon is in the Kremlin.”

How and why was Alexander using discourses of demonology? He seemed to be articulating Russian and Sakha beliefs in a society that can be undermined by evil out of control. When he first emerged from the forest, he built a small chapel-memorial in honor of his beloved wife and talked using rhetoric that made connections as much to Russian Orthodoxy as to shamanic tradition. He wore eclectic t-shirts, including one that referenced Cuba and another featuring the petroglyph horse-and-rider seal of the Sakha Republic. Once he began his trek, he wore a particularly striking t-shirt that was eventually mass-produced for his followers. Called “Arrive and Exorcise,” it was made for him by the Novosibirsk artist Konstantin Eremenko; it rendered his face onto an icon-like halo (Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

 Shaman Alexander in a t-shirt called “Arrive and Exorcise” by K. Eremenko, 16 December 2019. Used with permission from Konstantin Eremenko.

Citation: Focaal 2023, 95; 10.3167/fcl.2022.050401

Another popular image depicts Alexander as an angel with wings. He has called himself a “holy fool,” correlating his brazen actions and protest ideology directly to a Russian iurodivy tradition that enabled poor, dirty, beggar-like tricksters to speak disrespectful truths to tsars, including Ivan the Terrible. His appeals to God were ambiguous—purposely referencing the God of Orthodoxy and the Sky Gods of the Turkic Heavens (Tengri) in his speeches. During his trek, in interviews and in court, the tattoo on his increasingly haggard face was visible, a thunderbolt zigzag under his eyes and across the bridge of his nose that he calls a “sign of lightning,” derived from his spiritual awakening after meditation in the forest. He has claimed, as a “warrior shaman,” that he is fated to harness spirit power to heal social ills in a way that even great warrior-khans of the past like Chingis Khan could not do.

While Alexander's emphasis has been on social ills that begin with the top leadership, he also has been willing to pray and place healing hands on the head of a Buryat woman complaining of chronic headaches, who afterwards joyously pronounced herself cured. Others in Buryatia and the Sakha Republic have reported cures of illnesses, as they greeted him with near-messianic enthusiasm. His inspired combining of seemingly contrasting tropes from two religious traditions, the shamanic healing warrior, adaptably ready to combat soul-stealing demons for specific purposes, and the Orthodox holy fool, perspicacious and bravely outspoken, has helped make him attractive to diverse followers.12

During his trek, on camera and off at evening campsites, Alexander fed the fire spirit pure white milk products, especially kumys (fermented mare's milk), while offering prayers in the Sakha “white shaman” (aiyy oiuun) tradition that he hoped to bring to Red Square for a benevolent ritual not only of exorcism but of forgiveness and blessing. He chanted: “Go, Go, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin]. Go of your own free will … Only God can judge you. Urui Aikhal!” He expressed pride that some Sakha female shamans and elders have blessed his endeavor.

A more critical delegation of Buryat shamans accosted him and his followers on their way to Ulan-Ude. The Buryats represented the Tengeri Society, a group that hosted me in 2010, and that has attempted to organize and standardize eclectic shamanic practices. They warned that they were worried that Alexander's politicized claims about banishing Putin could redound against the entire shamanic revitalization movement, as well as the ancient worldview of Tengrianstvo that they were trying to recover. They feared that their group and others could be labeled as extremist cults, especially since Alexander (or more precisely, a youth in his entourage with the pseudonym Raven) reputedly had cursed the children of a police officer when the policeman expropriated a donated car from Alexander's followers.

The Buryat delegation accused Alexander of “violating the canons of harmonious, light-giving shamanism” by possibly provoking civil disharmony. They warned against courting a violent outcome by advocating the demise of President Putin. They doubted that Putin would leave office peacefully of his own accord and were concerned about Alexander's vague references to mass civil disobedience if he did not. The groups parted uneasily, with the Tengeri Society shamans emphasizing that they had conducted a sensational camel sacrifice to “reinforce the authority of Russia.”13 This too became a viral and controversial internet video, enhancing rather than mitigating some Russians’ perceptions that shamans of the Far East were resurrecting a dangerously “primitive” pagan past (Cf. Jonutyté 2020).14

During a period of closely monitored liberty in 2020, Alexander was able to reconnect with his Sakha and Eurasian roots in a small community ceremony in Yakutsk. At his family compound, he participated in the placement of a memorial post (sérgé) rimmed at the top with rune-like Turkic symbols, representing the spiritual power of sky deities. One friend commented that it was an important healing for him to commune with his ancestors through prayer-blessings (algys) and offerings of kumys. I observed in this partially filmed private ritual that he donned a traditional Sakha man's waistcoat adorned with silver for the occasion and was supported by members of the Sakha Republic's own Tengri society (some of whom I know). Participants cheerfully explained that they planned to provide “white, pure food” offerings through the fire spirit to their Turkic ancestors in the portion of the ceremony deemed too sacred to film. Their Sakha variant of an in-process, consolidating shamanic belief and ritual system appeared more sympathetic to “Native Son” Alexander's spiritual and political goals than Buryat colleagues had been. The ritual possibly reveals one semi-urbanized level of an adaptive ethnicization of shamanic spirituality, as well as a healthy wariness of the publicity that had brought Alexander so much trouble along with his unaccustomed fame. A Sakha colleague with field experience in Buryatia commented that the two Tengri/Tengeri societies (each spelled slightly differently) seemed to be “nationalizing” their religious traditions in somewhat divergent but significantly parallel directions.15

Resonance within Russia's body politic

Russian observers, including well-known politicians and eclectic citizens commenting online or on camera, have expressed wildly divergent reactions to Alexander, sometimes laughing and mocking his naïve, provincial, or perceived weirdo (chudak) persona. But some take him seriously, including the opposition politician Leonid Gozman, President of the All-Russia movement Union of Right Forces. Gozman, admiring Alexander's bravery, sees significance in how many supporters fed and sheltered him along his nearly two-thousand-kilometer trek before he was arrested. Rather than resenting him for insulting Russia's wealthy and powerful president, whose approval ratings have plummeted, Alexander's followers rallied and protected him with a base broader than many opposition politicians have pulled together.16

Anti-corruption hero Aleksei Navalny featured Alexander in one of his online 2019 TV programs, giving him a platform and some backhanded compliments by correlating Alexander, President Putin, and Defense Minister Shoigu all as “terrible Satanists.” Navalny, dripping with sarcasm, suggested the possibility that Putin and Shoigu might themselves engage in a ritual by “smearing themselves with blood of some deer” and by “dancing around a fire” to rid themselves of the “Yakut warrior shaman,” since “Russian authorities are themselves a community of insane people who are crazy about esoterica: red threads, astrologists and more.” Navalny's summary implied that “we have come to this” while attempting to rid ourselves of “Putin's tyranny.”17

Some relatively independent pundits have praised Alexander as Russia's plain-speaking Forrest Gump, while more official political analysts have used Alexander's opposition to inaccurately discredit and narrowly ethnicize his movement. For example, using the Russian term for the Sakha, one warned, “Yakuts seem to have set off a slow bomb.”18 This is indicative of the chauvinist biases or at best misunderstandings that I have called “neocolonial” and that Kristina Jonutyté (2020) has termed “orientalist.” It is sometimes combined with the ignorant and hurtful conflation of Buryats and Yakuts. In contrast, some Russian Siberians such as Yaroslav Zolatarev have applauded Alexander as the potential leader of a new version of Siberian regionalism.19

A few pragmatic analysts have attempted to explain why President Putin and his cadre fear Alexander's people's movement, with some comparing it to Gandhi's. In 2020, Andrei Kamakin suggested that “the established powers are afraid that Gabyshev and his adepts, whose numbers grow before our eyes, could turn into a powerful source of political destabilization. This is happening right as the country is coming out of quarantine.”20 Kamakin's interpretation was augmented by Vitali Shkliarov, writing in 2019, who claimed that President Putin felt more threatened by Shaman Alexander than by street demonstrators in large cities because he knew his own base believes in shamanic powers, perceptions, and healings, “what Gabyshev represents.” Shkliarov declared that the 86 percent of Russian voters comprising Putin's supporters live beyond pro-Western Moscow. Adding that two-thirds of Russian women have consulted some sort of a psychic figure or shaman in their lifetimes, he concluded that Alexander's protest is dangerous because “it strikes at the core of a traditionalist worldview. If a shaman believes that Putin is a demon, then so he might be. Gabyshev's methods, too, are particularly powerful. Unlike a mass protest, a one-man march is both a slow and steady drumbeat and also deeply personal.”21

Back in his homeland in 2019, the popular then-mayor of Yakutsk, Sardana Avksentyeva, cautiously supported Alexander's human right to protest while avoiding comment on his cause or sanity. On Sakha TV, republic president Aisen Nikolaev commented with sympathy on the stress and pressure that “resident of Yakutia” Alexander had been under. Nikolaev regretted the way people like Aleksei Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky had “used” Alexander to “destabilize the country for nefarious reasons,” becoming the excuse for “people landing in jail defending him.” In a measured tone with ominous implications, he added that he hoped Alexander would have “no further health concerns,” and that it was “good that he has returned home” since his arrests.22

By 2021, the number of oppositionist arrests swelled beyond the documented number of prisoners of conscience when the great physicist Andrei Sakharov was exiled to Gorky in 1985.23 While some followers whispered that they fear for Alexander's life, others hoped he could continue his marathon movement. He was perceived as threatening precisely because several of his arrests coincided with small but meaningful protest demonstrations in Yakutsk, Buryatia, and elsewhere. Despite Shkliarov's disparagement of street demonstrations, they are indicators of civic society unrest. Authorities’ fears of multi-agenda civic protests outside of Moscow have become well-founded.24 One Sakha opposition politician with broad-based moral authority explained that he had attended the “meeting” in a main square of Yakutsk in freezing weather “to support Alexander as a human being.” As elsewhere in Russia, civic society mobilizers, whether for Alexander, ecology protests, anti-corruption campaigns, election transparency, or other causes, have become savvy at hiding and sharing leadership.

Who shape-shifts revolutions?

Alexander's valiant, charismatic effort has been halted, and we have enough temporal distance to preliminarily assess its meaning as a plateaued spiritual revitalization movement with political significance. Sakha shamanic concepts include the compelling idea that, especially after age 40, after several bouts of spiritual testing (étéénei) requisite for being “chosen by the spirits,” a true shaman can become a powerful healer and wise elder-leader (Basilov 1997; Chirkova 2002). Alexander has described enduring spiritual testing in the forest through deep grief, humble prayer, and heart-soul-mind-body (kut-siur) suffering after he turned 40. Perhaps he intended his long walk and awareness as a shamanic holy fool to stimulate social mobilization processes, raising consciousness by exposing widespread opposition to President Putin.

Alexander tapped into amorphous simmering resentments and gelled them into simply expressed coherence. His walk inspired followers using Russian and Sakha cultural symbols, concepts, and legacies, all conjured by his agile mind that could highlight the original meaning of the old Russian term khodiataistvo, literally a petition or appeal brought on foot to a leader in Muscovy. Initially, I correlated his uncanny confidence with the Russian holy fool and carnival traditions (cf. Bakhtin 1975: 484–495; Balzer 1999: 196–197) before learning that he had done so himself in interviews that captured people's fancy.

Why should we be surprised that a Siberian postmodern internet-viral shaman could use multiethnic social codes so resourcefully? As with most religious revitalization movements in times of trouble, interactive political ramifications are exacerbated when perceived by authorities to be destabilizing. The degree to which Shaman Alexander's movement could have success or authenticity will depend on whether his voice is suppressed long enough for people to forget his words, whether he is made a martyr, and whether he can eventually bring his social and political critiques to a new level of programmatic ethical principles and practice (ritual), as have many new religious movement leaders before him.

Other colorful shamanic leaders have been based in Siberia. In the late 1990s, I followed and participated in the syncretic spiritual revitalization movement of Anatoly Yurevich Mikhailov, a tall young Sakha-Russian charismatic high-school dropout who called himself “Kyta Baaly” (“Place of Plenty”). Beginning in his homeland, the Megino-Kangalas ulus, his popularity spread to the capital, Yakutsk, but fizzled when his ambitions caused him to proclaim himself the son of the highest Sakha sky god, as well as Jesus Christ, on Sakha TV (Balzer 2012: 185–190). His platform was nationalistic although nonchauvinist, calling for a return to “pure Sakha values,” including polygamy to increase the Sakha population, alcohol abstinence to encourage Sakha fitness, and village life revival to stimulate cattle and horse breeding.

Anatoly's movement never reached the organizational or sustainable level of the dream-inspired Altai Mountains leader Chot Chelpan(ov), who with his daughter in the early twentieth century founded a famous anticolonial religion called Burkhanism (or Ak Jang, the White Faith) that integrated aspects of Buddhism, Russian Orthodoxy, and shamanic faith (cf. Sherstova 2010; Vinogradov 2010: 245–257).

Another fascinating spiritual-political resistance movement came out of nineteenth-century Western Siberia with the mobilization of a Khanty-Nenets shaman-warrior called Vavlyo Neniang (Vauli Piettomin), who stole from the rich to sustain poor reindeer breeders. He was one of several Siberian Robin Hoods (Balzer 1999: 75–98). Today's Nenets hero-activist is Eiko Serotétto, a young and dynamic reindeer breeder and leader who has emerged with a movement “in the name of nature” called Voice of the Tundra (Magomedov 2020). He too had trouble with authorities after he stopped an altercation but was nonetheless arrested.

Allowing for a broad range of definitions of religion and spirituality, Siberian cases deserve to be added to the burgeoning anthropological and religious studies literature on new religious movements, which are growing so rapidly that some Japanese scholars have created the acronym NNRM—new new religious movements—to refer to second-generation phenomena and serial “cargo cults” (Daschke and Ashcraft [2005] 2017). Such movements stimulate further exploration of the nexus of belief and political action (Lindquist and Coleman 2008). Anticolonial Indigenous religions of Native North America are tantalizingly comparable to the Siberian cases. These include the Seneca's (Haudenosaunee) Code of Handsome Lake (Wallace 1969), and the multi-Indigenous Plains Indians Ghost Dance, correctly termed Nanissáanah, sparked by the Paiute leader Wovoka (Jack Wilson) in 1890 (cf. Mooney [1896] 1965; Treuer 2019).

The Seneca's struggles turned into a movement that restructured individual and community consciousness and behavior to shape cultural change, while the Nanissáanah in its Lakota version was repressed so forcefully at Wounded Knee that it lived on as an inspiring legend rather than as a new religion. In retrospect, Handsome Lake's messages may be considered more socially enduring than Wovoka's. Alexander is less revolutionary than either Handsome Lake or Wovoka, and more modest in his aspirations as a leader of consciously constructed sustainable cultural change. His movement is more consequential than Kyta Baaly's. By late 2021, while he was incarcerated, his followers created an impressive book of his teachings called Dzhol (Happiness).25

Constructing crime and punishment

As in Chot Chelpan's time, authorities in Russia have become increasingly nervous and preemptive about any opposition movement, especially those led by charismatic or articulate leaders whose seemingly irrational bravery they cannot understand.26 Extrajudicial poisoning and imprisonment or fines on manufactured terms leading to serial trials for critics have not staunched political opposition but have driven many abroad or underground, including some Indigenous leaders. By 2021, after a hiatus from approximately 1987 to 2014, Russian authorities accelerated the chilling Soviet-style use and abuse of psychiatric hospitals (the notorious SIZO, Required Isolation Observation Ward) that allow maximum control over individuals perceived to be troublemakers for diverse reasons. Officials stifle dissent by raising its stakes while leaving corrosive residues of unresolved tension (cf. Etkind 2011, 2013).

Sakha President Nikolaev's references to Alexander's possible illness under stress pointed anyone knowledgeable about Russian history to the legacy of political abuse of psychiatric diagnoses, a strategy used against dissidents, including shamans, in the Soviet period and earlier (cf. Balzer 2012: 51, 108; Bloch and Reddaway 1984; Reddaway 2020). After Alexander's first arrest in Buryatia, psychiatric experts beholden to Moscow examined Alexander in Yakutsk. Competent lawyers were found in time to insist on a second round of expert psychiatric diagnosis, vindicating him and sparing him from unwanted drugs until 2021. An internal, politicized battle had begun over how to deactivate him.

Alexander's sentencing in 2021 caused him to be escorted out of court and into a new, stricter regime of incarceration without visitation. His assignment to the Novosibirsk clinic was initially kept secret. His lawyers estimated an enforced stay of two to three years based on other cases. Some followers were also arrested, for example the young passionate Voron (Raven), and the grandfatherly elder called Ded Moroz (Father Frost). They were later released. Ethnicity was less a factor than curtailing their perceived pernicious influence.

In 2020–2021, Siberian shamans known to have authority in their communities were pressured by officials to denounce Alexander on social media as a fraud. Elder Sister Dora (Ed'ei Dora) made a weak but compliant comment explaining that traditional Sakha shamans shun the limelight, without specifically naming Alexander. The Tyvan shaman Kara-ool Dopchun-ool, touted in the media as the “Head Shaman of Russia,” went much further. He announced during a “Third Congress of Shamans” that it is crucial to differentiate real shamans from charlatans. He disparaged as a self-proclaimed shaman the “psychologically unstable homeless Alexander Gabyshev from Yakutia.” His tirade continued: “The whole government apparatus must distinguish between the Gabyshevs and the true practitioners of traditional shamanic communities. The consequences [of misunderstanding] could themselves bode extremely ill for society.”27 In his quest for purity, Dopchun-ool was practicing a form of self-orientalism.

Accurate data is impossible to attain on proportions of dissidents arrested and then punished through psychiatric examinations, including enforced clinic stays for varying time periods. An early anti-Putin “Bolotnaia Square” protester was Mikhail Kosenko, who was sentenced to Moscow's “Psykushka 5” in 2013 and released in 2015 after admitting his “guilt.” He declared it was worse than a prison.28 The largest category of oppositionists comprises those in Aleksei Navalny's anti-corruption movement. One young pro-Navalny protester picked up in Moscow was incarcerated as “schizophrenic,” a familiar Soviet designation for political cases. He was medicated for only a few months, but it took at least eight months after he was released for him to regain some sense of interrelated body-mind health.

A few endangered people subject to psychiatric examination were opposition candidates trying to run in the 2021 parliamentary elections.29 These cases have been hard to trace, since it is shameful for their subjects to advertise them. More public have been journalists, bloggers, and activists targeted and threatened, such as Bashkir organizer Ramilya Saitova.30 Aleksei Pivovarov, a fast-talking and sardonic media star of the TV channel Dozhd (Rain), who was declared a “foreign agent” in 2021, has been harassed and put on trial for reporting designated as “extremist.” One of his programs from 2019 was a sympathetic portrait of Alexander, who he deemed to have tapped into a general pulse of Russian disillusionment.31 While most of Pivovarov's trials have resulted in short prison stays with fines, a chilling threat hanging over his reporting has been psychiatric examination and hospitalization.

Psychiatric hospitalization can be a devastating form of state-sponsored terror. The terms are indefinite and the institutionalized control is often outside independent legal supervision. While Michel Foucault's (1965) analysis in Madness and Civilization was among the first to interrelate knowledge, socially constructed insanity definitions, power, and institutionalization in modern European contexts, generations of subsequent research have shown that the fuzzy and contested boundaries of sanity-insanity-illness distinctions are culturally variable and particularly easy for people with power to manipulate, especially in times of crisis (Cf. Basilov 1997; Crapanzano 1985; Das 2015; Pandolfo 2018). This has been all the more socially sensitive when religious orthodoxy is at stake and definitions of blasphemy or perceived paganism can be harnessed for politicized punishment. Madness, culturally construed and imagined, can be real and frightening both to those experiencing it and those in positions of power to judge it, whether idioms of Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu forms of spirituality are deployed. If religious authorities view a leader-mystic-visionary as having gone off a socially unacceptable deep end, their logical self-serving means to stop a budding new religious movement is to pacify and “cure” that leader-mystic.

While we cannot know who first recommended that Alexander be pacified in a psychiatric clinic, it is plausible that Russian Orthodox advisers to the performatively devout President Putin or someone in his circles may have suggested it, ironically casting it as a “humane solution” to the problem of his dissidence. If so, they were recapitulating a long history, documented in the anthropological literature, of seeing shamans as “insane” or as cured psychotics whose missions made them purposeful spiritual healers and social activists.32

The self-righteous use of psychiatric incarceration for political punishment has been taken to new extremes in President Putin's Russia. The danger of becoming insane inside Russia's clinics is exacerbated by debilitating drugs and the fear of them. As Alexander noted in prescient speeches, conditions in Russian prisons and clinics are crowded and miserable, especially given fears of COVID spreading. The dramatic escape by seven patients in 2021 from one of the SIZO clinics in Buryatia led to a manhunt, with all escapees apprehended. Some of those breaking out had been diagnosed with the suspiciously broad and politicized category of schizophrenia. It is likely that some were Buryat.

Indigeneity, dissidence, and the state

A Sakha friend lamenting the harsh sentence imposed on Alexander in 2021 observed it was likely “to kill his spirit if not his person.” She and others have suggested that non-Russian political opponents may be more likely to be incarcerated in psykushki than Russian dissidents, but it is impossible for a researcher without access to Russia's court and prison system records to document that. While Russia's psychiatric hospitals were not created to privilege “cures” for non-Russians, their practices of brain-washing-into-passivity have something in common with the historical institutionalized violence of Indigenous residential schools in Russia, the United States, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. Unjust arrests of non-Russians in Russia highlight varied degrees of prejudice, sometimes racialized or orientalized, derived from Russian fears mixed with fascination concerning perceived threatening non-Orthodox “others” (compare Taussig 1987). The prominent human rights organization Amnesty International has formally called for Alexander's release, his case has been sent to the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Survival included him on a list of incarcerated or repressed Indigenous political activists.33 Overzealousness based on overgeneralized preconceptions were implicated in Alexander's brutal arrest and psychiatric detention as a wild and dangerous shaman, who by definition must be crazy to so publicly and performatively criticize the state. Ignorance on the part of some authorities was confirmed by a bizarre 2021 case of mistaken identity, when a Buryat self-proclaimed shaman named Nikolai Dylykov (also called Dylyk Khan) was arrested in Ekaterinburg and initially confused with Alexander.34 Dylykov, who looks nothing like Alexander, was eventually released after this traumatic experience.

Alexander has played creatively and situationally with multiple identities, as do many leaders. This hardly makes him schizophrenic. It may be what has gained him many followers, although in Russia's increasingly repressive society we cannot know how many. It reflects why so many analysts have seen him in various ways. As a warrior shaman, he has said: “My detachment is all of Russia” (multiethnic Rossiia). As a holy fool mixing Christian and Indigenous traditions to explain his protest march, he has proclaimed: “God has told me to do this. Nature has told me to do this.”35 As a Sakha shaman following in the footsteps of his ancestors, he announced that his third journey to Moscow would be on a white horse and begin from his Viliui sacred homeland in the Sakha Republic. As a target of psychiatric incarceration, suspicious of all medical procedures not initiated by him, he declared “I have voluntarily been vaccinated,” but alarmingly added that “a good person doesn't need any kind of vaccination.”36

Analysts concerned about human rights violations need not valorize every statement of a visionary leader. But we have an ethical obligation to provide context and insight into the humanity and cosmopolitics of leaders we profile (De la Cadeña 2010). Alexander's importance derives less from his lightning-rod role, calling attention to Russia's psychiatric hospital abuses, than from his meaning as a thunder shaman for his followers and sympathizers. When he was held in a clinic in Yakutsk awaiting trial, followers sang Sakha songs (toiuk) and played the jaw harp (khomus) outside his window to boost his and their morale. During his incarceration in Novosibirsk, they put together the book of his sayings called Dzhol (Happiness) that by his own account brought tears to his eyes.37 By December 2021, Alexander was well enough to request novels from family and friends. Through his lawyer, he attributed his partial recovery to the clinic administration's awareness that public eyes are watching, and that doctors know that his case is “political.”38 Alexander could be under pressure to say he is treated well. But the statement, brave and resigned, has the ring of sad truth. By 2022, a new popular song in Sakha portrayed him as a legendary hero.

Alexander earlier affirmed that he was hoping for “neither chaos nor revolution, [since] this is the twenty-first century.” He advocated for his followers to live in an “open world, [of ] peace, freedom and solidarity,” one where all people believing in benevolent “higher forces” can find them.39 His significance is that he is one of the credible politicized spiritual leaders to emerge from Russia in the post-Soviet period demanding cultural, personal, and societal dignity. In the past 20 years, the costs of independent leadership have become increasingly dire, self-sacrifice has become increasingly necessary, and multileveled community building, with mutually beneficial intermeshed vertical and horizontal civic society interconnections, has become increasingly risky, especially after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Whether defined as religious or shamanic, the courage of individuals willing to risk everything to change social conditions is awe-inspiring wherever we find it. These maverick societal shape-changers, tricksters, and healers may represent our best power-diversifying hopes against systems that pull in directions of authoritarian repression. Perhaps once-populist power-consolidating leaders like Vladimir Putin, who make war on neighboring countries, are insecure enough to understand the deep systemic weaknesses that oppositionists like Alexander Gabyshev and Aleksei Navalny expose, using very different styles along a sacred–secular continuum. President Putin's insecurities magnify the importance of all political opposition, creating vortexes of violence and dangers of martyrdom in the name of stability.

Notes

1

On Alexander's arrest, see https://mbk-news.appspot.com/news/specoperation/. An appeal to the Sakha Supreme Court was lost (see https://credo.press/236169/), and by April 2021 fears for his health were serious (see https://ria.ru/20210405/shaman-1604221831.html) (all of these sources were accessed on 26 April 2021).

3

This article develops a section of Balzer (2021), which provides details on my fieldwork, as does Balzer (2012). Approaches to collaborative anthropology in Siberia are discussed in Balzer and Vinokurova (forthcoming).

4

For context on Russians’ sometimes orientalist, exoticizing perceptions of Siberians, especially Buryats, in whose territory Alexander was first arrested, see Jonutyté (2020). Cf. Bernstein (2013); Graber (2020).

5

See Shaman idet! [Shaman on the move], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPrb_1nWXtE, 12 June 2019. Many videos are listed under “Shaman idet” and “Put’ shamana” [Shaman's path]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1jE71TAqZw (accessed 3 July 2019).

6

Some Alexander videos have disappeared from the internet, for example coverage of Free Europe (RFE under http://svoboda.org) or the relatively independent Russian NTV, “Pochemu Kremlin obiavil voinu Shamanu—Grazhdanskaia oborona” [Why the Kremlin has brought war to the shaman—Civil Defense], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7OVy2ROASQ (accessed 15 March 2020).

7

See “Put’ shamana” [Shaman's path], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1jE71TAqZw (accessed 3 July 2019); and Oleg Boldyrev's BBC interview, 24 September 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0LaLhkKj2g.

8

Alexander described his plans; see youtube.com/watch?v=YK0LlFAjx3E (accessed 15 January 2021, deleted by 31 December 2021). See also https://meduza.io/en/news/2021/01/12/yakut-shaman-alexander-gabyshev-announces-new-cross-country-campaign-on-horseback, 12 January 2021.

9

Yakutia.com featured over 106 videos in Russian and Sakha under the rubric “I/We Shaman,” https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmg4mvMyK_WsGBQbMZlZR2rZ7Z5_J7d9h (accessed from 1 April 2019 to 19 March 2020). By December 2021, a subscription website dedicated to Alexander was https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYQRDyOtQptQnPYsZiuSsaA (accessed 21 December 2021). A 2022 pop song video valorizing him is available at https://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/galvanizing_nostalgia_blog_post/ (accessed 18 May 2022).

10

The interview was conducted by Petr Maniakin, https://tayga.info/163384, 12 January 2021. See an earlier interview by Maniakin called “Dobrotu oni ne ponimaiut” at https://tayga.info/149374, 11 October 2019.

11

“Shaman Alexander vystupil s obriadom v Chite” [Shaman Alexander performed a ceremony at Chita], 12 July 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2W0KwRaHexU; excerpted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x81rgbsEgmI, 15 October 2019.

12

On the background of these tropes, see Balzer (2012); and Hyde (1998). On the holy fool, cf. Thompson (1987); Kobets and Hunt (2011); and Gorskii (2019). Although valorized in folklore, some holy fools were caught in Russia's first mental “asylums” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

13

On the Buryat Tengeri Society encounter, see Oleg Boldyrev's BBC interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0LaLhkKj2g, 24 September 2019. The camel sacrifice ritual was reported with a disputed number of two to five camels. Cf. https://www.maximonline.ru/guide/maximir/_article/minutka-divannoy-analitiki-verblyudyi-uhodyaschie/ (accessed 18 March 2020); and https://lenta.ru/news/2019/02/21/victim/, 21 February 2021.

14

In 2020, the Buryat Tengeri society reinforced their reputation for controversy by leading a shamanic ritual to dispel COVID, http://nazaccent.ru/content/32494-buryatskie-shamany-proveli-obryad-po-izgnaniyu.html, 16 March 2020.

15

This colleague needs to remain anonymous. For insights into Sakha worldviews, see Vinokurova (2018). For comparisons of spiritual movements and politics in the Sakha Republic, Buryatia, and Tyva, see Balzer (2021).

16

Personal communication, 4 December 2019; Russian TV interview with Mikhail Sokolov, “Shaman v Moskvu pridet, poriadok navdet?” [The shaman will come to Moscow to bring order?], 1 August 2019, https://www.svoboda.org/a/30087117.html.

17

This Navalny video, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MMgfm18znI&y=192s, from April 2019, had been removed by March 2020. The sarcasm was based on Shoigu's Tuvan background.

18

The source must remain anonymous. Cf. Anton Troianovski, “‘An Exorcism Must be Done’: An Anti-Putin Shaman Sets Off Unrest,” New York Times, 9 October 2019, https://nytimes.com/2019/10/09/world/Europe/shaman-putin-dissent.html; Klaus-Helge Donath, “Shamane mit politischer Agenda” [Shaman with a political agenda], Die Tageszeitung, 16 July 2019, https://taz.de/Russischer-Aktivist-will-Putin-stuerzen/!5611801/.

19

On Alexander's significance as a Siberian regional leader, see http://region.expert/shaman-prospects/, 16 December 2019.

20

“Pochemu vlast boitsia yakutskogo shaman” [Why authorities fear the Yakut shaman], https://www.mk.ru/politics/2020/05/15/pochemu-vlast-boitsya-yakutskogo-shamana-aleksandra-gabysheva-otpravili-v-psikhshku.html (accessed 21 December 2021). Andrey Kamakin is head of the Moscow Komsomolets political section.

21

Vitaly Shkliarov, “The Anti-Putin Shaman's Magical Mystery Tour,” 11 November 2019, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/11/11/alexander-gabyshev-anti-putin-shaman-drive-demon-out-russia-moscow/. Shkliarov's inflated 86 percent of 2019 estimated Putin voters had dropped in Levada Center approval ratings by 2021, and by 2022 no surveys were accurate. On folk healing popularity, cf. Lindquist (2006).

22

“Glava Iakutii i shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev” [Head of Yakutia and Shaman Alexander Gabyshev], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZnv1pABj7c&list=PLmg4mvMyK_WsGBQbMZlZR2rZ7Z5_J7d9h&index=13, 26 September 2019.

23

This comparison comes from opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, poisoned twice, in a review for the Kennan Institute published on 18 May 2021, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/heightened-political-repression-russia-conversation-vladimir-kara-murza.

24

In Buryatia, demonstrators supporting Alexander were also involved in protests over a local mayoral election. In Sakha Republic, demonstrations linked to ecology and anti-corruption campaigns also featured speeches about Alexander. In Far Eastern Khabarovsk, marathon protests lasted through the summer of 2020 over the arrest of the governor.

25

“Shaman khochet Dzhol 2” [Shaman wants Happiness 2], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9qJwViyIOM 14 December 2021.

26

The title derives from Fedor Dostoevsky. A nineteenth-century example of imprisonment of a political opponent as a “madman” was Nicholas I's house arrest of Petr Chaadayev, author of Apology of a Madman. See Bloch and Reddaway (1984); Reddaway (2020); and Etkind (2011, 2013). On the US–USSR cultural exchange in 1975–1976, I became aware of politicized psychiatry through the debilitating experiences of a poet friend who later emigrated.

27

https://ria.ru/20210816/shaman-1745897535.html, 16 August 2021. A new movement to legitimize shamanic practice has led to organized Congresses and to the controversial Kara-ool's election as “head shaman of Russia.” For perspectives on Tuva's divisive shamanic politics, see Lindquist (2008); Kharitonova (2006); and Zorbas (2017).

30

Ramilya Saitova posted anti-Armenian and anti-Russian Orthodox statements, and called for a demonstration to restore Bashkir lands “stolen by Russians.” Arrested for extremism in 2020, she was sent to the Republic's psychiatric hospital near Ufa, Bashkortostan's capital in Russia's Volga region, in 2021. See idelreal.org/a/31161264.html; and echomskufa.ru/2020/11/18/74008, 18 November 2020; and http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/03/punitive-psychiatry-returns-to-russia.html, 22 March 2021.

31

See Pivovarov's “Shaman protiv Putin” [Shaman vs. Putin], subtitled “How one Yakut shook up all of Russia,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_hdrfOViH8&t=4s, 14 November 2019.

32

See Shirokogoroff (1935) on Siberia; and Taussig (1987) on Latin America. For literature reviews, see Balzer (1997, 2012); Narby and Huxley (2001); and the incomplete Grant (2021).

33

See https://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/indigenous-leaders-speak-out-about-criminalization-and-silencing-putin-administration, 13 October 2021. Besides Alexander, from the Sakha Republic, NGO organizer Stepan Petrov (Sakha) and Evenki deputy Arsenty Nikolaev are listed. Nenets reindeer herder-activist Eiko Serotétto, Khanty shaman and ecology activist Sergei Kechimov, and Sámi cultural leader Andrei Danilov are featured, plus Shor filmmaker and ecology activist Vyacheslav Krechetov and Udege activist Rodion Sulyandziga, head of the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North/Russian Indigenous Training Center (CSIPN/RITC; closed since 2016). Pavel Sulyandziga, founder of the Batani Foundation https://batani.org/ (accessed 21 December 2021), is in exile abroad.

35

The first quote is from a Petr Maniakin interview: “Dobrotu oni ne ponimaiut” [Kindness they don't understand], https://tayga.info/149374, 11 October 2019; the second is from Andrew Roth: “Siberian Shaman Arrested on Trek to Exorcise Vladimir Putin,” The Guardian, 19 September 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/19/siberian-shaman-arrested-on-trek-to-exorcise-vladimir-putin.

37

On the vigil, see https://sakhaday.ru/news/dlya-sidyashchego-v-sizo-aleksandra-gabysheva-storonniki-sygrali-na-homuse-i-speli-toyuk?from=copy, 9 June 2021. Ded Moroz read a letter from Alexander reacting to the Dzhol project: “Shaman khochet Dzhol 2” [Shaman wants Happiness 2], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9qJwViyIOM, 14 December 2021.

39

See Pivovarov's video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_hdrfOViH8&t=4s, 14 November 2019; https://credo.press/237373/ (accessed 26 May 2021); and https://dailystorm.ru/obschestvo/chtoby-unizit-shamana-gabysheva-nasilno-postrigli-i-zastavlyayut-spat-ryadom-s-neznakomymi-muzhchinami (accessed 26 May 2021). Three of the best Russian media sources, the meduza.io, nazaccent.ru, and dozhd news services, were under pressure as “foreign agents” by mid-2021, with the leading human rights group Memorial declared illegal in December 2021.

References

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Contributor Notes

Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer is a faculty fellow in the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University. At Georgetown since 1987, she is cofounder of the Indigenous Studies Working Group (https://indigeneity.georgetown.edu) and has taught as research professor in the School of Foreign Service and the Anthropology Department. She is editor of the Taylor and Francis translation journal Anthropology and Archeology of Eurasia and is author or editor of six books on Russia and Siberia, including Galvanizing Nostalgia: Indigeneity and Sovereignty in Siberia (Cornell University Press, 2021). Email: balzerm@georgetown.edu

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  • Figure 1.

     Shaman Alexander in a t-shirt called “Arrive and Exorcise” by K. Eremenko, 16 December 2019. Used with permission from Konstantin Eremenko.

  • Balzer, Marjorie Mandelstam, ed. 1997. Shamanic worlds: Rituals and lore of Siberia and Central Asia. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

  • Balzer, Marjorie Mandelstam. 1999. The tenacity of ethnicity: A Siberian saga in global perspective. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Balzer, Marjorie Mandelstam. 2012. Shamans, spirituality, and cultural revitalization: Explorations in Siberia and beyond. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Balzer, Marjorie Mandelstam. 2021. Galvanizing nostalgia? Indigeneity and sovereignty in Siberia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Basilov, Vladimir. 1997. “Chosen by the spirits.” In Shamanic worlds: Rituals and lore of Siberia and Central Asia, ed. Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, 348. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bernstein, Anya. 2013. Religious bodies politic: Rituals of sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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