Crazy Russians

The fearsome shaman’s march on Moscow has been interrupted – suspended – reversed perhaps – but echoes of his tambourine will be troubling the sleep of Kremlin denizens for some time. Why am I so sure? Because both they and I are old enough to remember the last years of the USSR, when faith healers and psychics – con artists out of nowhere – gained extraordinary popularity. They occupied some of the best, prime-time slots on state television, still nominally controlled by the Communist party, and the viewership exceeded all rational expectations.

Apologies for linking to RT, but this particular piece (found by googling) describes that craze quite faithfully:

The TV screen shows a middle-aged man with a bouffant and square-rimmed glasses soundlessly making strange repetitive gestures… It’s impossible to say what he is doing… this ritual goes on for several minutes that seem like an eternity.

On the other side of the screen are millions, perhaps tens of millions, of Soviet citizens. Many have placed bottles of boiled tap water or creams as close to the cathode ray tube as they can, in the belief they will be “charged” with the healer’s powers. Some are afflicted by serious medical conditions, but the healer has promised that his séance is capable of remedying problems ranging from allergies to paralysis.

It is the summer of 1989, two years before the USSR falls apart.

I would have thought RT was pandering revisionist history to smear Gorbachev and the Perestroika if I had not personally witnessed that collective derangement. Here’s a young David Remnick reporting from Moscow in 1989 (but not sure if the link will work or get paywalled):

Recently the government newspaper Izvestia reported that “practically every city now has its own popular extrasensory healer.”

I would also recommend this review at Birkbeck, although I wish they hadn’t brought up Mme. Blavatskaya as a putative predecessor. The Blavatskaya-Besant-Krishnamurti-Roerich business appealed to a segment of the late-Soviet intelligentsia but never to the broader public.

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