Yasnaya Polyana in Bulgaria
Features Conference on Lev N. Tolstoy

by Koozma J. Tarasoff, Ottawa, Canada, August 21, 2003

Most people who hear the word “Yasnaya Polyana” think of Tolstoy’s Estate Museum in Tula, Russia. Well, there is another Yasnaya Polyana which is found in the Bourgas district near the Black Sea in Bulgaria. The colony was originally founded in 1906, but soon after disbanded. Since 1998 steps have been taken to cultivate Tolstoy’s teachngs of peacefulness, unity, and love which once flowed over the fertile soil of this isolated community in Bulgaria.

In early July, I was in Bulgaria as featured speaker with Volodia Tolstoy (great grandson of the world-famous author) on the theme “Lev Nicholoaevich Tolstoy and the Challenge for the Next Thousand Years”. I spoke on the relationship of Doukhobors to Tolstoy, while Volodia spoke on his family’s connection and his work at the Russian estate museum.

Hristov Rachev, chairman of the Initiating Committee, and Amalia Racheva as Co-ordinator, set the stage for the conference by pointing out that this is a demonstration project of “cultural tourism”, located in one of the world’s unique places of natural beauty. It is supported by the Minstry of Culture of the Republic of Bulgaria, the Matra program of the Government of the Netherlands, the American Agency for International Development, and the UN program for development.

According to the Rachev’s, Lev Tolstoy was on his way to Bulgaria when he died in oblivion at a small railway station in south Russia called Astapova. “But he could not reach our country, he was late”.

The original community once had a publishing house and monthly magazine Vazrazhdane [Rebirth] which “provoked people’s thinking and conscience”. Tolstoy contributed eleven manuscripts sent directly to the editor. His famous manifesto against the death penalty, 1908, was first published in Bulgaria only three months after it had been written.

The July 2003 meeting was held in the Tolstoy community centre which contains a museum collection in two halls. The Museum was opened on the 15th September 1998 as a result of voluntary efforts by the initiating committee, the municipality of Yasnaya Polyana and the Promorsko community. The exhibition consists of 254 precious documents, photographs, manuscripts about the connections of Tolstoy with his Bulgarian followers and the new history of the village of Alan Kajrak (later renamed Yasnaya Polyana in the 1930s).

With my visit, there is now a Doukhobor collection at the Museum. Doukhobor books and other materials now have a place in the exhibit. At the Museum I met some Bulgarian young people who were anxious to make contact with Canadian Doukhobor young people. They would, for example, welcome a visit to the annual youth festival in British Columbia in May.

The international Symposium of wood sculpture and the World’s Youth Plastic Art Festival “Via Pontica” has taken place in Yasnaya Polyana. Probably that is the reason why the UN has supported the idea of cultural tourism for the area. As visitor and author, I had the pleasure of meeting five of the famous sculptors who came together to create a show in 40 days. They were creating their works in front of the Museum. Their themes were mystical, especially tied to the mysteries of nature of primordial times. While once they used African wood, they now use local oak for their creations. This mystery, the Museum, the connection to Tolstoy, together with the elm trees, the rolling hills, forests and streams, all seem to focus attention to the spiritual power gathered at one place — the Tolstoy colony.

Volodia Tolstoy of Yasnaya Polyana in Russia spoke about the expansion that has taken place since he became Director in the mid-1990s. The Estate has doubled in size and now employs 670 workers. He travels regularly around the world helping to create Tolstoy Museums as a reminder of the relevance of the theme of nonviolence to our violent world. Volodia was thankful to the Canadian Doukhobors for helping to establish a joint Restaurant and Bakery complex just outside the gates of the Estate. Volodia predicts that “actual construction will likely begin in 2004”.

As invited author, I spoke on the relationship of Tolstoy to the Doukhobors. I said: “Doukhobors and Lev N. Tolstoy are deeply rooted in Slavic soil. Both arose out of the sweat and toil of Russian peasantry. Both evolved out of the turmoil of the times seeking to gain some measure of equality and justice for its citizens. And both were pioneers in discovering the notion of the goodness of God within each individual thereby minimizing the role of the organized church. Tolstoy elegantly expressed it in his book The Kindgdom of God is Within You.”

Towards the end of my talk, I stated: “Tolstoy and the Doukhobors looked at the Big Issues in society. Violence for them was uncivilized. Militarism and wars have long outlived their usefulness. Instead, citizens ought to use non-violent personal example to set things right.”

“The conclusion of all of this”, I said, “is that Lev Tolstoy’s pioneering ideas are in life; they will never die and Humanity today needs them more than ever before. The ideas herein are pregnant with possibilities for a world without war and for quality in life. Recall the power of an idea like the power of a single pebble when dropped in the ocean radiates to the wider world.”


Friends of Tolstoy Yasnaya Polyana Bakery/Cafe Project
September 21, 2005 marked the official opening of the Bakery Cafe and Communications Center at Yasnaya Polyana, Tula, Russia. The opening marked the culmination of years of dedicated effort between Yasnaya Polyana and the Doukhobors of Canada, spearheaded by Vladimir Illich Tolstoy on behalf of Yasnaya Polyana and the Friends of Tolstoy Committee on behalf of the Canadian Doukhobors. The opening was held in front of the Bakery Cafe of the Hotel of YP.

 

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