Red Corners

“The post-Soviet man’s red corner.” Pavel Pryanikov (Facebook), 20 January 2023

Made of large logs of pine, spruce or larch, a tall and spacious northern izba (log-house) was heated by a huge Russian stove. If the stove was the heart of the Russian house, its soul was the Red Corner (red [krasny] meaning beautiful in old Russian) where the family’s sacred objects sat.

This area included holy icons draped over with the embroidered bozhnik (godly-towel), a Bible—if there was a literate person in the household—and occasionally a figurine of a saint brought from a pilgrimage by a pious relative.  Wooden representations of St. Nilus of Stolben were common.  An oil lamp suspended from the ceiling burned in front of the icons.

Source: TMORA (The Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis)


During the era of Soviet power, the ‘Red Corner’ was the name given to the place at a factory, plant, school, and in general at any establishment, that was equipped to carry out ‘agitation and propaganda’ of the new ideology, new communist ideas. The first post-revolutionary ‘Red Corners’ were places where ‘political enlightenment’ of the masses was conducted, lectures were arranged about the projects and plans of the new power, the bright future which awaited all workers during Communism was discussed. Slogans and posters were hung on the walls of these ‘corners,’ and banners were arranged in the ‘Red Corner’ near portraits of leaders, pamphlets with speeches by Lenin, Trotsky were placed on tables …

Gradually these ‘Red Corners’ turned into unique sorts of chapels of the new religion, and they became subordinate to the ideological department of the Party Committee of each factory, collective farm, etc. They became a place for mandatory meetings of the ‘Party collective,’ a meeting place for delegates, a place for elections.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, life in these club-temples gradually began to die out, the ‘cult’ dwindled, and the stands and posters that were more and more depressing and mechanical gradually decayed, and everything taken together – the ritual, the design, and the paints – turned into a depressing ceremony that was no longer of use to anyone.

Source: “Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: The Red Corner,” Fine Art Biblio


Many human rights activists expected that with the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian officials would refocus their repressive efforts away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses; but those expectations have proved untrue. And Putin’s campaign against the Witnesses has continued unabated.

As of now, 404 of the 538 structures classified as terrorists or extremists by the Russian government are Jehovah’s Witnesses; the number of searches in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes have increased and now number some 1800 in 71 federal subjects; and the number of Witnesses sentenced to camps rose from 32 to 45 between 2021 and 2022.

Aleksandr Verkhovsky, head of the SOVA information and analysis center, says this is insane especially in wartime and must reflect some judgment by the authorities that continuing to repress the Jehovah’s Witnesses is in their interests; but it remains unclear what basis there could be for that (baikal-journal.ru/2023/01/19/pochemu-vlast-bolshe-70-let-presleduet-svideteley-iegovy/).

But Sergey Davidis, head of Memorial’s “Support Political Prisoners” project, argues that there are three main reasons why the Putin regime continues to persecute the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

First of all, he says, “the Russian authorities are intolerant of any independent organization, especially a large one which has its own ideology” and in particular those whose centers are outside the borders of the Russian Federation, a reflection of the leadership’s paranoia about any independent group.

Second, he continues, many in Russia see the Jehovah’s Witnesses as being at odds with Russian traditions and so accept their persecution as a legitimate form of the defense of the latter.  And third, going after the Witnesses allows the security services to make themselves look good statistically. After all, it is easy to go after those who don’t hide and don’t resist.

Thus the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is likely to continue or even grow, despite the fact that the Witnesses themselves provide no justification for such actions. 

Source: Paul Goble, “Putin’s War Against Jehovah’s Witnesses Continues Unabated for Three Main Reasons, Davidis Says,” Window on Eurasia — New Series, 21 January 2023


Father Aleksandr Men’: “To say that 700 million Catholics and 350 million Protestants are in error,
and that only we are the true church, is to dwell in insane, utterly unwarranted pride.”

ON ECUMENICAL SUNDAY at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, Riga, I shared a few words about 2 of my favorite 20th c. ecumenists, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Aleksandr Men’ — great men of faith who rose above the parts to embrace the whole.

The service proper concluded w/ an early Franciscan benediction which I had never heard and like a lot:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.”

Amen! To which I will only add that while I think my foolishness quotient actually surpasses the level of “enough,” applying it regularly toward Francis’ ends remains a challenge.

Source: Mark H. Teeter (Facebook), 22 January 2023. Thanks to Mark for his kind permission to let me reproduce his original post (minus three images) here. ||| TRR

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