Saturday, July 18, 2015

Boris Rybakov. Paganism of the Ancient Slavs (in Russian), 1988.

Boris Rybakov's research suffered an unfair fate. As a true son of the Party he participated in all its campaigns, including Anti-Semitic cleansing of academia in the early 50s. His contemporary papers lavishly cited Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and he tried to prop nationalist agenda of late Stalin's and late Brezhnev's regime. Because of that, his scientific work--similarly to another Party toady--physicist Blokhinstev, acquired, in some circles, a reputation similar to Lysenko's. I cannot vouch for Rybakov's veracity of archeology of the ancient Slavs, but Blokhinstev certainly was a world-class physicist and a brilliant teacher of physics.

Posthumously, the fate of his research was even worse. Some of the Russian Aryan Brotherhood-modeled cults used his reconstructions of the Old Slavic pantheon to bolster their heinous ideology. Without attribution, this rot propagated to Scandinavia where Norse mythology currently feeds nationalist movements.

After the fall of the Communism, he was accused of peddling so-called "autochthonous" theory of Slavic origins, by which his detractors tried to blacken his reputation even further. Indeed, he avoided a slippery question of Norman (i.e. Germanic) origins of the recorded Russian statehood for most of his career. However, now the existence of Slavic quasi-states before the Norman conquests on the island of Rugen and on the Danube is not much in dispute.

Yet, in 1988, during wild Perestroika times, he published his Magnum Opus, Paganism of the Ancient Slavs remarkably free of ideological garbage he tried to uphold over the years.  This is not surprising that, given his limitations (he never fully absorbed structuralism, and its stepmother, comparative linguistics) that some of the "Paganism..." does not correspond to the modern standards of scholarship (how many English humanities' studies are?). Many of the threads were left unfinished reflecting his decline with the old age. Yet, it is absolutely amazing how many of his conclusions based on archeological studies now can be confirmed by the mytochondrial DNA analysis unavailable at the time (see Manco, 2014).

Slavic studies are currently in the deep decline. During Havel years, Czech academics were reportedly required to deny the Slavic origin of Czech and invented Mid-Western-European group of languages instead. In Poland, citing Russian sources means the end of the academic career. So we all have to wait before some Polish or Slovak (i.e. NATO-approved) researcher comes up with similar conclusions and further propels his studies.

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