20020202 taz translation mytitle Germany, Berlin

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 14.01.2003, Feuilleton:

The Pyramids protect us

Pseudoscience blossoming in Russia; a visit with astrophysicist Yuri Yefremov

MOSCOW, in January

Russia's development in the direction of modernization and world markets has brought large sections of the population straight into a new Middle Ages. Astrologists and spiritual healers have had an effect not only upon the man-on-the-street, but have also gained popularity among the political and academic elite. While fewer and fewer people have an idea of what actual scientific research encompasses, esoteric doctrines will blossom. In Russian bookstores there is a wide assortment of books by advisors on folk-healing, spiritism and on "alternative" views of history which seek to replace the sinking rational orientation of the modern world with the transcendental. The breaking up of the ignorant masses and of the academic elite, which can be observed everywhere, is occurring in Russia on a somewhat more brutal scale than in western Europe. With the exception of individual idealists, the next generation is inadequately equipped to cope because teachers in Russian state schools are paid poorly and on an irregular basis. More and more parents complain that the schools are turning into child care centers. In an era of boundless capitalism, scientific careers have suffered and lost respect. The Russian intellectual wears the classic self-knit sweater and is of slight build. Especially in comparison to the brand-new business centers, Russian academics often come across as eccentric monks - a personality that can hardly be found in Europe.

The collapse of the Soviet communisim project has also taken a toll on the general culture of science in Russia. The Marxist-Leninist teachings fundamental to the system were understood as an exact science, and this formed the basis of their authority. A side-effect and perhaps the worthiest result of this ideology was the spread of an optimism about enlightenment, which, after the belief in Utopia began to fade, precipitated into an impressive all-around education for the simple people. People could take advantage of knowledge to rise through the ranks of a widely egalitarian society.

In Russian's second capitalist expansion, in which business captains often come across as war lords, academic knowledge doesn't count as much. Many people in the academic professions are not paid as well as those in the oil refining industry. In the age of mass culture and of the entertainment industry, according to astrophysics profession Yuri Yefremov, even educated people are starting to forget that technology and the whole urban civilization is based on science. The distribution of popular science journals has decreased dramatically over recent years. At the same time fears are growing among the Russian population about the potentially destructive consequences of science.

The less adequately science is financed by the state, the more it turns into fodder for esoteric and parascientific teachings. Former President Yelzin made no secret of his predisposition for superstition, whereby he sought counsel in the alignment of the stars and well as in Orthodox Christianity. Yefremov complained that the defense ministry has been maintaining its own astrological department for a long time. Military astrologists claim that the future of battleships can be foretold because every ship has a birthday. This sort of diagnosis is supposed to help prevent accidents, since the money is lacking for better technical equipment and maintenance of the fleet.

One of the more picturesque blossoms of Russian occultism is the Moscow Pyramid, which has stood on the road of decay to the West for three years. Its builder Alexander Golod, who would like to cover the entire country with similar buildings, assures people that pyramids built in medial sections will normalize the ozone layer, heal sicknesses and, in the long term, help remove social tension and even crime. Many pilgrims to the site believe in pyrimid miracles and buy souveniers and food which are supposed to contain the beneficial traits of the building.

Yuri Yefremov regards pyramid psychosis as harmless. He thinks obscure military technology can be much more dangerous, such as the legendary torsion generators which were built on secret sites. They received millions in state funding from the academy of science for their construction. The alleged technology is based on effects of rotating bodies which have not yet been measured or examined through experimentation, said Yefremov. Because the whole thing was kept secret, nobody knows how the torsion fields are supposed to protect anybody. Nevertheless, pocket torsion-generators to ward off illness can be had for forty dollars.

In connection with the Christian Orthodox Renaissance, pseudoscience has been thrusting itself upon Russian schools in the form of creationist teaching. In the Moscow "Palmnik" (Pilgrim) publishing house, a Priest Timothy has produced a textbook to familiarize first grade students with phenomena of biology and physics that is in agreement with a literal understanding of the Bible. Yefremov is especially worked up about the clergyman, the authoritative Christian scientist, teaching that no star in the night skies is more than six thousand light years distant. Yefremov thinks the next step will be to condemn the teachings of Copernicus, but Father Timothy still regards Copernicus, Newton and Kepler as authorities, and he stressed that these men were very pious.

New orthodox science gives itself credit for answering questions about the meaning and source of phenomena. The philosophical differences with traditional science increases the allure for a disoriented society. The same goes for pseudohistory, whose figurehead is mathematician Anatoli Fomenko, who rewrote the chronology of world history (F.A.Z. of 15 April 1999). According to Fomenko, the history of all people began like Russia in the 10th century. The classic story is the medieval rediscovery of ambitious nations, particularly in Europe, who implant their ideas into libraries and into people's heads with the help of rich politicians and academic intrigue.

The march to victory for Fomenko, whose most prominent adherents include world chess champion Kasporov and author Limonov, began in the post-Soviet era as less scientific credit was given to research papers, as Yefremov regretfully reported. The academic is particularly upset that the Academy of Science accepted Fomenko as a member, along with his teachings that would undermine the trust of the normal man-on-the-street.

The market for historical meaning has also seen the arrival of a parascientist who offers a greater role for Russia that complements Fomenko's model. Historian and ethnologist Yuri Petuchov keeps the traditional form of world history, but, as can be seen from his works published by "Megagalaktika", he has Russians and their predecessors traced by to ancient Greece and India, to ancient Egypt and Mesopetamia, going all the way back to the first emergence of Homo Sapiens.